Category Archives: Object biography

Object Biography # 22: A sculptor’s trial piece of Akhenaten(?) drinking

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Fragmentary trial piece of figure drinking from a cup, Manchester Museum

Ancient Egyptian art was governed by a strong sense of decorum – i.e. what was permissible to depict and how it was presented – especially in relation to the Pharaoh. This system changed significantly during the reign of Akhenaten (c. 1352-1336 BC), when new scene-types were introduced. The king, queen and royal family are represented in previously unparalleled moments of intimacy: apparently ‘playing’ with children, holding hands and even kissing. Such acts would be unthinkable for Senwosret III or Tuthmose III, and were perhaps shocking to an ancient audience – although the impact of visual culture, and the composition of the audience, is difficult to model.

Another activity in which the king is usually never shown partaking is eating and drinking. Egyptian kings present offerings to gods; non-royal people sit impassively in front of heaped offering tables. eii-toastDespite the great importance placed on eternal sustenance, the act of eating itself is conspicuous by its absence. Even mouths – of any
human figure – are almost never shown as open.

In a modern Western context, it is often considered undignified for leaders to be seen consuming food. Queen Elizabeth II is often shown toasting a visiting head of state at a banquet – but she is never pictured eating. Elected politicians are more likely to be compromised when photographed eating because they appear vulnerable – and, consequently, foolish.

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British politician Ed Milliband looks undignified when caught eating on camera

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Detail showing cup or chalice, with spindly fingers

The present object is a reconstructed single limestone plaque (31 x 17cm), rather than a section of relief. It may therefore have been a sculptor’s trial piece but may have also had a (secondary?) votive, devotional function at Amarna, where images of the king (and royal family) were key objects of cult. There is no preserved text to identify the figure, who is shown seated and holding a goblet or chalice to his mouth.

The spindly fingers, voluminous kilt and languid (to modern eyes, at least) pose might indicate suggest a depiction of Akhenaten himself – especially as the face of the figure has been deliberately effaced – a fate meted out to images of the king after his death. A close parallel for the pose of the present image occurs in a scene of the royal family ‘feasting’ from the tomb of Huya at Amarna.

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Scene in tomb of Huya at Amarna of royal family ‘feast’, with drinking figures of Queen Tiye (at left) and Akhenaten and Nefertiti (at right)

In fact, these and other scenes do not actually show the royals consuming anything – their mouths are all closed and their faces are impassive – but about to consume the food and drink they hold. The same restraint occurs in a small plaque – perhaps an instructive parallel to the present piece – showing a princess about to eat a cooked duck. What is

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Amarna princess about to consume a duck, Cairo Museum

innovative is that food and drink is shown being the king or royal family at all.

One major problem of interpretation, especially with Amarna Period representation, is that we often impose modern parallels on ancient evidence to describe what is going on; like so-called ‘jubilees’ and ‘durbars’, this is not a ‘banquet’ in a modern sense. It targets other concerns that are not likely to be fully understood by a modern audience.

As Margaret Murray wrote in 1949, Akhenaten “appeals by a mixture of religion sentiment”. In creating the innovative image world of Amarna, artisans had to learn new motifs and scene types. Perhaps this explains the significant number of so-called ‘trial pieces’ and models found at the site of Amarna. The present piece was perhaps one of many experimental stages in refining the royal image – creating innovative poses, such as the king drinking, attested in tombs of officials such as Huya.

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Object biography #21: An inscribed base from a statue of Hathor (Acc. no. 3309)

 

A guest blog from University of Exeter researcher Tara Draper-Stumm, who is researching the numerous Sekhmet sculptures of Amenhotep III at Kom el-Hettan. Here we reveal a previously-unidentified fragment from the Museum’s storerooms, likely from the same context. 

This inscribed rectangular granite base with a pair of feet in the striding position, both broken at the ankles, are all that remains of a standing statue of the goddess Hathor (acc. no. 3309), commissioned by Amenhotep III. An inscription in two columns on the base reads:

Son of Ra, Amenhotep, Ruler of Thebes, given life

Beloved of Hathor, Lady of jubilees

The inscription suggests that the statue was commissioned in preparation for the first of Amenhotep III’s three Sed (‘jubilee’) festivals, which took place in his 30th regnal year.

