Author Archives: Campbell@Manchester

About Campbell@Manchester

Curator of Egypt and Sudan

The Inspiration of Shabtis – an Artist’s Perspective

shabts2A blog from artist Linda Livesey about how our mass display of shabtis inspired her work.

I am a mature student at Manchester School of Art, studying Creative Practice, a part time studio degree programme.  Ceramics is my speciality within Creative Practice, for my current project I have taken on an Egyptian theme. I feel I have joined the many people that must have looked at and photographed the display of Shabtis in the Exploring Objects Gallery and gone Ah! or Wow!. The colours, mass, all wonderful, I felt that I had to respond to it somehow. For me, the starting point for my project had to be the Shabtis. I was fascinated by the fact that the optimum number to be placed in a burial was 401.

Linda's shabti army

Linda’s shabti army

They were there as servants in the afterlife, to be called upon to do any work the deceased required. I thought about this, I don’t want servants in the afterlife, I could do with them now. (Not really, I don’t believe in slavery). So I decided to make my own Shabtis, only 101 though, as I seem to have 101 things to do at the moment, I could do with some help with cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc.  etc. …… as I suppose many people could. I made my own plaster moulds, 15 different Shabti shapes, ready to press mould my collection using stoneware and crank clay also developing several glazes to try and interpret the colours seen in the museum. I feel my final collection works well, I am pleased with them and I am sure they will serve me well.

Thanks to Campbell Price for assisting me in my research for this project.

Our shabtis on display (photo: Paul Cliff)

Our shabtis on display (photo: Paul Cliff)

Read more about the ancient function of shabtis, as made clear in their inscriptions, and why they have been so collectable.

 

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Texts in Translation #13: The Stela of Sobek-khu (Acc. no. 3306)

Acc. no. 3306

Acc. no. 3306

“In the stela of Sebek-khu the Manchester Museum possesses one of the most important historical documents ever found in Egypt.” So wrote Thomas Eric Peet, exactly 100 years ago, about this rather crudely executed, 28cm-high limestone stela (Acc. No. 3306). It was discovered at the site of Abydos by John Garstang in 1901, excavating for the Egyptian Research Account. It once stood among a mass of such private monuments on the “Terrace of the Great God” at Abydos, a site sacred to the god Osiris, and enabled the owner – as the inscription makes clear – to enjoy the smell of incense from rituals conducted for Osiris nearby.

Yet, this document is unique because it gives an insight into a soldier’s life during the mid-Twelfth Dynasty (c. 1880-1800 BC). The text is difficult in parts due to the legibility of signs. It reads:

An offering which the king gives to Osiris, Lord of Abydos [that he may give an invocation offering of bread and beer], oxen and fowl, linen and clothing, incense and oil, every good and pure thing for the Ka-spirit of the member of the elite, governor, who says good things, repeated what was desired during the course of every day, great district official of the town, Khu-Sobek whose good name is Djaa, born of Ita of the district of Tefnut, possessor of honour.

His daughter, his beloved, Gebu, born of … His brother, Dedu, born of Meret-iti-es. Overseer of the chamber, Kheru, born of Khaseti. The nurse of his heart, Renef-ankh, born of [Dedi]. Iubu, born of Meret-iti-es. Nebet-Iunet, born of Iubu.

Peet's transcription (1914)

Peet’s transcription (1914)

His Majesty went downstream to overthrow the Bedouins of Asia. His Majesty arrived at the district named Sekmem. His Majesty was making a good start to return to the palace, (when) the Sekmem and the wretched Retjenu fell (upon him?) (while) I was serving at the rear of the army. Then the soldiers of the army went to fight with the Asiatics. I struck an Asiatic, and I had his weapons taken by two soldiers of the army without ceasing fighting; I was brave, I did not turn my back to the Asiatic. As Senwosret lives for me, I have spoken the truth! Then he gave me a throw-stick of electrum, into my hand, a sheath and a dagger worked with electrum together with handle.

