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Monday, 29 April 2019

Selecting the Highlights of the Egypt Centre. Please Vote!

Last month we decided that the Egypt Centre would create a small booklet containing fifteen highlights from the House of Death and fifteen from the House of Life. After some discussion of what should be included, we thought that we should let our award-winning volunteers decide. However, we also decided that it would be beneficial to open voting to the public, particularly as the museum is keen on widening participation. With the photography of the objects completed, the voting is now open and will remain so throughout the month of May. The announcement of the objects selected will be made during Volunteers’ Week, which takes place in the first week of June. To take part in the vote, please click on the following link and select up to fifteen objects per gallery.

Objects from the House of Death (fig. 1) are:
EC number
Coffin of the Chantress of Amun, Iwesemhesetmut
Book of Dead papyrus of Ankh-hapi
Cartonnage coffin with foetus
Reserve head
Overseer shabti of Ptahhotep
Greek mummy label
Bes pot
Cat mummy mask
Standing Osiris statue
Statue of Isis suckling Horus
Sopdu-Hor amulet
Khabekhenet wall relief
Stela of Isis-Thermouthis and Serapis-Agathadaimon
Heart scarab of Padiamun
Limestone head of private statue
Gilded cartonnage mask
Third Intermediate Period coffin fragment
Edfu stela of Pasherienimhotep
Pottery offering tray
Head of Ptolemaic queen
Eighteenth Dynasty Theban tomb painting
Glazed Sekhmet statue
Bird coffin with mummy
W1367a & b
Sarcophagus fragments of Amenhotep son of Hapu

Fig. 1: Montage of objects in the House of Death

Objects from the House of Life (fig. 2) consist of:
EC number
Middle Kingdom battle axe
Carnelian anklet with snake heads
Temple relief of Neferure
Marble votive footprint
Statue of Aba
Paneb’s offering stand
W946 bis
Commodus stela
Granite head of a goddess
Amarna collar with Beset
Flint hand axe
Miniature Quran
Black-topped redware pot
Tjenti’s lintel
Amarna plaster with elbow of Akhenaten
Faience wall tiles
Metal plaque of Constantine and Helena
Stone offering table
Lute player ring bezel
Amethyst scarab bracelet
Paddle doll
Temple relief of Thutmose III
Feldspar bead
D-Ware pot
Bes bell
Book of Esther
Cuneiform brick of Nebuchadnezzar II

Fig. 2: Montage of objects in the House of Life

Regular readers of this blog will recognise some of the objects available for selection. From the House of Dead are the reserve head (W164) and the limestone head from a private statue (W1024), while in the House of Life the temple relief depicting Neferure (W1376), a plaster fragment from Amarna with the elbow of Akhenaten (W802), a paddle doll (W769), and a D-Ware vessel (W5308) all featured in recent weeks. Given the number of objects available to select from, it is not really possible to highlight them all here. So, please vote and share the link with your family and friends in order to give us as much input as possible. The objects are all on display within the Egypt Centre, so why not pop in and have a look. Feel free to also tell us your favourite object, and why, in the comment section of the blog!

Monday, 22 April 2019

The Tattooed Lady of the Egypt Centre

Last Thursday, as part of the final class on the funerary culture of the ancient Egyptians, we examined a “paddle doll”. Paddle dolls are a particular type of figurine named because they are made from a flat, shaped piece of wood, which usually have long strings of mud or faience beads attached at one end to imitate hair. In the past, they have been interpreted variously as concubines for the dead, as children’s toys, or as figurines embodying the concept of fertility and rebirth. Most recently, Ellen Morris (2011; 2017) has argued that they were representations of specific living women, who can be identified as the khener-dancers of Hathor. This is based on their tattoos, which resemble those found on women buried in and around the precinct of the mortuary temple of Montuhotep II at Deir el-Bahari. The majority of paddle dolls excavated can be dated to the Eleventh and Twelfth dynasties.

Fig. 1: W769

W769 is a flat, paddle shaped, wooden figure that is, unfortunately, missing its head. The shape of these figures has been compared to the counterpoise of an ancient Egyptian menat collar, which is closely associated with the goddess Hathor (Oppemheim et al. 2015, 106–7). The figure measures 205mm in height, 54mm in width, and 4.7mm in its depth. Both sides of the figure are decorated with black markings, which represent tattoos. It is currently on display in the body adornment case in the House of Life. W769 was purchased as part of lot 407 by Sir Henry Wellcome on the 1 July 1919. The flimsy slip (52536) in the archives of the Wellcome Institute describes it as a “Doll. Wood, head missing, crudely made, with traces of decoration. 8 inches x 2 inches” (fig. 2).

