To support the Egypt Centre, please click the button below

Monday, 27 December 2021

Reuniting a Ptah-Sokar-Osiris Figure with its Headdress

In last week’s blog post, I presented the back panel of a Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figure (W2052). This is one of twenty-nine objects in the Egypt Centre collection, which have been categorised as Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figures: twenty figures and nine headdresses. While photographing some of these items last month, I was particularly intrigued by one of the headdresses (W2062). The object is a typical example of the Ptolemaic Period and may not seem to be overly exciting. It is made of wood, which is covered in a layer of painted gesso. Measuring 202mm in height, 169mm wide, and 22mm thick, the headdress was clearly part of a large Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figure (fig. 1). The ram’s horns are painted black, while the double features have blue, red, and green decoration on a cream background. A yellow sun disc is painted on the front.

Fig. 1: Ptah-Sokar-Osiris headdress (W2062)

So what makes this headdress so interesting? Well, when checking the data on the Egypt Centre’s catalogue, I noticed that it had an unidentified number 118 associated with it. As the catalogue had no further details about this number, I checked the object file to see if there was anything additional, or even if the label with this number still existed. Fortunately, it did, with the style indicating to me that it was a lot number (fig. 2). This is not surprising since much of the Egypt Centre collection originated from that of Sir Henry Wellcome, who purchased innumerable Egyptian objects at auction for over three decades until his death in 1936.

Fig. 2: Archives from the object file, including lot label

With no further details on the label, surely it would prove difficult to identify the specific auction? While the label may seem somewhat generic, I knew it was a type commonly found on objects from the 1907 collection of Robert de Rustafjaell, which was auctioned by Sotheby’s. Therefore, I checked lot 118 in the auction catalogue to see if the description matched. Bingo! My hunch proved accurate, with the catalogue describing the lot as “Another of similar size, the base shorter [Plate VIII]”. The preceding lot was a complete Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figure, which also happens to be in the Egypt Centre collection (W2001C). Most exciting is that a photo of W2062 is shown in the plates, but as a complete Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figure rather than just the crown of a figure (fig. 3)!

Fig. 3: Plate VIII showing lots 117 (W2001) and 118

I checked the Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figures in the Egypt Centre collection to see if any matched the plate, without success. Knowing that the Egyptian material in the Wellcome collection was dispersed to several UK institutions, I messaged Dr Ashley Cooke, the lead curator of antiquities in the World Museum Liverpool, to ask if the Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figure was in Liverpool. I received a reply within an hour, with Ashley suggesting that it could be acquisition number -. This object is a tall and slender Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figure on a base, which, stylistically, comes from Akhmim (fig. 4). A comparison between the photos provided by Ashley and the plate confirm a perfect match. Readers to this blog are probably wondering about the Sokar-hawk, which is shown on top of the base on the Liverpool object but not in the auction catalogue. It turns out that this Sokar-hawk is a recent addition, which carries a different acquisition number.

Fig. 4: Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figure in Liverpool ( 1973.1.686)

So how and when did the crown become separated from the figure and base? While it is not possible to say with any precision, it can be determined that this happened sometime between 1907 and 1927. The Wellcome number associated with the figure in Liverpool is A61348 (fig. 5), which describes it as a “STATUETTE. Wood, carved, 20" high 4½" wide on base 12¾ " x 4 Painted with heiroglyphics and inscription. Egyptian.” This roughly matches the measurements of the Liverpool figure, indicating that the headdress in Swansea was no longer associated with it when the object was catalogued at the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum in 1927.

Fig. 5: Wellcome slip

This blog post highlights the importance of collaboration between museums with Wellcome material, which can often lead to understanding our collections better and even virtually reuniting objects. I am most grateful to Ashley for providing information and photos of the figure in Liverpool.



Bosse-Griffiths, Kate 2001. Problems with Ptaḥ-Sokar-Osiris figures: presented to the 4th International Congress of Egyptology, Munich, 1985. In Bosse-Griffiths, Kate, Amarna studies and other selected papers, 181–188. Freiburg (Schweiz); Göttingen: Universitätsverlag; Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Raven, Maarten J. 1978–1979. Papyrus-sheaths and Ptah-Sokar-Osiris statues. Oudheidkundige mededelingen uit het Rijksmuseum van Oudheden 59–60, 251–296.

Raven, Maarten J. 1984. Papyrus-sheaths and Ptah-Sokar-Osiris statues [+ corrigenda]. In Symbols of resurrection: three studies in ancient Egyptian iconography / Symbolen van opstanding: drie studies op het gebied van Oud-Egyptische iconografie, 251–296, xi. Leiden: Rijksmuseum van Oudheden.

Rindi Nuzzolo, Carlo 2014. Two Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figures from Akhmim in the Egyptian collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, BudapestBulletin du Musée Hongrois des Beaux-Arts 119, 13–41.

Rindi Nuzzolo, Carlo 2017. Tradition and transformation: retracing Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figures from Akhmim in museums and private collections. In Gillen, Todd (ed.), (Re)productive traditions in ancient Egypt: proceedings of the conference held at the University of Liège, 6th8th February 2013, 445–474. Liège: Presses universitaires de Liège.

Sotheby, Wilkinson, & Hodge. (1907) Catalogue of a collection of antiquities from Egypt, ... being the second portion of the collection of Robert de Rustafjaell, esq. F.R.G.S, which will be sold by auction, ... on Monday, the 9th of December, 1907, and the following day. London: Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge.

Monday, 20 December 2021

The Curious Case of a Ptah-Sokar Osiris Figure and a Goddess

 At the Fourth International Congress of Egyptology, which was held in Munich in 1985, Kate Bosse-Griffiths presented a paper on the Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figures in the Swansea Wellcome Collection (now the Egypt Centre). This paper was published posthumously in a volume edited by her husband Gwyn Griffiths in 2001. In this paper, Kate highlighted the back panel of a Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figure (W2051), which was apparently found with an extraordinary figure of a goddess made entirely of linen (W2051a). She noted that both were broken in the same place, just below the knee area. But do these objects really belong together? 

W2051 is a thin fragment of wood, which measures 409mm in its height, 134mm wide, and 25mm thick. The back is plastered and painted with a black background and a dark blue wig. Directly below the wig is an inscription consisting of two columns of black painted hieroglyphs, which are added on a cream background. The inside has been hollowed out to produce a cavity in the trunk, which follows the mummiform-shaped contour of the figure. Four rectangular and one circular mortices have been manufactured along the border of the panel, which would have been joined with tenons on the missing front side (fig. 1). As noted previously, the lowest portion of the panel is now missing. The object can be classified as Type IVF, defined by Raven in his study on Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figures (1979, 268).

Fig. 1: Ptah-Sokar-Osiris case (W2051)

The inscription on the back of W2051 is a particular type of text known as the Atum hymn (fig. 2). First published by Budge (1925, 53), the hymn was analysed by Raven (1979, 54) and more recently Rindi Nuzzolo (2017, 461–462). The text, which is to be read from right to left, reads as follows:

(1) ḏd mdw i͗n wsi͗r ḫnty-i͗mntt nṯr ꜥꜣ nb ꜣbḏw skr-wsi͗r ḥry-i͗b i͗pw ꜣst wrt [...]

(1) Words spoken by Osiris, Foremost of the West, the Great God, Lord of Abydos, Sokar-Osiris, who resides in Akhmim, Isis the Great [...].

(2) i͗nḏ ḥr.k i͗wꜥw pr m nṯr pn nḫḫ pr m tm ḏt nṯr i͗i͗ [...]

(2) Greetings to you, heir who originated from this god, spittle that originated from Atum, divine body that returns [...].

Fig. 2: Hieroglyphs on W2051

A recent article by Rindi Nuzzolo (2014) published two Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figures from Akhmim, which represent very close parallels to W2051. The first is also a back panel of a Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figure now housed in the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts (inv. no. 51.244), while the second is in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (inv. no. D96/1982). The latter object, which belonged to a man called Hor, is particularly significant as it is complete. The front of the figure is completely gilded in thin gold leaf, with the exception of the wig and horns. It is likely that W2051 also had a front panel that was gilded just like that in Melbourne, and it is even possible that they were produced in the same workshop at Akhmim (fig. 3).

Fig. 3: Comparison between the Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figure in Melbourne (left & centre) and the Egypt Centre (right). Rindi Nuzzolo 2014, fig. 16.

W2051a is a figure of a woman standing 315mm high, 82mm wide, and 57mm in its depth. It appears to be made entirely of linen, which is covered in a thick layer of painted gesso. The arms are pendant by her side and there is a hole in the top of the head for the attachment of a headdress. Her skin is painted yellow, the hair a dark blue to resemble lapis lazuli, and she wears a long green dress (fig. 4). There can be little doubt that she represents a goddess, perhaps Isis or Nephthys. Bosse-Griffiths called the figure “remarkable”, a view that has been expressed by other scholars who have visited the Egypt Centre over the years.

Fig. 4: Figure of a goddess (W2051a)

The mummiform-shaped cavity of W2051 indicates that the object originally held a figure. This was common of Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figures, which often contained a concealed cavity such as a corn mummy. But did W2051a really belong with W2051 as was proposed by Kate Bosse-Griffiths? Before discussing this, it is important to review her comments on this. Bosse-Griffiths wrote that “fitting neatly the cavity is not a mummy, but the fully clad figure of a woman” (2021, 184). She also described it as “a female figure lying in a coffin like Snow-White”, proposing that it was a representation of the goddess Nut (2021, 185). The fact that both objects were broken roughly in the same place seemed to throw weight behind the proposal that they belonged together. However, a closer examination of both objects reveals that the goddess does not fit neatly into the cavity as had previously been suggested. Instead, the figure slightly covers the border of the back panel, thus making it clear that it would have been impossible for such a large figure to be concealed within.

Documentation associated with the two objects further confirms that W2051 and W2051a were not originally connected. Before conservation at Cardiff University in 1989, W2051 had a circular serrated label with the number 1091 written on it. This label type appears to be a numbering system used by the Assyriologist William St. Chad Boscawen (1855–1913) to catalogue objects purchased by Sir Henry Wellcome in 1907 from the collection of Robert de Rustafjaell. The unpublished catalogues of Boscawen’s inventory of Egyptian items purchased/received by Wellcome between 1906–1912 have recently been rediscovered in archives of the Petrie Museum. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, it has not been possible to consult these, but eventually it should be possible to ascertain the lot number from the sale. W2051a, on the other hand, was purchased by Wellcome in 1931 from Foster’s dealer and auctioneers. Lot 175, which is described as “an Ancient Egyptian stuffed doll, another, in clay, and a pair of ancient sandals, in painted wood” was purchased for £2/10s. Thus, both objects entered the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum twenty-four years apart before eventually arriving to Swansea in 1971. It is possible that in the intervening years the objects were grouped together in one box, which led Kate Bosse-Griffiths to mistakenly believe that they belonged together!


Bosse-Griffiths, Kate 2001. Problems with Ptaḥ-Sokar-Osiris figures: presented to the 4th International Congress of Egyptology, Munich, 1985. In Bosse-Griffiths, Kate, Amarna studies and other selected papers, 181–188. Freiburg (Schweiz); Göttingen: Universitätsverlag; Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Budge, E. A. Wallis 1925. The mummy: a handbook of Egyptian funerary archaeology, 2nd, revised and greatly enlarged ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Horry, Ruth 2015. Assyriology at the margins, the case of William St. Chad Boscawen (1855–1913). Iraq 77/1, 107–128.

