Monthly Archives: August 2012

Texts in translation #9: The inscribed statue of the admiral Hor (Acc. no 3570)

Acc. no 3570 © Paul Cliff

This statue depicts a man named Hor (whose ‘good name’ was Psamtek), who held a pair of unusual titles that equate with a modern rendering of ‘Admiral of the Mediterranean Fleet’. Although damaged, this life-size quartzite statue would have been of very high quality when complete. Hor is shown holding – and therefore eternally protecting – a shrine with an image of the lion-headed form of the goddess Bastet. This iconography supports the statue’s original location at the site where it was found by Flinders Petrie: Leontopolis (‘City of the Lions’) – modern Tell el-Yahudiya. By being shown kneeling in a submissive – but at the same time protective – gesture, it was hoped that the goddess would reciprocate and extend her own protection towards Hor in the form of his statue.

The statue’s texts combine ancient assertions of nobility, and novel titles concerning Egypt’s seafaring activities. A provisional translation, based on Petrie’s reading of the signs, is as follows:

At the front of the shrine is, on one side:

Chief of the royal fighting ships in the Great Green (Sea), Hor, whose good name is Psamtek

On the other:

… born of the Lady of the House Taanetempawia

At the top of the base is:

Petrie’s copy of the text

Commander of the Aegean island(er)s, Hor, whose good name is Psamtek

The inscription on the back pillar reads:

… in the heart of the Lord of the Two Lands, the Horus Menkh-ib, sweeter than all upon his throne of sweet wood

… command of the perfect god, Nefer-ib-re (Psamtek II), commander of the lands of the

Aegean island(er)s, Hor, his name is Psamtek.

Around the base, symmetrically arranged, are two lines of inscription:

The nobleman and governor, the royal seal-bearer, the beloved sole companion, satisfying the wishes of the king in the lands of the Greeks; one known to the Lord of the Two Lands because of his effectiveness,  Hor, whose good name is Psamtek.

The nobleman and governor, the royal seal-bearer, the beloved sole companion, exacting in his plans that were entrusted to him, pleasing (lit. widening the heart of) his lord in all his expeditions abroad, Hor.

The 26th Dynasty was a period when a number of ancient traditions were revived, in both visual culture and in texts. This may have had something to do with a resurgence in national feeling after a period of foreign domination, but appears to have begun under these non-native rulers themselves. The fashion for having a ‘good name’ dates back to the Old Kingdom and was reintroduced among the elite during the 26th Dynasty.  Hor’s ‘good’ name’ of Psamtek might refer to the sovereign under whom he served (Psamtek II, 595-589 BC), but more likely commemorates the much more illustrious Psamtek I (664-610 BC), during whose long reign Hor was probably born.

In Hor’s inscription, the ‘Great Green’ must refer to the Mediterranean Sea – though there has been much debate about this identification. During the 26th Dynasty, Egypt developed its own navy and employed Greek and Phoenician mercenaries to form the crew of its galley-type ships. These mercenaries were based in stratopeda (camps), which were described by Classical writers as being situated along the Pelusiac branch of the Nile – downstream of Tell el-Yahudiya, where Hor’s statue was set up. Commercial centres grew out of these military settlements, and Egypt’s population became increasingly cosmopolitan. It was, however, typical that commanding officers of these forces were Egyptian. Hor’s reference to “his (the king’s) expeditions abroad” implies a role in the expansionist foreign policy of the 26th Dynasty kings. Psamtek II, for example, campaigned in both Palestine and Nubia during his short reign.


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Event: Travellers from an Antique Land: Early Travellers and Visitors to Ancient Egypt 15/09/12

Society for the Study of Ancient Egypt 2012 Day School will take place on:

Saturday 15 September
at the Library Lecture Theatre, New Beetwell Street, Chesterfield
9.30 am to 5.00 pm


Featuring Guest Lecturers:

• Dr Robert Morkot: ‘1798 – A Beginning and an End: Napoleon, travellers and the birth of Egyptology’.