Member of the elite, governor, firm of sandal, easy of stride, loyal (lit. one who adheres to the path) to the one who advances him, one to whom the Lord of the Two Lands gave his splendour, one whose position his love promoted, the great district official of the town, Djaa. He says: I have made for myself this memorial, beautified, once its position had been efficiently established at the terrace of the great god, lord of life, foremost in the district “Mistress of Offerings” and in the district “Mistress of Life,”(so that) I may smell the incense that comes forth, (and) I may be provided with the divine censing, the great district official, Djaa. He says: I was born in year 27 during the reign of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt Nebkaura (Amenemhat II), justified. When the Majesty of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt Khakaura (Senwosret III), justified, wearing (lit. in) the double crown arose upon the Horus throne of the living, His Majesty made me adopt the profession of a weapon trainer (lit. fighter of stick) beside His Majesty along with six men of the Residence. I have become effective at his side, and His Majesty caused that I be appointed to be a “Follower of the Ruler.” Sixty men have been given to me. His Majesty went upstream to overthrow the desert Nubians. Then I struck a Nubian [at Kenekef] in the presence of my townsmen. Then I went downstream in attendance (lit. following) with six men of the Residence. Then he appointed me “Inspector of the Followers.” One hundred men have been given to me as a reward.

Sobek-khu describes military campaigns into the ancient Near East which, before the discovery of the stela, were little known. As is typical of such autobiographical inscriptions, the protagonist emphasises his talent and promotion through the ranks by Pharaoh because of this. The real importance of this inscription lies in the references to armed combat in the area of Retjenu and Nubia. The soldier is “rewarded” with – or perhaps he simply helped himself to? – the weapons of his defeated foe. This type of autobiographical account – emphasising military prowess – became more common later in Egyptian history, but stands out at this period as something of an innovation. We know from another inscription from Semna that this same Sobek-khu was still active in the ninth year of Amenemhat III, when he would have been aged at least 60.

Little did Peet, the editor of the text and a frequent visitor to the Manchester Museum collection, realise that as he wrote about these ancient conflicts in early 1914, Europe was on the brink of the Great War. Sobek-khu lived to tell his tale but, as in all conflict, many others did not.

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MAES Lecture 14/4/14: Prof. Rosalie David – The Priests of Ancient Egypt

BM EA 65443. Statue of a priest.

BM EA 65443. Statue of a priest.

The next Manchester Ancient Egypt Society Bob Partridge Memorial Lecture will be given by Prof. Rosalie David

The Priests of Ancient Egypt, Practioners of Magic and Medicine

Monday 14th April, 7:30pm
Days Inn, Sackville Street, Manchester, M1 3AL
All welcome

 

The priesthood dominated and permeated almost every aspect of ancient Egyptian society, and yet there have been very few studies of their impact on this civilisation.

Professor David is currently undertaking a detailed study of the priesthood and the contribution it made to life in Egypt, and this lecture will explore one important aspect of the work – how the priests functioned for over three thousand years as the main practitioners of medicine and magic.

It will reveal how biomedical studies on human remains and the literary sources relating to the priesthood and medical treatment are helping to augment our knowledge of this very important group in Egyptian society.

Professor Rosalie David, OBE, PhD, FRSA, is Emeritus Professor of Egyptology at The University of Manchester and until her retirement in 2012, she was Director of the KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology at The University of Manchester. She was formerly Keeper of Egyptology at the Manchester Museum.

She is the author of over 30 books and many articles and was awarded the OBE for services to Egyptology.

 

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Amelia B. Edwards – A Thousand Miles up the Nile

Campbell@Manchester:

A super blog on Amelia Edwards, a key figure in the history of Manchester’s Egyptology collection

Originally posted on Stories from the Museum Floor:

I have always loved books from the way they feel to how easily they can transport you to another world. This interest naturally led me to one of my favourite objects in the Museum collection, A Thousand Miles up the Nile (1877) by Amelia B. Edwards.

Image 1

I began working at the Museum in 2003, and during the early stages of this time the book was laid open in the Egyptian Gallery. I always wondered what the other pages might contain, which only added to the appeal of the book. So, I set about dispelling the air of mystery that surrounds this handsome looking woman.