Fig. 2: Flimsy slip in the Wellcome archives.

The decorative marks on the front of the figure are much more prevalent than those on the back (fig. 3). Starting from the top, a broad collar has been included. Below this, the breasts have been highlighted through the use of six dots forming circles. Two rows of diagonal dashes on the chest represent the top of a garment, which continues (despite being difficult to see) to the waist. Here, a thick band of diagonal dashes represents the belt of the dress. The most prominent feature is the dotted pubic triangle below, which is the one constant in the iconic repertoire of paddle dolls (Morris 2011, 86).

Fig. 3: Front side of W769

Despite the rear of the paddle doll containing less decoration, what is present is most interesting (fig. 4). The upper half consists of a series of dots, which perhaps represent that straps of the dress. A belt has also been included at waist level. Directly above this a drawing of a frog (fig. 5), which clearly represents a figural tattoo! Frogs were associated with fertility and the goddess Heket. Although figural tattoos are known from other examples of paddle dolls, particularly in the form of birds (Morris 2011, 82), I am unaware of any other frogs. As highlighted by Morris (2011), the decoration of the paddle dolls, including the figural tattoos, can be found on the bodies of some women buried at Deir el-Bahari.

Reverse side of W769

While identifying tattoos on Egyptian mummies is nothing new (Keimer 1948; Poon & Quickenden 2006), research on the topic has increased considerably in the last few years. Perhaps most well-known is the identification of a torso at Deir el-Medina of a female mummy that was heavily tattooed along the arms, shoulders, neck, and back (Austin & Gobeil 2016). Additionally, the oldest known examples of figural tattoos, which were found on two Predynastic mummies, have been identified (Friedman et al. 2018). Interestingly, the tattoos mirror motifs found in Predynastic art, in a similar way to the marks on the paddle dolls resembling the tattoos on the mummies of some Middle Kingdom women!

Fig. 5: Frog tattoo on the reverse of W769

Austin, A. and C. Gobeil (2016) ‘Embodying the Divine: A Tattooed Female Mummy from Deir el-Medina’. Bulletin de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale 116: 23–46.
Díaz Hernández, R. A. (2017) ‘“Paddle Dolls” – Ritual Figurines of Fertility’. In Company of Images: Modelling the Imaginary World of Middle Kingdom Egypt (2000–15000 BC). Proceedings of the International Conference of the EPOCHS Project held 18th–20th September 2014 at UCL, London, ed. G. Miniaci, M. Betrò and S. Quirke. Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 262. Leuven: Peeters. 125–132.
Friedman, R., D. Antoine, S. Talamo, P. J. Reimer, J. H. Taylor, B. Wills, and M. Mannino (2018) ‘Natural Mummies from PredynasticEgypt Reveal the World’s Earliest Figural Tattoos’. Journal of Archaeological Science 92: 116–125.
Keimer, L. (1948) Remarques sur le tatouage dans l’Égypteancienne. Mémoire de l’Institut d’Égypte 53. Cairo: Institut français d’archéologie orientale.
Morris, E. F. (2011) ‘Paddle Dolls and Performance’. Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 47: 71–103.
Morris, E. F. (2017) ‘Middle Kingdom Clappers, Dancers, Birth Magic, and the Reinvention of Ritual’. In Company of Images: Modelling the Imaginary World of Middle Kingdom Egypt (2000–15000 BC). Proceedings of the International Conference of the EPOCHS Project held 18th–20th September 2014 at UCL, London, ed. G. Miniaci, M. Betrò and S. Quirke. Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 262. Leuven: Peeters. 285–335.
Oppenheim, A., D. Arnold, D. Arnold, and K. Yamamoto eds. (2015) Ancient Egypt Transformed: The Middle Kingdom. New Haven; London: Yale University Press.
Poon, K. W. C. and T. I. Quickenden (2006) ‘A Review of Tattooing in Ancient Egypt’. The Bulletin of the Australian Centre for Egyptology 17: 123–136.

Monday, 15 April 2019

Reuniting a Ptah-Sokar-Osiris Figure?

