On Saturday, I met up with the Young Archaeologists Club (YAC) to do a spot of hieroglyph translation. For the session, I chose this short text on an object currently displayed in the Museum’s Discovery Centre. The members of YAC, mostly aged around 10, were incredibly knowledgable and – with only a little help – cracked the code presented by this small stela. Rather than simply ‘make up’ hieroglyphic words using a phonetic alphabet, the chance to read a real text from ancient Egypt – and work out what the object was used for – was one the group really enjoyed.
This small limestone stela is one of a class of objects called ‘ear stelae’, common in the New Kingdom (c. 1550-1069 BC), and records the name of a deity to whom it is dedicated as well as the man who made or comissioned it. It shows a pair of ears, between which reads: “Ptah-hearer-of-prayers (ptH sDm-nH<w>)”. Beneath is the donor’s name: “Made by Amenmose (ir n imn-ms)”.
The stela was found in Memphis, whose patron god was Ptah. Ptah is the deity most often invoked in these objects, regardless of provenance, so was perhaps considered particularly attentive to prayers. The ears enabled the deity to hear people’s petitions or prayers. Some stelae have dozens of ears carved on them – presumably to aid their effectiveness. Given the size of this small stela (10.2cm high), I think a good analogy for its function is that of a mobile phone – with a direct line to the gods.