Amelia Ann Blandford Edwards was born in London on the 7th June 1831. She was the daughter of a middle-aged couple; Alicia, an energetic and intellectual mother and Thomas, a retired army officer serving under Wellington in the Peninsular War, whom upon leaving the army became…

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Lecture in Perth, 28/3/14: ‘Dying to Live Again: Mummies in Ancient Egypt & Today’

Gilded Roman mummy mask from Hawara. Acc. No, 2179. Photo: Paul Cliff

Gilded Roman mummy mask from Hawara. Acc. No, 2179. Photo: Paul Cliff

“Dying to Live Again: Mummies in Ancient Egypt and Today”

  • Friday 28 March 2014
  • Time: 18:00
  • Venue: Perth Museum and Art Gallery
  • Suitability: Families
  • Cost: £5.00
  • Booking: Essential

A talk by Dr Campbell Price , Curator of Egypt and the Sudan at Manchester Museum, in conjuction with the newly-opened “Secret Egypt” exhibition in Perth.

Campbell’s work involves caring for one of the finest collections of Ancient Egyptian Mummies in the UK. He was also responsible for translating the hieroglyphic inscription on Perth Museum and Art Galleries own mummy resulting in the discovery of her name – Takherheb. This evening marks the launch of our fundraising campaign to help conserve Takherheb.

Perth Museum & Art Gallery's Egyptian mummy and case photographed in 2010

The Perth Mummy, Takherheb

Suitable for adults and children aged 10 and over.

Book here

Contact details

Perth Museum and Art Gallery
Perth & Kinross Council
George Street
Perth
PH1 5LB
01738 632488

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Prince Khaemwaset’s signature deposits: being part of History

Alabaster block of Khaemwaset, from a Memphis foundation deposit. Acc. no. 4947

Alabaster block of Khaemwaset, from a Memphis foundation deposit. Acc. no. 4947

A guest blog post from Nicolas de Larquier, currently on an internship at the museum, discussing some objects he has been working on, and the motivations of one of ancient Egypt’s most well-known personages.

Khaemwaset was the fourth son of king Ramesses II. His name is particularly known for being considered as the first known Egyptian historian. Even if the title could be a bit excessive, it is clear that Khaemwaset had a real interest in ancient times and especially for kingship lineage. He also has been shown to be a kind of “conservator”, by reshaping the Memphite sacred landscape and restoring some Old and Middle Kingdom monuments. But of course, one should keep in mind that Khaemwaset was mostly acting in regard to Ramesses II’s desire to promote his own kingship in reference to his great predecessors. Nevertheless Khaemwaset’s historical awareness can’t be denied and he clearly had a personal way to confront the past. He also obviously wanted to leave his own mark in a way that is different to the one we are accustomed to see in Ancient Egypt.

The Manchester Museum holds a deposit from Memphis, published by Flinders Petrie in 1909, composed of three small brick-shaped plaques (in alabaster, basalt and faience) inscribed in the name of Ramesses II. On the sides of two of them, and on the back of the third one, Khaemwaset’s name and main title are inscribed too.

Here is the description of that deposit, given by Petrie in Memphis I, p. 8: “Over the region now occupied by the pond near the West Hall, there has been a building of Ramessu II, now entirely destroyed. Only the west side of its foundation is left, and in the sand bed of it a foundation deposit was found, shewn on PI. XIX. The large block of alabaster has the cartouches of Ramessu II on both of the faces, and the inscription of “the high priest of Ptah, the royal son, Kha-em-uas” on both of the edges. The lesser tablet of green glazed pottery has similar names on the faces and edges ; and the black granite tablet has the names of Ramessu on one face, and that of Khaemuas on the other face. These are some of the finest deposit blocks that are known ; they rest now at Manchester.

