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Monday, 24 June 2019

News from Luxor: Reconstructing a Fragmentary Middle Kingdom Stela

This past Saturday I arrived in Luxor, which will be my home for the next four weeks. I’ll be joining up with the South Asasif Conservation Project (SACP), directed by Dr Elena Pischikova, a project I’ve been involved in since 2010. My role on the project is as an epigrapher, working mainly on reconstructing the religious texts in the tomb of Karakhamun (TT 223). In particular, my work this season will focus on helping the team reconstruct the Ritual of the Hours of the Night, which was inscribed on the southern pillars within the First Pillared Hall of the tomb (fig. 1). While the tomb had completely collapsed in fairly modern times, over 20,000 inscribed fragments have been recovered from the floor since 2006. As a result, the reconstruction of the monument is a giant jigsaw puzzle!

Fig. 1: Reconstructed vignette of the Seventh Hour of the Night

In preparation for my trip to Luxor, I decided to look at two related boxes in the Egypt Centre store. One was labelled as “stela”, while the other contained just over forty fragments of broken limestone (fig. 2). These fragments, which carry the accession number EC1848, were originally part of the collection of Charles James Tabor (1849–1928), a British businessman, bibliophile, lecturer of folklore, and collector of ‘curios’ (Hardwick 2012, 49). They were sold as part of lot 235 on the 13 November 1928, with the auction catalogue describing it as “six sepulchral stele in limestone”. No details of its provenance are recorded. The lot was purchased by Harry Stow, a long-term buyer for Henry Wellcome, for the sum of £19/10. The Egypt Centre has at least three other objects (W348, W349, W1710) allegedly from this lot, although two of them are sandstone!

Fig. 2: Fragments of EC1848 before reconstruction

Using the experience gained through my work with the South Asasif Conservation Project, I spent a day trying to piece the fragments together. Several fragments had been previously glued together at an unknown date, perhaps by the late Anthony Donohue (1944–2016), who worked on the collection for many years. The largest fragment contains the upper figure of a man carved in sunk relief, with a table of offerings above. Traces of an inscription are located above this. Thus, it was already clear that EC1848 contained at least three registers (fig. 3). Stylistically, the stela can be dated to the Middle Kingdom, specifically the late Twelfth or Thirteenth Dynasties.

Fig. 3: Largest fragment of EC1848 before joins

Following a quick examination of all the fragments, around half of which contained decoration, I was able to join two of the larger fragments to the inscription at the top. This revealed that the text consisted of at least four lines of hieroglyphs (fig. 4). While fragmentary, it was possible to reconstruct a part of it. On the second line is the well-known phrase n-kꜢ-n, “for the ka of”, which traditionally precedes the name of the deceased. Unfortunately, this name is missing. Line 3 has ir-n ḥꜢty-Ꜥ wr [...], “made by the Governor [...]”. This identifies the father of the deceased, whose name perhaps begins Wer-[...]. Finally, on the bottom line, the inscription provides the title and name of the owner’s mother: nbt-pr Bbi͗ mꜢꜤt-ḫrw, “Mistress of the House, Bebi, the justified”. The name Bebi is well attested for both males and females of the Middle Kingdom (Ranke PN, 95. 16).

Fig. 4: Upper register inscription during reconstruction

Several joins were made to the scene in the central register, which allows for a reconstruction of a large offering table with a duck on top and drinking vessels below (fig. 5). To the right is a fragment containing the upper body and arm of a person, perhaps seemingly sniffing a lotus blossom. To the left of the table, only the remains of a toe from another figure and the base of a staff are present. This would suggest that we have a seated male figure (the owner of the stela) on the left side, and a female figure (likely his wife) on the right (Budge 1912, pl. 22). In the centre of the lower register, a male figure is depicted looking to the right. The inscription in front of him reads sꜢ.s sꜢ-ḥwt-ḥr, “Her son, Sahathor”. Sahathor, meaning “son of the goddess Hathor” is another common name in the Middle Kingdom (Ranke PN, 283. 20). Directly behind him is a column of hieroglyphs, which reads as ḫw-ni͗wt.f mꜢꜤ-ḫrw, “Khuniwtef, the justified”. This name is much rarer, although it is attested on a stela in Cairo (CG 20134), which also dates to the Middle Kingdom (Lange & Schäfer 1902–1925 I, 158). I am grateful to Wolfram Grajetzki for bringing this stela to my attention!

