Tag Archives: Osiris

An intern’s perspective: Cataloguing Egypt at Manchester Museum

Fragment of cartonnage. No number.

Fragment of cartonnage. No number.

Here our most recent intern, Hannah Perry – a student at UCL Qatar, describes her placement at the Manchester Museum, and the experience of working on collections.

 

As part of my Museum and Gallery Practice MA at University College London-Qatar, I carried out a one-month placement with Manchester Museum.  The aims of the placement were to apply the skills learned throughout the course towards an institution of our interest.  An art history student focusing on ancient Egyptian art as an undergraduate in the States, I was very excited for this opportunity to work with Manchester’s Ancient Egyptian collection!

 

Throughout my time here, I worked on a project photographing and documenting over 1,000 of the 16,000 objects in Manchester’s Egyptian collection.  Among these objects were bronze statuettes, ivories, animal specimens, coffin casings, jewelry and much more.  All photographs and information were uploaded to the Manchester Museum records database, which are made available to the public via the museum website.  This was a particularly fulfilling task for me, considering I have lived in many regions with little to none ancient Egyptian collections, I am very appreciative of museum initiatives to share online collections.

 

It came immediately to me that Manchester Museum is very different from the institutions I am familiar with in the Gulf.  In Qatar, it has been an incredible experience to witness the formative years of world-class museums.  As they were born in the digital age, collections have grown simultaneously in both their physical acquisition and digital experience.    In Manchester, on the other hand, the collection has been in the works since the 19th century- well documented in book after book of museum records.  The objects I recorded were accompanied by notes from generations of curators and keepers, often times just as exciting as the objects themselves.   For me, every object was a fascinating discovery, and I could imagine for many museums, revisiting stored objects for database entry may sometimes result in exciting rediscoveries as well.

 

A profusion of copper alloy Osiris statuettes

A profusion of copper alloy Osiris statuettes

Although the process of record keeping may seem tedious to some, my work at the Manchester Museum turned out to be an invaluable experience.  Museum catalogues and databases, important to the non-local public, are often taken for granted.  I gained an insight into the huge amount of work involved in recording a collection as large and historic as Manchester’s Egyptian collection.  Although I have previously learned to maintain and create museum database in a classroom setting, it was not until I applied these skills at the Manchester Museum that I actually grew to appreciate the process.  Now I can only hope to continue this work somewhere as incredible as the Manchester Museum!

Leave a comment

Filed under Research projects

Texts in Translation #13: The Stela of Sobek-khu (Acc. no. 3306)

Acc. no. 3306

Acc. no. 3306

“In the stela of Sebek-khu the Manchester Museum possesses one of the most important historical documents ever found in Egypt.” So wrote Thomas Eric Peet, exactly 100 years ago, about this rather crudely executed, 28cm-high limestone stela (Acc. No. 3306). It was discovered at the site of Abydos by John Garstang in 1901, excavating for the Egyptian Research Account. It once stood among a mass of such private monuments on the “Terrace of the Great God” at Abydos, a site sacred to the god Osiris, and enabled the owner – as the inscription makes clear – to enjoy the smell of incense from rituals conducted for Osiris nearby.

Yet, this document is unique because it gives an insight into a soldier’s life during the mid-Twelfth Dynasty (c. 1880-1800 BC). The text is difficult in parts due to the legibility of signs. It reads:

An offering which the king gives to Osiris, Lord of Abydos [that he may give an invocation offering of bread and beer], oxen and fowl, linen and clothing, incense and oil, every good and pure thing for the Ka-spirit of the member of the elite, governor, who says good things, repeated what was desired during the course of every day, great district official of the town, Khu-Sobek whose good name is Djaa, born of Ita of the district of Tefnut, possessor of honour.

His daughter, his beloved, Gebu, born of … His brother, Dedu, born of Meret-iti-es. Overseer of the chamber, Kheru, born of Khaseti. The nurse of his heart, Renef-ankh, born of [Dedi]. Iubu, born of Meret-iti-es. Nebet-Iunet, born of Iubu.

Peet's transcription (1914)

Peet’s transcription (1914)

His Majesty went downstream to overthrow the Bedouins of Asia. His Majesty arrived at the district named Sekmem. His Majesty was making a good start to return to the palace, (when) the Sekmem and the wretched Retjenu fell (upon him?) (while) I was serving at the rear of the army. Then the soldiers of the army went to fight with the Asiatics. I struck an Asiatic, and I had his weapons taken by two soldiers of the army without ceasing fighting; I was brave, I did not turn my back to the Asiatic. As Senwosret lives for me, I have spoken the truth! Then he gave me a throw-stick of electrum, into my hand, a sheath and a dagger worked with electrum together with handle.

Member of the elite, governor, firm of sandal, easy of stride, loyal (lit. one who adheres to the path) to the one who advances him, one to whom the Lord of the Two Lands gave his splendour, one whose position his love promoted, the great district official of the town, Djaa. He says: I have made for myself this memorial, beautified, once its position had been efficiently established at the terrace of the great god, lord of life, foremost in the district “Mistress of Offerings” and in the district “Mistress of Life,”(so that) I may smell the incense that comes forth, (and) I may be provided with the divine censing, the great district official, Djaa. He says: I was born in year 27 during the reign of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt Nebkaura (Amenemhat II), justified. When the Majesty of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt Khakaura (Senwosret III), justified, wearing (lit. in) the double crown arose upon the Horus throne of the living, His Majesty made me adopt the profession of a weapon trainer (lit. fighter of stick) beside His Majesty along with six men of the Residence. I have become effective at his side, and His Majesty caused that I be appointed to be a “Follower of the Ruler.” Sixty men have been given to me. His Majesty went upstream to overthrow the desert Nubians. Then I struck a Nubian [at Kenekef] in the presence of my townsmen. Then I went downstream in attendance (lit. following) with six men of the Residence. Then he appointed me “Inspector of the Followers.” One hundred men have been given to me as a reward.

Sobek-khu describes military campaigns into the ancient Near East which, before the discovery of the stela, were little known. As is typical of such autobiographical inscriptions, the protagonist emphasises his talent and promotion through the ranks by Pharaoh because of this. The real importance of this inscription lies in the references to armed combat in the area of Retjenu and Nubia. The soldier is “rewarded” with – or perhaps he simply helped himself to? – the weapons of his defeated foe. This type of autobiographical account – emphasising military prowess – became more common later in Egyptian history, but stands out at this period as something of an innovation. We know from another inscription from Semna that this same Sobek-khu was still active in the ninth year of Amenemhat III, when he would have been aged at least 60.

Little did Peet, the editor of the text and a frequent visitor to the Manchester Museum collection, realise that as he wrote about these ancient conflicts in early 1914, Europe was on the brink of the Great War. Sobek-khu lived to tell his tale but, as in all conflict, many others did not.

1 Comment

Filed under Texts in Translation

Study Day 08/02/2014: Sons of Osiris – Men in Ancient Egypt

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

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

‘Sons of Osiris: Men in Ancient Egypt’

Saturday 8th February 2014

Kanaris Lecture Theatre, The Manchester Museum, Oxford Road, Manchester

A series of presentations examining the lives, roles, health and deaths of ancient Egyptian men. Presented by Egyptology Online in association with The Manchester Museum and the KNH Centre.

All tickets cost £30. Tea and coffee are provided at the breaks; lunch is not provided.

The programme for the event is as follows:

9.15 Registration: tea/coffee
9.45 Welcome and Introduction
10.00 Fathers and Sons: Gods and & Men in Ancient Egypt – Joyce Tyldesley
10.45 ‘Accident and Emergency’: Men’s Health –Roger Forshaw
11.15 Break
11.45 Grumpy Old Men: What did Ancient Egyptian Men Moan About? – Glenn Godenho
12.30 Is it a Man? – Bob Loynes
13.00 Lunch (please make own arrangements)
14.00 His Father’s Son: Khaemwese at Memphis and Elsewhere – Steven Snape
15.00 Break
15.30 The Two Brothers: Facts and Fantasies –Campbell Price
16.30 Conclusion

Leave a comment

Filed under Egypt events at the Manchester Museum

Texts in Translation #11: A ‘kings list’ from Abydos (Acc. No. 2939)

Acc. no. 2939

Acc. no. 2939

While this small limestone plinth(?) may not compare with the much better-known Abydos Kings List at Seti I’s temple, its short inscription nonetheless conveys a depth of feeling about – and understanding of – the past. Unlike more extensive king lists this modest monument records the names of three Eighteenth Dynasty pharaohs: Ahmose, Amenhotep I and Tuthmose III.

One side names ‘The good god, Neb-pehty-re, beloved of Osiris.‘ This reference to Ahmose as beloved of the god Osiris is appropriate for Abydos, the god’s main cult centre. Ahmose was responsible for a significant temple to the god at the site, fragments of relief from which are in Manchester.