Raven, Maarten J. 1978–1979. Papyrus-sheaths and Ptah-Sokar-Osiris statues. Oudheidkundige mededelingen uit het Rijksmuseum van Oudheden 59–60, 251–296.

Raven, Maarten J. 1984. Papyrus-sheaths and Ptah-Sokar-Osiris statues [+ corrigenda]. In Symbols of resurrection: three studies in ancient Egyptian iconography / Symbolen van opstanding: drie studies op het gebied van Oud-Egyptische iconografie, 251–296, xi. Leiden: Rijksmuseum van Oudheden.

Rindi Nuzzolo, Carlo 2014. Two Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figures from Akhmim in the Egyptian collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest. Bulletin du Musée Hongrois des Beaux-Arts 119, 13–41.

Rindi Nuzzolo, Carlo 2017. Tradition and transformation: retracing Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figures from Akhmim in museums and private collections. In Gillen, Todd (ed.), (Re)productive traditions in ancient Egypt: proceedings of the conference held at the University of Liège, 6th8th February 2013, 445–474. Liège: Presses universitaires de Liège.

Monday, 13 December 2021

New Short Course on Priests and Priestesses in Ancient Egypt

Throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Egypt Centre has organised a whole host of online activities for both children and adults. One of the most successful has been our courses, which have attracted an international audience and helped raise the profile of the museum. So far, ten courses have taken place, with topics ranging from the funerary artefacts of the ancient Egyptians to the Amarna Period. In mid-January, the latest Egypt Centre short course (five weeks) will commence, which is called In the Service of the Gods: Priests and Priestesses in Ancient Egypt (fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Procession of Priests at Abydos

Priests, priestesses, and other temple personnel played an important role in ancient Egypt. While the King was seen as the High Priest and the intermediary between the sacred and profane worlds, it was the priesthood who were ultimately the ones who ensured the earth and heavens remained as the gods created them. This was achieved through a series of rituals, such as the Daily Temple Ritual, in which the priesthood performed ceremonies in the name of the King. This course will examine the role of the priesthood, from the high priests to the doorkeepers. Additionally, the office of the God’s Wife of Amun and related titles will be explored.

Fig. 2: Stela of Pasherienimhotep

Particular focus will be given to the objects in the Egypt Centre collection that belonged to temple personnel, such as coffins, shabtis, statues, and stelae. At the end of each session, we will have a case-study of some of the individuals represented at the Egypt Centre. Pasherienimhotep, who is attested on a wooden stela (W1041), was a priest at Edfu Temple around 150 BC. The stela provides a long list of his titles, including Servant of Horus, Elder of the Portal of Horus of Edfu, God’s Servant of Harpakhered, God’s Servant of Amun of the Storehouse, Overseer of the Wab-priests of Sekhmet, Overseer of Magicians of Serqet, Chief Lector Priest, Scribe of the Divine Book, Overseer of the Priests of Horus of Edfu, and many more (fig. 2).

Fig. 3: Plaster cast of the Djedhor statue base

Djedhor the Saviour was a well-known priest and “Guardian of the gates of the Temple of Athribis”. He was even deified during his lifetime. Djedhor is represented in the Egypt Centre through a plaster cast (W302) of a statue base, the original of which is now one of the treasures of the Cairo Museum (fig. 3). We will also look at the Chief Lector Priest Padiamenope, the owner of the largest private tomb (TT 33) ever constructed in Egypt. Padiamenope, is known for his stone shabtis, a fragment of which is now in the Egypt Centre (W161).

Fig. 4: Coffin of Iwesenhesetmut

Iwesenhesetmut was a Chantress of Amun who lived around 1000 BC. Her burial was evidently discovered over 200 years ago, with her burial equipment now scattered in museums and private collections. The Egypt Centre possesses her inner anthropoid coffin (W1982), which is brightly decorated with a series of scenes depicting Iwesenhesetmut before the gods (fig. 4). While the God’s Wives of Amun and Divine Adoratrices are some of the most well-known female clergy, perhaps the most obscure holders of the latter title is Qedmerut. She is only known from her shabti figures, which were excavated at the Ramesseum during the 1890s. One of these shabtis (W1315) is now in the Egypt Centre collection (fig. 5).

Fig. 5: Faience shabti of Qedmerut

In order to be as accessible as possible, this 5-week course will be run twice a week, with sessions taking place via Zoom:

- Sunday evenings 6–8pm (UK time) - Starting Sunday 16th January

- Wednesday mornings 10am–noon (UK time) - Starting Wednesday 19th January

A week before the course starts, you will be emailed the Zoom link, which can be used for both sessions. Therefore, participants will have the option of attending either day, or both! This course costs £40, with fees going directly to supporting the Egypt Centre. In particular, the funds will be used to purchase a new writing case for the House of Life gallery. Registration is now open and can been be booked via the following link: 

Monday, 6 December 2021

Philae: Egypt’s Holy Island

 The blog post for this week has been written by Linda Anderson, who has a PhD in biochemistry and is a retired chemistry teacher. She began her love of Ancient Egypt following a trip to Egypt in 1981. She and her sister Merlys have visited Egypt on many occasions since then. Following Merlys’ graduation in Egyptology in 2006, she herself studied for a Certificate in Egyptology in 2011, graduating in 2015.One of her greatest ambitions is to visit the New York Metropolitan Museum of Arts and she hopes that maybe the Friends of the Egypt Centre will arrange a trip the one day (hint!).


