Tag Archives: Middle Kingdom

The mystery of the spinning statuette (II)

Several months ago, we noticed that one of our Middle Kingdom statuettes was spinning around imperceptibly slowly in its new case in our Egyptian Worlds gallery. We set up a time lapse camera to take one image every minute for a week. This is the result.

The cause may be subtle vibrations from footfall or traffic outside, but the statuette has been on a glass shelf in about the same place in the gallery for decades and has never moved before – and none of the other objects in the case move in any way. A mystery? See for yourself.

Video by Luke Lovelock, Media Technician, Manchester Museum.

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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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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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The mystery of the spinning statuette

9325 statue

Acc. no. 9325. Photo by Paul Cliff

Most Egyptologists are not superstitious people. When I first noticed that one of our Middle Kingdom statuettes (Acc. no. 9325) had been turned around 180 degrees to face the back of its case in our new Ancient Worlds galleries, I wondered who had changed the object’s position this without telling me. The Egyptians themselves would have appreciated the concern to make visible for passers-by the text on its back pillar – a prayer for offerings for the deceased. Yet the next time I looked into the case, the statue was facing in another direction – and a day later had yet another orientation. None of the other objects in the display had moved. The case was locked. And I have the only key.

 The statuette had always intrigued me. It entered the Manchester collection in 1933, as part of a donation of five objects from Miss Annie Barlow of Bolton – three of which at one time were considered to be modern forgeries.

Feb 2013 005The inscription on the back pillar reads: “An offering which the king gives to Osiris, Lord of Life, that he may give a voice offering, consisting of bread, beer, oxen and fowl for the Ka-spirit of’. As is known for other statues of this date and type, the man’s name – Nebsenu(?) - is inscribed on the front of the statue’s base. He bears what Alan Gardiner called as “obscure” title: Hry (n) tm. The distribution of the inscriptions suggests that the statuette was prefabricated with the standard offering formula on the back pillar and that the man’s name was added later to the base.

Feb 2013 007Logical attempts to explain the statues movement centre on the subtle vibrations caused by outside traffic, causing imperceptible movement. Lill, a colleague on the visitor services staff, suggested that perhaps the man wanted us to say the prayer for him – yet when this text is visible his name is impossible to read. What is very strange is that the statue has spun in a perfect circle – it hasn’t wobbled off in any particular direction. The intriguing suggestion that the statuette was carved of steatite and then fired may imply that it it now vulnerable to magnetic forces. But is so, why did it not move on its glass shelf in pretty much the same position in the old Egyptian Afterlife gallery?Feb 2013 008

I lied – others do have a key to the case, and it is just possible that someone is playing a trick. But I doubt it.

The simplest solution seems to be to apply a tiny amount of museum wax to the base to stop the movement. But what if the statue continued to keep moving? What would our explanation be then..?

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Lecture by Dr. Joyce Tyldesley: ‘Senwosret is Satisfied’ – Life at Kahun

Wednesday 7th November, 6-8pm, the Manchester Museum

A lecture by Dr. Joyce Tyldesley, Programme Director for the UoM’s Online Diploma in Egyptology, and Museum Research Associate

Free. Book on 0161 275 2648

“Senwosret is Satisfied”: Life at Kahun

The Middle Kingdom town of Kahun (ancient name Hetep-Senwosret , or “Senwosret is Satisfied’) is a remarkable purpose-built settlement created to house the community of priests and workers who serviced the nearby pyramid of King Senwosret II. The excavations of Flinders Petrie in 1889-90 produced an unprecedented range of objects relating to the daily activities of ordinary Egyptians living ordinary lives at this extraordinary site. Manchester Museum is fortunate in having the finest collection of objects from Kahun.

This talk will look at the reasons for the creation of the town of Kahun, before using archaeological evidence to explore the lives of the women who lived, worked and died there.

Joyce is a popular author of works on Egyptology. Her latest book, ‘Tutankhamun’s Curse: The Developing History of an Egyptian King‘, is available now.

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Dwarfs in ancient Egypt

The Manchester Museum holds two examples of an unusual category of object, peculiar to the Middle Kingdom (Acc. nos: 279-280). These take the form of two figures of dwarfs, supporting a vessel for either a lamp wick or to burn incense.

