The blog post for this week is written by Dr Dulcie Engel, former French university lecturer, regular volunteer with an interest in collecting and collectors, and a previous contributor to this blog.
The Amarna Period covers a period in the Eighteenth Dynasty of the New Kingdom from the reign of Amenhotep IV, who became Akhenaten (1353–36 BCE), to that of his son Tutankhaten/Tutankhamun (d.1324 BCE). Akhenaten famously rejected the old religion and the power of the priests of Amun, transferring the capital to Akhetaten (Tell el-Amarna), and worship to the Aten (sun disc). Some suggest this was the first manifestation of monotheism (Hoffmeier 2015). The old religion was later restored by Tutankhamun. This break with the past is also evident in the art of the period. We find depictions of busy scenes and figures with exaggerated features: elongated faces, fingers, and toes, almond-shaped eyes, large hips, rounded breasts and bellies. However, the most famous surviving artwork from Amarna does not show such extreme exaggeration: the Nefertiti bust, now in Berlin.
|Fig. 1: Statue of Akhenaten carrying an offering tray (W154)|
The five objects we handled this evening are just a few of the 300 plus items from Amarna in the Egypt Centre. W154 is a fragment from a sandstone statue of Akhenaten carrying an offering tray (fig. 1). Such statues are relatively common. Our fragment shows three of his fingers, and on the other side, part of the offering tray (Bosse-Griffiths 2001, 131–134). According to the Egypt Exploration Society (EES) object card, it was excavated at Amarna on 23 December 1931 and later given to Sir Henry Wellcome as part of the distribution of finds (Pendlebury 1951, 102).
|Fig. 2: Ring bezel with the name of Akhenaten (VAD29)|
VAD29 is a turquoise blue faience ring bezel with the name of Akhenaten (fig. 2). The shoulder of the ring is also preserved on one side. It seems that such rings were distributed by the pharaohs, possibly as a sign of royal protection, or on special occasions such as coronations. They have been found in royal tombs, the houses of commoners, and the workmen’s village (Shannon 1987; Shaw 1984). Ring bezels with cartouches were introduced by Akhenaten’s father Amenhotep III and remained popular until the end of the New Kingdom.
We also handled W1150, a part of a dark blue faience ring bezel depicting a female lute player with a monkey (fig. 3). The detail is exquisite, given its tiny size, and can only be appreciated with a magnifying glass. That is one reason why having the opportunity to see such objects outside the case is so valuable! The figure has a rounded belly, typical of Amarna style. The lute player is naked and has a cone on her head. It is a youthful and sexualised depiction. Furthermore, the monkey is a symbol of female sexuality as well as of music and dance (Bosse-Griffiths 2001 165–173; Graves-Brown 2014). In this period, the lute had only recently been introduced to Egypt. This particular bezel was found in a house in the Northern City area of Amarna.
|Fig. 4: Small fragment of an Amarna stela (W242)|
W242 is a small fragment of a private devotional stela carved from sandstone, depicting three columns of the Aten’s titulary, the cartouches of the Aten, and, in one corner, the rays of the Aten (fig. 4). It was purchased at auction in 1930 (lot 77), but the exact provenance is unknown. It may have come from the excavations directed by Petrie in the 1890s, or perhaps even the EES excavations in the 1920s. What is most exciting is that W242 appears to fit together with a larger fragment of a stela in Berlin (ÄM 14511). The Berlin piece depicts Akhenaten and Nefertiti worshipping the Aten (fig. 5). Further research on this object is currently ongoing by Ken, who is preparing it for publication!
Despite that, my favourite object remains W10, one of four collars said to have come from the royal tombs at Amarna (fig. 6). We know they were acquired by Lady Berens in the 1880s, shortly after a rich tomb was pillaged in Amarna. They were later purchased by Sir Henry Wellcome in 1924 (lots 66–69). This provenance is, however, questionable. The collars, which show great workmanship, appear to have had wealthy owners, and feature amulets and beads associated more with females (such as the fish, the female deities, and the nasturtium seeds on W10). The terminals are missing on all four collars: possibly cut off to be sold separately? Many of the beads and amulets are in the style of the Eighteenth Dynasty, and in particular, linked with Amarna.
|Fig. 6: Amarna collar (W10)|
Furthermore, the thread is of linen, rather than the cotton more commonly used by forgers. We will probably never know whether they are genuine or not, although it may be possible to test and date the thread. The collars remain some of our most popular exhibits: and indeed W9 was voted as one of the Highlights of the collection. It was therefore a great privilege for me to get up so close to one of these iconic pieces. The beads on this necklace are mainly made from faience, with faience amulets/pendants. The central one is a heart amulet, flanked in sequence on each side by a squatting child (probably the Pharaoh); a female deity holding a lotus staff; a light green bulla (a drop-shaped amulet; missing on one side); and a fish carved from lapis lazuli. The rest of the pendants on the outer layer are alternating yellow and brown rosettes; at each end is a green thistle head/cornflower (one is quite damaged). There is a partial row of blue nasturtium seed beads in the middle row, ending with a red glass bead. Tiny beads woven together in alternating colours make up the inner and outer rows, known as bead bands, with a net-like pattern of tubular beads joining each row together (Bosse-Griffiths 2001, 27–30).
You will be pleased to hear that Ken’s next course starting in the New Year will be on the Amarna Period!
Bosse-Griffiths, K. (2001) ‘Baboon and maid’. In Amarna studies and other selected papers, ed. J. G. Griffiths. Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 182. Freiburg; Göttingen: Universitätsverlag; Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. 165–173.
Bosse-Griffiths, K. (2001) ‘Bead collars with Amarna amulets in the Wellcome Collection of the University College, Swansea’. In Amarna Studies and other Selected Papers, ed. J. G. Griffiths. Freiburg (Schweiz); Göttingen: Universitätsverlag; Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. 27–30.
Bosse-Griffiths, K. (2001) ‘Incense for the Aten’. In Amarna Studies and other Selected Papers, ed. J. G. Griffiths. Freiburg (Schweiz); Göttingen: Universitätsverlag; Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. 131–134.
Graves-Brown, C. (2014) ‘A gazelle, a lute player and Bes: three ring bezels from Amarna’. In A good scribe and an exceedingly wise man: studies in honour of W. J. Tait, ed. A. M. Dodson, J. J. Johnston and W. Monkhouse. GHP Egyptology 21. London: Golden House Publications. 113–126.
Hoffmeier, J. K. (2015) Akhenaten and the origins of monotheism. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.
Kemp, B. J. (2013) The City of Akhenaten and Nefertiti: Amarna and Its People. London: Thames & Hudson.
Pendlebury, J. D. S. (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. Excavation Memoirs 44. London: Egypt Exploration Society.
Shannon, E. (1987) ‘Bezels with royal names from the Workmen’s Village 1979–1986’. In Amarna reports IV, ed. B. J. Kemp. Egypt Exploration Society, Occasional Publications 5. London: Egypt Exploration Society. 154–159.
Shaw, I. (1984) ‘Ring bezels at el-Amarna’. In Amarna reports I, ed. B. J. Kemp. Egypt Exploration Society, Occasional Publications 1. London: Egypt Exploration Society. 124–132.
Sotheby and Co. (1930) Catalogue of antiquities, etc., comprising early bronze implements, the property of Edward Dent and the property of Monsieur de la Grancière, Babylonian inscribed bricks, the property of Colonel W.J.P. Rodd, Egyptian and classical antiquities and fine Roman glass, the property of the late G.E. Smyth, and the property of C. Milman Mainwaring, an important Roman couch, the property of Signor Massimo Colozzi ...; which will be sold by auction by Sotheby and Co. ... on Wednesday, the 23rd day of July, 1930. London: Sotheby and Co.
Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge. (1924) Catalogue of Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek & Roman antiquities, &c.: comprising the collection formed by H. Griebert, Esq. of Berkeley House, Finchley Road, N.W.; including Egyptian amulets, and figures in pottery, silver and bronze; Greek vases, etc.; the property of Mrs. J. Waugh; the property of Sir Henry Paul Harvey, K.C.M.G.; the Berens collection of Babylonian tablets, the property of Mrs. Randolph Berens, of 14, Princes Gardens, S.W.; a fine Græco-Roman marble head of Heracles from the collection of the late Carl Brownlow at Ashbridge, and other properties, including Roman bronze work, Peruvians and Græco-Phœnician gold ornaments, etc.; which will be sold by auction by Messrs. Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge ... on Thursday, the 28th of February, 1924. London: Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge.