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Monday, 25 March 2019

Akhenaten in Swansea?

This week’s post is a guest blog by Dr. Christian Knoblauch, Lecturer in Ancient Egyptian Material Culture at Swansea University.

This semester our Egyptian Art and Architecture class (CLE220) has been lucky enough to have had a series of hands-on sessions with objects from the Egypt Centre, facilitated by the Collections Access Manager Ken Griffin. In these sessions, students are confronted with objects they have never seen before and about which no information is provided. In small groups, they try and find out as much about the piece as possible based purely on team-work, their own observations, and background knowledge acquired prior to the handling session via a preparatory reading and lecture. In follow-up seminar-style sessions, we usually summarise our observations as a class and try and identify the key features, date, and purpose of the piece. Occasionally, we will use these sessions to develop research and art-historical skills by conducting further research in groups on different aspects of a single artefact.

This last week we had a real treat. As part of our session on painted decoration, we looked at a puzzling fragment of plaster with polychrome decoration (W802) from the EES excavations at Amarna (fig. 1). The students were not told how to orient the piece or what it depicted, rather they had to work this out for themselves. This proved a real challenge at first, although some of the groups positively identified the brown-red shape as a forearm and elbow, leading to the conclusion that the polychrome shape must be part of a piece of clothing worn on the torso or waist.

Fig. 1: W802.

In the follow-up seminar, we broke up into three groups: one group looked at the find context, another at the design of the painted clothing, and a third group at the reconstruction of the scene element to which the fragment belonged. As the “context” group found out in the follow-up seminar, this was one of a number of fragments found in the debris of the gateway of the North Riverside Palace (Pendlebury, 1931), a huge residence linked to the main city by a processional road and that probably served as the main residence for the Amarna royal family (Kemp, 2013). The excavator, John Pendlebury (1904–1941), thought the decorated plaster was part of a decorated private room above the gateway, but it may have been part of the gateway. Other plaster fragments from the same context have cartouches of the royal family, offerings, and parts of chariots. Importantly, the context group also located a watercolour of the Swansea piece at the time of excavation showing details that are no longer visible (fig. 2).

Fig 2:

The group focussing on the reconstruction of the scene had a very difficult job. They agreed that the elbow might indeed belong to a person holding the reins of a chariot, as originally reconstructed by Ralph Lavers (fig. 3), drawing on scenes from the Private tombs at Amarna. But they also thought it could just as easily be a person in a different pose, for example, a seated figure or a standing figure making an offering. Critically, they noted that Fran Weatherhead (2007) had previously observed that Laver’s reconstruction incorporated fragments reproduced at different scales!

Fig 3:

But who is represented on the fragment? The work of the “clothing group” here provided some clues by looking in detail at the design of the polychrome pattern. The latter consists of a row of blue diamonds, either side of which there are seven zig-zag lines of red, light blue, and dark blue on a yellow-beige background. The upper and lower edge of the belt is framed by a band of chevrons drawing on the same palette. As one of our students Cameron Nairn discovered, the pattern of diamonds and zigzags is very similar to the design of a belt from a granodiorite statue in the British Museum (EA 5) depicting Akhenaten’s father, Amenhotep III (fig. 4), whereby that belt lacks the chevron-border of the Egypt Centre fragment. In fact, the Egyptologist Betsy Bryan (2007, 175) has argued that this belt design was the most common belt type on the royal statuary of Amenhotep III.

Fig. 4:

Subsequent research showed that the belt with lozenges and zig-zag lines was much older than Amenhotep III, and it can be traced backwards through history, from the early New Kingdom (ie. Cairo JE 39260,, Thutmose III), to the reign of Sneferu (Fourth Dynasty), if not earlier. As discussed by Nakano (2000), it was an iconographic element used solely for the depiction of Egyptian kings. While the precise symbolism of the pattern is unknown, it clearly alludes to the concept of kingship and helps identify the figure on the Egypt Centre fragment as a king, and not someone else. Who this pharaoh is can be guessed by the evidence for cartouches bearing royal names from the same context—it's possibly Akhenaten himself! That being said, the depiction of the king in this costume is rare at Amarna where the king was usually shown wearing a characteristic pleated, white kilt, that dipped sharply at the front to accommodate Akhenaten´s protruding belly (fig. 5).

Fig. 5: Colossal statue of Akhenaten.