Fig. 5: Reconstruction of EC1848

Despite ten new joins to the stela being made, around thirty more fragments (mainly undercoated) remain. From the decorated fragments, three contain traces of arms holding flowers. One of them even includes the partial inscription sꜢt.f [...]-ḥwt-ḥr, “his daughter, [...]-Hathor”. It is thus clear that we have in the Egypt Centre a rather fragmentary family stela dating to the late Middle Kingdom.

Budge, E. A. W. (1912) Hieroglyphic Texts from Egyptian Stelae, &c., in the British Museum. Part II. London: The British Museum.
Franke, D. and M. Marée (2013) Egyptian Stelae in the British Museum from the 13th–17th Dynasties. Volume I, Fascicule 1: Descriptions. London: British Museum.
Griffin, K. (2018) ‘A Preliminary Report on the Hours of the Night in the Tomb of Karakhamun (TT 223)’. In Thebes in the First Millennium BC: Art and Archaeology of the Kushite Period and Beyond, ed. E. Pischikova, J. Budka and K. Griffin. GHP Egyptology 27. London: Golden House Publications. 59–70.
Hardwick, T. (2012) ‘The Obsidian King’s Origins: Further Light on Purchasers and Prices at the MacGregor Sale, 1922’. Discussions in Egyptology 65: 7–52.
Lange, H. O. and H. Schäfer (1902–1925) Grab- und Denksteine des Mittleren Reichs (CG; 20001–20780). 1–4. Catalogue général des du Musée du Caire. Berlin: Reichsdruckerei.
Ranke, H. (1935) Die ägyptischen Personennamen, vol. 1. Glückstadt: Verlag J. J. Augustin.
Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge. (1928) Catalogue of Prehistoric Implements, Egyptian, Greek and Roman Antiquities, &c.: Monday, the 12th of November, 1928, and Following Day. London: Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge.

Monday, 17 June 2019

Handling Sessions at the Swansea University Open Day

On Saturday, the final Swansea University Open Day took place in the Taliesin Create, just next door to the Egypt Centre. As with the previous five open days this academic year, prospective students had the opportunity to handle some of the objects in the Egypt Centre collection. People often assume that because the museum is called the Egypt Centre, all of the objects relate to Egypt. This is not true. The Egypt Centre also possesses a significant collection of Classical objects (Gill & Gee, 1996). With Egyptology at Swansea University coming under the Department of Classics, Ancient History, and Egyptology, this was the perfect occasion to also highlight some of these Classical objects (fig. 1). This blog post will present three of the objects used for the handling session.

Fig. 1: Display of the objects ready for handling

The centrepiece of the display was a life-size marble head of a bearded figure (W914). Although this object was too big and heavy to be handled, prospective students were able to see this head up close. This head was recently studied by one of our volunteers and Masters students, who will be writing a guest blog about it shortly. We did, however, have a much smaller, and very intriguing, terracotta head that they were able to handle (fig. 2). GR106 is described in the Egypt Centre catalogue as being a scent bottle dating to the sixth century BC, with the rather vague provenance of “Eastern Mediterranean”. This identification is presumably based on parallel objects. Not being familiar with these objects, the fact that there are holes in the base, along with the rear and top of the head, doesn’t seem to make much sense. These holes, particularly the one in the base, would have to be plugged in order to retain any liquid. If any readers have any ideas about this object, we would love to hear them! 

fig. 2: Scent bottle? (GR106)

A second non-Egyptian object the prospective students got to handle was a Cypriot horse (W229a), which has been dated to the sixth century BC (fig. 3). Cyprus is the primary area of interest by our colleague Ersin Hussein, who we work closely with on a number of projects. This small ceramic figure was originally part of a larger chariot group, as is evident from the fused rear legs. Black and pink painted decoration is present on the front of the horse. A circular label on the side indicates that this figure was sold as part of lot 33, which contained 8 items. In fact, it was purchased by Henry Wellcome almost exactly 100 years ago, on the 18th July 1919. The description at the beginning of the catalogue reveals that it was originally part of the “Laurence-Cesnola collection”. The name Cesnola has been long associated with Cyprus, particularly through the excavations of Luigi Palma di Cesnola (1832–1904), who became the first Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (1879–1904). Yet the Laurence-Cesnola collection (also referred to as the Lawrence-Cesnola collection) relates to his brother, Alessandro Palma di Cesnola (1839–1914), who married Augusta Alexandra Lawrence in 1879. She was the youngest daughter of Edwin H. Lawrence (1819–1891), a London financier and Alessandro’s excavation partner.