This past Thursday, as part of an Egypt Centre evening course on the funerary culture of the ancient Egyptians, we examined a Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figure (W475b) from the collection (fig. 1). The Egypt Centre has seventeen Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figures in the collection, in addition to other elements originating from these figures. Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figures emerge as a key item of burial equipment during the Nineteenth Dynasty, although they are more common from the Third Intermediate Period through the Graeco-Roman Period. The figures are identified as Osiris in the earlier examples before later representing the composite deity Ptah-Sokar-Osiris. Osiris was the god of the dead and the king of the Netherworld. Ptah was one of the main creator gods of the Egyptian pantheon while Sokar was also associated with the Netherworld. The syncretism of these deities, who are usually shown mummiform, has a deep connection with the deceased and were designed to grant them resurrection.

Fig. 1: Front view of W475b

W395b is a polychrome Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figure measuring 36cm in its height (fig. 2). It can be identified as a “Type III” figure following the classification of Maarten Raven (1978–1979). This consists of a mummiform figure wearing a šwty-crown (only the stump remaining on W475b) and without arms or hands. The tripartite wig is blue while the face is green with details in black and white (eyes). The figure has a red headband, which is tied at the rear. There is a simple concentric collar around the shoulders, interrupted by the three lappets of the wig; the collar has concentric stripes (green, blue, and red on a yellow background). The body of the figure is red and is provided with a blue and yellow reticulated pattern imitating a bead net. W475b has a back pillar that forms a continuation of the wig lappet on the shoulders. Between the base and figure is a plinth, which is decorated with a green, yellow, and red rectangle on all four sides. Single vertical columns of hieroglyphs are located on the front and rear of the figure.

Fig. 2: W475b

But what of the base that the figure originally sat inside? Searching through the Egypt Centre catalogue reveals that there is only one base in the collection, W475 (fig. 3). This rectangular base, which contains a continuous inscription on the front, left, and right sides, has two cavities on the top; the one at the rear for the stump of the figure and the one at the front usually reserved for papyrus or a small mummiform figure. To my amazement, when I examined the interior of the front cavity I was able to spot small flakes of inscribed papyrus that were stuck to the bottom! W475 had been previously associated with another Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figure, W452, as can be seen in a photo published by Gwyn Griffiths (1996, fig. 5). Yet this association must be rejected for a number of reasons, including the fact that they have two different lot numbers; W465 bears the sticker identifying it as lot 250 whereas W452 is lot 258. No auction details are known for W475b, which allows for the possibility that it originally belonged with the base. In fact, the figure fits perfectly into the cavity of the base, the only one of our Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figures to do so. Additionally, the lot label on the top of the base is at an angle that matches perfectly with the outline of the figure. Case solved? Well, not quite!

Fig. 3: W475

The object file for W475 contains a flimsy slip (fig. 4), which accompanied the object when it was were transferred from the Wellcome Institute to Swansea in 1971. These slips are catalogue records of the material purchased by Henry Wellcome, which were compiled by the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum (WHMM) in the first half of the twentieth century. The flimsy for W475, which was given the inventory number 10680, is quite revealing. It describes the object as an “ancient Egyptian carved figure of Saket Ptah”, which was purchased as part of lot 250 from Stevens’ auction house on the 27 September 1908 (if any readers have a copy of this catalogue, I’d be most grateful!). Most importantly, the object is described as 21 inches high by 8 inches wide. Here is where the problem lies. W475 and W75b together only measure 16½ inches in height! Although this would seem to suggest that the two objects do not belong together, we must consider that the figure may have had its crown still present during the cataloguing by the WHMM. However, while the Egypt Centre has nine crowns belonging to Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figures in its collection, none of them seem to fit with W475b.

Fig. 4: Flimsy slip for W475

So who does the Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figure belong to? The inscription on the front of the figure (fig. 5) identifies the owner as a “Mistress of the House” (nbt-pr), the most common title held by women in ancient Egypt. Unfortunately, only the first part of her name is preserved with the ending missing. If any readers have suggestions as to the reconstruction of the name, we would love to hear them! Aside from the owner, her parents are also named; Horbes is her father while Ptahirdis is the name of her mother. Both names are attested during the Twenty-fifth and Twenty-sixth dynasties, when this figure can be dated to. The inscription on the rear of the figure and the one on the base are largely identical and contain an offering formula (tp di nsw) to Re-Horakhty.

Fig. 5: Transcription of the hieroglyphs on the front of W475b

W475b had been on display in the House of Death for the last twenty years while the base had remained in storage. Although it is inconclusive as to whether they belong together, it was decided to put the base on display with the figure (fig. 6).