Acc. no. 280

Acc. no. 280

Acc. no. 279

Acc. no. 279

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of our pieces is of limestone, the other is of pottery. Further limestone examples from Kahun are in the Petrie Museum in London. A very similar example was recent excavated by Dr. David Jeffreys of the Egypt Exploration Society in a Middle Kingdom settlement at Memphis.

UC 16520

Petrie Museum UC 16520

These find-spots suggest a common domestic context for the lamps, and it is perhaps best to view them as items of household ritual furniture, rather than the equipment of a formal chapel or temple.

The squat proportions of the figures are in contrast to the traditional ancient Egyptian canon of proportion for the human figure, and given the presence of non-Egyptians at Kahun – and presumably at other Middle Kingdom sites too – it cannot be ruled out that the form derives from elsewhere. However, the figure of the dwarf has considerable significance in Egyptian culture, and dwarves are represented throughout the Pharaonic period.

The statue of the dwarf Seneb and his family. Cairo Museum JE 51280.

The statue of the dwarf Seneb and his family. Cairo Museum JE 51280.

Dwarfism appears not to have been uncommon in ancient Egypt and dwarves were clearly accorded high status from the Old Kingdom onwards, and appear in skilled trades such as jewellery making. They could also occupy high positions at court, as was the case with a dwarf named Seneb – an ‘overseer of palace dwarfs’, ‘chief of the royal wardrobe’ and a priest in the funerary cult of King Khufu. An association with the divine may have existed in the Old Kingdom, although it is not articulated explicitly.

Another Middle Kingdom limestone lamp in Leiden – which, according to the dealer who acquired it, came from Asyut  – has a pronounced belly and grasps a snake in each hand. It may therefore represent a female version of lamps, which are assumed to be male in other cases. This piece has been suggested by Maarten Raven as a possible early form of the Pataikos figure, which has strong associations with the protection of family life. More generally, the benevolent aspect of the dwarf is evoked most strongly by Bes, the fearsome god particularly responsible for driving off danger during childbirth. These attestations come mainly from the New Kingdom and later, but fit with the domestic setting in which provenanced Middle Kingdom examples have been found.

Middle Kingdom lamps are thus among the first objects to make explicit the connection between dwarves and protection in a religious context. Our two ‘dwarf lamps’ are best seen in Egyptian positive view of dwarfism. They add to our understanding of Middle Kingdom social practice, evidence for which is so richly represented in the collection at Manchester.

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Texts in Translation #3: A statuette of Shesmu-hotep (Acc. no. 6135)

Statuette of Shesmu-hotep (Acc. no. 6135)

Statuette of Shesmu-hotep (Acc. no. 6135)

This small statuette of an official dates from the late Middle Kingdom (c. 1780-1700 BC). It was found amidst debris in a shaft tomb (no. 606) in Cemetery E at Haraga, close to Lahun. The statue would originally have been set into a brick-built structure belonging to one of the nearby tombs.

During the Middle Kingdom, greater surface areas of non-royal statues were covered with inscriptions than ever before. Here, the text extends from the front of the robe/cloak, across the lap and over the knees.

hieroglyphs

On cloak/robe

The text begins by associating Shesmu-hotep with Anubis – an important local god at Lahun in the Middle Kingdom – proclaiming the official to be: “Favoured by Anubis, Lord of Life.” It then goes on to give a standard list of provisions for the man’s spirit in the afterlife: “An offering which the King gives (and a) voice offering (consisting of) bread, beer, beef and fowl, alabaster, fine linen, and cool water for the Ka-spirit of the Overseer of […], Shesmu-hotep, justified.” Variants in the writing of this formulaic expression show the statue to belong to the late Middle Kingdom.

On lap (reading right to left)

Shesmu-hotep’s title is not clearly written, but has been read by others ‘overseer of the palace’. The god Shesmu was worshipped in the Faiyum area, and associated with the winepress, perfumed oils and slaughter in the underworld. The deity is rarely attested in names, with only one other example known of a ‘Shesmu-hotep’.

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