Situated on the First Cataract of the Nile, the beautiful temple complex of Philae is dedicated in the main to Isis and also believed to be one of the burial places of the Ancient Egyptian god Osiris (fig. 1). Temples honouring Isis have existed on the island from at least the sixth century BC and the temple complex is one of Egypt’s most eclectic and fascinating ancient sites. It was originally located on Philae Island, a sacred place with connections to the cult of Isis that dated back thousands of years. The main temple complex was started by Ahmose III and further by the Thirtieth Dynasty pharaoh Nectanebo I—although a kiosk attributed to an earlier pharaoh Psamtek II is also to be found. It was further added to by the rulers of the Greek, Roman, and Byzantine periods up until the third century AD and was a place of pilgrimage for followers of the cult of Isis long after Christianity arrived in Egypt. In fact, the temples were only closed or repurposed for Christian use in the sixth century AD, making the Philae temple complex one of the country’s last places of pagan worship.

Fig 1: Philae today


In 1902, the construction of the Aswan Low Dam caused Philae Island and its temple complex to flood for most of the year. (Fig. 2). Tourists could explore the partially submerged ruins by rowboat and the temple foundations were strengthened to help them withstand the annual flood damage. However, the bricks became encrusted with river silt and the colours of the temple’s fabulous reliefs were washed away (Fig. 3).

Fig 2: Philae in flood


When plans for the Aswan High Dam were revealed in 1954, it became clear that Philae Island would soon be fully submerged, its ancient treasures lost forever. As a result, UNESCO launched their campaign to save the monuments in 1960. Plans were made to relocate several of the region’s more important temples, including the Philae temple complex. At Philae, a coffer dam was built to keep the river water at bay while the monuments were cleaned, measured and dismantled. The temple and its accompanying shrines and sanctuaries were moved brick-by-brick to nearby Agilkia Island and painstakingly reconstructed on higher ground. In the name of authenticity, Agilkia was even landscaped to match the temple’s original setting on Philae Island. 

Fig 3: Boat trips at Philae temple by David Roberts

Modern tourists arrive by boat and start their tour at the oldest part of the site, the Kiosk of Nectanebo. The entrance to the main temple is guarded by the First Pylon, an 18-metre-high monumental gateway decorated with incredible reliefs (Figs 4–5). These reliefs are attributed to various pharaohs and include a famous depiction of Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos dispatching a band of enemies. Isis, Horus of Edfu, Hathor, and various other members of the Egyptian pantheon also make an appearance here.

Fig 4: First pylon and colonnade


After passing through the First Pylon, visitors find themselves in the temple forecourt. Colonnades on either side provide entry to various rooms including the Birth House. This intriguing building was dedicated to Isis in honour of the birth of her son, Horus, and contains reliefs depicting scenes from the falcon-headed god’s childhood. In the past, pharaohs performed rituals here to celebrate the Isis legend (which included their own descent from Horus, thereby legitimizing their divine right to rule). A Second Pylon leads into the vestibule of the inner temple. It features eight magnificent columns, while Coptic crosses carved into the walls show how the temple was transformed into a place of Christian worship during the Byzantine era. Beyond the vestibule lies the sanctuary, where granite shrines once held a gold statue of Isis and the barque in which it travelled. These have since been removed to museums in Paris and Florence.

Fig 5: Lion statue in first pylon colonnade

One notable absentee removed from the front of the First Pylon is the Philae obelisk, one of a pair of twin obelisks erected in the second century BC. It was ‘discovered’ by William Bankes in 1815, who had it brought to Kingston Lacy in Dorset England, where it still stands today (Fig. 6). Like the Rosetta Stone, the Greek and Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions on the obelisk played a role in unravelling the hitherto unreadable Egyptian hieroglyphs. Bankes believed that the bilingual inscription would help with the decipherment of hieroglyphs in general. Its transportation, and that of a single, large broken piece of its twin, was carried out by the famous explorer Giovanni Belzoni. The obelisk arrived in London in December 1821, making it the first Egyptian obelisk to be brought to the United Kingdom. Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, provided a gun carriage that transported the obelisk to Kingston Lacy in Dorset in 1829 and George IV provided Libyan granite that was used to repair the base of the obelisk’s shaft. The obelisk was set up as a central feature of the gardens in 1830; nineteen horses were required to raise it into position. The broken piece of the twin was set into the lawn nearby as a romantic ruin.

Fig. 6: Kingston Lacy obelisk


The obelisk was described as “in effect a second Rosetta Stone” and several lithographs of the obelisk and its inscriptions were produced while it was in London. Bankes distributed these lithographs to various contemporaries interested in deciphering hieroglyphs. In his studies of the Rosetta Stone, the scholar Thomas Young had already realised that cartouches contained the names of a pharaoh and he had identified the name ‘Ptolemy’. Bankes proposed to identify the name ‘Cleopatra’ in cartouches on this inscription. However, further progress was stymied by the fact that the Greek and Egyptian texts were not exact parallels of one another and by Bankes and Young’s incorrect belief that all Egyptian hieroglyphs were logographic, where each symbol represented a whole word.

In France, Champollion had constructed a hypothetical hieroglyphic text for the name 'Cleopatra'. On being sent a copy of the lithograph of the Philae obelisk, he confirmed that his reconstruction was correct and announced the decipherment of hieroglyphs in the Lettre à M. Dacier in 1822. Subsequently Bankes, Young, and their circle responded to this announcement with great hostility, claiming that Champollion had not given them proper credit for the discovery!

