Animal Mummies #8: Secrecy, wrapping and revealing

Falcon_mummy

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.

Campbell-wrapping

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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Study Day 13 Feb 2016: ‘Meeting the Gods: Interactions between mortals & the divine’

Acc. no. 5839. New Kingdom stela from Riqqeh.

‘Meeting the Gods: Interactions between Mortals & the Divine’

Saturday 13th February, 2016

Kanaris Lecture Theatre, Manchester Museum, Oxford Road

Presented by Egyptology Online in association with The Manchester Museum and the KNH Centre.

 

 

 

PROGRAMME

9.15 REGISTRATION: tea/coffee
9.45 Welcome and Introduction
10.00 Egypt’s Queens: Royal or Divine?
Joyce Tyldesley
10.45 Animals and Gods in the Ancient Egyptian Landscape
Stephanie Atherton Woolham
11.15 BREAK
11.45 Iron and the Bones of Seth
Diane Johnson
12.30 Lunch – (please make own arrangements)
1.30 Divine Communication: Animals as Intermediaries between Humans and Gods
Lidija McKnight
2.00 Imhotep & Amenhotep son of Hapu: Creative geniuses who became gods
Campbell Price
2.45 BREAK
3.15 Medicine and the Healing Deities
Roger Forshaw
4.00 Who you Gonna call? Dealing with Ghosts in Ancient Egypt
Glenn Godenho
4.30 Conclusion

 

For details of fees, and to book this event, please visit the Egyptology online website

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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.

BoD -The Mummy

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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MAES Lecture 14/12/15 – Roger Forshaw ‘The Saite Revival: Resurgence of Egypt’s Power’

Hor statue

Saite statue of Hor. Acc. no 3570 © Paul Cliff

The next Manchester Ancient Egypt Society lecture will be given by Dr Roger Forshaw (University of Manchester)

The Saite Revival: Resurgence of Egypt’s Power

Monday 14th December, 7:30pm
Pendulum Hotel, Sackville Street, Manchester, M1 3AL
All welcome

 

Following the turmoil and political fragmentation of the Third Intermediate Period, a family of rulers from Sais in the Delta, in an extraordinary story of adroit diplomacy and military activity, reunited Egypt into a single state. For nearly a hundred and forty years Egypt was once again ranked as a major power and under Saite rule Egypt entered a period of economic prosperity and cultural revival.
Roger Forshaw, a retired dental surgeon, studied Egyptology at Manchester University and is now a research associate at the KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology.

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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.

Cat-coffin-scan-small

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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Dazzling things for Akhenaten & Nefertiti: Glass production at Amarna

In a guest blog, Dr Anna Hodgkinson, of the Freie Universität and the Egyptian Museum, Berlin, discusses some interesting pieces from Amarna, the capital city of ‘heretic’ king Akhenaten

I recently spent two days working in the stores of Manchester Museum, studying objects related to glass-working from the sites of Tell el-Amarna, in Middle Egypt, and Gurob, in the Egyptian Fayum. Both sites were partially excavated by W.M.F. Petrie in the 1890s, which is the reason for the large numbers of objects from these sites at Manchester and other UK collections.

My research project, which is based at the Freie Universität and the Egyptian Museum, Berlin, focusses on the manufacture of glass- and faience items in Late Bronze Age Egypt and Mesopotamia, in conjunction with the production of foodstuffs. While this largely took place at a domestic level, much evidence of institutionalised industries exists. This particularly applies to the palatial, or royal settlements of the ancient Egyptian New Kingdom.

Amarna_map

Much evidence of glass-working and, possibly, raw glass production exists from Amarna. However, while extremely high quantities of objects have been found in the course of recent, thorough, excavations, such as those led by Barry Kemp since 1977, the early excavations by Petrie (1891-2) also yielded vast quantities of such items. Petrie had a special interest in the manufacture of glass in ancient Egypt, and, for this reason, he brought back a huge quantity of items, which were presented to various museum collections. Unfortunately, since the precise find locations were not recorded, we are only aware of the general area in which the objects were found: the north-western Main City and also the Central City “palace wasteheaps” at Amarna.