• Dr Campbell Price: ‘Early Travellers and their Perception of Pharaonic Art’.

• Dr Joyce Filer: ‘The Black Pall of Oblivion: Harriet Martineau’s Egyptian experience’.

• Dr Paul Nicholson: ‘Early photography in 3D’.

Tickets Prices: £25.00 SSAE Members, £30.00 Non-Members and £7.00 Buffet Lunch

More info at the society website

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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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New Exhibition: ‘From Egypt’s Sands to Northern Hills’ in Rossendale

In an extension to its original run, the exhibition “From Egypt’s Sands to Northern Hills” is now at Rossendale Museum in Lancashire (18 August – 28 October) before moving on to the Museum of Lancashire, in Preston, from the 15th of November to the 20th of January. After that it will be at Lancaster City Museum from the 25th of January to mid-March.

The exhibition highlights the work of Blackburn-born Egyptologist John Garstang and, importantly, emphasises the unusually rich collections of Egyptian and Sudanese antiquities in the North West of England.

Less than 20 minutes away from Manchester. Admission free.

The Garstang Museum of Archaeology at the University of Liverpool
, the main lender to the exhibition, is (like Manchester!) currently closed for refurbishment but is due to open before the end of the year.


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Object biography #8: An inscribed harness finial from a chariot (Acc. no. 9659)

Harness finial Acc. no. 9659

Harness finial Acc. no. 9659

I recently discovered this small object in storage while looking for a piece suitable for visitors to touch on our handling table. Initially, I was unsure of the function of the object (accession number 9659) and invited opinions. Answers ranged from vessel to candle-holder, stamp to spinning implement.

In fact, based on comparison with other artefacts of the same type, this object can be identified as a harness finial from a chariot. It would have been attached onto the yolk between two horses, and would have enabled the reins to run smoothly to control the animals.

A finial in situ on one of the harnesses from Tutankhamun’s tomb © Sandro Vaninni

A striking parallel in shape and size occurs on one of the chariots from the tomb of Tutankhamun. Interestingly, both seem to have the same deliberate wear or ‘dents’ cut into the upper rim.

Although our example is identified in the catalogue as made of ‘travertine/alabaster’, it seems more likely on close inspection to be made from ivory. The smooth, milky material resembles the stone but has the destinctive criss-cross Schraeger pattern of elephant ivory.

An inscription runs symmetrically around the top of the piece, and reads:

Live, the son of Re, Amenhotep, his fear in the lands…

Unusually, the name Amenhotep is not enclosed in a cartouche, but this name dates the piece to the 18th Dynasty (c. 1550-1295 BC). It seems likely to refer to either Amenhotep III (c. 1390-1352 BC) or his ancestor Amenhotep II (c. 1427-1400 BC) – a famously athletic and war-like king.

The ‘lands’ mentioned in the inscription is an unusual way of referring to foreign countries; Egypt was defined as the ‘Two Lands’, the archetypal united kingdom. But foreign lands were characterised by their chaotic multiplicity, and so the short-hand of ‘three’ (or ‘many’) sums up the multitude lands who were unknown but afraid of the power of the king. A statement about the fear of the king suits the power of the horse, and the chariot, as vehicles of war.

Volunteers Vivian and Patricia discuss the harness finial with visitors

Sadly, the findspot of this object – which was collected by George Spiegelberg, the brother of a famous German Egyptologist called Wilhelm) – is not known. Stables are have been identified at palace sites, such as the Ramesside Delta capital Pi-Ramesse,  but Memphis or Thebes would be more suited to an 18th Dynasty piece, naming Amenhotep. Who knows – perhaps this came from a chariot driven by the king himself?

The details of this object (and, yes, a bit of inference) certainly make for an interesting tale, and one that has already captured the imagination of visitors now able to touch this very tactile piece. I am particularly grateful to the very knowledgeable volunteers on the handling table for suggestions and helpful pointers to comparative images for this and other objects. Each of them tell the stories of these objects daily, and always succeed in bringing them to life.