Hieroglyphs were still in use in the Macedonian, Ptolemaic, and Roman periods of Egypt, but the circle of people who used and understood them declined. During this period, only the priests studied the hieroglyphs. However, all this changed when Egyptians converted to Christianity. In the second and third centuries AD, traditional polytheistic religion was replaced with monotheistic Christianity, so Egyptians were forced to incorporate the Greek alphabet into the Egyptian language, and general knowledge of them quickly declined and eventually disappeared. Ironically, as it played a major role in understanding hieroglyphs, the last writing using hieroglyphs was during the rule of Theodosius I in 394 CE, on the island of Philae.

Although the Temple of Isis is the complex’s main attraction, there are a series of other worthwhile monuments. These include the Temple of Hathor, which was built by Ptolemy VI Philometer and Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II and later added to by the Emperor Augustus. The Gateway of Hadrian features reliefs commissioned by Roman emperors Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius, and Lucius Verus, while the unfinished yet undeniably beautiful ‘Trajan’s Kiosk’ (also known as the Pharaoh’s bed in Arabic) was a favourite subject of Victorian painters. It is attributed to Trajan and was the original entrance to the temple complex and possibly served as a barque station. His depiction as pharaoh is seen on reliefs in its interior. However, the majority of the structure dates to an earlier time, possibly to the reign of Augustus (Fig. 7). Later Christian ruins are also found on the island and include the remains of a monastery and two Coptic churches.

Fig 7: Trajan’s kiosk

Philae temple complex is in my opinion one of the highlights of any Nile cruise and I would urge anyone visiting Egypt to head south from Luxor to Aswan to explore the wonders there and, indeed as we did, even further again to explore not just Philae but the other beautiful temples rescued from the ravages of the rising waters of Lake Nassar.


Belzoni, G. B. (2007) Travels in Egypt and Nubia. White Star Publishers: Italy.

Shafer, B. E. (ed) (2005) Temples of Ancient Egypt. I.B. Taurus: London. New York. Egypt, the Temple of Philae. Accessed November 2021. Available from:

Wikipedia. Philae Obelisk. Accessed November 2021. Available from:

Wilkinson, R. H. (2000) The Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt. Thames and Hudson Ltd: London.

Monday, 29 November 2021

A Canopic Jar for Psamtek, son of Iahweben

One of the most common items of funerary equipment buried with the deceased is a set of four canopic jars. These jars were used from the Old Kingdom through the Ptolemaic Period to house the internal organs of the deceased. The most common materials for these jars is stone, particularly limestone or travertine (alabaster). The Egypt Centre has twelve objects categorised as canopic jars in its collection, most of which are lids. Particularly is W498, which belongs to the God’s Father Psamtek, son of Iahweben (fig. 1). The jar was purchased by Sir Henry Wellcome at Sotheby’s on 13 November 1928 (lot 221), from the collection of Charles James Tabor (1849–1928). But what makes this jar so special?

Fig. 1: Canopic jar of Psamtek (W498)

W498 is a travertine canopic jar measuring 47cm in height. Despite the thickness of the vessel, it is still translucent when artificial light is placed against it. The lid of the jar depicts a man, who is commonly associated with Imsety, one of the four sons of Horus who protect the internal organs. However, a lightly incised inscription on the front informs us that the jar is associated with a different son, Qebehsenuef, who has the head of a raptor and usually guards the intestines. Is this a case of the wrong head being placed on the jar, either in antiquity or more modern times? Given that it was common in the Late Period, when this jar dates to, for the full set of jars to have human heads, it is quite possible that this is the right head after all (Dodson 1994). The jar is incised with two columns of hieroglyphs with a spell that invokes Qebehsenuef to protect the contents (fig. 2). The inscription also identifies the owner as the God’s Father Psamtek, son of Iahweben.

Fig. 2: Inscription on the canopic jar (W498)

So what do we know of Psamtek, son of Iahweben? The name Psamtek was one of the most common during the Late Period, particularly in the Twenty-sixth Dynasty, with three kings bearing this name. The fact that his canopic jar is in Swansea would indicate that his tomb has been discovered, yet its current location is unknown. Despite this, there is little doubt that it is located beneath the sands of Saqqara where so many of his contemporaries were buried (Stammers 2009). Psamtek was first known from two painted limestone stelae in Leiden (AP 57 & AP 58), which were published by Boeser (1915, 5–6, nos. 14–15, pl. 15, nos. 14–15). The two stelae are almost and provide valuable details about the life of Psamtek (fig. 3). In particular, they provide his date of birth, death, and the number of days between his death and internment in the necropolis (Jurman 2010, 250–252). Additionally, while only his father’s name is recorded on the canopic jar in Swansea, the stelae also tell us that his mother’s name was Ankhenites.

Fig. 3: Leiden stelae AP 57 & AP 58)

A third stela and two statues for Psamtek were discovered in 1988 within the New Kingdom cemetery at Saqqara by Sayed Tawfik (Gohary 2009; Handoussa 2009; Radwan 2009). Now in the Imhotep Museum at Saqqara (SQ.CU.149), this stela confirms the length of time that passed between Psamtek’s death and burial. While it is often stated that the mummification process lasted for seventy days, inscriptional evidence clearly indicates that this was not always the case. With Psamtek, the mummification process only lasted for thirty-two days (Jurman 2010, 252).

Birth: regnal year 1, month 3 of šmw, day 1 of Necho II (= 19 November 610 BCE)

Age at death/life-span: 65 years, 10 months, 2 days

Death: regnal year 27, month 4 of prt, day 28 (of Ahmose III = (31 August 544 BCE)

Duration of embalming process: 32 days spent in the pr-nfr

Burial: regnal year 27, month 1 of šmw, day 29 (of Ahmose III = 1 October 544 BCE)


While such details are rare, they provide a valuable insight into life and death of private officials. W498 appears to be the only item of Psamtek’s funerary equipment known, besides the aforementioned stelae. Yet it is possible that the other three jars and shabti figures remain unidentified in museum collections. In fact, an old label (V.15) written on the lid of the jar must relate to a previous collection (fig. 4). If any readers to this blog are familiar with this numbering system or know of other funerary equipment for Psamtek son of Iahweben, I would love to hear!