Plate 19 from Petrie's 'Memphis I', showing the blocks of Khaemwaset

Plate 19 from Petrie’s ‘Memphis I’, showing the blocks of Khaemwaset

In his article “Khaemwese and the Present Past: History and the Individual in Ramesside Egypt”, Steven Snape hypothesises that this deposit could be attributed to the West Hall – a structure from the Ptah enclosure in Memphis – probably built for Ramesses’ jubilees. And indeed, if we know Khaemwaset especially for having been behind the architectural reorganisation of the Memphite sacred landscape and necropolis, or for the construction of the Apis Burials at the Serapeum, one may know that he was also in charge of the five Ramesses II’s jubilees celebrated between the years 30 and 42 of his reign.

Faience plaque from the Khaemwaset foundation deposit (Acc. no. 4949)

Faience plaque from the Khaemwaset foundation deposit (Acc. no. 4949)

The inscription on the “lesser tablet of green glazed pottery” is unfortunately much more difficult to read today than when Petrie found and published it. For this, the photograph presented on pl. XIX of Memphis I is really interesting. Moreover, a parallel for this tablet can be seen at the British Museum (EA49235). The latter has no provenance known and was purchased in Cairo. It is very similar to our own example in Manchester, and should come from Memphis too, maybe from the same type of deposit, perhaps from the very same West Hall of the Ptah enclosure.

In 1907, Petrie found a deposit in South Giza composed of a lot of anonymous shabtis but also Khaemwaset ones. The majority of these items are held by the Petrie Museum in London. It is not possible to determine the exact place where the deposit was found from the Petrie’s diary but Stephane Pasquali proposes as a provenance the Ro-Setjau area, and highlights a possible relation of this deposit with the Shetayet Shrine of Sokar. Indeed, Steven Snape presents the Shetayet shrine as an important site for quasi-funerary deposition and signals that some Khaemwaset shabtis have been found in that context.

Deatil of block 4947, with Khaemwaset's titles: "Sem-priest of Ptah, King's Son, Khaemwaset, justified"

Deatil of block 4947, with Khaemwaset’s titles: “Sem-priest of Ptah, King’s Son, Khaemwaset, justified”

But the point here is to question the value of the Khaemwaset’s deposits. Are they classical, canonical votive deposits or do they serve an extra purpose? There is a close relationship between Khaemwaset and Ro-Setjau as can be seen in his proper titles; we also know that he ordered there, as a personal project, the construction of a building, the Hill-Shrine, that could be seen from Memphis. It seems obvious that the historical awareness of Khaemwaset makes him work in three parallel ways : first of all he may have really wanted to restore monuments from ancient times, but always to create a link between his father’s kingship and the glorious kings of the Old Kingdom, and after this he had probably wanted to make his own name enter the History. For this, we could wonder if his deposits are not like a kind of a signature, as well as the ‘labels’ he inscribed on the pyramids and other monuments and statues. Indeed, Khaemwaset shabtis were also found during the Serapeum excavations when his tomb still waited to be discovered. Those shabtis could come from quasi-funerary deposits. They could also be just votive, but in a place where the Khaemwaset mark is so strong for having being the designer of it, one could certainly think that there is more to understand…

This may be the same for the deposit held in Manchester. Why did Khaemwaset inscribe his name on the edges and back of those tablets? Certainly to share with his father the benefits of such an offering but why not also to claim his part of the monument’s creation?

Nicolas de Larquier is a Student Curator from the French National Institute for Cultural Heritage (INP) currently working at the Manchester Museum.

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Texts in translation #12: The stela of the God’s Wife, Princess Isis (Acc. no. 1781)

G2.07_Guide_IsisThis finely wrought limestone slab likely once formed the upper part (the curved ‘lunette’) of a larger stela commemorating the daughter of King Ramesses VI (c. 1143-1136 BC), a princess named Iset – or Isis. The stela was excavated by Flinders Petrie at the site of Coptos.

Central text

The Osiris, King, Lord of the Two Lands, Neb-Maat-Re Mery-Amun, Son of Re, Ramesses, Heka-Iunu, Father of the God’s Wife of Amun, The Divine Adoratrice Isis.

Above the figure of Re-Horakhty (on the left):

Re-Horakhty, by whose shining all is illuminated, Great God, Ruler of Eternity.

