Category Archives: Object biography

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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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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Object biography #14: A coral bracelet from Qau el-Kebir (Acc. no. 7169)

Beads_coralUse of coral in ancient Egypt was very limited. This is reflected by the fact that in the Manchester Museum’s collection of over 16,000 artefacts from ancient Egypt and Sudan only two items have elements that are made from coral.

This string of beads (Acc. no. 7169) comes from a grave excavated by the British School of Archaeology in Egypt at the site of Qau el-Kebir. The string may have formed a bracelet, an anklet or part of a larger necklace. It consists of 41 green glass beads, two of carnelian, one of gilt glass, and three long coral beads. Glass beads imitating gold and pearl provide a useful dating criterion as they seem to be an innovation of the Ptolemaic Period (332-30 BC) and continue to be used into Christian times (Fourth Century AD). Our string is most likely to date to between 30 BC and 394 AD, when Egypt was a province of the Roman Empire.

Red_sea_coral

Red sea coral

For the Egyptians, the nearest source of coral lay in the reefs of the Red Sea to the east of the Nile Valley. Red Sea coral (Tubipora musica) is attested in small numbers of grave goods from the Predynastic period (c. 5000-3100 BC) onwards, chiefly in the form of beads. Trade between the Nile Valley and the Red Sea coast is well-attested, and several areas of Egyptian occupation are known throughout the Pharaonic Period and later. Items arriving in Egypt through this route included a range of shells, sea urchins, coral and other materials. Due to its comparative rarity, coral is likely to have been prized by the ancient Egyptians as exotica, a material particularly suitable for use in small amounts in jewellery. The ownership of such items also implied wealth and status for the wearer.

It is unclear what, if any, special properties or associations coral had for the ancient Egyptians but colour symbolism was important in Pharaonic art. While blues and greens represented fresh growth, new life and rebirth after death, red stones such as carnelian and jasper were often used to represent solar elements in jewellery. Red also represented blood, and in Chapter 156 from the Book of the Dead, known as the ‘Chapter for a Knot-amulet of Red Jasper’, protection is sought through the blood of the goddess Isis:

You have your blood, O Isis; you have your power, O Isis; you have your magic, O Isis. The amulet is a protection for this Great One which will drive away whoever would commit a crime against him.

It may be assumed that these associations also applied to coral. As so often in Egyptian jewellery, colour was primarily symbolic rather than simply decorative.

This object can be seen in our new exhibition, Coral: Something Rich and Strange, from 29th November 2013. This blogpost is taken from an entry in the exhibition catalogue, edited by M. Endt-Jones and published by Liverpool University Press.

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Foundation Deposits in Ancient Egypt & Sudan

Cartouche plaques in faience. Foundation deposits of Ramesses II. Acc. no. 1846a-b.

Cartouche plaques in faience. Foundation deposits of Ramesses II. Acc. no. 1846a-b.

In ancient Egypt and Sudan groups of objects were buried at specific points, such as the corners of buildings, during foundation rituals to mark the construction of temples and tombs – rather like symbolic ground-breaking ceremonies at the beginning of the construction of modern buildings. These ‘foundation deposits’ were deliberately chosen to symbolically ensure the effectiveness and longevity of the building, and included faience plaques in the form of sacrificed animals, model tools, pottery and basketry.

Foundation deposits take the form of different sized pits, which were often lined with mudbrick. During his excavation of the 12th Dynasty pyramid temple of Senwosret II at Kahun, W. M. F. Petrie found a foundation deposit and stated:

In the middle of the temple area a hole 31 inches square was excavated in the rock about four feet deep, to contain the foundation deposits. Into this the four sets of objects [model tools] were thrown, without any arrangement or order.

Oxen_trussed

Faience plaques of trussed oxen. Acc. No. 1560

Although foundation deposits became gradually more common during the Old and Middle Kingdoms, they reached the height of their popularity during the New Kingdom (c. 1550-1070 BC). Manchester Museum’s collection includes a range of deposits from different sites and periods, including over 100 faience plaques symbolising offerings in the form of parts of oxen, ducks, flowers and fruit, like these plaques of sacrificed headless oxen [Acc. No. 1560, left]. We chose to display most of these – many for the first time – in the new Egyptian Worlds gallery, to emphasise their quantity.

Anlamani_foundation

Acc. No. 8579

Sometimes faience plaques with the name of the pharaoh in a cartouche were also buried in the foundation deposit – also a useful dating tool – such as these examples found in a foundation deposit at the temple of Ramesses II in Western Thebes (the Ramesseum) preserving the name of Ramesses II [Acc. No.1846a-d]. We also have a group of copper model tools, including these model hoes, from a foundation deposit at the temple of Queen Tausret in Western Thebes [Acc. No. 1595].

Aspelta-foundation

Acc. No. 8581

Foundation deposits have also been found beneath royal pyramids in Sudan, including these beautiful faience cups preserving the names of the Kushite kings Aspelta [Acc. No. 8581] and Anlamani [Acc. No. 8579], both excavated by the Harvard-Boston expedition from the royal pyramids at the site of Nuri in Sudan.

- Anna

Anna Garnett is Trainee Curator in Egypt & Sudan at the British Museum and Manchester Museum. Follow her blog here.

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Object biography #13: The upper part of a female statuette from Kahun (Acc. No. 269)

Audrey_CThis fragmentary piece of sculpture has for several months featured on the Museum’s handling table, to enable visitors to touch pieces. The fragment comes from the town of Kahun, built to house the workers that constructed the pyramid of King Senwosret II (c. 1877-1870 BC). The town continued to be inhabited by priests whose job it was to maintain the cult of the king after his death. The style facial features of this piece imitate royal portrait types of the middle and end of the 12th Dynasty: hooded eyes, folds beside the nose and prominent ears. There is no question of this being a ‘portrait’ designed to replicate the features of one particular non-royal lady – these are the features of a standardised royal portrait type.

Penn

Penn 59-23-1

On the woman’s left hand side is a break, show that she was attached to someone or something else. During the Middle Kingdom, there appears to have been a decline in the display of intimacy between figures depicted in group sculpture. Pair statues are much rarer than in either the Old or New Kingdoms and when they do occur, the individuals depicted appear to be unhappily enduring each other’s company. Much more likely than a pair statue at this period is a group composition, showing several members of one family together. This imitates the arrangement of large numbers of individuals on the same stelae. A good indication of what sort of group statuette our lady may have come from is in the Pennsylvania Museum (No. 59-23-1). She may have been seated, but a standing pose such as shown in the Penn. example seems more likely.

The precise find spot of our statuette at Kahun is not recorded but two settings can be envisaged. A tomb chapel may be possible – but a temple context seems more likely: papyri from the site indicate that statues of officials (and their families) were set up there, apparently an practice permitted first during the Middle Kingdom.

Who knows, maybe the rest of her family will turn up somewhere… and we may find out her name!

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Tulips in Sudan: Kerma and the Kingdom of Kush

8556

Acc. no. 8556 (Photo: Paul Cliff)

One of the most-eye catching and distinctive types of pottery in Manchester Museum’s collection are tulip-shaped beakers from the site of Kerma in Sudan, such as this example which is currently on display in the ‘Egyptian Worlds’ gallery (Acc. No. 8556).

The Kingdom of Kush was the first urban society in Sub-Saharan Africa and flourished from 2500 to around 1450 BC. The site of Kerma was the ancient capital of the Kushite kingdom and extensive excavations at Kerma have revealed residential and industrial areas, cemeteries, palaces and two huge mudbrick buildings known as deffufa which are uniquely associated with Nubian architecture and are thought to have had a religious function, perhaps as temples.

Tulip-beakers are a distinctive product of the Kushite kingdom and were produced in large numbers from 1750 to 1550 BC, during the period known as ‘Classic Kerma’. These beautiful vessels were made by hand using red-coloured clay which the potters found in abundance on the banks of the Nile. Before the vessel was fired, the surface was polished, or burnished, with a pebble, thus compacting the clay and making the surface very smooth with a metallic sheen.

Deffufa

The ‘Eastern Deffufa’ at Kerma (Photo: Anna Garnett)

Importantly, during firing the tulip-beakers were turned upside-down in the kiln which meant that the rim was fired in a reduced atmosphere (without oxygen) and so appears black, leaving the rest of the vessel red: we call these types of pots ‘black-topped red ware’. The delicate tulip-shape of this beaker highlights the technological skill of the Kushite potters, especially as the vessel is handmade rather than being made on a potter’s wheel. These beakers may have been used for drinking, and several have been found stacked inside each other in the tomb.

This particular beaker was excavated from Kerma in 1913 by the Harvard-Boston expedition led by George Andrew Reisner, an American Egyptologist and pioneer of early scientific archaeology. It subsequently made its way into the Manchester Museum collection in 1926 via the National Museum of Sudan in Khartoum, and is a very visible illustration of the sophisticated craftsmanship of the Kushite potters.

A team of Geomorphologists and dating specialists, including Prof. Jamie Woodward from the University of Manchester, have recently revealed results from their investigations of ancient Sudanese river channels proving that the Kerma civilisation was able to flourish due to its proximity to the life-giving River Nile, which flooded every year and deposited fertile silts onto the land next to the river. The Kerma civilisation, which lasted for over a thousand years, finally died out in around 1500 BC when these floods were not quite high enough and a major Nile tributary dried up.

Check out more of Anna’s photos of Sudan at her blog.

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Object biography #12: A wooden shabti of King Seti I (Acc. no. 13906)

Seti I shabti

Acc. no. 13906. © Glenn Janes

Shabti figures are very popular, especially when they depict royal personages. Some of the most common royal shabtis you are likely to encounter are those of King Seti I (c. 1294-79 BC). Estimates vary, but it is probable that Seti had over 1000 shabtis – the largest number of any New Kingdom king. Materials for the shabtis varied, and included faience, alabaster and steatite – but the most common material was wood.

After his 1817 discovery of the tomb of Seti I in the Valley of the Kings (KV 17), the strongman explorer Giovanni Belzoni gave an account of its contents. He described “scattered in various places, an immense quantity of small wooden figures of mummies six or eight inches long, and covered with asphaltum to preserve them.” Modern analysis has identified the species of wood as juniper. It is said that  many of these resin-coated wooden shabtis – as a convenient, combustible material – were set alight and used as torches by visitors to the tomb! Fortunately, many survived and Egyptian collections across the world now frequently boast one or two examples.

Seti’s assemblage must originally have represented the most elaborate provision of royal shabtis, varying considerably in quality of craftsmanship. But why would a pharaoh need actually need shabtis? As a god king, among other gods in the afterlife, it seems unlikely that the deceased pharaoh would be obliged to actually do any work in the Fields of Reeds.

Shabti of Set I in 'Pharaoh' exhibition

Fine faience shabti of Seti I now in the British Museum. BM EA 22818.

Like many of the objects placed in the royal tomb, they represented an insurance policy for any eventuality. Shabtis had been a standard part of private burial equipment since the Middle Kingdom, and the Egyptians were perhaps inclined to retain the custom rather than do away with it – just in case the king happened to need extra help in the afterlife. By their sheer number, Seti’s army of shabtis seems to echo the large numbers of people the king could command in life. By the New Kingdom, shabtis were conceptualised as servants rather than substitutes for the deceased – so perhaps it was fitting for the pharaoh to have labour at his disposal.

I have a particular fondness for the wooden shabtis of Seti I for another reason. When I was still at school, and already keen to pursue a career in Egyptology and museums, I volunteered at the Burrell Collection in Glasgow. Whilst there, I was privileged to be able to help the curator update catalogue records – focussing on an extensive collection of shabtis. Whilst we were going through the collection, I noticed that one dark wooden example bore a cartouche – though a royal name was not noted on the catalogue card. Upon closer inspection the hieroglyphic elements proved to be ‘Men-maat-Re’ – the Prenomen, or Throne name of Seti I. After consulting a reference book I was very excited to discover one of Seti I’s shabtis in Glasgow… only to discover that there were hundreds all over the world!

I remember wondering why the king took so many shabtis to the grave. Now, I would say without hesitation that the general Pharaonic funerary belief applies: better safe than sorry!

This post is based on part of a chapter that will appear in the Oxford Handbook to the Valley of the Kings, edited by Kent Weeks and Richard Wilkinson.