Fig. 6: W475 & W475b “reunited”?

Aston, D. (2003) ‘Theban West Bank from the Twenty-fifth Dynasty to the Ptolemaic Period’. In The Theban Necropolis: Past, Present and Future, ed. N. C. Strudwick and J. H. Taylor. London: British Museum Press. 138–166.
Aston, D. A. (2009) Burial Assemblages of Dynasty 21–25: Chronology - Typology - Developments. Contributions to the Chronology of the Eastern Mediterranean 21; Denkschriften der Gesamtakademie 54. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. 
Bosse-Griffiths, K. (2001) ‘Problems with Ptaḥ-Sokar-Osiris Figures: Presented to the 4th International Congress of Egyptology, Munich, 1985’. In AmarnaStudies and Other Selected Papers, ed. J. G. Griffiths. Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 182. Freiburg; Göttingen: Universitätsverlag; Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. 181–188.
Griffiths, J. G. (1996) Triads and Trinity. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. 
Raven, M. J. (1978–1979) ‘Papyrus-sheaths andPtah-Sokar-Osiris Statues’. Oudheidkundige mededelingen uit het Rijksmuseum van Oudheden 59–60: 251–296.
Rindi, C. (2014) ‘Some Remarks on the Positioning of Ptah-Sokar-Osiris Figures in Third Intermediate and Late Period Burials’. In Cult and Belief in Ancient Egypt: Proceedings of the Fourth International Congress for Young Egyptologists, 25–27 September 2012, Sofia, ed. T. Lekov and E. Buzov. Sofia: East West. 30–36.
Rindi Nuzzolo, C. (2013) ‘An Unusual Group of Ptah-Sokar-Osiris Figures: Some Reflections on Typology and Provenance’. Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 49: 193–204.
Rindi Nuzzolo, C. (2017) ‘Tradition andTransformation: Retracing Ptah-Sokar-Osiris Figures from Akhmim in Museums andPrivate Collections’. In (Re)productive Traditions in Ancient Egypt: Proceedings of the Conference Held at the University of Liège, 6th–8th February 2013, ed. T. J. Gillen. Aegyptiaca Leodiensia 10. Liège: Presses universitaires de Liège. 445–474.

Monday, 8 April 2019

Tracking the History of a Decorated (D-Ware) Vessel

Last week’s handling session for the Egyptian Art and Architecture module focused on decorated pottery. One of the vessels chosen was W5308 (figs. 1–4), which is one of the most favourite artefacts amongst staff and volunteers at the Egypt Centre. This pot is part of a group called ‘D-ware’ or ‘Decorated Ware’, a classification of Predynastic pottery originating from Flinders Petrie’s seriation of Predynastic material from Diospolis Parva. The primary characteristics of D-ware pottery is that it was made from Marl clay and decorated with a red ochre. The decoration usually consists of scenes depicting the natural landscape of the Nile Valley, in addition to humans and animals. Numerous examples also show geometric patterns. Pottery vessels such as these date between the Naqada IIA and Naqada IIIB periods (3600–3100 BC) and are found mostly in sites located in Upper Egypt (Cox 2015). This corpus was recently published by Gwenola Graff (2009), with W5308 being given the catalogue number 410.

Fig. 1: W5308

W5308 is a small (10.7cm in height) decorated ovoid marl pottery jar with flat base, ledge rim, and two cylindrical pierced handles on the shoulder (fig. 2). At an unknown date, the vessel had been broken before being reconstructed with glue. The exterior is decorated in dark red paint with representations of two oared boats, one on each side. Each boat contains two central cabins to which a standard has been attached, each bearing a different emblem: a Z-motif or zigzag; five triangular hills or mounds. A study by Aksamit (2006, 559) has shown that these two standards are the most common on D-ware pottery. One of the boats has a large frond hanging from the left prow that arches over the vessel and terminates in an irregular shape above the cabins. The other has a fan-shaped bush motif projecting from the rear cabin. A similar fan-shaped bush is also shown under the boats. Additionally, S-motifs are painted below and between the boats. Four wavy lines encircle the top of the rim, with a further five covering each handle.

Fig. 2: Decorated faces of W5308

So what is the history of W5308? Well, from a number (3367) written on the pot we can trace it back to the collection of the Reverend William MacGregor (1848–1937), who owned one of the finest private collections of Egyptian antiquities ever assembled. The vessel is first mentioned by Percy Newberry (1869–1949) in a 1913 article discussing cult signs on decorated pottery. MacGregor’s collection of objects was sold over the course of nine days by Sotheby’s auction house between the 26 June–6 July 1922. W5308 was one of two pots making up lot 1757, with the catalogue describing it as follows: “Two others [vessels], with ovoid bodies, flat lips and tubular handles, 5½ in. and 4½ in. high, the taller of the two with a two-cabined boat on each side, and ostriches, sails, etc., below, the smaller with two-cabined boats on each side; found opposite Gebelein, both of the Archaic Period.” Since there are no ostriches on the Swansea vessel, W5308 clearly relates to the smaller pot. This was easily confirmed by checking the measurements. Moreover, a photograph of W5308 is represented in plate 53 of the catalogue (fig. 3)! Lot 1757 was purchased by John Sunley Comins, who was employed at Sir. Henry Wellcome’s Historical Medical Museum from 1921 onwards, for the sum of £10/10.

Fig. 3: W5308 as shown on plate LIII of the MacGregor catalogue

Eagled-eyed readers have probably noticed that the vessel depicted in the MacGregor catalogue was complete in 1922. This is confirmed by the flimsy slip kept in the Wellcome archives (13434), which doesn’t mention the vessel as being broken or repaired. No record of when the pot was broken and subsequently restored is recorded in the Egypt Centre archives. However, a photograph showing the pot on display in the 1970s clearly shows that it had been restored by then (fig. 4). This perhaps suggests that the vessel had been broken prior to it arriving in Swansea in 1971, although it is also possible that the damage occurred during the transit of the objects. Whatever the case, the restoration of the pot was not particularly well done, with lots of excess glue present on the surface. The photo shows a young Prof. Alan Lloyd standing in front of the Predynastic case in the old Wellcome Museum at Swansea University. W5308 continues to be the centrepiece of the Predynastic case in the Egypt Centre, although no longer suspended in mid-air like in the archival photo. Perhaps it’s time to give this beautiful vessel a new lease of life by sending it off for new conservation work!

Fig. 4: Prof. Alan Lloyd in front of the old Predynastic case. 

Aksamit, J. (1998a) ‘Egyptian Predynastic D-ware: Archaeological Evidence and Social Context’. In XIII International Congress of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Sciences - Forlì - Italia - 8/14 September 1996. Proceedings 6: Workshops, ed. C. Giunchi. Forlì: A.B.A.C.O. Ed. 561–565.
———. (1998b) ‘The D-ware from Abusir el-Meleq’. In Proceedings of the Seventh International Congress of Egyptologists, Cambridge, 3–9 September 1995, ed. C. J. Eyre. Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 82. Leuven: Peeters. 31–38.
———. (2006) ‘A New List of Vases with Cult-signs’. In Archaeology of Early Northeastern Africa: In Memory of Lech Krzyżaniak, ed. K. Kroeper, M. Chłodnicki and M. Kobusiewicz. Studies in African Archaeology 9. Poznan: Archaeological Museum. 557–592.
Cox, J. (2015) ‘From Nubia to the Levant: The Distribution of Predynastic Egyptian Decorated Ware in Space and Time’. In Ancient Cultures at Monash University: Proceedings of a Conference Held Between 18–20 October 2013 on Approaches to Studying the Ancient Past, ed. J. Cox, C. R. Hamilton, K. R. L. McLardy, A. J. Pettman and D. Stewart. BAR International Series 2764. Oxford: Archaeopress. 71–77.
Graff, G. (2009) Les peintures sur vases de Nagada I - Nagada II: nouvelle approche sémiologique de l’iconographie prédynastique. Egyptian Prehistory Monographs 6. Leuven: Leuven University Press. 
Hardwick, T. (2011) ‘Five Months before Tut: Purchasers and Prices at the MacGregor Sale, 1922’. Journal of the History of Collections 23, 1: 1–14.
———. (2012) ‘The Obsidian King’s Origins: Further Light on Purchasers and Prices at the MacGregor Sale, 1922’. Discussions in Egyptology 65: 7–52.
Newberry, P. E. (1913) ‘List of Vases with Cult-signs’. Annals of Archaeology and Anthropology 5: 137–142.
Sotheby, Wilkinson and Hodge. (1922) Catalogue of the MacGregor Collection of Egyptian Antiquities. London: Davy.