One of the great challenges of working with Egyptian art is trying to imagine a three-dimensional artefact based on its two-dimensional depiction (Siffert). For example, what materials would the original have been made from? How do the smooth flowing brush strokes of the painting correspond to the texture of the original? Here the “Belt Group” had another break through. They came across an extremely rare piece of royal costume housed in the Liverpool World Museum (M11156) known as the Ramesses Girdle (fig. 6). The piece is a magnificent 5.2m long sash of woven linen with an intricate pattern of ankh signs and zig-zag lines in red and blue on a yellow-beige background that bears the name of Ramesses III. Although the piece was probably worn differently to the belt on the Swansea fragment, the palette of colours, the zig-zag lines and borders, and the yellow-beige background of the textile all reminded us strongly of the belt and helped us to imagine at least one way the polychrome painted plaster surface could be interpreted.

Fig. 6:

In the next weeks, we will be looking at more objects—stone palettes and decorated pottery—before turning to the architectural context of art. We will be finishing off the semester with talks and question sessions with people who have made careers in “Egyptian Art”. Chicago House staff artist, Krisztián Vértes (Chicago House, Luxor), will be talking about Digital Epigraphy, the conservator Suzanne Davis (University of Michigan), will present about “preserving Egyptian art”, and the architect Abigail Stoner (Berlin), will discuss recording Egyptian architecture.

Bryan, B. M. (2007) ‘A ‘New’ Statue of Amenhotep III and the Meaning of the Khepresh Crown’. In The Archaeology and Art of Ancient Egypt: Essays in Honor of David B. O’Connor 1, ed. Z. A. Hawass and J. E. Richards. Cairo: Conseil Suprême des Antiquités de l’Egypte. 151–167.
Kemp, B. J. (2013) The City of Akhenaten and Nefertiti: Amarna and Its People. London: Thames & Hudson.
Kozloff, A. P., B. M. Bryan, and L. M. Berman eds. (1992) Egypt’s Dazzling Sun: Amenhotep III and His World. Cleveland: Cleveland Museum of Art in cooperation with Indiana University Press. Bloomington.
Nakano, T. (2000) ‘An Undiscovered Representation of Egyptian Kingship? The Diamond Motif on the Kings’ Belts’. Orient 35: 23–34.
Pendlebury, J. D. S. (1931) ‘Preliminary Report of Excavations at Tell el-‘Amarnah 1930–1’. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 17: 233–244.
———. (1951) The City of Akhenaten. Part III: The Central City and the Official Quarters. The Excavations at Tell el-Amarna during the Season 1926–1927 and 1931–1936. 2 vols. Egypt Exploration Society, Excavation Memoir 44. London: Egypt Exploration Society. 
Weatherhead, F. (2007) Amarna Palace Paintings. Egypt Exploration Society, Excavation Memoir 78. London: Egypt Exploration Society.

Monday, 18 March 2019

Celebrating Twenty Years of the Egypt Centre!

In September 2018, the Egypt Centre museum of Egyptian antiquities, situated on Singleton campus of Swansea University, celebrated its twentieth anniversary. Twenty years previously, on the 28th September, the Museum was opened to the public. With over 5,000 objects, the Egypt Centre contains the largest collection of Egyptian antiquities in Wales. Most of these objects are currently understudied and unpublished. Therefore, as part of our anniversary celebrations, I am pleased to announce that we will be hosting a two-day conference focusing on the objects in the collection. Wonderful Things: The Material Culture of the Egypt Centre, will take place on the weekend of 25-26th May 2019. This event brings together sixteen scholars from Wales to present on both Egyptian and non-Egyptian material. What's more, some of the objects presented will also be available for object handling! The timetable of events (subject to change) is as follows:

Saturday 25 May
09:45–10:00 Welcome address TBA
10:00–10:30 Wendy Goodridge (The Egypt Centre) – The Egypt Centre: Past, Present, and Future
10:30–11:00 Kenneth Griffin (The Egypt Centre) – The Life Cycle of an Object: The Lintel of the Overseer of Craftsmen, Tjenti
11:00–11:30 Coffee & Handling session 1
11:30–12:00 Kasia Szpakowska (Swansea University) – Daemons in My Bedroom
12:00–12:30 Phil Parkes (Cardiff University) – The Long History of Coffin AB118: From Ankh-pa-khered to Cardiff University
12:30–13:30 Lunch
13:30–14:00 Troy Sagrillo (Swansea University) – Djehuty-em-hat, King of Ashmunayn and the Chronology of Late Libyan Egypt
14:00–14:30 Carolyn Graves-Brown (The Egypt Centre) – Funny Looking Gods on a Third Intermediate Period Coffin
14:30–15:00 Coffee & Handling 2
15:00–15:30 Amr Gaber (Swansea University) – A Stela of the Mother of the Buchis Bull
15:30–16:00 Paul Nicholson (Cardiff University) – Bronze Clamps and Bull Mummies from the Bucheum and Beyond 

Fig. 2: AB118 (@CUConservation, Cardiff University)

Sunday 26 May
10:00–10:30 Dulcie Engel (The Egypt Centre) – Objects from a Victorian Gentleman’s Cabinet of Curiosities: The John Foulkes Jones Collection at the Egypt Centre
10:30–11:00 John Rogers (Swansea University) – All the Words Unspoken: A Faience Flute and the Materiality of Music
11:00–11:30 Coffee & Handling 3
11:30–12:00 Christian Knoblauch (Swansea University) – Abydos in Swansea
12:00–12:30 Katharina Zinn (University of Wales Trinity Saint David) – So Much Choice for a Good Sleep: Headrests and the Egypt Centre
12:30–13:30 Lunch
13:30–14:00 Nigel Pollard (Swansea University) – Central Power and Local Tradition in the Roman Empire: Roman Coins from the Egypt Centre
14:00–14:30 Ersin Hussein (Swansea University) – Show Us Your Metal! Investigating the Materiality of Artefacts Held in the Egypt Centre
14:30–15:00 Coffee & Handling 4
15:00–15:30 Richard Johnston (Swansea University) – Visualising the Votive: Revealing Mummified Animals using X-rays
15:30–16:00 Syd Howells (The Egypt Centre) – Dr. William Price and the Welsh Pharaohs (EC1149 & EC1943)
16:00–16:30 Summing up

Fig. 2: Silver drachm of Trajan (EC1494)

Talks will take place in the Mall Room of the Taliesin Create (Singleton Campus, Swansea University), with the handling sessions in the adjacent Studio. Due to the size of the venue, the event will be limited to sixty people. The cost for the event (both days) is £30, which includes lunch and coffee breaks. Booking for this event is essential. If you would like to attend, please download the booking form and return it ASAP along with your payment to ensure attendance. For any questions, please email me at We look forward to sharing our research with you!

Monday, 11 March 2019

From Hatshepsut to Neferure: W1376

This time last year, I had the chance to examine a limestone fragment (W1376) that had been kept in the Egypt Centre store (fig. 1). Based on an old black and white photograph and the description of the object in the Egypt Centre catalogue, I requested the relief for a handling session on the art of the Middle Kingdom. W1376 had been labelled as a Middle Kingdom relief, perhaps based on the suggestion of Bernard Bothmer (1912–1993), a noted authority on ancient Egyptian art, who visited the Wellcome Museum (the precursor to the Egypt Centre) in the late 1980s. Bothmer had proposed a Twelfth Dynasty date in a letter written to Kate Bosse-Griffiths (1910–1998) in 1992. Upon seeing the relief, my immediate view was that it originated from the Eighteenth Dynasty memorial temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahari.

Fig. 1: W1376

W1376 is an irregularly shaped limestone fragment measuring 49 cm in height and 37 cm in width. The front (fig. 2) of the fragment contains the head of a figure whose face is now missing, with the carving of the eye displaying a long cosmetic line and low brow. The figure wears an ibs-wig with echeloned curls that completely cover the ears. The head is adorned with a sšd-diadem, knotted at the back in the shape of two lotus flowers with double ribbons. An uraeus entwines the diadem on the forehead. Behind the head are the remains of a fan possibly held by a personified-ʿnḫ. Additionally, the tips of three feathers are preserved in the top left, belonging to the wing of a vulture that would have hovered above. This iconography clearly indicates that the head belongs to a royal person!