During my time at Manchester, I studied almost 160 objects related to glass-working from Petrie’s work at Amarna. While finished glass artefacts, particularly intricately decorated vessels, can be considered elite objects, simple items of jewellery would have still been accessible to people who were less well-off. The distribution of finished goods is thus equally important a case study as that of the manufacturing materials. I am, however, concentrating on the latter group, since this can tell us much more about the methods used and the skills involved in the working of glass.

Blog_objects

The large number of items was rather unexpected, and some items had been grouped under a common accession number and needed to be given individual numbers. Items I studied encompass fragments of glass ingots of various sizes and colours, i.e. blocks of raw glass used for the production of finished objects. Furthermore, there were numerous glass rods that had been drawn from the molten ingots, and used for the manufacture and decoration of core-formed vessels and items of jewellery. They had occasionally been flattened into bars and chipped in order to be used as inlays for hieroglyphic inscriptions or to decorate pieces of sculpture. Two large fragments of cylindrical pottery vessels are coated in run-off glass, indicating that they were probably used as moulds for normed glass-ingots.

Petrie even produced his own reconstruction of the manufacturing processes and the ovens used for melting the glass. He states in his publication from 1894 that “Fortunately the sites of three or four glass factories, and two large glazing works, were discovered; and though the actual work-rooms had almost vanished, the waste heaps were full of fragments which shewed the methods employed: moreover the waste heaps of the palace, as we have mentioned in Chap. Il, contained hundreds of pieces of glass vases which illustrate the finished objects.” Petrie used the cylindrical vessels and the oven debris to reconstruct the glass factories in the Main City North. However, excavations by Paul Nicholson in the area in the 1990s have created a slightly different picture: Site O45.1 was found to contain two large and thick-walled kilns, capable of reaching temperatures high enough to produce raw glass from scratch.

In 2014 I was able to undertake a season of excavations at buildings M50.14-16 in Amarna’s southern Main City. This site did not contain any large ovens or kilns, but evidence of pit firing was found, indicating glass-working at lower temperatures. The site also yielded numerous fragments, rods and bars of glass, together with c.90 unfinished and waster glass beads. Similar items were also found by Petrie, probably also in the northern Main City.

While the cataloguing of the glass objects from Amarna in museums worldwide continues, the Manchester collection has already demonstrated that the materials recovered by Petrie are far more numerous than previously assumed. The evaluation of the materials in Manchester Museum will contribute to our knowledge of New Kingdom Egyptian glass-working techniques and the skills of the craftsmen who, in around 1350 BC created large amounts of colourful glass objects in their houses and in larger workshops, catering to the elite, to Pharaoh as well as producing objects for their own use.

Read further:

Petrie, William Matthew Flinders, 1894. Tell el-Amarna, London: Methuen.

Nicholson, Paul T., 2007. Brilliant Things for Akhenaten: The Production of Glass, Vitreous Materials and Pottery at Amarna Site O45.1, EES EM 80, London.

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MAES Lecture 09/11/15: ‘The Mysteries of Nefertiti’ by Dr. Aidan Dodson

Replica of Nefertiti's painted bust in Manchester

Replica of Nefertiti’s painted bust in Manchester

The next Manchester Ancient Egypt Society lecture will be given by Dr Aidan Dodson (University of Bristol)

The Mysteries of Nefertiti

Monday 9th November, 7:30pm
Pendulum Hotel, Sackville Street, Manchester, M1 3AL
All welcome

Nefertiti remains one of the most iconic figures of ancient Egypt, but ideas about her origins, career and fate have varied greatly over the decades. Dr Dodson will review what we really know about her, including some of the very latest discoveries and his own views on the possible location of her tomb.


Dr Aidan Dodson is a Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Bristol, and a former Simpson Professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo. Amongst his 17 books are two volumes on his history of the later Eighteenth Dynasty, Amarna Sunrise and Amarna Sunset (AUC Press, 2014 and 2009).

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