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Beekeeping in ancient Egypt and today

Acc. no. 296. © Paul Cliff

The Manchester Museum contains an intriguing object numbered 296. At 38cm long and 7.8cm in diameter, at first sight it looks like a thin pottery vessel, open at one end and with a small hole at the other. Were it not for the chance discovery of a dead bee inside (and traces of pollen), the function of this object may have gone unrecognised as an ancient Egyptian beehive.

The ancient Egyptians were extremely fond of honey, which they used to sweeten cakes and beer. Beekeeping is most famously depicted in the Theban tomb of Pabasa (TT279), an official during the 26th Dynasty (c. 650 BC). The practice of using large numbers of pottery cylinders of roughly the same design continues today. Acc. no. 296 is a fine example of an object that attests a practice that we know must have taken place, but which is only hinted at in textual sources or fleetingly represented in tomb scenes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it originates from Petrie’s excavations at the Middle Kingdom town of Kahun, which has furnished us with so much detail about life in ancient Egypt.

Beekeeping shown in the tomb of Pabasa

Colleagues at the ManchesterMuseum, Whitworth Art Gallery and Manchester Art Gallery have recently participated in a training course to learn the ancient art of beekeeping. A nasty mite called Varroa has wiped out large numbers of bee colonies in the UK, leading to calls for action to ‘save the bees’. Learning beekeeping is one very important contribution to sustain bee populations, which are vital for the pollination of plants – and therefore the production of crops. It is hoped that the Museum will soon have its own beehive, with honey to sell in our shop. Who knows, we may soon also be producing ancient Egyptian sweets!


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Texts in Translation #8: The stela of Mery-Re, Overseer of Works on a colossal statue (Acc. no. R4566 1937)

Stela R4566 1937

Stela R4566 1937. Photo courtesy of Steven Snape.

This small (21cm high) basalt stela of Mery-Re is a modest commemoration of a man responsible for the construction of a mighty monument. Mery-Re was ‘Overseer of Works’ on the colossal statue named ‘Re-of-Rulers’, one of the many colossi of Ramesses II (c. 1279-1213 BC). Ramesses followed his illustrious predecessor Amenhotep III in creating a large number of colossal statues of himself, each with its own name. Giving a statue a name imparted it with a separate divine identity, making the colossus suited to being singled out for worship as a fully fledged deity. These named statues, what we might term cult colossi, were usually set up outside temples, at what one scholar calls the “boundary between the sacred and the profane.” They appear on a number of other stelae, being adored by range of ordinary people.

To the left, the text on our stela identifies the donor:
Made by the Overseer of Works of (the statue) Re-of-Rulers, Mery-Re.

Mery-Re faces, and offers flowers to, a seated figure of the goddess Satet, on the right. She is captioned: Satet, Lady of Elephantine, Lady of the Sky.

Mery-Re’s graffito on a rock at Sehel Island. Gina Criscenzo-Laycock added for scale.

By chance, friends and colleagues of mine from the University of Liverpool had visited Sehel Island, just upriver of Elephantine Island near modern Aswan, some years ago. Among the many rock cut inscriptions there, they took a photo of one graffito made in the name of Mery-Re, Overseer of Works on the (statue) Re-of-Rulers. This must surely be the same man as depicted on Acc. No. R4566 1937.

Our stela came to Manchester from the collection of Sir Henry Wellcome in the 1980s, and its exact find-spot is unknown. However, the dedication to Satet, the local goddess of Elephantine, and the graffiti at nearby Sehel point to an original location in a temple or chapel near Aswan.

Aswan was a major source of granite throughout the Pharaonic Period and it is likely that this is where the colossus named ‘Re-of-Rulers’ was quarried. The formulaic dedicatory phrase ‘Made by…’ may therefore be the result of a command of Mery-Re to a craftsman under his charge, or it may be the work of the man himself – whose own skilled hand had, no doubt, won him responsibility for overseeing work on a colossal statue of the king, and the creation of a god.


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With less than 100 days until the new Ancient Worlds galleries, work gathers pace on Petries pots!

Ancient Worlds

Susan Martin & Suzanna working on Predynastic pots
Susan Martin & Suzanna working on Predynastic pots

Work on the new displays continues as we rapidly approach the opening in late October. Over the last few weeks we’ve had a couple of placements from the university’s archaeology department working with us. In this image Susan our curatorial assistant is arranging some Predynastic Egyptian pots with the help of Suzanna, one of the placements. This is a trial arrangement for one of the displays in the 1st gallery of Ancient Worlds.

In the new displays we explore various aspects of archaeology and on the first table we look at Manchester’s contribution to the story. Right from the start we wanted to show that archaeology and Egyptology, though separate collections in the Museum, are part and parcel of the same discipline.

The first table with its focus on Manchester allows us to highlight the fact that the fieldwork of famous Egyptologist, William Mathew Flinders…

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Event: Ancient World Tours conference, 18th-19th August 2012

Ancient World Tours (AWT) will hold its annual conference on Saturday and Sunday 18-19th of August 2012, at University College London. More information is available on the AWT website.

Speakers include:

Mansour Boraik, Director General of Upper Egypt Antiquities.

Since Dr. Mansour last visited us in London at our 2010 conference, Egypt has changed dramatically in the aftermath of revolution. We are delighted that he now returns to give us the latest news on the effect of the revolution on his work in saving the monuments including finance, damage, restoration and excavation.

Aidan Dodson

The Land of Kush.

Aidan takes us on an exploration of Upper Nubia, now part of modern Sudan, the home of the ancient Kushite civilisation, and host to more pyramids than Egypt. These include tombs of the kings of the Egyptian 25th Dynasty, when millennia of Egyptian occupation were reversed by a century of Kushite dominion.

Stephen Buckley

New Research into New Kingdom Mummification: from King’s Valley to King’s College.

Stephen presents results of his project on 18th Dynasty mummification, undertaken with Jo Fletcher and televised in 2011. With the mummified body they created, now housed in the teaching museum of King’s College London, Stephen will discuss their findings and their implications for our understanding of mummification.

Philippa Walton

Zeugma: The archaeology of a Hellenistic and Roman town on the Euphrates.

Founded by one of Alexander the Great’s generals in around 300 BC, Zeugma developed into a flourishing Roman town. Philippa will look at what was found during excavations when a team of archaeologists worked the site as it was flooded during the construction of a hydro-electric dam in 2000. We have an update on what’s happening at Zeugma now.

Campbell Price

Redisplaying Ancient Worlds at Manchester Museum.

On October 30th 2012, The Manchester Museum – Britain’s 5th largest Egyptology collection – will open its refurbished Ancient Worlds Galleries, 100 years to the day after Flinders Petrie inaugurated the first Egypt galleries there. Curator Campbell Price will discuss planning and preparation for the redisplay, the reasons behind object selection and new methods of interpretation.


Sunday will be dedicated to:


Bill Manley

Travellers’ Hieroglyphs.

Bill Manley, hieroglyphs expert and popular author, will show us how to read some common inscriptions from tombs and royal monuments of Ancient Egypt. An accessible, no-nonsense guide to making sense of hieroglyphs, which assumes no previous knowledge.

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Interesting work from our colleagues in Learning…

Learning at Manchester Museum

Can you spot what’s on our Ancient Egyptian timeline?

I have been very lucky this week to have the creative input of some very talented staff here at the Manchester Museum who have painted ten key images from ancient Egyptian history onto our new canvas scroll. This visual timeline will be used with visiting school groups during the new Egyptian gallery primary school session, ‘The Egyptian World; museum secrets, mummies and pyramids!

A huge thank you to Karen, Sam and Cornelia for their wonderful creative work,  it looks fantastic! We hope to see many schools enjoying and exploring this ancient Egyptian timeline very soon.

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