Fig. 2: Front of W1376

One of the keys to identifying the figure lies with the hieroglyphs above the head. While the inscription is only partially preserved, its formulaic nature means it can be tentatively reconstructed on the basis of numerous parallels (fig. 3). [dı͗ ʿnḫ ḏd wȝs nb] ȝw<t>-ı͗b.s [mi Rʿ] ḏt, “[Given all life, stability, and dominion], her heart being rejoiced [like Re] forever”. The vital sign here is the use of the feminine pronoun (O34), which immediately suggested to me that the head belonged to none other than Hatshepsut, the great female ruler of the Eighteenth Dynasty. The press release issued by the Egypt Centre stating such was picked up by many major news outlets including the BBC. Yet by the time this press release was issued, I had already determined that the head actually depicted someone far more elusive.

Fig. 3: Proposed reconstruction of the hieroglyphs

What I had initially missed were the traces of an erased modius, which is still present upon the head of the figure (fig. 4). The modius, which confirmed that the figure was female, is most commonly associated with the God’s Wife of Amun. Yet while Hatshepsut held the title of God’s Wife of Amun, she had already relinquished this office in favour of her daughter, Neferure, by the time the work on her memorial temple at Deir el-Bahari had commenced. Neferure is commonly shown wearing the ibs-wig with sšd-diadem and a modius in the exact same manner as on the Swansea fragment. In fact, six of the eight scenes of Neferure at Deir el-Bahari were carefully modified to instead represent Hatshepsut’s parents Iahmes or Thutmose I. In particular, the modius was erased and the ibs-wig modified into a vulture cap when representing Iahmes. It is the erasure of the modius on W1376 that indicates to me that the relief instead depicts Neferure!

Fig. 4: Drawing of W1376 by Felicitas Weber

The reverse of the upper part of W1376 depicts the face of a nobleman with a short beard carved in raised relief. While the lower fragment is 4.5 cm deep, the upper fragment is only 3 cm, confirming that the face was only carved after W1376 had been cut from the wall. This suggests that W1376 had been specifically cut into two pieces so that the reverse of the upper fragment could be used to carve a new face for the original figure (fig. 5), an action that also explains the unusually rounded shape of the upper fragment. When this adjustment took place and who was responsible is unknown, but it was likely done by a dealer, auctioneer, or previous owner in order to increase both the monetary and aesthetic value of the object. Intriguingly, the Egypt Centre possesses a plaster cast of the carving on the reverse (EC1288).

Fig. 5: Photoshopped image of W1376 with reworked head

While the exact placement of the relief within the temple at Deir el-Bahari is currently unknown, it seems likely that it came from the Upper Courtyard. Since the identification of this relief, it has been put on display in the House of Life at the Egypt Centre. This past week it was used again for a handling session on ancient Egyptian art and architecture. A full study on W1376 has been submitted for publication and is currently under review.

Bierbrier, M. L. (2012) Who Was Who in Egyptology. London: The Egypt Exploration Society. 4th edition.
Kitchen, K. A. (1963) ‘A Long-lost Portrait of Princess Neferurē’ from Deir El-Baḥri’. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 49: 38–40.
Laboury, D. (2014) ‘How and Why did Hatshepsut Invent the Image of Her Royal Power?’. In Creativity and Innovation in the Reign of Hatshepsut: Papers from the Theban Workshop 2010, ed. J. M. Galán, B. M. Bryan and P. F. Dorman. Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization 69. Chicago: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. 49–91.
Myśliwiec, K. (1976) Le portrait royal dans le bas-relief du Nouvel Empire. Travaux du Centre d’Archéologie méditerranéenne de l’Académie polonaise des Sciences sous la direction de Kazimierz Michałowski 18. Varsovie: PWN - Éditions Scientifiques de Pologne.
Pawlicki, F. (2007) ‘Princess Neferure in the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahari: Failed Heiress to the Pharaoh’s Throne?’. Études et travaux: Travaux du Centre d’archéologie méditerranéene de l’Académie polonaise des sciences 21: 109–127.
Szafrański, Z. E. (2007). ‘King (?) Neferure, Daughter of Kings Tuthmosis II and Hatshepsut’. Études et travaux: Travaux du Centre d’archéologie méditerranéene de l’Académie polonaise des sciences 21: 139–150.

Monday, 4 March 2019

A Canopic Jar Stopper or a Head from a Statue?