Above the scene of the princess shaking a sistrum and censing:

I play the sistrum before your fair face, gold is in front of you. May you allow [me] to see the sunrise, the Osiris, the Hereditary Princess, great of favours, the God’s Wife of Amun, the King’s Daughter, the God’s Adoratrice Isis, true of voice.

Behind the princess:

Her mother, the Great Royal Wife, whom he loves, the Lady of the Two Lands, Nub-khesbed, true of voice.

Above the figure of Osiris (on the right):

Osiris, who awakens complete, Lord of the Sacred Land, Great God, Chief of Silence

Above the scene of the princess pouring liquid over a table of offerings:

Making a libation to Osiris, Lord of Eternity. May you allow me to receive offerings that go out upon your offering tables, consisting of everything good and pure for the Osiris, the God’s Wife of Amun, the King’s Daughter, Lady of the Two Lands, the Divine Adoratrice, Isis, true of voice.

Behind the princess:

Her father, the king, Lord of the Two Lands, Neb-Maat-Re Mery-Amun, Son of Re, Ramesses, Heka-Iunu [...].

Isis stela line

The scene makes an important religious statement, showing two deities as different aspects of the sun god – representing both night (Osiris) and day (Re-Horakhty). As is typical of many such scenes, the text captions and reinforces what is depicted in figural scenes. Isis performs rituals with a rattle, or sistrum, burns incense and pours libations. These were important aspects of the role of the ‘God’s Wife’, as chief ritualist who entertained the god. In some sense, the ‘God’s Wife’ (or ‘God’s Adoratice’ or ‘God’s Hand’) was a sexual companion for the god Amun.

This position was an important religious and political one, because the princess was a representative of her father the king at Karnak – when the Pharaoh was largely based in the Delta at this period. From recent excavations of chapels at Dra Abu el-Naga on the West Bank at Thebes, it seems the office of God’s Wife and of High Priest were closely linked at this time.

The stela’s inscription is important in making explicit the parentage of Isis, which has been used by Egyptologists to help build a picture of royal family relationships in the Twentieth Dynasty.

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Call for papers

Originally posted on Faces&Voices:

Mrs Rylands on a trip to Egypt (Courtesy of the John Rylands Library)

Mrs Enriqueta Rylands, founder of the John Rylands Library, on a trip to Egypt (ca. 1907-1908)
(© The John Rylands Library)

From Egypt to Manchester: unravelling the John Rylands papyrus collection.
This conference aims to bring together scholars who are working or have recently worked on the John Rylands papyri. We welcome papers from any period and perspective based on papyri from our collection in any of the languages and scripts attested from the Ptolemaic to the early Arab period.
Topics are open, and may include, but are not confined to: edition and commentary of texts, historical studies based on the Rylands papyri, connections with other collections, history of the collection, and archives and dossiers of individuals and institutions held or partially held in Manchester.
We are particularly interested in papers offering new insights on the papyri considered and at the same time dealing with methodological questions related to the…

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Object biography #15: A previously unidentified statue of Senenmut (Acc. no. 4624)

Front_blogJPEG

Acc. no. 4624. Photos copyright Manchester Museum

Our fragment (Acc. no. 4624) came to the Manchester Museum from the excavations of Edouard Naville at the site of Deir el-Bahri between 1894 and 1907. A more precise provenance for the piece or when exactly it entered the collection is not known. The fragment is 48.5cm high and 31cm wide, made of indurated limestone, and depicts the lower portion of a seated figure at about half lifesize. It is badly damaged but still carries hieroglyphic text on the sides of the seat, base and over the knees. Interestingly, the seat retains an artisan’s red ink guidelines for the inscription. Traces remain of blue pigment within individual hieroglyphic signs, implying that the statue was not, however, left unfinished.

Left_blogJPEGThe identity of the individual represented is recorded in our catalogue – based on hieroglyphs on the base – as ‘the priest of Amun, Userhat’ and the piece is there dated to the Middle Kingdom. I had often wondered who this mysterious priest Userhat was. Because the favour formula only begins to appear on elite statues at the end of the Middle Kingdom, I speculated if this was one of the first examples of it. And given that the formula usually only appeared on sculptures of the very high elite at this time, I wondered why a simple ‘priest of Amun’ had been so favoured.

