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Monday, 30 March 2020

Faience and Glazed Ceramic Objects from Garstang’s Excavations at Meroe

Following on from the blog post last week, which examined some sandstone architectural elements excavated by John Garstang at Meroe, the entry for this week presents a number of faience and glazed ceramic objects from the same excavation. While some of them were gifted directly to Sir Henry Wellcome, others were purchased by Wellcome in 1922 from the celebrated collection of the Reverend William MacGregor. Both Wellcome and MacGregor were major sponsors of the excavations conducted by Garstang. Using a combination of archival photographs, publications of the excavations, and the Wellcome flimsy slips, it is possible to put these objects in context. For example, in his excavation report, Garstang notes that “objects of glaze and pottery of special interest were found beneath the flooring of the several shrines and of the hall of columns” (Garstang 1911, 14).

Fig. 1: Glazed ceramic crown fragment (W284)

The Egypt Centre has several of these objects from the sanctuary, namely EC401, W284, and W285. W284, which is depicted in plate 10.1 of Garstang’s 1911 publication, is perhaps the most interesting of the three. It is made of glazed ceramic on red brick. The glaze is coloured yellow, light blue, and black (fig. 1). The object seems to be a fragment of headdress decorated in relief, as noted by the Wellcome flimsy slip (13608). In fact, it seems to closely resemble the vulture-cap commonly worn by goddesses. What was the object used for and what did it originally look like? The brick itself is quite thin, perhaps indicating that it was used as a decorative tile.

Fig: Glazed plaque (EC401)

EC401 and W285 are quite similar to each other. Both are formed of a matrix of red brick with a blue/green glaze on the front. EC401 shows the upper part of a shrine, which is decorated on top with two double-feathered plumes fronted with sun-discs. Below this is a frieze consisting of at least eight uraei (fig. 2). W285 depicts four uraei facing to the left, each with a solar-disc atop their heads (fig. 3). As with W284 discussed previously, what were these objects used for? Both objects are only a few centimetres thick, indicating that they were likely plaques or tile inlays. Given that they were all found underneath the floor of the sanctuaries of the temple, it is possible that they represent foundation deposits. Foundation deposits, which were chosen to symbolically ensure the effectiveness and longevity of the building, are well attested at temple sites in both Egypt and Nubia (Pope 2014, 23–25). Many of them do take the form of faience plaques or other similar objects.

Fig. 3: Glazed plaque (W285)

Another interesting object from Meroe (EC402) is described in its Wellcome slip (13608) as a “fragment in blue glaze faience with layers of leaves in relief” (fig. 4). This fragment was purchased by Wellcome in 1922 from the MacGregor collection (lot 1321). Unfortunately, the exact details of where this was found at Meroe is not recorded. Based on parallels, it seems that this object was part of a particular type of faience vessel common during the Roman Period. A complete example of one can be found in the Louvre (E 22585). A detailed study of these vessels was conducted by Marie-Dominique Nenna and Merwatte Seif el-Din in 2000.

Fig. 4: Glazed pottery fragment (EC402)

In 1997, László Török published a two-volume on Garstang’s excavations of Meroe. Several years ago, the Egypt Centre Curator, Carolyn Graves-Brown, recognised a familiar faience object while looking through this publication. Plate 168 depicts a small faience head of a deity with lion’s head, who can perhaps be identified as Apedemak (Žabkar, 1975). At the time of Török’s publication, the present whereabouts of this object was unknown. However, this object (EC451) is currently on display in the House of Life at the Egypt Centre, although it has suffered damage to the face area since the archival image was taken at the time of excavation. This head, which measures just 3cm in height, has a hole in the top of its head, presumably for the insertion of a headdress (fig. 5). The object was excavated in spot M 943, one of the rooms of a house erected over the ruins of complex M 296-942-948 (Török 1997 I, 205).

Fig. 5: Head of lion-headed statue. EC451 on the left and Török pl. 168 on the right) 

The final object is a turquoise-glazed faience wall inlay in the form of a sꜣ-symbol, which measures almost 20cm in height (EC403). The object was previously broken into several pieces before being restored (fig. 6). Looking through the archival photos of Garstang’s excavation reveals that this was one of many inlays used to decorate the area designated M 195 (fig. 7). Excavations of the area in 1912 revealed an extensive water sanctuary complex, which was dedicated to the local god Apedemak (Török 1997 I, 63–91). During the excavations, Garstang and his team discovered a cache of statues on the floor of the basin, some of which were later presented to Wellcome. One in particular, which is now in the Petrie Museum (UC8964), is a sandstone statue of a boy holding an aulos (double-pipe). This was previously published by Dixon and Wachsmann in 1964.

Fig. 6: Glazed sꜣ-symbol from the water sanctuary (EC403)

Fig. 7: Archival photo of the baths with two sꜣ-symbols still in-situ (Török pl. 32)

While the objects presented here are all rather small and fragmentary, they present an important link between excavation, archival, and museum research.

Dixon, D. M. and K. P. Wachsmann (1964) A sandstone statue of an auletes from Meroë. Kush 12, 119–125.
Nenna, M.-D. and Merwatte Seif el-Din (2000) La vaisselle en faïence d’époque gréco-romaine: catalogue du Musée gréco-romain d’Alexandrie. Études alexandrines 4. Cairo: Institut français d’archéologie orientale.
Pope, J. (2014) The double kingdom under Taharqo: studies in the history of Kush and Egypt, c. 690–664 BC. Culture and History of the Ancient Near East 69. Leiden; Boston: Brill.
Sotheby, Wilkinson, and Hodge (1922) Catalogue of the MacGregor Collection of Egyptian Antiquities. London: Davy.
Török, L. (1997) Meroe City, an ancient African capital: John Garstang’s excavations in the Sudan. Egypt Exploration Society, Occasional Publications 12, 2 vols. London: Egypt Exploration Society.
Žabkar, L. V. (1975) Apedemak Lion God of Meroe: a study in Egyptian-Meroitic syncretism. Warminster: Aris and Phillips.

Monday, 23 March 2020

Reuniting Sandstone Blocks from Garstang's Excavations at Meroe

The blog post for this week was intended to be a continuation of my Amarna course, which still has three weeks remaining. However, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Swansea University has now cancelled all face-to-face teaching. It is hoped that the final weeks of the course can continue at a later date, with the relevant blog entries posted.

Instead, the entry for this week will present a number of sandstone blocks from the excavations conducted by Professor John Garstang (1876–1956) at Meroe between 1909 and 1914. Since Sir Henry Wellcome was sponsor of the excavation, he received a share of the finds brought back to England. In 1959, David Marshall Dixon (1930–2005) was appointed Research Fellow at the Wellcome Institute to classify the Egyptian collection. In a report dated December 1959, he noted that “the most important items so far examined are the 11 cases of Sudan material. Fortunately the lists of items made at the time the cases were received have survived and the contents of the cases have been checked against these and found to be intact.” Later, in April 1960, he noted that “these [cases], like the remainder of finds from the site, had never been touched, having apparently been sent to store almost immediately after arrival in the [Wellcome] Museum. In consequence some of the material, in particular the inscribed architectural blocks, had suffered some damage during the past half a century.”

Fig. 1: Offering table excavated in tomb 307.

A few weeks ago, I decided to photograph several architectural elements in the Egypt Centre collection, which can be traced back to Garstang’s excavations at Meroe. This included offering tables from the necropolis, which were excavated during the 1910 season (fig. 1). Recently, Jochen Hallof reidentified and published one block (EC1295) bearing an inscription of the Meroitic king Teqorideamani (fig. 2). The text (REM 1261) includes a reference to the god “Aqedise in Meroe”, to whom the king obviously delivers a donation. This is the first evidence of a cult of this god in the city of Meroe so far. The block, found by Garstang during his excavations in 1911, was published for the first time by Török (1997, I, 145, fig. N), although he was unaware of its current location.

Fig. 2: Sandstone block with Merotic inscription (EC1295)

 Several other blocks in the Egypt Centre were long thought to have come from Meroe based on the type of sandstone. One particular block (EC1304) contains what looks like a crudely carved graffito depicting the heads of a lion and a man (fig. 3). While looking through Garstang’s publication of his first season of work in Meroe, I noticed that one of the plates contained the same block, albeit in its complete form. According to Garstang’s report, the block was excavated from the steps in the Temple of Amun (Garstang 1911, pp. 70–71, pls. XIX.2, LXVIII [13]). The Garstang Museum kindly provided a scan of the original archival photo (fig. 4). The missing section includes the remainder of the “graffito” and four horizontal lines of a Merotic inscription. Therefore, the hunt was on to find the connecting fragment! After searching the online catalogue of the Petrie Museum, the block was quickly located (UC44568). It seems that the fragments, which were housed in the Petrie Museum for several years between 1964–1971, became separated during the distribution of the Wellcome collection. Incidentally, if any reader to this blog knows the REM number for this block, I would greatly appreciate it!

Fig. 3: Sandstone block (EC1304)

Fig. 4: Archival photo of complete block, courtesy of the Garstang Museum

Two weeks ago the personal archive of David Dixon was transferred from the Department of Classics, Ancient History, and Egyptology at Swansea University, where it had resided for the past 15 years, into the care of the Egypt Centre. Amongst the material was a box of photos of objects and reliefs from Meroe photographed in the Wellcome Collection by Dixon in the 1960s. While scanning through these photos, two in particular grabbed my attention. The first contained the upper half of the double plumes of Amun(?), with the feathers of a winged figure to the left. Just a few days beforehand, I had photographed EC1292, a block decorated with the outstretched wings of a figure (Behdet?). Comparing measurements and the break, it is clear that both fragments belong together (fig. 5). As with the block discussed previously, the adjoining fragment was later traced to the Petrie Museum (UC44567).

Fig. 5: Reconstruction of EC1292 and UC44567 (Dixon archival photo on the right)

 The other photo of interest depicted a doorjamb inscribed with the titles of an official. This fragment was particularly exciting to me since it closely resembled another block housed in the Egypt Centre (EC470), which I had recently published in the Festschrift for Prof. Erhart Graefe (Griffin 2018). Once again, comparing the measurements and break confirmed that both fragments belonged together (fig. 6). The full text can now be read as “for the ka of the Nobleman, Governor, Seal-bearer of the King of Lower Egypt, beloved sole companion, the truly beloved king’s acquaintance, Chief Steward of the Divine Adoratrice …”. Clearly the jamb dates to the Twenty-fifth–Twenty-sixth Dynasty. However, does this doorjamb really originate from Meroe or is this just a mix-up with the archival photo? So far, it has not been possible to trace the current whereabouts of the upper fragment, also likely separated during the distribution of objects. If it did originate from Meroe, which seems unlikely to me, then it likely has an excavation mark. If any readers are aware of its current location, I would be delighted to hear!

Fig. 6: Reconstruction of doorjamb (Dixon archival photo at the top)

Bierbrier, M. L. (2019) Who was who in Egyptology. London: The Egypt Exploration Society. 5th edition.
Griffin, K. (2018) ‘A doorjamb of a chief steward of the Divine Adoratrice in Swansea’. In A. I. Blöbaum, M. Eaton-Krauss & A. Wüthrich (Eds.), Pérégrinations avec Erhart Graefe. Festschrift zu seinem 75. Geburtstag (pp. 203–208). Ägypten und Altes Testament 87. Münster: Zaphon.
Hallof, J. (2017) ‘Eine wiederentdeckte Inschrift des Königs Teqorideamani (REM 1261)’. Beiträge zur Sudanforschung 12: 111–117.
Leclant, J., A. Heyler, C. Berger el-Naggar, C. Carrier, and C. Rilly (2000) Répertoire d’épigraphie méroitique: corpus des inscriptions publiées, 3 vols. Paris: Boccard.
Török, L. (1997) Meroe City, an ancient African capital: John Garstang’s excavations in the Sudan. Egypt Exploration Society, Occasional Publications 12, 2 vols. London: Egypt Exploration Society.

Monday, 16 March 2020

Craftsmanship at Amarna

The brief entry for this week is written by Sam Powell, a regular contributor to this blog, including week 2 of this course.

This week’s class focused on craftsmanship at Amarna. As in previous weeks, we discussed the artistic style of this unique period. It was really interesting to hear more about the people creating these beautiful pieces. Dr Ken explained that we know the names of several Amarna sculptors, such as Bak, Iuty, and Thutmose (famous for the bust of Nefertiti found in the remains of his house). We were also shown some of the unique features of the sculpture of Amarna, such as the composite statues and “plaster casts”, which seem to be typical of this period. We also looked at how Amarna art is often subject to forgeries and questionable provenance, since material from the site is highly sought after—I was particularly interested to learn about the controversy surround the Mansoor collection.

Fig. 1: Amulet in the shape of a bunch of grapes (EC3013)

Fig. 2: Stone mould from Amarna (W915)

We looked at several interesting objects this week, including a small grape amulet (EC3013), two amulet moulds (W915 and EC659), and an inlay that is likely part of a Shu feather (EC282). This inlay was discovered at Amarna by the Egypt Exploration Society during the 1930–31 season, as can be seen from the object card.

Fig. 3: Wadjet eye mould (EC659)

Fig. 4: Slate inlay (EC282)

However, my favourite object was the pottery vessel (W1029). The vessel has been reconstructed during the 1980s by Cardiff University Conservation Department. We had in a previous week looked at fragments of this painted ware (W176c-d), and had also discussed the large vessel currently undergoing treatment at Cardiff University (W193). The decoration on these vessels is really lovely, and you can imagine them being used in festivals and on special occasions. Our class estimated the jar would probably hold about three litres of beer or wine—enough for a good night out!

Fig. 5: Amarna vessel (W1029)

As always, the class was highly received by all, and the novelty still hasn’t worn off that we get to handle real pieces of history—thank you Dr Ken!

Monday, 9 March 2020

The Art of the Amarna Period

The entry for this week is written by Shirley Jones and Carolyn Harries, two Egypt Centre Volunteers and Education Leaders who have previously contributed to this blog.

In this week’s session, we discussed the revolution in art and sculpture during the Amarna Period of Egyptian history. Already during the reign of Amenhotep III, artists had begun to portray human figures and the natural world in a more realistic way. During the reign of Amenhotep IV, later to become Akhenaten, and his consort Nefertiti, this creativity flourished. However, as we know, it was accompanied by a religious revolution where the traditional state gods were abandoned in favour of the “Aten” or sun-disc. These two aspects of Akhenaten’s reign appear to be quite closely related.

Fig. 1: Early depiction of Amenhotep IV in the tomb of Ramose (Davies 1941, pl. 29)

Akhenaten’s reign began fairly inauspiciously, but by his second regnal year some changes became apparent both in art and in religion. Traditional subjects began to disappear from temples and tomb decoration. Early images of Akhenaten appear “normal” in the sense that he is portrayed in style and adornment as were his predecessors (fig. 1). However, from year two of his reign, he is increasingly shown with the long narrow face, hollow eyes, swollen stomach, sensuous hips, and pendulous breasts that we have come to expect from his portraiture and sculpture (fig. 2). This came to be known as the Amarna style and was mirrored to some extent in the paintings and statues of the other members of the royal court. The earliest work was most pronounced in its distortion and exaggeration of features and led the German archaeologist Walter Wolf describing it as a “sick ugliness and nervous decadence” (Hornung 2001, 43). Strong words indeed!

Fig. 2: Colossal head of Akhenaten

So, what led this Pharaoh of the late Eighteenth Dynasty do to cast aside the long-standing traditions and basic principles of Egyptian Art? The answer, if there is one, cannot be separated from the new, somewhat heretical focus on the single deity of the Aten, the sun-disc, and its life-giving rays. As the king, Akhenaten’s decision to worship one particular god had a major impact on everything, art and artists included. This new religious thinking altered traditional funerary customs and consideration of conventional gods. Akhenaten clearly wanted his new religion to be given prominence and over a period of time images of the myriad Egyptian gods were replaced by images of Akhenaten and his family worshipping the Aten. However, it must be acknowledged that the old gods did not disappear completely from art. Bes and Tawaret in particular are still to be found on amulets and other adornment (fig. 3).

Fig. 3: Amulet of Bes (W961p)

In artistic terms, the new style could be described as perceptual as opposed to the earlier style which was more conceptual. Topics were now drawn from a contemporary world rather than an imaginary one, and new ways of portraying reality were introduced. This was very unusual, almost unheard of at the time. The basic principles of Egyptian art had previously been regarded as given by the gods, thus perfect and impervious to change even by the Pharaoh. Now, however, the old gods had been banished and as religion changed so did the art. The natural world was more faithfully represented with some thought to three-dimensional space. The “new” art portrayed ever more realistic images, such as the baking of bread and the preparation of food offerings (fig. 4). Representations of the king and his family are more domestic in nature; the king and queen playing with their daughters, which are much more informal depictions showing their love and intimacy. In one relief, the royal couple are mourning the death of their daughter Meketaten (Martin 1989, fig. 7). While mourning scenes are not uncommon in Egyptian art, what is unusual is for the royal family to be portrayed in this way. The whole scene expresses grief and emotion not generally represented in Egyptian art.

Fig. 4: Talatat blocks

However, this very different way of representing Akhenaten and his family does raise certain questions. Their rather strange appearance for one. Was Akhenaten actually “living in truth”, as has been stated? Did they really look like this, with elongated features and distended stomachs or was this a stylistic invention to distinguish them from previous royalty and help to associate them with the new deity the Aten? It seems the images of both Akhenaten and Nefertiti change over time. Starting out normal, becoming very distorted, and then gradually less so, although Akhenaten remained a fairly androgynous figure. Was he trying to demonstrate the genderless nature of the Aten, neither male nor female but the source of all life (fig. 5)? Was he expressing his own creativity and way of seeing things? Bak, the king’s sculptor, is reported to have said that was the king himself who taught him how employ their craft. Was he being literal? Was he flattering Akhenaten or was he simply stating that he had been instructed to create the images in a certain style? More questions than answers.

Fig. 5: The so-called asexual statue of Akhenaten

It would appear that Akhenaten had considerable control over what was produced and how it was expressed. Therefore, was this simply a different way of controlling the art and statuary of the time? Perhaps this new expressionist style was Akhenaten’s way of making a sacred statement, of expressing his relationship with his god. One thing seems clear during the Amarna Period, artists appeared to have much more freedom to express their creativity. Under Akhenaten they were encouraged to portray fluidity, shape, and emphasise physical imperfections, to show things as they were and to “live in truth”. Obviously, this did not happen overnight and the beginnings of the naturalism we see in this period must have had their genesis much earlier in the Dynasty. Nevertheless, we see this relaxed style becoming more obvious in Akhenaten’s reign possibly due to the absence of traditional subject matter.

Fig. 6: Broad collar (W10)

The artefacts from the museum that we handled this week and have handled throughout the course certainly show the skill and the originality of the artists of the time. We examined one of the four Broad Collars (W10) from the Lady Berens collection, which is believed to have belonged to the Amarna princesses and it is obviously child sized (fig. 6). The collar has an assortment of pendant amulets, notably a heart and a squatting figure that are associated with funerary practices (Bosse-Griffiths 2001). The squatting figure wears a sidelock, and the finger to the mouth suggests childhood and thus rebirth. The design is quite intricate, such a lovely object to accompany a child into the afterlife.

Fig. 7: Fish-shaped dish (W1269)

The most unusual objects we examined were four fragments (W230d, W1268–70) of household dishes in the shape of fish (fig. 7). The fragments, which are made of faience and were beautifully painted, originate from the excavations of the Egypt Exploration Society (EES) and the collection of Richard Bethell. We could see quite clearly the fish scales and a solitary ‘fishy’ eye staring up at us. One fragment even contained the tail fin and two of the pieces had concave undersides. Shallow, open fish-shaped dishes were known as early as the Middle Kingdom. It has also been suggested that fish-shaped bowls served as ointment dishes, with the Egypt Centre having several on display.

Fig. 8: Lute-player bezel (W1150)

For us, the most beautiful piece and one which clearly demonstrated the skill of the craftsmen and artists of the time was the ring bezel (W1150) with a lute player and a monkey, which was excavated by the EES during the 1926–27 season (fig. 8). Apparently, this motif of a musician with lute is rare but not unique at Amarna (Graves-Brown 2014). Music was associated with offerings to the king and the sexualised nature of this female musician (she is quite naked) is suggestive of revivification. Monkeys are associated with music and dance as well as female sexuality. Such a tiny thing, but so charmingly crafted!

Bosse-Griffiths, K. (2001). Bead collars with Amarna amulets in the Wellcome Collection of the University College, Swansea. In J. G. Griffiths (Ed.), Amarna Studies and other Selected Papers (pp. 27–30). Freiburg (Schweiz); Göttingen: Universitätsverlag; Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.
Davies, N. de G. (1941). The tomb of the vizier Ramose. MET 1. London: Egypt Exploration Society.
Freed, R. E., Markowitz, Y., & D’Auria, S. H. (Eds.). (1999). Pharaohs of the sun: Akhenaten, Nefertiti, Tutankhamen. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts.
Graves-Brown, C. (2014). A gazelle, a lute player and Bes: three ring bezels from Amarna. In A. M. Dodson, J. J. Johnston, & W. Monkhouse (Eds.), A good scribe and an exceedingly wise man: studies in honour of W. J. Tait (pp. 113–126). London: Golden House Publications.
Hornung, E. (2001). Akhenaten and the religion of light (D. Lorton, Trans.). London: Cornell University Press.
Martin, G. T. (1989). The royal tomb at el-Amarna II: the rock tombs of El-Amarna, part VII: the reliefs, inscriptions and architecture. Archaeological Survey of Egypt 39. London: Egypt Exploration Society.
Robins, G. (2000). The art of ancient Egypt. London: The British Museum Press.

Monday, 2 March 2020

Religion at Amarna

Hello, I’m Teresa Davison, a retired teacher and volunteer at the Egypt Centre. This is my second course run by Dr Ken Griffin. This week’s topic was on religion in the Amarna Period.

Was Akhenaten the world’s first monotheist? Was he a visionary or a heretic? An understanding of Akhenaten’s view of the Aten is fundamental in trying to comprehend the Amarna Period. Atenism originates out of the solar tradition, especially that of the sun-god Re. The Great Hymn to the Aten from the tomb of Ay shows that the King “teaches” it to his followers. Who was the Aten? The didactic name was the “Living-one, Re-Horakhty, who rejoices in the horizon in his name of Shu (“light”), who is the Aten”. The later dogmatic name became “Living-one, Re, ruler of the two horizons, who rejoices in the horizon in his name a Re, the father who returns as Aten” (fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Early depiction of the Aten

The nature of the Aten was that there was universal rule, including over foreign lands. All things are accessible, as indicated by the hands at the ends of the rays of the Aten (fig. 2). The Aten was a genderless creator god, who was silent and passive. As the sun appeared each day and its presence was certain and secure, did it need to communicate with the people? This was dramatic and life-changing in the way in which people worshipped as previously Amun had been accessible through cult processions and spoke through oracles and texts.

Fig. 2: Akhenaten and Nefertiti under the rays of the Aten

Was Atenism the first world example of monotheism? There are a number of definitions. Henotheism can be classed as the devotion to a single deity whilst accepting the existence and worship of others. Monolatrism recognises other deities but only one is worthy of worship. Monotheism is the absolute belief that there is only one deity, all others are excluded. It would appear that all three of these held sway at different times during the Amarna Period. So what role did the king play? Akhenaten was the sole mediator between the people and the Aten. Personal piety had to be expressed through loyalty shown to the king, not via worship of the gods. As a result of his role as an intermediary, Akhenaten essentially becomes a deity. Tomb inscriptions are virtual hymns to the king. A hierarchy of worship develops as Akhenaten gives offerings and libations to the Aten, people give offerings to Akhenaten, so private individuals in effect worship the King (fig. 3). Private individuals are rarely seen worshipping the Aten, if ever. Triads are common throughout Egyptian religion. Nefertiti, Akhenaten, and the Aten form a triad that can be compared to Amun, Mut, and Khonsu. Nefertiti is equal in divinity and rank as Akhenaten. She represents the female principle and is seen as a goddess.

Fig. 3: Lintel of Hatiay (after Kemp 2013, pl. XXX)

The new religion must have been deeply and profoundly shocking to a populace that was embedded in a polytheistic culture. This was a culture that evolved over thousands of years and it was now being forcibly cast aside. It was such an intrinsic part of everyday life and daily ritual. The change was radical and aggressive. Images of all other gods were hacked off monuments and stelae, even those that were over twenty metres in height (fig. 4). “Tradition was not questioned, it was persecuted and forbidden”, according to Jan Assmann (2001, 199).

Fig. 4: Erased and restored figure and name of Amun-Re

So what was the role of private religion? Was personal piety expressed through Akhenaten actually the case? Personal names show devotion to the Aten. E.g., Nakhtpaaten, “The Aten is strong”. However, there is evidence that devotion to other deities can still be seen in names, such as Thutmose, “born of Thoth”. Houses had lintels that depicted adoring royal cartouches. Interestingly, cartouches were used and not images of the royal family (Spieser 2010). Many of the elite houses had private chapels in their gardens, whilst some had chapels inside their houses. It is uncertain as to whether these were for ancestor or royal family worship. In the workmen’s village there is a stela depicting Shed, who was a protector god against scorpions and other dangerous animals, and Isis (fig. 5). Was this “banned” worship tolerated or was it unknown to the authorities as it was in private households?

Fig. 5: Stela of Ptahmay depicting Shed and Isis

One very distinct form was the intimate and family-friendly images of the royal family; they almost look like modern day family photos. The level of affection shown by Akhenaten and Nefertiti towards their children is heart-warming and truly radical compared to the very static images shown in all other periods of ancient Egypt (Riefling 2013). Faces are expressive and dynamic. In one image, Akhenaten is seen kissing his daughter and in another a child has her hand under Nefertiti’s chin (fig. 6). But was the Aten Amenhotep III? A rare stela in the British Museum (BM EA 57399), which was excavated in the house of Panehsy, depicts him and Queen Tiye under the rays of the Aten above. His Nebmaatre name was used as Amun was abolished by then. Was Amenhotep III still alive when the stela was commission or is it an example of ancestor worship?

Fig. 6: Household stela depicting the royal family

Other stelae show the worship of other gods, such as Tawaret, which shows clear evidence of personal piety at Amarna. Other evidence of devotion away from the “state-endorsed” religion include covered chapels, which appears diametrically opposed to the open nature of the official temples, which unlike those of the “old religion” were open to the sun. There is a good deal of evidence for the worship of Bes and Tawaret, but also to other gods like Wepwawet and Hathor. This week we had the opportunity to take a closer look at W9 (fig. 7), a broad collar with a central amulet of the goddess Beset, the female form of Bes (Bosse-Griffiths 1977).

Fig. 7: Broad collar with Beset amulet (W9)

In conclusion, this must have been a turbulent and confusing time to live. If a person wanted to stay in the good graces of the Royal Family, then they will have needed to show devotion to Akhenaten and Nefertiti. As the old religion was so culturally embedded, private individuals and families continued to worship the old gods, albeit in the privacy of their homes or under the pretext of chapels for ancestor worship? An interesting aspect of this time is the “cult of the family” that seems to have developed with the adoration of the royal family in a new intimate and affectionate way. Perhaps this was a compensation for not being able to worship the usual pantheon of gods. Some have suggested that Akhenaten was the first monotheist and this may well have been true (Hoffmeier, 2015). However, it seems that this radical change was too dramatic for most ancient Egyptians and this religious experiment failed.

Assmann, J. (2001) The search for God in ancient Egypt. Translated by D. Lorton. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Bosse-Griffiths, K. (1977) ‘A Beset amulet from the Amarna Period’. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 63: 98–106.
Freed, R. E., Y. Markowitz, and S. H. D’Auria eds. (1999) Pharaohs of the sun: Akhenaten, Nefertiti, Tutankhamen. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts.
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.
Riefling, B. (2013) ‘Rekonstruktionsversuche von Amarna-Flachbildern: I. Die Familienstele Louvre E.11624; II. Die Halskragenstele Berlin ÄM 14511’. Göttinger Miszellen 239: 81–90.
Spieser, C. (2010) ‘Cartouche’. UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, Version 1, January 2010. 1–10. Available from
Stevens, A. (2006) Private religion at Amarna. BAR International Series 1587. Oxford: Archaeopress.