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Acc. no. 3309

The base measures 43 cm in length by 22.5 cm wide, and is 14 cm in height, with a cracked surface. Statue bases associated with the well-known life-size (or larger) standing statues of the goddess Sekhmet are approximately 30%-40% larger than the Manchester statue base, with three columns of inscription. The size of the Manchester piece therefore suggests it comes from a statue that was smaller than lifesize, perhaps 1 metre or so in height.

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Sekhmet statues from Kom el-Hettan in the British Museum

While we know that Amenhotep III commissioned hundreds of statues of himself and the gods in the run-up to his Sed festival, embellishing temples the length of Egypt, the inscription would indicate this statue fragment came from Kom el-Hettan in Luxor, the site of Amenhotep III’s funerary temple, where his Sed festival was likely celebrated.

This statue fragment entered the museum’s collection in 1895-6, the gift of Jesse Haworth, a major supporter of the work of Flinders Petrie and the newly established Egypt Exploration Society. In return for his support, Haworth received a selection of Petrie’s finds. In the 1895-96 season Petrie excavated a group of funerary temples on the west bank at Luxor, his results being swiftly published as Six Temples at Thebes in 1897. Petrie did not excavate at Kom el-Hettan, since “de Morgan [Director of the Antiquities Service] informed me that he reserved the site of the great funerary temple of Amenhotep III for his own work.” However, Petrie was allowed to investigate the ruins of Merneptah’s funerary temple, near Kom el-Hettan. Here Petrie “discovered a large amount of sculpture which had belonged to the temple of Amenhotep III, as that had been plundered for material by Merneptah.”

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Detail of Acc. no. 3309.

Petrie makes no mention of this statue fragment in his report, and no photographs of it survive in the archives of the Petrie Museum, where photographs associated with this excavation are to be found. However, Petrie does mention finding parts of statues of jackals “split up into slices…and laid in the foundations of Merneptah,” along with parts of sphinxes, inscribed blocks and parts of statues of Amenhotep III, among the foundation fill. It seems possible therefore that the Manchester Museum’s statue base could also have been used in Merneptah’s foundations and was found there by Petrie. The condition of the statue base would certainly suggest this. Petrie also made mention of the area being “under the high Nile level”, with evidence buried statuary much “swelled and cracked,” presumably from water damage over time. This description also relates well to the damage to the Manchester statue base.

Such a statue of Hathor may once stood in a shrine inside Amenhotep’s funerary temple, one of many hundreds of statues commissioned for the temple and employed in ceremonies associated with the King’s Sed Festival. It is unclear what happened to the rest of the statue. It may have been broken up and used in the foundations of Merneptah’s temple, like so many other statues from Amenhotep’s funerary temple. Presumably if the body or head had survived in decent condition in association with the statue base Petrie would likely have kept them together. Since this area of Luxor has been dug up repeatedly since at least the early 19th century, including by Drovetti, Salt, and Belzoni, among others, it is also possible that a further fragment of the statue survives in another museum or private collection.

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Hathor cow head. MMA acc. no. 19.2.5

Evidence survives for smaller than life-size divine statues being made in the reign of Amenhotep III. A head of the goddess Hathor as a cow is in the MMA in New York (acc no. 19.2.5). Made from porphyritic diorite, the head is only 28 cm wide at the ears, and the back pillar measures 15 cm wide. While this is probably not the head for our statue base, it could suggest what the statue looked like when completed

While we may never know for certain where this statue base was found, or how it originally looked, it adds to an ever-developing picture of Amenhotep III and the incredible rates of statuary production during his reign.

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Conserving & Interpreting ‘Soul Houses’

Caroline Berry, a conservation intern at Manchester studying Conservation Studies at Durham University, describes work on an important part of the collection.

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‘Soul Houses’ on display in our Egyptian Worlds gallery

Manchester Museum’s Egyptian Worlds Gallery has a great collection of objects which offer an insight into the ordinary and extraordinary of everyday life in Ancient Egypt, and sometimes if you look at objects from a different angle even more information into their story can be found. This is the record of one such event.

As part of this collection the Museum has a number of pottery ‘Soul Houses’ given by Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie in 1907, which form the largest collection to come from one site, being the cemetery site of Rifeh in Middle Egypt. As part of my internship I have been fortunate to conserve four of these objects.

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No. 4260

 

To speak quickly of the background of these objects, Petrie coined the term ‘Soul Houses’ to describe these objects.  He believed the pieces were used to provide provisions for the afterlife. He was uncertain whether these objects were to house the ba, the spirit of mobility of the deceased when it entered the land of the living or as an offering for ka, the spirit of sustenance, to use in the afterlife, hence the umbrella term ‘Soul’ to capture both eventualities.

Petrie used consecutive letters A to N to type these objects. ‘A’ was used for the objects he considered to be the earliest form and N the most modern. He used terms from contemporary architecture to aid this development. An example of each type was sent to Manchester by Petrie to form the type collection that we have here today.

The models are hand-built, probably assembled by pressing and pinching together rolled out flat slabs of clay to manipulate the form. The size of the objects and the uneven nature of the base may suggest the objects were made on a floor and fired institute. The quality of the fabric suggests firing would have been no higher than 900°C. Although there is no contextual evidence for production, it is likely that this happened within a domestic setting rather than the cemetery.

An important aspect of conservation is to build an in-depth record of each object treated. While undertaking the photography, a mat impression, which appears to be layers of grass or reeds tied into bundles, was found on the base of 4360 (below).

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Underside of no. 4360

After checking the bases of the other Soul Houses from Rifeh, it was found that 4360 was the only object with this impression. Deciding to check the bases of the other ceramic offering trays held in the collection, 6544 from Sanam, Sudan (below) was the only other ceramic model to be found with a mat impression, although this impression is similar to an imprint of basketwork, as the example of contemporary basketry in the picture below suggests. (below)

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No. 6544

 

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Underside of no. 6544

 

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Basket from Kahun, late 12th Dynasty

 

Here at Manchester we’re are very excited by these findings and were hoping others may be able to share any such findings they have come across in Ancient Egyptian ceramics. We urge anyone with a soul house or offering tray, as long as the object is stable to do so, to check under the object and report back if they too have mat impression on their bases!

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Object biography #20: A baboon of Iuwlot (Acc. no. 1785)

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Acc. no. 1785

This imposing (65cm high) black granodiorite statue represents the god Thoth as a baboon (Acc. no. 1785). Damage to the baboon’s muzzle has resulted in a rather forbidding impression, although Thoth was appealed to as a god of wisdom and of healing.

The statue has until now been dated to the New Kingdom, following archaeologist W.M. Flinders Petrie’s 1894 publication of finds from the site of Coptos, just north of Thebes. Several of the finds unequivocally dated to the reign of Ramesses II and so Petrie assumed the baboon to be of that period as well. However, the reading of the unusual name of the donor of the statue – a High Priest of Amun, named in an inscription within a pectoral carved on the baboon’s chest – has always puzzled me.

Petrie read the name of the donor as ‘Iua-Mer’ but did not publish a photograph of the statue or a copy of the inscription in the excavation report. Perhaps as a result it does not appear in a standard reference work of monuments, the Topographical Bibliography of Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts. Unless someone had visited Manchester, it is unlikely they would know what the statue looked like.

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The Christie’s baboon

By chance, whilst perusing a Christie’s sale catalogue for an auction held on Thursday 2 May 2013, I happened upon the perfect doppelganger of our piece: a granodiorite baboon statue, identified as having been dedicated by a 22nd Dynasty high priest of Amun named Iuwlot. The unusual name, combined with a rare combination of hieroglyphic signs in its spelling mean there can be no doubt that this is the same man as dedicated our almost identical statue. Unsurprisingly given its apparent lack of publication, the author(s) of the Christies catalogue entry were unaware of the Manchester baboon.

Iuwlot is an intriguing but little-known character. He was the son of the Libyan king Osorkon I, and held the important title of High Priest of Amun at Thebes. He is attested from five other inscribed objects: two Nilometer Texts (no. 20 and 21), a stela from Thebes (British Museum 1224), a stela in Moscow and finally the so-called Stèle de l’apanage in Cairo.

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Detail of the pectoral carved on acc. no. 1785

In the vexed subject of ancient Egyptian chronology, especially of the Third Intermediate Period, all attestations of named and titled individuals count. Two new records can now be added for Iuwlot in the form of the baboons from Coptos – as the Manchester one has a firm provenance, it is likely that they were set up as a pair, perhaps to flank a temple doorway at Coptos. Interestingly, Iuwlot’s son Wasakawasa is known from an electrum pectoral dedicated to Thoth, Lord of Hermopolis (Petrie Museum UC13124), perhaps implying a particular family regard for this god.

These baboons may have been carved much earlier and have been repurposed by the 22nd Dynasty royal family. Other monumental elements, such as granite jambs of Tuthmose III, were reused by Osorkon I at Coptos, and such reuse is widely attested in ancient Egypt.

This is proof, yet again, that even well-visited objects on display can hide secrets in their stories.

Our baboon can be viewed in our award-winning ‘Gifts for the Gods: Animal Mummies Revealed’ exhibition tour.

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Animal Mummies #8: Secrecy, wrapping and revealing

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Gilded mummy of a falcon, an image of a god (Acc. no. 11293)

Mummies, whether human or animal, were never intended to be unwrapped. The ancient embalmers were wise to the fact that, especially for elite burials, tomb robbers might try to rip the mummies apart in search of valuables. But I doubt the ancients could ever have envisaged the extent of modern scientific curiosity. Yet we are, undeniably, curious. We see a closed, sealed package and it seems like a deliberate challenge: we almost instinctively want to know what’s inside. Modern technology allows us to look under the wrappings without damaging the mummies themselves. But why do we want to look, and why did the Egyptians wrap things in the first place?

Animal mummies and bronze statuettes of deities shared a common votive purpose: they were both appropriate gifts to give to the gods to further one’s prayers. Some bronzes have been found still wrapped in linen, as deposited by temple staff. Some more sizeable bronzes are hollow, with some even containing remains of mummified material; thus the boundary between ‘statues’ and ‘coffins’ is more blurred for animals than for humans. Regardless of what animal mummy bundles might contain, they were – like the bronzes – images of the gods. Such images were sacred and very powerful, and had to be carefully buried – either in a cache deposit or in a catacomb – after they had been donated by visitors to a temple.

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Wooden shrine with linen-wrapped images of gods (EES excavations, Saqqara)

It is important to acknowledge the role of wrapping in ancient Egyptian ritual practice. My predecessor as Curator of Egyptology at Manchester Museum, Christina Riggs, has written a provocative book on this topic, examining aspects of how wrapping and unwrapping have influenced the interpretation of ancient Egypt. Museums almost never acknowledge this. For example, in the tomb of Tutankhamun almost all the images of gods or the king were shrouded in linen coverings but none of these wrappings made it to displays in the Cairo Museum.

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Shrouded divine statues from the tomb of Tutankhamun

Recent controversy surrounding the display of mummies – and the seemingly endless analysis of it – highlights how sensitive we can still be about the subject of wrapping and unwrapping.

Shrouding or veiling draws attention to the fact that a secret is being kept, and adds power and prestige to the item being covered. Wrapping also protects, maintaining and enhancing the sacredness of an object. Modern museum display has tended to favour the removal and quiet disposal of these original wrappings. That is why – for the first time ever, to my knowledge – we have included a rewrapped bronze statuette of Isis nursing Horus in our ‘Gifts for the Gods’ exhibition. We hope this will provoke visitors to think of the bronzes and mummies as two different aspects of the same votive concept.

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Re-wrapping a divine image

Many visitors to the ‘Gifts for the Gods’ exhibition will expect that animal mummies were all pets, and that the Egyptians were very strange for mummifying animals. What we have tried to show is that gifting was – and still is – a very important means of seeking divine attention in many cultures. Ours is the first exhibition that explicitly looks at animal mummies as votives, rather than simply as animals or mummies.

Animals were a category of beings between humans and gods, and were the perfect intermediaries between them. Millions of animal mummies were produced as eternal gifts, tokens of prayers of people who died over 2000 years ago, given in the hope that only the gods would know what was inside.

Secrecy breeds curiosity. There are no texts explaining what the Egyptians aimed to achieve by mummifying animals in such large numbers, so their purpose is something of a mystery that science is helping to. Faced with so many wrapped packages, we are like excited (Western) children on Christmas morning – we simply cannot contain our curiosity to see what’s inside.

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Object Biography # 19: The Book of the Dead of Padiusir

For the first time in its history, Manchester Museum is currently displaying (sections of) a copy of the Egyptian ‘Book of the Dead’.  Despite the negativity implicit in its modern title, the ‘Book of the Dead’ is, in fact, an extremely optimistic document. Hollywood has a lot to answer for in, Sam Raimi’s ‘Evil Dead’ series and ‘The Mummy’ franchise having conjured up an image of a forbidden text that must not be read aloud for fear of waking demonic forces.

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The ‘Book of the Dead’ in The Mummy (1999)

In fact the ancient Egyptian name for the collection of texts can be translated as ‘Spells for Coming Forth by Day’. These spells – and accompanying images – act as both a guidebook and a passport to the afterlife, assuring a successful transition to the blissful ‘Field of Reeds’ after death. The key part of that transition is the judgement before Osiris, god of rebirth, and the most well-known vignette in the Book of the Dead is the scene of this judgement. The deceased is shown before a set of scales on which his or her heart is weighed against the feather of Truth. Usually, the feather is shown as heavier than the heart and thereby a positive outcome for the trial is magically assured.

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Papyrus Rylands Hieratic 3 – with judgement vignette

Other texts – or ‘chapters’ – in the Book of the Dead are designed to protect the deceased against misfortune on the journey to, and existence in, the afterlife. Copies of the Book can run to many metres in length and would have been rolled up into scrolls, deposited in the tomb, within the

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Hollow statuette for papyri – Warrington Museum

coffin or directly wrapped with the mummy. Hollow statuettes, known as Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figures, were common in elite burials of the 19th-22nd Dynasty as receptacles for Book of the Dead papyri.

The Book of the Dead currently on loan to Manchester Museum from the John Rylands Library is early Ptolemaic (c. 300 BC) in date. In common with many such papyri, the long roll has been cut up into sections for sale, which are now located in museums around the world. This copy was made for a man named Padiusir, and shows the deceased a number of times in standard vignettes. There are clear examples in some cases of a prefabricated papyrus, with the name of the deceased added secondarily.

Sections from late copies of the Book of the Dead, similar to Padiusir’s, have in the past been interpreted as key texts within The Church of Latter-Day Saints, and are the subject of extensive debate. Egyptologists tend to agree that this most common of ancient Egyptian religious compositions was for the benefit of the deceased, and is in no way likely to bring about a curse for the living.

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Object Biography # 18: A wooden cat coffin from Saqqara (Acc. no. 9303)

Cats-memeAncient Egypt is closely associated in the popular imagination with cats, and cat statuettes, coffins and mummies are common highlights of museum collections around the world. The reason they proliferate is because these images of the goddess Bastet were considered appropriate gifts to give to her.

 

Recently, archive research by volunteers at Manchester Museum enabled one particular example, previously without sure archaeological provenance, to be contextualised in time for our ‘Gifts for the Gods: Animal Mummies Revealed’ exhibition.

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Cecil Firth surrounded by cat coffins and bronzes

At last year’s CIPEG (International Egyptology Committee of ICOM) conference in Copenhagen, I saw an archive photograph currently held in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. It showed the archaeologist Cecil Firth (1878-1931) at the site of Saqqara, surrounded but recently-excavated cat bronzes and coffins. I immediately recognised an example on the left of the image as one now in Manchester Museum (Acc. no. 9303), with occupant still intact. It turned out that this impressive example had been donated by Thomas Alfred Coward (1867-1933), an ornithologist and Acting Keeper of the Manchester Museum during the First World War.

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Wooden cat coffin, acc. no. 9303. From Saqqara.

A letter survives in our correspondence archive from Coward, dated 27th October 1921, to the English excavator and Egyptologist James Quibell. In it, Coward expresses delight at the quality of the specimen he has received and jokes that the Assistant Keeper in charge of archaeology, Miss Winifred Crompton, had a particular liking for the piece:

The long expected lot has arrived. It is a beauty, and I want to thank you very much for selecting it. I had not seen one in a case before. The one by post, of course, came long ago, but this one seems to have taken its time!

As I believe you got it from a dealer, you may have no idea where it was found, but can you give me any approximate period or date for it?

I had to see Miss Crompton put it in a Tac case, or I think she would have taken it home to see if she could make it purr.

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Radiograph of cat coffin, acc. no. 9303, showing a complete cat mummy inside.

A brief note pencilled by Quibell in reply on the reverse of the same letter affirms that the cat coffin in fact came from the excavations conducted by Cecil Firth at Saqqara. This chance find in our archive, scanned and transcribed by volunteers, confirms the cat’s provenance. Coward’s interest in the piece is likely to have been zoological, so it is remarkable that the coffin remained intact. The coffin has now been CT-scanned and radiographed, and is the subject of an innovative haptic interface to enable blind and visually-impaired people. Research by the Ancient Egyptian Animal Bio Bank is enhanced by such sure cases of archaeological provenance, enabling conclusions to be drawn about mummification and bandaging techniques in certain locations at certain times.

Our current exhibition ‘Gifts for the Gods: Animal Mummies revealed’ is open until April 17th 2016, and can thereafter be see in Glasgow and Liverpool.

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