Texts in Translation #16: Senebtifi’s Beaker from Abydos (Acc. No. 3964)

A guest post by Dr Nicky Nielsen, newly-appointed Lecturer in Egyptology at the University of Manchester. Senebtifi’s vessel is one of several objects which are used in the teaching of the University of Manchester Online Egyptology Certificate and Diploma courses

Campbell-vesselIt is often the case in museums that apparently inconspicuous objects can turn out to contain very interesting bits of information. This is the case with this small (height: 12.4cm) flat-based beaker. It can be dated by its shape to between the late Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period (c. 1700 BC) and is manufactured from a relatively fine Nile silt clay. Small amounts of chopped straw (so-called ‘chaff’) was added to the clay to make the vessel more stable during firing. Holes were punched along its lip prior to firing and allowed the vessel to be hung with strings. Alternatively, they could have been used to tie down and secure a lid. An inked inscription runs in two lines along the vessel’s body:

(1) An offering which the king gives to Osiris, Lord of Abydos, so that he may give bread and beer (2) oxen and fowl, alabaster and [linen], for the ka of the Officer of the Ruler’s Crew, Seneb[///]

The ink used to write this dedication has faded considerably and the last few syllables of the owner’s name are too faint to read. However, a clue to his identity can be found in the original archaeological context of the beaker. It was found by the Lancashire-born Egyptologist John Garstang in 1906 at the site of Abydos, home to the cult of Osiris for much of Pharaonic history. The beaker was found in Tomb 7 A’06 by Garstang along with several other inscribed vessels.

These vessels were in the form of model granaries, which were believed to magically transform into real granaries in the Afterlife, thus ensuring a rich supply of grain for the deceased owner. Three of these model granaries (Manchester Museum 3972, Garstang Museum of Archaeology E. 6846 and Bolton Museum Bol.A.10.20.10) were inscribed with a similar offering formula and all three list their owner as the Officer of the Ruler’s Crew, Senebtifi.

3964 (2)

Transcription of acc. no. 3964 – N. Nielsen

Senebtifi’s title is somewhat mysterious. It was used primarily during the late Middle Kingdom and throughout the Second Intermediate Period. It may have been related to Egypt’s growing military and in particular to the riverine navy built by the Theban rulers of Egypt during the Second Intermediate Period and deployed in battle against the Hyksos city of Avaris at the end of the Second Intermediate Period (c. 1550 BC).

The writing style of the inscription is also noteworthy. For the first part of the inscription, the so-called Offering Formula, the scribe has used a more formalised hieroglyphic writing, attempting to form the individual symbols properly. However, in the second part of the inscription, which lists Senebtifi’s name and title, the scribe has reverted to using hieratic, a cursive version of hieroglyphs more commonly used for writing administrative documents. This may suggest that the vessel was purchased (or more precisely, bartered) with the formulaic part of the inscription already written and that the new owner’s name was added in a hurry by a different scribe who was more comfortable writing in hieratic.

Another example of an off-the-shelf object!

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