Fig. 3: Cypriot horse from a chariot (W229a)

The final object to be presented here is a mummy label (W449), one of our chosen Egypt Centre highlights, which almost certainly originated from Egypt. The label is written in Greek, clearly by two different hands: the first two lines by one person, and the remaining five lines by another. The text reads as “Hermiysis, [son] of Kollouthos, farewell!”, and “Kollouthos to Kallistos: When the mummy of my child reaches you, keep guard until I arrive.” In Graeco-Roman times (332 BC–AD 395), people who died away from home were normally taken back for burial in their local cemeteries. In order to make sure that the dead were correctly identified, the senders put labels around their necks. W550 was purchased by in 1922 by Harry Stow, on behalf of Henry Wellcome, from the collection of the Reverend William MacGregor. Lot 643, which consisted of three mummy labels written in Greek (W548 & W550), and the fragment of a wooden tablet inscribed in Coptic (W551), was purchased for £1/2 (Mueller, 1973).

Fig. 4: Mummy label (W549)

So why study at Swansea? The Department of Classics, Ancient History, and Egyptology offers a diverse range of degree schemes at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. The Egypt Centre also teaches modules on the new MA in Public History and Heritage degree, which is part of the Department of History. Lecturers favour a hands-on approach to teaching, from experimenting with ancient technology, to object-centred learning at the Egypt Centre (fig. 5). The close links between the Department and the Egypt Centre mean that the collection is well-used by a wide variety of students. These students benefit from these links, helping to provide them with key employability skills and preparing them for the workplace by encouraging creativity and innovation.

Fig. 5: Prospective students enjoying the handling session

di Cesnola, A. P. (1881–1882) Lawrence-Cesnola Collection. Cyprus Antiquities Excavated by Major Alexander Palma di Cesnola, 1876–1879. London: W. Holmes and Son.
Gill, D. W. J. and R. Gee (1996) ‘Museum Supplement: Classical Antiquities in Swansea’. The Journal of Hellenic Studies 116: 157–161.
Mueller, D. (1973) ‘Three Mummy Labels in the Swansea Wellcome Collection’. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 59: 175–180.
———. (1922) Catalogue of the MacGregor Collection of Egyptian Antiquities. London: Davy. 

Monday, 10 June 2019

Highlights of the Egypt Centre: Results!

This past Wednesday, as part of Volunteers’ Week, we announced the results of our selection process for the highlights of the Egypt Centre. Voters were asked to select up to fifteen objects currently on display in each of our galleries (House of Death and House of Life). While many of the objects selected were expected, we were surprised by some of the objects that missed out. From the House of Death, a Greek mummy label (W549), stela of Isis-Thermouthis and Serapis-Agathadaimon (W56), and the head of an unidentified Ptolemaic queen (W194) were just some of the objects that weren’t selected (fig. 1). In the House of Life, the lintel of Tjenti (W491) and the painted plaster fragment of Akhenaten’s elbow (W802), two objects that featured in recent blogs, missed out.  

Fig. 1: Unidentified Ptolemaic Queen (W194)

The chosen objects from each gallery is as follows.