Last Thursday, as part of my Egypt Centre course on the Funerary Culture of Ancient Egypt, we examined a number of objects relating to the theme of mummification. While preparing the objects earlier that morning, I made a last minute decision to change a canopic jar stopper of Qebehsenuef (EC388) to one identified as Imsety (W1024). Canopic jars were used for housing the internal organs of the deceased and were named after the four sons of the god Horus. Imsety, who takes the form of a man, looks after the intestines. While the Egypt Centre has a number of head stoppers, we do not have a complete set of jars (fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Canopic jars of Pakherenkhonsu. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (28.3.56a, b)

The head is carved out of limestone and has been very finely polished, measuring 10cm in height. It has large, well-modelled ears that seem to hold back the bulging curvature of the wig. The mouth, which is not quite straight, has a slight smile. The eyes slant down towards the nose, while no eyebrows were ever carved. Additionally, the figure has a short beard on the end of his chin (figs 2–3).

Fig. 2: Front view of W1024
Fig. 3: Side view of W1024

While these features are commonly found on canopic jars, particularly those dating to the Eighteenth Dynasty, there are a number of issues that suggested to me that it was something else. Firstly, the base is lacking the plug element that would have inserted into the jar to prevent that lid from falling off. Instead, the entire base is covered in chisel marks (fig. 4). Given that the base and plug would have only had a depth of several centimetres, it seems strange that this would have been purposely removed. Additionally, around the edges of the base, there is a slight outwards curvature or lip in a few places, thus indicating that the head was originally attached to something. This curvature would not fit with canopic jars, which suggests that W1024 is instead the head of a statue!

Fig. 4: Base of W1024

If W1024 is the head of a limestone statue then it seems likely that it was part of a block statue. Block statues were one of the most common types of private sculpture from the Middle Kingdom through the Ptolemaic Period. More than 350 of these statues were discovered in the Karnak Cachette, which was excavated during the early twentieth century. These statues are characterised by the squatting posture of the owner, who is shown with the knees drawn up in front of the chest and the arms crossed above them. They served to represent non-royal persons in a general context of solar beliefs. The Egypt Centre is fortunate to have a complete limestone block statue (W921) in the collection, which belonged to a priest from Saft el-Henna named Aba, son of Ramose. This statue, which was published by Tony Leahy, can be dated to the Twenty-sixth Dynasty. Based on the proportions of W1024, the complete block statue would have measured approximately 50cm in height.

Fig. 5: Block statue of Aba (W921)

W1024 originates from the collection of Robert de Rustafjaell (1859–1943), which was sold by Sotheby's between 19–21 December 1906. While the head is illustrated on plate 6 of the catalogue (fig. 6), the exact lot number is not so clear. One possibility is that it was lot 223, which was purchased by Harry Stow for the sum of £4/4. The catalogue entry describes the lot as an "upper part of a basalt figure of a man holding two long vases (Plate VI, 26); eleven heads from small statuettes, in varied material; a fragmentary head of Osiris from a large figure, finely worked in a close-grained marble: and three other pieces." Stow was a well-known and frequent buyer for Henry Wellcome, with at least three of the objects from this lot housed in the Egypt Centre.

Fig. 6: Plate VI of the 1906 de Rustafjaell catalogue with the head as number 27.

Further research is needed on this head in order to determine the exact dating. As always, we welcome further discussion and comments on this piece!

Bierbrier, M. L. (2012) Who Was Who in Egyptology. London: The Egypt Exploration Society. 4th edition.
Bothmer, B. (1994) ‘Block statues of Dynasty XXV’. In Hommages à Jean Leclant 2: Nubie, Soudan, Ethiopie, ed. C. Berger, G. Clerc and N. Grimal. Bibliothèque d’étude 106. Cairo: Institut français d’archéologie orientale. 61–68.
Dodson, A. (1994) The Canopic Equipment of Kings of Egypt. London: Kegan Paul International.
Leahy, A. (1990) ‘A Late Period Block Statuette from Saft el-Henna’. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 76: 194–196.
Schulz, R. (1992) Die Entwicklung und Bedeutung des kuboiden Statuentypus: Eine Untersuchung zu den sogenannten “Würfelhockern”. Hildesheimer Ägyptologische Beiträge 33–34. Hildesheim: Gerstenberg. 
Schulz, R. (2011) ‘Block Statue’. UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, Version 1, September 2011. 1–10. Available from
Sotheby, W. H. (1906) Catalogue of the Collection of Egyptian Antiquities Formed in Egypt, by R. de Rustafjaell, Esq. Queen’s Gate, S. W. London: Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge.