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Monday, 27 July 2020

The Pantheon of the Ancient Egyptians

The blog post for this week has been written by Terri Natale, who has a BA in English Literature and an MA in Victorian Studies. She also received a Certificate and Diploma in Egyptology from Birkbeck College. Terri has previously worked as a volunteer on the South Asasif Conservation Project for five seasons.

In the second lecture of the Ancient Egyptian Religion course, Dr Ken Griffin led us into the complex pantheon of the Egyptian gods. The ancient Egyptian gods were neither omniscient nor omnipresent. They had specific roles and qualities and sometimes their powers were only regional. Ancient Egypt was an agricultural society heavily dependent on the annual flooding of the Nile. The semi-divine pharaoh, as the chief priest of all religious cults, was responsible for the continued protection of the country. The correct worship of the gods ensured the prosperity and protection of the country (maat). Life was too precarious for the ancient Egyptians to put their eggs in one basket. The goddess Maat represented order while her opposite, Isfet (disorder), needed to be constantly challenged.

Fig. 1: Copper alloy statue of Amun (AB106)

There were roughly 1,500 gods in the Egyptian pantheon, but over 100,000 if one includes their epithets (Leitz et al 2002–2003). For example, the goddess Hathor might be called the Mistress of Turquoise, or the Golden One. Each epithet referred to a specific quality or area of protection. The sun-god Re was known by seventy-five different names. The Egyptians could join the qualities of two gods to increase their strength (syncretism), as in the case of Amun-Re or Amun-Min (fig. 1). They could also transform into different shapes. In the tale of the Destruction of Mankind, Hathor turned into the lion goddess Sekhmet. Contrary to popular misconceptions based on the zoomorphic (animal form) and therianthropic (mix of human and animal) depictions of the gods, the ancient Egyptians did not worship animals. Instead, they worshipped the animal-like qualities of the god. The goddess Hathor was the protector of women and children. She was often depicted as a woman with cow ears, sometimes with the head of a cow, and sometimes as a complete cow in order to represent the motherly qualities of a cow. The gods lived in the sky and their real forms were unknown. However, their presence could be felt. They resided in their statues and temples.

To make things more complicated, the gods were commonly incorporated into groups.
- Dyad (two)
- Triad (three), e.g., Amun, Mut, Khonsu
- Tetrad (four), e.g., the four sons of Horus
- Pentad (five)
- Hebdomad (seven), e.g., the seven Hathors 
- Ogdoad (eight)
- Ennead (nine)

Fig. 2: Ramesses II offering to his deified self (Abu Simbel)

At his coronation, the pharaoh achieved semi-divine status. He became Horus and was imbued with the attributes of the god. He was the “Son of Re”, the “Good God”. He was depicted in temples and tombs the same size as the god, while the divine birth cycle identified him as the offspring of the gods. Two pharaohs, Amenhotep III and Ramesses II, had themselves depicted offering to their deified selves in some Nubian temples (fig. 2). Deified human beings also joined the ranks of the gods. Among them were Imhotep and Amenhotep son of Hapu.

Other groups of deities included.
- Cavern deities
- Demons
- Gate deities
- Judgement deities
- Hour deities
- Nome deities (one for each of Ancient Egypt's 42 nomes)
- Star deities
- The souls of Nekhen and Pe (perhaps representing the deceased ancestors of the king)

Ken then discussed some very well-known gods, many of whom were first attested in the Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom. I will attempt a short summary of some of them.

Osiris made his first appearance in the Fifth Dynasty. He was a fertility god, usually anthropomorphic in form, wrapped as a mummy, and holding a crook and flail. He was the husband of Isis and the father of Horus. Isis also made her first appearance in the Fifth Dynasty. Her epithets include “Great of Magic” and the “Eye of Re”. She is the mother of the king (Horus) and the mourner of her husband, Osiris. She can be depicted as a tree goddess (fig. 3), a kite, or a cobra. She was revered throughout Egypt and the Mediterranean. Horus was one of the earliest and most important gods in the pantheon. He was the falcon-headed god of the sky, usually depicted wearing the Double Crown. Horus had many forms, some of whom were discussed in the class. He was Harakhty (Horus of the two horizons), Horus-Behdety (the winged disc protecting temples), Horus the Elder (worshipped at Kom Ombo), Harsiese (Horus son of Isis), Harsomptus (Horus the uniter of the two lands), Horus the Red (Mars), and Horus Bull of the Heavens (Saturn).

Fig. 3: Cartonnage fragment depicting a tree goddess (W490)

Amun was first mentioned in the Pyramid Texts (Fifth Dynasty), but from the Eleventh Dynasty he became the main Theban god (fig. 4). These changes underline significant religious and political changes. He was commonly referred to as the King of the Gods. He formed part of the Theban Triad with his wife Mut and his son, the moon god, Khonsu. His wife Mut first occurs during the Middle Kingdom. A mother goddess, she could also be depicted with the head of a lioness. Her main temple was to the south of Karnak (Isheru). Their son Khonsu first appeared in the so-called Cannibal Hymn (Eyre 2002). He was usually depicted as anthropomorphic (complete human) figure wearing the side lock of youth and a headdress with a crescent moon. He could also be falcon headed.

Fig. 4: Copper alloy statue of Osiris (W85)

Ptah was a Memphite god who first appeared in the early First Dynasty. He was mainly depicted in human form, mummiform in appearance, and standing on a plinth (Maat). He had a straight beard, wore a skullcap and a heavy necklace with a counterpoise at the back. Ptah was associated with the Apis Bull and was the patron deity of craftsmen. Sekhmet, another Memphite deity, was the daughter of Re, the wife of Ptah, and the mother of Nefertum. She was a powerful goddess who appears mainly leonine in form. Sekhmet was the goddess of pestilence, who appears in the tale of the Destruction of Mankind. Nefertum is first attested in the Pyramid Texts. Depicted in human form as a child, he is commonly shown with a lotus blossom on top of his head or his head emerging from a lotus flower. He is the god of perfume (fig. 5).

Fig. 5: Faience dyad statue of Sekhmet and Nefertum (W1163)

Khnum, an early creator god, is said to have created human beings on the potter’s wheel. Often depicted as ram-headed, he wears the Atef-crown (fig. 6). His other cult centres were at Elephantine and Esna. Khnum was associated with Anuqet and Satet. Anuqet was another daughter of Re and first appears in the Old Kingdom. She controlled the cataracts. Satet first appeared during the Third Dynasty and she was identified as the Mistress of Elephantine. She was commonly represented mainly in human form wearing a white crown with antelope horns.

Fig. 6: Amulet of Khnum

Re was a creator god who is first attested during the Second Dynasty. He was the supreme solar deity of the Egyptian pantheon. As mentioned above, he has seventy-five different forms and was often fused with other gods to make them stronger. Many temples were consecrated to him, although his main cult centre was at Heliopolis. The Aten first occurs in the Middle Kingdom. As a deity, he was closely linked to the sun-god Re. He is symbolised by the sun disc. The Aten was the main deity during the short-lived Amarna Period. Since his name is commonly attested enclosed within two cartouches, some Egyptologists think he might have been the deceased Amenhotep III.

Fig. 7: Figure of Bes (EC257)

Hathor one of Egypt’s great goddesses, who is often identified as the daughter of Re. She had more temples than any other goddess. She was associated with motherhood, music, dance, etc. She could transform from the docile cow to the raging lioness Sekhmet. Atum was an ancient god, the self-created. As the father of Shu and Tefnut, he was the father of the gods. He was mainly depicted in human form and, sometimes, as an aged ram. His main cult centre was at Heliopolis. Bes first appears during the Old Kingdom (fig. 7). He was a very popular household god and the protector of pregnant women and children. He was also the god of partying. Bes was depicted as a male lion standing on his hind legs, with a long beard (mane), protruding tongue, and wearing a plumed headdress. Hapi is the personification of the Nile. He was a creator god who is almost always depicted in human form. He has a big belly, pendulous breasts, and wears either a papyrus or a lotus on his head. Hapi is often depicted carrying tribute to the pharaoh and the gods (fig. 8).

Fig. 8: Relief depicting Hapi (W348)

The gods of ancient Egypt had different forms and functions. Their powers were often limited, hence the merging of more than one god to create a stronger deity. They were born and could also die, but if you knew their names they could live again!

Eyre, Christopher 2002. The Cannibal Hymn: a cultural and literary study. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.
Leitz, Christian (ed.) 2002–2003. Lexikon der ägyptischen Götter und Götterbezeichnungen, 8 vols. Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 110–116; 129. Leuven: Peeters. 
Wilkinson, Richard H. 2003. The complete gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt. London: Thames & Hudson.

Monday, 20 July 2020

The Origins of Egyptian Religion

The blog post for this week is written by Yvonne Buskens-Frenken, from the Netherlands. She is a member of the Dutch Egyptology society Mehen and a former student of Egyptology at Manchester University (Certificate 2015 and Diploma 2017). While Yvonne has never been to the Egypt Centre before, she hopes to visit in the near future, perhaps with other Mehen members. This is the second of the online Egypt Centre courses that she has attended.

Last week a new online course was launched by The Egypt Centre entitled The Religion of the Ancient Egyptians, which is led by Dr Ken Griffin. I do find these online lectures and courses absolutely wonderful. Because of Covid-19 we are all, in one way or another, deprived from attending the usual Egyptology lectures held in museums or Egyptology societies. I wholeheartedly embrace these online lectures as they provide a dose of Egyptology. I actually hope this form of lecturing will continue in the future, but without Covid-19 hanging over us!

As a former Egyptology student, the topics discussed are not new or unfamiliar to me but there is always a new aspect to discover or a new angle to approach a certain topic for further (private) study. Within that context, I would like to highlight here some aspects of the first session discussing the origins of Egyptian religion and myths, which I found particularly interesting. One of them is Punt, which popped up twice during the lecture, although indirectly. Dr. Griffin started with the question “what is religion?” This is a subject not easy to discuss or define. I think we all have different opinions and experience it differently. Additionally, at some level, I am sure the ancient Egyptians must have had the same difficulties in experiencing what they understand by what we call religion. Actually, I don’t think they even had a word for religion? To find out how the ancient Egyptians experienced their understanding of religion, we have to search within the available resources. However, when interpreting these resources, they don’t always give us the perfect insight. For example, are these painted pottery decorations you see here on this Predynastic vessel (fig. 1) deities and cults? If so, what did they mean for the ancient Egyptians?

Fig. 1: D-ware vessel (BM EA 35502)

From later periods in Egyptian history, we are able to get more conclusive evidence. Firstly, we can detect what we call state religion, which was performed within the temples. The king acted as the high priest while the temple priesthood performed rituals on behalf of the king. These included daily rituals such offerings, libations, anointing, and dressing the gods. You cannot fail to see these abundant “religious” scenes when you walk through the temples of Egypt, such as that of Sety I at Abydos (fig. 2). There is also the private religion, which I prefer studying over the state religion as it brings us closer to the ordinary Egyptians and is more relatable. I am glad Ken included in his lecture a beautiful ear stela (Toye-Dubs 2016), which shows how much mankind wanted to communicate with the gods: “NN, do you hear me?” The ears of God are depicted on the stela. Here you see three pair of ears, although there are more beautiful examples in museums showing just one large ear. Also interesting within the private religion is the ancestor cult, a form of keeping in contact with and honouring your ancestors by the so-called ancestor busts or ꜣḫ i͗ḳr n Rꜥ stelae (“excellent spirit of Re”) (fig. 3)

Fig. 2: Sety I performing rituals within the temple at Abydos

Gods were venerated in temples, the earliest of which were not built of stone, as the ones in Abydos or Luxor, but from organic materials. The archaic temple at Hierakonpolis is a good example. Some well-known temples in modern Luxor are Luxor Temple and Karnak Temple on the east bank. On the West Bank, Medinet Habu and Hatshepsut’s temple are my favourite places to visit! However, did you ever hear of (or visit for that matter, which I haven’t) the oldest archaic temple in the Theban area, situated on Thoth Hill. This temple on the West Bank of Luxor, dating to around 3,200 BC, was first brought to my attention during a lecture hosted by Mehen some years ago. Petrie already excavated this site over 100 years ago, but it was a team of Hungarian archaeologists who found beneath the Middle Kingdom structure of Sankhkare Mentuhotep III remnants of an archaic stone temple (pottery and architectural fragments are dated to the so-called Archaic Period). The archaic structure had almost the same layout as the Middle Kingdom temple, except for the fact that it had a single sanctuary rather than three. Dr Griffin pointed out in the lecture about its star orientation: the archaic temple differs in its orientation to Sirius by around two degrees from the later structure on Thoth Hill, thus pointing to a shift in the stars (Vörös 1998; Wilkinson 2000, 173).

Fig. 3: Fragment of an ꜣḫ i͗ḳr n Rꜥ stela (A232)

We next looked at the origins of the Egyptian gods, which will be the focus of week two. When studying Egyptology you think “now I know them all”, but then another one pops up. I actually don’t know how many gods even existed in ancient Egypt, but then does anybody? It fascinates me that on the one hand the ancient Egyptians wanted strict rules and order, as can be seen with this king upholding maat (cosmic order). On the other hand, it is somewhat chaotic; countless gods in different forms and in different contexts could be created and depicted, almost as if one could make up one for every occasion. One of my favourite gods from the Egyptian pantheon is Min of Coptos (fig. 4). He is mostly known as being the god of sex and fertility, but I find him interesting as being the god of the Eastern Dessert. Did you know there are cowrie shells depicted on this statue shown here, now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford? This seems to be a reference to the Red Sea and trade. From Coptos, (trading/military) expeditions were sent through the Eastern Desert. Soldiers, sailors, and craftsmen, all on foot with dismantled ships and trading goods/food loaded on donkeys, trotting towards the Red Sea. From there the expedition continued on ships, which were assembled on the spot, with some going to the “mysterious” land of Punt. The exact location of Punt remains a mystery. While for many the famous Punt expedition during the reign of Hatshepsut comes to mind, expeditions were already being sent during the Old Kingdom (Bard & Fattovich 2018; Breyer 2016).

Fig. 4: Colossal statue of Min from Coptos

The last part of the lecture was about creation myths. Within ancient Egyptian religion you have many creation myths, such as the Hermopolitan myth, the Heliopolitan myth, the Memphite myth, and many other local traditions. From the Heliopolitan myth I like the story of the Great Cackler: Geb was a god of the earth and one of the Ennead of Heliopolis (fig. 5). He was largely worshiped as a goose, his sacred animal, and was already around during Predynastic times. He was also called Gengen Wer, meaning “Great Honker”, who is the personification of creative energy. In his shrine in Bata in Iunu (Heliopolis) he laid the great Egg (symbolising rebirth and renewal) from which the Sun-god arose in the form of a phoenix or Benben. He was given the epithet “The great Cackler” because of the noise he made when the egg was laid. During the lecture on someone asked why a male goose could can lay an egg? Well, it turns out Geb was often considered to be a hermaphrodite (Griffiths 2001, 473). From later times, we have a wonderful text about the Great Cackler (Coffin Text 307) “… He cackled, being the Great Cackler, in the place where he was created, he alone. He began to speak in the midst of silence … He commenced to cry when the earth was inert. His cry spread … He brought forth all living things which exist. He caused them to live. He made all men understand the way to go and their hearts came alive when they saw him… (Clagget 1989, 301–302).

Fig. 5: Geb from the tomb of Pashedu (TT 3)

At the end of the lecture I hear the word Punt again. One could have easily missed it but it was mentioned in the Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor. Although the Shipwrecked Sailor is more of a tale than a myth, it was presented in this lecture because of its many connotations with gods and religion. The story looks very straightforward, but when analysed and translated it keeps you puzzling over and over again about its meaning. The only surviving copy of the text is now in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. It is about a trading, exploration, or a military expedition from the South and its return to Egypt. One part of the tale is about the sailor telling his story to his master about being shipwrecked on an island full of wonders. He encounters a giant snake (the god), who calls himself the “prince of Punt”. They become friends and the snake tells his unfortunate story to the sailor. The island full of good and abundant food is here mythically described as the Land of Punt, the well-known land/area for trading since early times (Simpson 2003, 45–46. An added bonus to the lecture was a video by Luke Keenan, the Senior Education Officer at the Egypt Centre, vividly retelling the story!

Bard, Kathryn A. and Rodolfo Fattovich † 2018. Seafaring expeditions to Punt in the Middle Kingdom: excavations at Mersa/Wadi Gawasis, Egypt. Culture and History of the Ancient Near East 96. Leiden; Boston: Brill.
Clagett, Marshall 1989. Ancient Egyptian science: a source book. Volume one: Knowledge and order, 2 vols. Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society 184. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society.
Breyer, Francis 2016. Punt: die Suche nach dem “Gottesland”. Culture and History of the Ancient Near East 80. Leiden; Boston: Brill.
Griffiths, J. Gwyn 2001. Solar cycle. In Donald B. Redford (ed.), The Oxford encyclopedia of ancient Egypt, 476-480. Oxford University Press: Oxford.
Griffin, K. 2007. An ꜣḫ i͗ḳr n Rꜥ stela from the collection of the Egypt Centre, Swansea. In Schneider, Thomas and Kasia Szpakowska (eds), Egyptian stories: a British Egyptological tribute to Alan B. Lloyd on the occasion of his retirement, 137–147. Münster: Ugarit-Verlag.
Simpson, William Kelly (ed.) 2003. The literature of ancient Egypt: an anthology of stories, instructions, stelae, autobiographies, and poetry, third ed. New Haven; London: Yale University Press.
Toye-Dubs, Nathalie 2016. De l’oreille à l’écoute. Etude des documents votifs de l’écoute: nouvel éclairage sur le développement de la piété personnelle en Egypte ancienne. BAR International Series 2811. Oxford: BAR.
Vörös, Győző 1998. Temple on the pyramid of Thebes: Hungarian excavations on Thoth Hill at the temple of Pharaoh Montuhotep Sankhkara 1995–1998. Budapest: Százszorszép Kiadó és Nyomda.
Wilkinson, Richard H. 2000. The complete temples of Ancient Egypt. London: Thames & Hudson.

Sunday, 12 July 2020

Every Ending has a New Beginning

The past four months has been life changing for most people, including all of us at the Egypt Centre. With the Museum closing in mid-March, our main sources of income (shop sales, school visits, and events) have been affected massively. Like most museums, we have been working hard trying to find new ways of engaging with our visitors while also raising funds for the Egypt Centre. Just under three months ago, I started an online Egypt Centre support fund in the effort to raise £5,000. At the time of writing, I am delighted to say that we have smashed this target by raising £8,585! We are most grateful to everyone who has contributed to this fund so far (fig. 1). There are still three days remaining, so if you would like to support the Egypt Centre during these difficult times, you can still do so via the following link!

Fig. 1: Egypt Centre support fund

As has been noted previously on this blog, our Wonderful Things conference planned for late May was moved to a virtual format, with the final lecture of this series taking place on Friday. I must admit, I was quite apprehensive at first about moving it online, but it has proven to have been tremendously successful and has certainly raised the profile of the Egypt Centre. Over the past few months we have hosted seventeen lectures, all of which revolved around the Egypt Centre collection. The lectures have highlighted the diversity of the collection, with many unique objects showcased. The Egypt Centre is very proud of providing a platform for both established professionals and students, from Egyptologists to conservators. In total, 2,691 people attended the live sessions making this a truly international event (attendees from six continents). Sixteen of the lectures were recorded and have been added to our YouTube channel, drawing an additional audience of 3,907 people. We are grateful to all the speakers who have offered their time and expertise on the collection! Thanks also to Sam Powell, an Egypt Centre volunteer and Egyptology Masters student, for co-hosting these lectures. We are also very grateful to the Mehen Study Centre for Ancient Egypt who sponsored these online lectures (fig. 2).

Fig. 2: Mehen Study Centre for Ancient Egypt 

Despite the virtual conference concluding, our online engagement continues. On Friday of this week, the Egypt Centre will be hosting its first virtual quiz. For the most part, questions will focus on the conference, although there will be general Egyptological questions mixed in. To raise funds for the Egypt Centre there is a £2 charge per household, with tickets available here. Yesterday I started my new short course on Ancient Egyptian Religion, which follows on from the well-received Funerary Artefacts of the Ancient Egyptians. As much as possible the course will highlight relevant objects in the Egypt Centre collection. This course takes place of Sunday evenings and is repeated on Wednesday mornings. Therefore, there is still the opportunity for people to sign up for this course via the following link. As with the previous course, I’ll be inviting attendees to write the blog posts from their own perspective. This course fulfils one of the Egypt Centre’s core aims of widening participation.  
Fig. 3: Copper alloy votive statue of Osiris (W85)

While we will continue to offer free online Zoom lectures (details to follow), financial pressures mean that we will also be hosting a series of fundraising lectures. These lectures will take place once a month, with details to be announced in advance of each talk. I’m delighted to announce that the first lecture will be delivered by Dr Ramadan Hussein (Eberhard Karls Universität, Tübingen), the director of the Saqqara Saite Tombs Project (fig. 4). The project was launched in 2016 as a second round of excavation, documentation, conservation, and publication of the Twenty-sixth Dynasty tombs clustered around the pyramid of King Wenis. During the mapping of the site, the project’s team made significant archaeological discoveries. Many readers will have followed the amazing work of the project via the four-part National Geographic channel recent documentary Kingdom of the Mummies. Discoveries include the first and only example of six canopic jars for one person, the first silver mask found in Egypt in more than half a century, and evidence of a mummification workshop. This promises to be a fantastic lecture, so please join us and support the Egypt Centre. Full details and tickets for the event can be found via the following link.

Fig. 4: Egypt Centre fundraising lecture

Another major development to enhance our online presence is the creation of a new online catalogue. We recently received funding from the Swansea University Alumni’s Greatest Need Fund, for which we are extremely grateful. The current online catalogue was launched in 2005 with limited search capabilities. The new online collection catalogue, which has been in development for the past year, has been designed specifically with the Egypt Centre in mind. Sam Powell, as a student at Swansea University and volunteer at the Egypt Centre, used her experience of working with the collection to design a bespoke new platform, which will allow the collection to be appreciated virtually. Through working closely with the Egypt Centre staff, the online catalogue has been honed to ensure that the user experience is as intuitive as possible, and meeting the needs of a diverse collection. Further data cleaning, new entry fields, and other modifications will continue to be made (figs 5–8). The planned launch of the catalogue is the beginning of October to coincide with the beginning of the academic year. Stay tuned for more details in a future blog post!

Fig. 5: New catalogue entry for W491 (1 of 4)

Fig. 6: New catalogue entry for W491 (2 of 4)

Fig. 7: New catalogue entry for W491 (3 of 4)

Fig. 8: New catalogue entry for W491 (4 of 4)

Saturday, 4 July 2020

The Woking Loan at the Egypt Centre

The blog post for this week is written by Dr Dulcie Engel, a previous contributor. Dulcie is a former lecturer in French and linguistics and has been volunteering at the Egypt Centre for the last six years. She is a gallery supervisor and associate editor of the Volunteer Newsletter. She has a particular interest in collectors and the history of museums.

In May 2012, the Egypt Centre received a collection of fifty-eight ancient Egyptian objects from Woking Sixth Form College in Surrey, on an initial ten-year loan. The items were originally donated to Woking Girls’ Grammar School in 1958. The school closed in 1976 when it was amalgamated with the Boys’ School to form the basis of Woking Sixth Form College. Through documents and communications with some of the important players in Woking, and other interested parties, I have been able to piece together the story of these objects from their donation to the school in 1958 to the present day. 1958 was an important year for the Girls’ School in Woking: founded in 1923, it finally moved from its original accommodation in six derelict army huts to brand new premises. Additionally, this is when the Egyptian items were donated to the school by Arthur and Margaret Marshall, school governors. Mrs Marshall was a former pupil who later became a town councillor. At the time, the school had an inspirational headmistress, Miss Violet Hill, who actively encouraged initiative in her pupils. One girl was particularly inspired by the Egyptian objects: Anna Bachelier became responsible for looking after the collection, and compiled the first ‘museum’ inventory. She used a basic cataloguing system of numbers, with labels for items, some of which still remain. She was also given permission to take the objects up to the British Museum for inspection. Anna went on to study archaeology at Cardiff and Edinburgh. She became a well-known archaeologist in Scotland under her married name of Dr Anna Ritchie. The School used the objects as teaching aids in Egyptian history, archaeology, and art classes.

Following the closure, amalgamation, and move to new premises in 1976 as Woking Sixth Form College, the objects were kept in the history department, and still used to teach archaeology and art. In particular, they were cared for by head of history Anne Bowey and her successor, Andrew Forrest. In 2001, Andrew made a new inventory and took the items back to British Museum for assessment by Dr John Taylor, Assistant Keeper at the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan. After researching their history and provenance, Andrew Forrest gave a talk on the collection to the College governors. When concerns were raised over display and insurance, the collection was placed in a bank safety deposit box in the Woking branch of Lloyds Bank. Andrew left the College in 2008 and in 2011 a change in bank policy led to the items being returned to the College (inside a sports bag). The then Principal, Martin Ingram, consulted the British Museum about the best home for the items, and the Egypt Centre was recommended because of its strong educational ethos. Shortly after, on 31 May 2012, the Woking Loan arrived at the museum (fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Original display of the Woking Collection at the Egypt Centre

It has proved far more difficult to discover how these objects came to be available for donation in the first place, although we can be pretty sure when and where some of them were excavated, and we can make reasonable guesses about how they came to the UK. We can also be fairly sure of the approximate age of many of the items. The two main contenders for ownership before the Marshalls of Woking are the Egyptologists Robert Mond and Flinders Petrie (Bierbrier 2019). However, it must be noted that this is speculation and we actually do not know how the pieces ended up in Woking. Anna Bachelier noted the possible Mond connection back in 1958, but later Anne Bowey notes the suggestion of a Petrie connection. Indeed, we know that some shabtis (fig. 2) came from an excavation directed by Petrie (see below). Mond sponsored excavations, such as those organised by the Egypt Research Account and Egypt Exploration Fund/Society, and would have been given some artefacts. Mond is known to have given away many items in his collection to both individuals and institutions. A Mond connection would be quite serendipitous as there is a strong connection between the Mond family and Swansea (see Engel 2020).

Fig. 2: Three shabtis during the unpacking process

The artefacts are catalogued as WK1–WK58. They were originally displayed together: now the items are placed in the appropriate cases in both galleries. The collection consists of 35 shabtis, 8 amulets, 5 pottery vessels, 3 coins, 2 fretwork wooden pieces, 2 glass bottles, 1 faience bell, 1 wooden Sokar hawk, and 1 faience flower pendant. Below I briefly discuss a selection of them:
With respect to the shabtis, the largest group of objects, 19 are made of faience, 11 of pottery, 4 of wood, and one of limestone (fig. 3). They date mainly from the New Kingdom and the Third Intermediate Period. As some of the shabtis bear distinctive inscriptions and excavation labels, we can trace their provenance with confidence. For example, WK32 is inscribed Djed-Iset (Djedaset). It has a typed rectangular label on the back, reading: ‘ZED-ASET’. Such labels were placed on shabtis distributed by the Egypt Research Account (ERA), set up and directed by Petrie. This shabti can be traced to the 1895–6 excavation of the Ramesseum by James Quibell (1867–1935), financed by the ERA (Janes 2002).

Fig. 3: Limestone shabti (WK34)

Visitors to the museum may well note the group of five faience shabtis, possibly carrying brick moulds. The painted items on the back are depicted in an unusual manner for seed bags, and as the replica brick mould placed next to them in the Technology case (House of Life) shows, the shape is the same (fig. 4). One of this group, WK 35, is inscribed Djed-Khonsu, but the others, which are not inscribed, are so similar that they must belong to the same group: (WK15–17 and WK56). They date from the Third Intermediate Period and range in height from 78–84mm. 

Fig. 4: Shabtis with possible brick moulds

Three of the pottery vessels date from the early Middle Kingdom. WK3 and WK5–6 are similar to each other: coarsely formed partly handmade Nile silt vessels (Nile fabric B2–C1) with slightly pointed ends, of fairly small size (ranging in height from 135 to 160mm). They are most likely to be model funerary vessels, shaped as beer jars. They are very similar to ones found in the foundation deposits of the pyramid of Senwosret I (Arnold 1988: 107–9).
The Bes bell (WK44) in the Music case is perhaps the object in the Woking Loan that has excited Egyptologists the most, particularly as it is relatively rare (fig. 5). It was also voted in 2019 as one of the thirty highlights of the museum and appears in the recently released Highlights booklet. It is a pale green faience bell, 37mm high, formed as a hollow hemispherical Bes head crowned with feathers, with a hole for suspension as well as another, presumably for the tongue of the bell. The tongue itself is missing. This particular item seems to date to the Ptolemaic Period based on parallels, including BM EA 66619 (Anderson 1976, 47). The fact that this is made from faience suggests it was a votive or amuletic item, as it would have been too fragile to shake vigorously. These bells were perhaps worn around the necks of children to protect them.

Fig. 5: Faience Bes bell (WK44)

A favourite of mine is the Sokar hawk (WK21), 96mm high, in the Woodworking case, which dates from the Late Period. The wood is coated in a layer of gesso and painted yellow, white, red, and green (fig. 6). There appears to be an excavation mark in black ink on the base, which reads 25/50. However, it is not an easily identifiable mark, and might well be a catalogue number from one of the earlier owners, or possibly an auction lot number. There is a hole in the base as these wooden birds would have been fixed with a wooden peg onto the base of a Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figure. The figures combine the powers of Ptah, a creator god (mummiform), Osiris, god of death, resurrection, and fertility (represented by the two feathers of his crown), and Sokar, the hawk-headed god of the cemeteries (the bird), particularly associated with Saqqara.

Fig. 6: Sokar hawk (WK21)

The story of the Woking Loan illustrates the lasting power of historical objects to inspire: Mrs Marshall knew her old school would make good use of the collection, and they did. Just as the original sponsors of the ERA and the EES (and individual excavators) knew that gifts of artefacts to museums, universities, and schools would. A far-seeing headmistress let a fifteen-year-old girl take these artefacts up to the British Museum, encouraging her passion, which led to a distinguished career in archaeology. Much later, a history teacher at the College was inspired to discover more about the collection and spread the word through lectures; again, he took these objects to the British Museum. Finally, when the College realised the need for a safer place for the artefacts, it led to another consultation with the British Museum, who recommended a home well-known for its educational programme with schoolchildren and students. Here in the Egypt Centre, object-centred learning has always been an important element of that programme. In normal times, school groups and members of the public can handle artefacts in the gallery; members of the public, museum volunteers, students, and scholars benefit from evening classes, talks, seminars, and conferences, which involve handling artefacts normally kept in display cases or in the stores.

I was due to give a talk on the Woking Loan at Woking College in March 2020 and at the Wonderful Things conference in Swansea in May 2020. Obviously the former never happened while the latter was moved to an online format. If you have any further information/suggestions about the provenance of the Woking Loan, please contact me via the Egypt Centre! I could not have done this research without the help of Egypt Centre staff, in particular Carolyn Graves-Brown, Ken Griffin, and Syd Howells. Additionally, Ancient History staff and researchers at Swansea: Christian Knoblauch, Nigel Pollard, and John Rogers. Nor my brilliant Woking correspondents: Richard & Rosemary Christophers at the Lightbox Gallery, Andrew Forrest, Anna Ritchie, the staff of Woking College; and John Taylor of the British Museum.

Anderson, Robert D. 1976. Catalogue of Egyptian antiquities in the British Museum III: musical instruments. London: Trustees of the British Museum.
Arnold, Dorothea 1988. Pottery. In Arnold, Dieter (ed.) The pyramid of Senwosret I, 106–146. Publications of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Egyptian Expedition 22; The South Cemeteries of Lisht 1. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art. 
Bierbrier, Morris L. 2019. Who was who in Egyptology, 5th revised ed. London: Egypt Exploration Society.
Engel, Dulcie. M. 2020. The Mond family: Swansea & Egypt, Egypt Centre Volunteer Newsletter (Jan–Mar 2020).
Janes, Glenn 2002. Shabtis: a private view. Ancient Egyptian funerary statuettes in European private collections. Photographs by Tom Bangbala. Paris: Cybèle.
Quibell, James. E. 1898. The Ramesseum. British School of Archaeology in Egypt and Egyptian Research Account 2. London: Bernard Quaritch.