Fig. 4: Old number written on the lid


Boeser, Pieter Adriaan Aart (2015) Die Denkmäler der saïtischen, griechisch-römischen und koptischen Zeit. Beschreibung der Ägyptischen Sammlung des Niederländischen Reichsmuseums der Altertümer in Leiden VII. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

Dodson, Aidan (1994) The canopic equipment of kings of Egypt. Studies in Egyptology. London: Kegan Paul International.

Gohary, Said (2009) ‘A stela of the god’s father Psametik’. In Die ihr vorbeigehen werdet … Wenn Gräber, Tempel und Statuen sprechen: Gedenkschrift für Prof. Dr. Sayed Tawfik Ahmed, ed. U. Rössler-Köhler and T. Tawfik. Sonderschrift, Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Abteilung Kairo 16. Berlin; New York: de Gruyter. 121–124.

Handoussa, Tohfa (2009) ‘New evidence on the duration of mummification’. In Die ihr vorbeigehen werdet … Wenn Gräber, Tempel und Statuen sprechen: Gedenkschrift für Prof. Dr. Sayed Tawfik Ahmed, ed. U. Rössler-Köhler and T. Tawfik. Sonderschrift, Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Abteilung Kairo 16. Berlin; New York: de Gruyter. 103–104.

Jurman, Claus (2010) ‘Running with Apis: the Memphite Apis cult as a point of reference for social and religious practice in Late Period elite culture’. In Egypt in transition: social and religious development of Egypt in the first millennium BCE. Proceedings of an international conference, Prague, September 1–4, 2009, ed. L. Bareš, F. Coppens and K. Smoláriková. Prague: Czech Institute of Egyptology, Charles University in Prague. 224–267.

Radwan, Ali (2009) ‘Sayed Tawfik in Saqqara: einiges zu fünf Fundobjekten aus seinen Ausgrabungen’. In Die ihr vorbeigehen werdet … Wenn Gräber, Tempel und Statuen sprechen: Gedenkschrift für Prof. Dr. Sayed Tawfik Ahmed, ed. U. Rössler-Köhler and T. Tawfik. Sonderschrift, Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Abteilung Kairo 16. Berlin; New York: de Gruyter. 169–174.

Sotheby & Co. (1928) Catalogue of antiquities, etc., comprising the collection of Prehistoric implements, the property of Miss Carey, Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities, etc., comprising the collection of the late C.J. Tabor, the property of Princess Ghika, the property of Mrs O. Gregory, the property of Mrs A. Belcher, the property of Mrs de Burley Wood, the property of W. Kennett, and other properties, including Indian and South American objects; which will be sold by auction by Sotheby and Co. ... on Monday, the 12th of November, 1928, and following day. London: Sotheby & Co.

Stammers, Michael (2009) The elite late period Egyptian tombs of Memphis. BAR International Series 1903. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Monday, 22 November 2021

The Funerary Equipment of the Chantress of Amun Iwesenhesetmut

The blog post for this week is written by Glenn Janes, who was born in Wiltshire, England in 1954 and educated at Marlborough Grammar School and North East Essex Technical College and School of Art. A professional violinist for many years with the BBC Northern Symphony Ochestra and the BBC Philharmonic, his interest in Ancient Egypt dates back to the British Museum’s Tutankhamen Exhibition of 1972. Glenn gained a Certificate in Egyptology with Distinction under Professor Rosalie David at the University of Manchester and has made shabtis his speciality since then as an independent researcher visiting museums all over the world and meeting leading scholars in the subject. He is the author of a number of well received catalogues and books on shabtis, as well as a book about the Dutch ‘absurd realism’ artist Jean Thomassen.

This blog post presents an overview of the burial equipment of the Chantress of Amun, Iwesenhesetmut, whose inner anthropoid coffin is now housed in the Egypt Centre. She is known to have had a fine set of anthropoid coffins that were found complete with her mummy. These were probably acquired in Luxor sometime between 1817 or 1818 by Rev. Robert Fitzherbert Fuller (1794–1849). It has been suggested that Giovanni Belzoni might have been involved in the excavating and then the selling of the assemblage and presumably other items of the deceased’s funerary equipment because he was ‘working’ in Egypt at that time. However, there is no conclusive proof of this. Perhaps because the Fuller family did not like the idea of having the mummy and coffins in their home in Sussex, Robert presented the whole lot to the Devon and Exeter Institution in Cathedral Close, Exeter in 1819. The contents of this institution were transferred to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter in 1868. The outer coffin was destroyed by insect infestation sometime prior to the date of the transfer to Exeter, and the mummy of Iwesenhesetmut was cremated, seemingly without reason, in Exeter crematorium in 1973 (fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Coffin (W1982) and mummy of Iwesenhesetmut with C.V. Anthony Adams, early 1960s (Dodson 2011, fig. EXE.3.1)

The inner coffin for Iwesenhesetmut was given as a gift to the University College, Wellcome Museum, Swansea in 1982 and it is now to be found in the Egypt Centre (W1982). The coffin is typical of the Twenty-first Dynasty: crowded scenes of the afterlife painted on a white background, which has since turned yellow because of the ancient varnish used (figs. 2–3). Scenes on the coffin include the ‘weighing of the heart’, during which time Iwesenhesetmut’s heart is weighed against the feather of truth. If the heart is lighter than the feather, then she has led a good life and can proceed to the afterlife. However, if it is heavier, Iwesnnhesetmut’s heart would be eaten by Ammut (the devourer), who was part lion, crocodile, and hippopotamus. The coffin was briefly published by Kate Bosse-Griffiths, the former curator of the collection at Swansea (Bosse-Griffiths 1984; 1991). For the decoration of the coffin, see the following resources. A mummy-board (A417) for Iwesenhesetmut is still to be found in Exeter (Dodson 2011, Fig. EXE.4.1).

