The blog post for this week has been written by Sam Powell. Sam is an Egypt Centre volunteer, director at Abaset Collections Ltd, and regular contributor to this blog.
This week was the first of the latest five-week Egypt Centre online course looking at Gods, Goddesses, and Demons of Ancient Egypt. This course has been long anticipated by many regular attendees, as Ken often includes many strange and obscure deities in his classes for us to try and identify, encouraging us to hunt out the various clues such as the iconography, hieroglyphs, and epithets used to identify the deity in question so we can recognise them for ourselves in the future.
The first deity we looked at as part of the introduction to the course was the goddess Abaset, as she is the namesake for Abaset Collections, the software I created to host the Egypt Centre Online Collection (which is also usually referred to as Abaset). The Egypt Centre Online Collection was launched in October 2020, and as well as being the place for attendees to access the recordings of the classes, its main purpose is to host the online catalogue allowing you to search the entire collection of nearly 6,000 objects housed in the Egypt Centre’s galleries and stores (https://abasetcollections.com).
When looking for a name to refer to the software by, I initially chose “Abaset” as I wanted to pay homage to the little hedgehogs often seen in wildlife scenes trotting along focused on an insect, oblivious to the chaos surrounding them and just getting the job done (something I aspire for the software to also do!). But as I have found out more about this goddess (fig. 1), she certainly does seem to be a good patron for Abaset Collections.
|Figure 1: The goddess Abaset (Sherbiny & Bassir. 2014: 183)|
The goddess Abaset is known from only two depictions in a single tomb in the Bahariya Oasis, belonging to a Twenty-sixth Dynasty merchant named Bannentiu. The translation of her name ꜥb-ꜣst is unclear, but it may translate to praising or boasting to Isis, as ꜥb can be read as “to boast” or “to praise”. Since the Egypt Centre Online Collection is a way of praising the amazing collection held in Swansea, I think this can be seen as a good match! She is given the fairly standard epithets such as “the great goddess” and “the mistress of heaven” clearly marking her status as a goddess, but it is difficult to identify further information about her role as a deity from such limited sources. There is some discussion of Abaset being a goddess of Libyan origin, but the inclusion of the goddess Isis within the name makes an Egyptian origin more probable. In one of the two scenes the words of Abaset are given in which she instructs Horus and Anubis to “pay attention every day to (?) the tears of Isis...” showing her place amongst the Egyptian pantheon.
The goddess Abaset is shown in human form wearing a red dress. She clearly has some association with hedgehogs as she is depicted with one atop her vulture headdress. I had wanted to name the software after the Egyptian word for hedgehog, but there only seems to be words encompassing all “prickly” creatures (ḥntj or ḥntꜣ), and so the hedgehog goddess Abaset seems a good compromise. There are two species of hedgehog known from ancient Egypt; the long-eared desert hedgehog, and the bigger desert hedgehog, and they appear in wildlife scenes, as the prows of boats, and even being carried in tribute scenes. The Egypt Centre is home to two, or possibly three depictions of hedgehogs, the former two of which are on loan from the British Museum. The first, BM EA 4764, is a hedgehog aryballos, a small globular flask which would have contained oil or perfume. It is made of faience and dates to the Late Period (fig. 2).
|Figure 2: BM4764 (image at https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/Y_EA4764)|
The second, BM EA 37826, is a steatite amulet in the form of a hedgehog, and is less than a centimetre tall. The base forms a seal stamp of a seated deity and a mn sign. The final object is an intriguing one. W1155a is a faience ring bezel from Amarna (fig. 3). The image upon it is very difficult to interpret as it shows a creature surrounded by wiggly lines. It was first though to show a centipede surrounded by its many wiggly legs. This was then thought more likely to be a hedgehog with its prickly spikes. However, since being compared to a very similar piece in Liverpool World Museum (56.20.1001), it seems more probable to be a gazelle in front of the fronds of a palm leaf (Graves-Brown 2014, 121–123).
|Figure 3: The mysterious creature upon ring bezel W1155a|
In class, we discussed the importance of the names of the various deities being spoken to allow them to continue to exist, so I hope the goddess Abaset would be very pleased with the number of times her name is uttered on a daily basis in the Egypt Centre and in Ken’s classes. In Abaset Collections news, I will be co-presenting the launch of a new online collection (further details to follow soon!) in September as part of the Egypt Centre’s conference celebrating fifty years of the Wellcome collection being in Swansea; hopefully Abaset will be smiling down favourably on us!
|Figure 4: I’m sure Abaset would approve of the Abaset Collections logo complete with hedgehog|
Graves-Brown, Carolyn 2014. A gazelle, a lute player and Bes: three ring bezels from Amarna. In Dodson, A. M., John J. Johnston, and W. Monkhouse (eds), A good scribe and an exceedingly wise man: studies in honour of W. J. Tait, 113–126. London: Golden House.
Shaikh Al Arab, Walid 2019. The hedgehog goddess Abaset. Papyrologica Lupiensia 28, 81–102.
Sherbiny, Hend and Hussein Bassir 2014. The representation of the hedgehog goddess Abaset at Bahariya Oasis. Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 50, 171–189.
Vandier, Jacques 1964. Iousâas et (Hathor)-Nébet-Hétépet. Revue d’égyptologie 16, 55–146.
Droste zu Hülshoff, Vera von 1980. Der Igel im alten Ägypten. Hildesheimer Ägyptologische Beiträge 11. Hildesheim: Gerstenberg.