I thought no more about the fragment until the visit last Autumn of Prof. Rainer Hannig, of the University of Marburg. During a very genial and informative discussion with Rainer, I pointed the piece out and – almost as an afterthought – he noted that the hieroglyphs identifying the owner (Hm-nTr n imn wsr-hAt) could be read as a single title: ‘the priest of Amun-Userhat (a name of the sacred barque of Amun at Karnak)’, a title known to be held by only one person: Senenmut – high official under Queen Hatshepsut and one of the most well-known individuals from ancient Egypt.

Right_blogJPEGIt was with considerable anticipation that I checked the other titles on the statue (‘nobleman’, ‘governor’, and the slightly more unusual ‘overseer of the priests of Montu in Armant’) and found that each was attested for Senenmut. Knowing that the statue was from Deir el-Bahri, the site of Hatshepsut’s famous mortuary temple, I became really rather excited. On closer inspection of the statue itself, it was apparent that the lap of the figure seemed to rise somewhat before the mid-thigh break and no hands were visible. Could it be that this was a broken example of Senenmut in his innovative pose with Hatshepsut’s daughter, Neferure, bound within his cloak on his lap? Perhaps most revealing of all, upon close examination of the remains of the favour formula which had first attracted my attention I noticed that the statue was given as favour not by a ‘king’ at all – but by a ‘god’s wife’. There is only one

Detail of favour formula. The tops of the 'Hmt nTr' signs can just be made out.

Detail of favour formula. The tops of the ‘Hmt nTr‘ signs can just be made out.

example known to me of this variant of the favour formula, and that statue (Cairo CG 42117) belongs to Senenmut. Whether this ‘god’s wife’ is Hatshepsut herself or her daughter is unclear.

Six more statues of the total of 25 known for Senenmut carry the statement that they were ‘given as favour of the king’. In the inscriptions of another (CG 42214), Senenmut makes the following unusual – and somewhat touching – appeal to Queen Hatshepsut, explaining perhaps why he possessed so many statues:

Grant that there be commanded for this your humble servant the causing that there be made for me many statues of every kind of precious hard stone for the temple of Amun in Karnak and for every place wherein the majesty of this god proceeds, as [was done] for every favoured one of the past; then they shall be in the following of the statues of Your Majesty in this temple.

Senenmut hoped that by dedicating a range of sculptures – many of them innovative in their motifs, and set up in different locations – he would increase the chances of his memory lasting for eternity. Others, it seems, had different ideas. There is evidence that some – though not all – of Senenmut’s images were maliciously attacked. Perhaps this was carried out by those with a unknown person grudge against Senenmut? Perhaps by those who thought his relationship with the Queen inappropriate? Or perhaps by those that hated Hatshepsut herself? Perhaps even by later people for whom the very idea of a female pharaoh was anathema? Whatever the motivation, maybe this is the reason that the Manchester fragment is so badly damaged.

Senenmut’s life has inspired more scholarly and popular writing than almost any other non-royal from Pharaonic times. I am quite sure that this bashed-up fragment, which has lain unrecognised in Manchester for over a century, represents the twenty-sixth attested statue for Senenmut. Information from its texts and archaeological context may well add important details to the Senenmut story, illustrating that exciting new finds await discovery in even the most supposedly well-known collections.

See further:

- Delvaux, L. 2008. Donné en récompense de la part du roi‖ (djw m Hswt nt xr nsw), Unpublished PhD dissertation: Strasbourg.

- Dorman, P. 1988. The Monuments of Senenmut: Problems in Historical Methodology, London.

- Meyer, C. 1982. Senenmut: Eine prosopographische Untersuchung, Hamburg.

- Price, C. 2011. Materiality, Archaism and Formula: The Conceptualisation of the Non-Royal Statue during the Egyptian Late Period (c. 750-30 BC), Unpublished PhD dissertation: Liverpool.

A full publication of the Manchester fragment is currently in preparation.

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New light under old wrappings (I): Reinvestigating Asru

Inner coffin of Asru

Inner coffin of Asru

The mummy and coffins of Asru, an elite lady from 25th-26th Dynasty (c. 750-525 BC) Thebes, were among the earliest additions to what was to become the Manchester Museum collection when they were donated to the Manchester Natural History Society by William and Robert Garnett in 1825. She has already been unwrapped, probably at one of the fashionable ‘mummy unrollings’ of the period. In modern times, Asru proved to be the perfect patient when she was investigated by the Manchester Egyptian Mummy Project in the 1970s, because she had suffered from so many ailments – including arthritis, and parasitic infestations such as Strongyloides and Schistosomiasis (Bilharzia).

In 2012, in preparation for the re-opening of our Ancient Worlds galleries, all of the Museum’s 20 complete human mummies – including Asru – were scanned using the most up-to-date technology at the nearby Manchester Children’s hospital. The scans, conducted in collaboration with Professor of Radiology Judith Adams, featured on a number of TV reports but much of the new information derived did not become apparent until the scans had been properly and carefully analysed, sometimes taking months after the scanning session. PhD researcher Robert Loynes was instrumental, bringing his knowledge as a medical practitioner to the study of mummified remains.

Asru. Photo by Paul Cliff.

Asru. Photo by Paul Cliff.

The latest CT-scans confirmed Asru to have been an elderly woman for ancient Egypt, between 50 and 60 years of age at death. Interestingly, there was new evidence of arthritis in her neck, consistent with bearing a heavy weight over a prolonged period. Greater Manchester Police had established in the 1970s that, on the basis of her fingerprints, Asru’s hands and feet showed that she had lived a life of comparative ease. Perhaps what she carried on her head had a ritual rather than practical function?

Most interesting of all was the new information revealed about Asru’s mummification technique. CT-scans confirmed that, like many Egyptian mummies, Asru’s brain had been removed from the skull. Yet, rather than evidencing the standard method of extracting the brain through the nose, Asru’s ethmoid bone was found to be intact. Instead, transorbital excerebration had been performed: the removal of brain matter through the eye sockets. This is known in other cases but appears to have been extremely unusual.

Asru1

Asru’s outer coffin base. Photo by Paul Cliff.

Recently an opportunity also arose to examine Asru’s two coffins more closely, and to read the extensive inscriptions on them. These texts are mainly formulaic prayers for offerings and provide very little in the way of personal information. This is contrast to ideas held when mummies and coffins, like those of Asru, were arriving in the West; collectors believed that the texts were largely biographical and gave detailed accounts of the life of the coffins’ occupant. Such ‘biographies’ that were supplied in displays were often completely fictional, in an attempt to add interest and a humanising gloss to a curiosity. Thus, when Asru (read as ‘Asroni’) was first exhibited she was referred to as a ‘maid of honour in the court of the 20th(!) pharaoh’ – perhaps just because of the prestigious ‘look’ of her mummy and coffins.

Detail of Asru's outer coffin, giving genealogical information

Detail of Asru’s outer coffin, giving genealogical information

Asru’s own name means “Her arm against them”, probably a reference to the protective power of the goddess Mut, consort of the Theban god Amun. This apotropaic formulation is especially typical for non-royal names during the Late Period (c. 750-30 BC). Asru holds no titles and is in fact only ever designated ‘Lady of the House’ (= ‘married woman’) on her coffins. The title ‘temple singer’ may come from confusion with other female mummies in the collection or developed out of her false identity as a ‘handmaiden.’

Most excitingly of all, it has been possible to read the names of her parents. Asru’s mother is identified as the ‘Lady of the House’ Ta-di-amun (‘She whom Amun has given’) and her father was called Pa-kush (‘The Kushite’), a ‘document scribe of the southern region’.

Given that, based on the style of her coffins, Asru is likely to have lived and died at Thebes in the 25-26th Dynasty, this is of potentially great interest. Egypt was ruled by Kushite kings during the 25th Dynasty, who had a stronghold at Thebes. Might Asru’s father have been a part of their administration? If so, she may have been very important indeed. Such findings prove the value of reassessing evidence which may already seem well-known.

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