Objects from the House of Death (fig. 2) are:
EC number
Coffin of the Chantress of Amun, Iwesemhesetmut
Book of Dead papyrus of Ankh-hapi
Cartonnage coffin with foetus
Overseer shabti of Ptahhotep
Bes pot
Cat mummy mask
Khabekhenet wall relief
Gilded cartonnage mask
Edfu stela of Pasherienimhotep
Pottery offering tray
W1377Eighteenth Dynasty Theban tomb painting
W1367a & b
Sarcophagus fragments of Amenhotep son of Hapu

Fig. 2: Objects from the House of Death

Objects from the House of Life (fig. 3) consist of:

EC number
Middle Kingdom battle axe
Carnelian anklet with snake heads
Statue of Aba
Paneb’s offering stand
W946 bis
Commodus stela
Amarna collar with Beset
Miniature Quran
Faience wall tiles
Amethyst scarab bracelet
D-Ware pot
Bes bell
Book of Esther

Fig. 3: Objects from the House of Life

We are grateful to the 108 people who participated in the selection process over the past five weeks. Over the coming months, those highlights that haven’t already featured on this blog will be presented. Additionally, Dulcie Engel, one of our volunteers, will be writing a short catalogue entry for each of the objects, which will form part of a small booklet featuring these thirty highlights!

Monday, 3 June 2019

Volunteering at the Egypt Centre

This week the Egypt Centre is pleased to be participating in Volunteers’ Week, which is a chance to celebrate and say thank you for the fantastic contribution millions of volunteers make across the UK. It takes place 1–7 June every year and is an opportunity to celebrate volunteering in all its diversity. During the week, hundreds of events and celebrations take place across the country, saying thank you to volunteers and recognising their invaluable and diverse contribution to the UK. Several events will be taking place at the Egypt Centre (fig. 1). For example, on Wednesday we will be announcing the results of our Highlights of the Egypt Centre poll, which will form the basis of a small booklet.

Fig. 1: Volunteers’ Week at the Egypt Centre

Without volunteers, the youngest of whom is nine years old and the oldest over ninety, the Egypt Centre simply could not function. We have a full-time Volunteer Manager, Syd Howells, to oversee a diverse group of approximately 150 volunteers (fig. 2). These volunteers are often student placements from home and abroad, others who have mental health issues or learning difficulties, are long-term unemployed, or people who simply want to give back to the community. We are particularly proud of our child volunteer programme, which has been running since 1999.

Fig. 2: Volunteers with their certificates at the 2019 Volunteer Awards ceremony

Volunteers welcome our visitors, demonstrate the public activities (senet, mummification, and the materials handling board), answer enquiries, and give guided tours (fig. 3). They also work as educational leaders for visiting school groups and workshops and are closely involved with the development of hands-on activities with the Education and Events Officer. Many adapt activities already on offer by making props to enhance the activity, such as headdresses, wigs, etc. Volunteers also pilot new activities before they are offered to our visitors. Some volunteers help with shop duties serving customers, answering enquiries, and carrying out general reception and administrative duties.

Fig. 3: Child volunteers training on the Egypt Centre materials board

Over the years the Egypt Centre volunteers have been the recipient of many awards. In 2010 the volunteers won the Wales Volunteer of the Year Awards (Group of the Year). The young volunteers have won the annual Diana Memorial Award seven times (2011–12, 2015–19), which is the most important accolade a young person aged 9–25 can receive for their social action or humanitarian work. The most recent (2018), and certainly the most prestigious, is the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service. This is equivalent to the MBE and is the highest award that can be made to a voluntary group (fig. 4).

Fig. 4: Barbara Miles and Seth Marshall receiving the Queen’s Award

On Friday the Egypt Centre hosted the annual Volunteer Awards ceremony, which is our own way of honouring the hard work of the volunteers. We were delighted to welcome our new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Paul Boyle, who was accompanied by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Professor Martin Stringer. The top prize for the evening was our Volunteer of the Year, which was deservedly won by Carolyn Harris (fig. 5). The day after the ceremony, we received the following words from Carolyn, which really sum up what volunteering at the Egypt Centre is all about. “What a huge surprise (not to mention shock) to receive such a wonderful award for doing something that actually gives me a lot of pleasure. It’s just the best thing to feel that your efforts are valued and appreciated. However, it’s very easy to work with so many lovely people in the Centre and I would like to thank everyone for making it so enjoyable. Volunteering with you all has added an extra dimension to my life.” Congratulations Carolyn! 

Fig. 5: Carolyn Harris receiving her Volunteer of the Year award from the Pro-Vice-Chancellor Martin Stringer