Fig. 2: Coffin of Iwesenhesetmut (W1982)

Fig. 3: Coffin lid of Iwesenhesetmut (W1982)

Iwesenhesetmut is also well-known from her shabti figures (Janes 2002, 64–65). Figure 4 is a mummiform shabti wearing a tripartite wig with striations added in black. The wig is very voluminous where it rises on the top of the head towards the back. The arms, which are poorly defined, are crossed above the waist and each hand carries a hoe. The one carried in the right hand is painted in a higher position than the one held in the left. The face is poorly shaped and only the eyes and brows, which are widely spaced, are shown in paint. The eyes have quite long cosmetic lines. Ears are not indicated. A diamond–hatched basket with loops for attaching a carrying cord or rope is painted on the back. Seven columns of a painted inscription give the name of the owner as Iwesenhesetmut with titles of Lady of the House and Chantress of Amun–Re, King of the Gods. The titles and name are followed by a version of Chapter 6 of the Book of the Dead.

Fig. 4: Shabti of Iwesenhesetmut

Of the parallel shabtis so far known for Iwesenhesetmut, unlike the previous example, some of the workers wear a seshed-headband around the wig. The implements are either just painted on the shabti, while others in the series are modelled in raised relief and painted. The arms on some of the worker shabtis are crossed right over left or left over right. The ‘overseer’ shabtis wear a short bipartite wig with a seshed-headband added in black. The lower ends of the front lappets are detailed with vertical lines, a feature that was often modelled on ‘overseer’ shabtis. The edge of the wig is highlighted in black around the face. The right hand carries a whip that is modelled in relief and painted black or, on one of the known examples, just painted and not modelled in relief. The apron on the shabtis is long and reaches down to the ankles. Some of the ‘overseers’ are inscribed with Chapter 6 of the Book of the Dead, while others just have a single vertical column giving Iwesenhesetmut’s titles and name (fig. 5). It is interesting to note that the fully inscribed ‘overseers,’ despite having the complete version of Chapter 6 of the Book of the Dead thus giving duties and tasks, carry no implements with which to help undertake themthey carry the whip as to be expected on ‘overseer’ shabtis whose duty was to keep the worker shabtis at their tasks.

Fig. 5: Overseer shabtis for Iwesenhesetmut in the University Museum of Aberdeen and Bonhams)

The opening vignette from a funerary papyrus for Iwesenhesetmut was once to be found in Darmstadt (Hessisches Landesmuseum) but it was destroyed in World War II. A stone heart scarab is also recorded as being in Darmstadt (fig. 6), which Morkot (2016, 365) notes was also destroyed in World War II. However, it was only damaged by a fire that resulted from the museum being partly destroyed by a bomb strike on 11th September 1944 (Droste zu Hülshoff & Schlick-Nolte 1984, 25). The original record or inventory cards were destroyed, hence why it has no official number. A further fragment from a Book of the Dead papyrus for Iwesenhesetmut is to be found in Brooklyn (37.1801E). This was once in the Edwin Smith Collection before being given to the New York Historical Society in 1907. It was loaned to Brooklyn Museum from 1937 before being acquired by them in 1948 (Ritner 2010, 173).

Fig. 6: The base of a heart scarab inscribed for Iwesenhesetmut
(Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt).

The name of Iwesenhesetmut’s parents or husband is not given on the coffins, heart scarab, shabti, or papyri. However, papyri for a certain Lady of the House and Chantress of Amun-Re, King of the Gods, Nesikhonsu to be found in Copenhagen (Papyrus Carlsberg 488, formerly in the H. O. Lange Collection, bought from the well-known Cairo antiquities dealer, Maurice Nahman in 1929) and Houston (Museum of Fine Arts 31.72 – formerly in the Annette Finnegan Collection, bought from the well-known dealer Mohareb Todros in Luxor for EG£30) give the name of her mother as Iwesenhesetmut (Christiansen & Ryholt 2016, 4–5 [no. 2], pls. 13–21; Ritner 2010, 167–174, pls. I–IV). Because the latter is such an unusual name that is not known from any other source, they must indeed be mother and daughter with Nesikhonsu following her mother into the profession of being a Chantress (fig. 7). Another papyrus in Houston (Museum of Fine Arts 31.73 – also formerly in the Annette Finnegan Collection) Nesikhonsu, although with an extra title, Singer in the Choir of Mut, might also belong to the same lady (Ritner 2010, 168).

Fig. 7: Papyrus of Nesikhonsu (

Iwesenhesetmut’s titles of Lady of the House and Chantress of Amun–Re, King of the Gods were fairly common and indicate that she was a religious singerprobably attached to a templeand as such she would have been held in high esteem. Schneider (1977 I, 330) states that during the Third Intermediate Period only high-ranking persons had their shabtis inscribed with the full shabti formula and usually only found on larger sized shabtis. However, Ritner (2010, 176) comments that holders of these titles suggests a person of lower rank. Surely the fact that Iwesenhesetmut had a seemingly fine set of coffins and other items of funerary equipment, including fully inscribed shabti figures, whilst not being in the upper echelons of the female priesthood, would indicate she would still have a been of considerable importance.