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Masks and masking in ancient Egypt

123

Acc. no. 123

The Manchester Museum holds two very important objects that provide evidence for the use of masks in ancient Egypt. The first is one of the very few surviving masks that appears to have been worn by the living, rather than placed on a mummy. The Manchester example (Acc. no. 123) is made of layers of linen and plaster, and has been painted black – with signs of paint being applied over broken patches of plaster, implying ancient repair. There are holes for the eyes and nostrils, indicating practical considerations for the wearer. A green triangle has been painted between the brows, and the eyes, cheeks and lips have been picked out with red paint. Despite the common assertion that the Manchester mask represents the dwarf-god Bes, this does not seem obvious from inspection of the mask itself.

The mask was found by archaeologist W.M. Flinders Petrie during his 1888-9 excavations at the pyramid-builders’ town of Kahun. It was discovered in a room of one of the houses there. In the next room, in a hole in the floor, was found a group of objects including a pair of ivory clappers and a wooden figurine of a woman with a lionine face(mask). Although the latter was stolen from the excavation, it is comparable with another example from the Ramesseum tomb group – also in Manchester. These objects have been interpreted as the tools of a ritual performer, whose use was connected with music and magic. The exact context of such use is uncertain.

Ostracon 5886 second version

Acc. no. 5886

The other object is a flake of limestone (known as an ostracon), from western Thebes, probably of New Kingdom date and donated by Sir Alan Gardiner. It bears a unique ink sketch: a scene of a funeral. The sketch shows a tomb shaft – of the type known from Deir el-Medina – with a group of female mourners gathered around it. Within the shaft a man is seen descending, and within the chambers of the tomb itself the burial party carry a coffin into place. A striking detail is that one of the party has a jackal head. Given the informal medium, the sketch is likely to show the burial as it happened, albeit in schematic fashion. The implication is that one of the party is wearing a jackal-headed mask. A famous example in Hildesheim may represent such a mask, used for the impersonation of Anubis, the god of mummification.

Ancient Egyptian ritual centred on the knowledge and action of a ritual practitioner, not on abstract “beliefs”. Masking enabled ritualists to act as gods, bringing divine knowledge and power to confront a given problem or participate in ceremonial acts. Religious texts contain many assertions that the speaker is a specific deity. Such a declaration of authority enabled mortals – both men and women – to impersonate gods, and make their ritual actions more effective. The resulting positive psychological effects are well-attested.

Masks enabled ancient Egyptians to become divine, both during life and after death. Manchester is fortunate to have these two outstanding objects, which shed light on an otherwise sparsely-documented practice.

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Object Biography #11: Fragment from an offering table of Akhenaten (Acc. No. 1938)

Acc. no. 1938, showing cartouche of Akhenaten

Acc. no. 1938, showing cartouche of Akhenaten

This mottled red granite fragment (16.5 cm in lenth) is part of smaller-than-life-size statue of Akhenaten, shown supporting a rectangular offering table. It comes from Flinders Petrie’s excavations at Amarna between 1891 and 1892, supported by Jesse Haworth. Like most Amarna sculptural material, this statue is badly broken – the result of the intense persecution of the memory of Akhenaten after his death and the abandonment of his city at Amarna. It bears the name of Akhenaten (lit. ‘he who is effective or beneficial for the Aten’) and the remains of epithets ‘Lord of Appearances’ and ‘Living in Truth (Ma’at)’, making it likely that this image represented the king himself and not Nefertiti or one of the couple’s daughters.

Acc. no. 1938, seen from the front

Acc. no. 1938, seen from the front

This statue-type is known from the early 18th Dynasty, and some scholars have suggested Akhenaten’s apparent fondness for the pose – traditionally associated with the fat, fecund Hapy, personification of the Nile inundation – was related to the theme of the king’s own exaggerated corpulence in many of his representations. Interestingly, rather than the products of the Nile which are usually shown on such representations of Hapy, Akhenaten’s offering statues are also shown as loaded with meat and incense. These statues make concrete Akhenaten’s self-proclaimed role as ‘beneficient for the Aten': he was the main provider for the Aten – all religious contact with the deity was to be directed through the king.

Scene from the east wall of the tomb chapel of Huya at Amarna, showing statues with offering tables at the Great Aten Temple

Scene from the east wall of the tomb chapel of Huya at Amarna, showing statues with offering tables at the Great Aten Temple

Scenes of the Great Aten Temple, such as those from the tomb of the official Huya at Amarna, show such royal statues in position – with both king and queen bearing such offering tables. As appropriate for the solar cult at Amarna, there were no roofs on temple buildings so the statues are seen to be offering goods directly to the sun. Contact between the sunlight and the offerings was perhaps deemed sufficient divine sustenance to allow the food to be redistributed to the priests serving in the temples, in the traditional method of priestly payment.

New studies of the distribution of finds are revealing new evidence of how fragments are being pieced together, little by little. Though most of our Amarna sculpture fragments are in storage, we hope soon to have them all photographed and uploaded onto our on-line database.

For more on the ongoing excavations at Amarna, in particular the fascinating work on piecing together sculptural fragments, visit the Amarna Trust website.

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Object biography #10: A relief from the tomb chapel of Nefermaat and Itet (Acc. No. 5168)

This month’s object biography was the first Egyptian piece to be installed into the new Ancient Worlds galleries last week. The relief (Acc. No. 5168) comes from the mastaba tomb chapel of Nefermaat and his wife Itet at Meidum. Nefermaat was probably a son of King Sneferu (c. 2613-2589 BC). At this period the highest offices of state were held by members of the king’s close family, and Nefermaat had the titles of ‘Vizier’ and ‘Overseer of All the King’s Works’. Although Sneferu is perhaps best known as the father of Khufu, builder of the Great Pyramid, Sneferu himself build more in terms of volume – his two (perhaps three) pyramids are located at Dahshur (the ‘Bent’ Pyramid, and ‘Red’ Pyramid), and Meidum (though this was perhaps begun by his predecessor Huni). Nefermaat is likely to have overseen these monumental projects.

The conserved relief in its new home, in the Egyptian Worlds gallery.

Nefermaat and Itet’s mastaba tomb was originally excavated by Auguste Mariette in 1872 and later re-examined by Flinders Petrie in 1890–1891. It is from the latter excavations that our relief comes. The upper scene shows an ox and ibex. Hieroglyphs describe the two boatmen pictured below as ‘coming out of the marshes’, where they have been catching birds.

Our relief was created using a very unusual form of decoration, which is attested chiefly from Nefermaat and Itet’s tomb chapel. Reliefs have been sunk into the limestone walls and then filled with coloured paste. An inscription from another part of the tomb chapel, on a relief now in Chicago, explains the purpose of this unusual decorative technique. In words attributed to Nefermaat: “He is one who fashions his representations (lit. ‘gods’) in writing that cannot be erased”. Other parts of the tomb chapel were decorated in the more conventional fashion of paint applied onto mud plaster. The other Nefermaat scene we hold in Manchester uses this technique, and comes from the same wall as the famous ‘Meidum Geese.’

Nefermaat restoration

The relief being conserved and (somewhat imaginatively) restored in the Museum at the beginning of the 20th Century.

The paste-inlay technique appears to have been an innovation at the time, and seems unique in terms of tomb decoration. It is for this reason that it is often supposed to have been abandoned at an early date, having been found to be unsuccessful. However, the paste-inlays were largely intact at the time of the tomb’s discovery by Auguste Mariette in 1872, and their subsequent deterioration – as shown in an archive photo I recently discovered of the relief’s consolidation when it arrived in Manchester – may be due to rough handling after excavation rather than because of the intrinsic weakness of the technique.

Egyptian tomb owners greatly feared damage to, or usurpation of, their ‘houses of eternity’. Several Old Kingdom tombs, only a little later than Nefermaat’s time, bear curses against trespassers intent on such damage. It is interesting to observe another use of this type of filled decoration occurs in the inscription of the famous seated statue of Khufu’s ‘Overseer of Works’ Hemiunu in Hildesheim (#19622). Perhaps both men, intimately involved with construction and themselves all-too-aware of how easily decorated walls could be reappropriated or destroyed, took special pains to carve their ‘gods’ for eternity. Perhaps the fashion was abandoned due simply to being too labour-intensive.

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