2939_2

‘The good god, Neb-pehty-re, beloved of Osiris… Made by the overseer of weavers(?) of the royal/southern…”

On another side is inscribed the name of Ahmose’s son, Amenhotep I: ‘The King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Djeser-ka-re, given life’ and another names ‘The good god, Men-kheper-re’ – the ‘Napoleon’ of ancient Egypt, Tuthmose III – but appears to go on to name ‘Neb-[pehty?]-re’ again, this time without a cartouche.

2939_3

‘The King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Djeser-ka-re, given life’

A short dedication text makes clear that the monument is of a votive character: ‘Made by the overseer of weavers (or: servants?) of the royal/southern(?)…

2939_1

‘The good god, Men-kheper-re, Neb-[pehty?]-re’

This is a rather crudely executed piece and it is unclear what sort of monument it came from, if not a self-standing plinth or support itself. Yet the text asserts personal piety by naming – and thus reifying the memory of – great kings of the past. In this regard it may be guessed that the creation of this object lies in the Ramesside period, the age of the display of overt religiosity by private individuals in particular, and a time of pronounced enquiry into the past.

The choice of kings is interesting, especially if these were the only ones named on the whole monument. These men are ‘famous’ kings: the re-unifier and expeller of the Hyksos, Ahmose; the venerated founder the workmens’ village of Deir el-Medina, Amenhotep I; and the great military leader, Tuthmose III. These are the same kings that dominate the history of the earlier Eighteenth Dynasty for Egyptologists today. It is significant that this piece comes from the sacred site of Abydos, a site with a long history of building activity, where standing monuments built by each of the named kings could have stood.

A recent visit to Manchester by Prof Rainer Hannig, who is preparing his next Handwörterbuch, of New Kingdom texts, served to highlight the many overlooked or mis-transcribed texts in museums all round the world. There are plenty of texts left which we hope will reveal their secrets soon!

1 Comment

Filed under Texts in Translation

Object Biography #2: A label of King Djer (Acc. no. 6763a)

Label of Djer

Label of Djer (6763a)

This small (1.8 x 1.9 cm) piece of incised bone doesn’t look like much, but it comes from one of Pharaonic Egypt’s most hallowed places. The Umm el-Qaab (Arabic for ‘Mother of Pots’) area of Abydos was the burial place of the first kings of Egypt. Abydos was sacred to later Egyptians as the cult centre of the Osiris, the god of the dead and of rebirth. Many hoped to make a pilgrimage to the site and those that did left offerings, evidenced by millions of pottery vessels – giving the area its modern Arabic name.

From as early as the Middle Kingdom (c. 2055-1650 BC), one of the early royal tombs was believed to be the actual burial place of Osiris. This tomb in fact belonged to Djer, probably the third king of the First Dynasty (c. 3000 BC). When the tomb was first excavated – albeit rather hastily – by Frenchman Emile Amélineau (1850-1915) in 1898 the central chamber was found to contain a basalt image of Osiris lying on a funerary bed. This monument was dedicated by a king during the Second Intermediate Period (c. 1650-1550 BC) as a way of demonstrating his piety towards Osiris.

Amélineau’s excavations at Abydos were taken over by the British Egyptologist William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1853-1942), whose finds form a large part of the Manchester collection. Petrie’s careful work brought to light much that his French counterpart had either overlooked or discarded – including this small bone tag naming king Djer, the owner of the tomb.

Djer’s was the first royal tomb purpose-built to house plentiful supplies for the king’s use in the afterlife – including his servants, who appear to have been killed and buried in subsidiary graves to serve their king in the afterlife. Storage chambers contained pots, as well as model tools and weapons. Inscribed animal bone tags were used to label bags or other containers of food and drink. Examples such as our tag simply give the king’s name, framed inside a serekh and topped by a falcon representing Horus – god of kingship. The royal name is written with a single sign – a hieroglyph with the phonetic value djer – identifying to whom the contents belonged.

Hieroglyph for Djer

Early and later hieroglyph 'djer'

Petrie’s excavations revealed that the tomb’s extensive wooden elements had been damaged by fire. This perhaps occurred during the First Intermediate Period, as implied by the mention of desecration of the Abydos royal tombs in the literary text ‘The Instruction for King Merikare’.

When Djer’s tomb was reinterpreted as the ‘tomb of Osiris’ some time during the Middle Kingdom, evidence – such as our little bone tag – remained to identify the grave’s original occupant.  Maybe these fragments of Egypt’s (already very ancient) history were never recognised… or perhaps they were deliberately ignored in favour of the association with Osiris, whose burial place attracted so many pilgrims.

Leave a comment

Filed under Egypt gallery redevelopment, Object biography