Bosse-Griffiths, Kate 1984. Cerddores yn Cwrdd âí Duwiau = A musician meets her gods. Swansea: Swansea College.

Bosse-Griffiths, Kate 1991. Remarks concerning a coffin of the 21st Dynasty. Discussions in Egyptology 19, 5–12.

Christiansen, Thomas and Kim Ryholt 2016. The Carlsberg Papyri 13: Catalogue of Egyptian funerary papyri in Danish collections. CNI Publications 41. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press.

Dodson, Aidan 2011. Catalogue of Egyptian coffins in provincial collection of the United Kingdom I: the south west. Available at:

Droste zu Hülshoff, Vera von and Birgit Schlick-Nolte 1984. Museen der Rhein-Main-Region, Lieferung 1: Aegyptiaca diversa, Teil 1. Corpus antiquitatum Aegyptiacarum: Lose-Blatt-Katalog ägyptischer Altertümer. Mainz/Rhein: Philipp von Zabern.

Janes, Glenn 2002. Shabtis: a private view. Ancient Egyptian funerary statuettes in European private collections. Paris: Cybèle.

Morkot, Robert G. 2016. Eaten by maggots: the sorry tale of Mr Fuller’s coffin. In Price, Campbell, Roger Forshaw, Andrew Chamberlain, and Paul T. Nicholson (eds), Mummies, magic and medicine in ancient Egypt: multidisciplinary essays for Rosalie David, 355–368. Manchester: Manchester University.

Onstine, Suzanne Lynn 2005. The role of the chantress (šmꜥyt) in ancient Egypt. BAR International Series 1401. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Ritner, Robert K. 2010. Two Third Intermediate Period Books of the Dead: P. Houston 31.72 and P. Brooklyn 37.1801E. In Hawass, Zahi and Jennifer Houser Wegner (eds), Millions of jubilees: studies in honor of David P. Silverman 2, 167–183. Cairo: Conseil Suprême des Antiquités.

 Schneider, Hans D. 1977. Shabtis: an introduction to the history of ancient Egyptian funerary statuettes with a catalogue of the collection of shabtis in the National Museum of Antiquities at Leiden, 3 vols. Collections of the National Museum of Antiquities at Leiden 2. Leiden: Rijksmuseum van Oudheden.

Monday, 15 November 2021

Being Human 2021. New Beginnings: The Hope of the Lotus Flower

Ersin Hussein (Lecturer in Ancient History in the dept. of History, Heritage, and Classics) writes this week’s blog post about the 2021 Being Human Festival. Together with Ken Griffin and Hannah Sweetapple (The Egypt Centre’s Collections Access Manager and Education Officer respectively) she designed and led a day of activities on Saturday 13th November as part of this year’s festival. Being Human is unique as a festival of the humanities and is run by the School of Advanced Study, University of London, in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy. This year events are taking place both in-person and online between 11th–20th November. For information about the full programme, please visit the Being Human website: The festival can be found @BeingHumanFest on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook and the hashtag is #BeingHuman2021.

‘Renewal’ is the theme of this year’s Being Human festival and the lotus flower, one of the most enduring symbols from ancient Egypt associated with rebirth and new beginnings, was the inspiration for the two workshops that I hosted with Ken Griffin and Hannah Sweetapple at the Egypt Centre. Our aim was to bring people together in a relaxing space to connect, to reflect, and to look forward in a positive way. With the reopening of the Egypt Centre in September and the start of the new academic year that saw the return to of students to campus, it seemed like more than an appropriate way to mark the moment and look forward to new beginnings after a challenging eighteen months.

Fig. 1: Materials for the first workshop of the day set out and ready to go!

On Saturday 13th November, we ran two workshops to do this. The morning event was for families and colouring in pictures of lotus flowers and making lotus flower origami were the main activities (fig. 1). The afternoon one included wreath making using a vibrant array of artificial flowers, foliage, and accessories. Hannah and I led the arts and crafts activities throughout the day. Origami flower making proved incredibly fiddly but was rewarding…the results were not too bad either (fig. 2)!

Fig. 2: Some completed origami lotus flowers.

Designing and creating wreaths was equally fun and gently inspired conversation about the past year, connecting with others through learning and crafting activities, and discussion of future plans. The range of materials available for attendees to choose from purposefully represented the four seasons of the year to coincide with the festival’s focus on renewal. If the pictures of the complete wreaths are anything to go by, it seems that Christmas was the most popular theme of the day (figs. 3–4)!


Fig. 3: Hannah setting out materials for the second workshop

Fig. 4: A snapshot of some of the final results!


Ken oversaw object handling sessions that accompanied both workshops. Artefacts that featured lotus flowers were showcased and it was notable how prominently they featured in Egyptian material culture in a wide range of contexts, such as faience beads and vessels, a wooden lotus flower, a cornice from a coffin, fragments of wall plaster, and painted plaster from a tomb relief (fig. 5).


Fig. 5: The artefacts selected for the object handling sessions


To learn more about the lotus flower and take a closer look at some of the objects housed by the Egypt Centre, visit the following trail that was created for the event New Beginnings: The Hope of the Lotus Flower:

All in all, it was a wonderful day of getting creative and learning something new, be it about the ancient world or learning how to craft! More than that, we thoroughly enjoyed getting together with well-known friends and making new connections too (fig. 6).

Fig. 6: Ken Griffin, Ersin Hussein, and Hannah Sweetapple

Another event that focuses on the ancient world features in this year’s Swansea programme for the festival. On 17th November, Ian Goh will lead an online cook-along entitled A Pretty Pickle: A Roman’s Country Recipes for Preserves. To find out more and register (there is still time!) click here: