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Curator’s Diary 23/5/12: ‘Secret Egypt’ and Ta-sheri-ankh

Today I gave a lecture at Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery in Carlisle, in conjunction with the travelling exhibition ‘Secret Egypt’. The Manchester Museum has loaned a number of items to the exhibition, including two star pieces which would otherwise not have been seen during the redevelopment: a limestone flake (or ostracon) with a rare depiction of a funeral and the Riqqeh Pectoral. Also on loan from our Museum was ‘Salford EA 7’, the mummy and coffin of a woman, one of several human remains transferred to Manchester from the Salford Museum and Art Gallery in 1979.

Giving the lecture provided an opportunity to do some research on the coffin and its occupant, which we had previously loaned to a venue in Venezuela. X-rays carried out in the early 1980s revealed the mummy belonged to a woman in her 20s, but the label in the old ‘Afterlife’ gallery referred to her simply as ‘The Salford Mummy’. The label also claimed that she was ‘unnamed’. In fact, both the mummy’s brightly painted coffin and cartonnage decorations named the woman as ‘Ta-sheri-ankh’ (literally: ‘The living child’). The style of the coffin closely resembles other examples from the site of Akhmim.

Salford EA 7 – the coffin of Ta-sheri-ankh

In 1884, the French Egyptologist Gaston Maspero (1846-1916) discovered hundreds of coffins, mummies and other assorted funerary equipment at this site. Sadly, the fate of many of these mummies was to be sold to paper-making factories or used as fuel for the Egyptian National Railway(!). Fortunately, many items survived by being bought by travellers and have ended up in museums around the world. Interestingly, Ta-sheri-ankh and her coffin do not seem to have been part of this particular haul: her mummy and coffin was donated to Newport Museum in 1888 by Sir George Elliot, who acquired her in the 1870s.

The names of Ta-sheri-ankh’s parents are preserved: her father was called ‘Iret-hor-ru’ and her mother ‘Mut-hotep’, both of whom held titles in the priesthood of the god Min at Akhmim – corroborating the provenance suggested from the iconography of the coffin. It is likely – though not spelt out on her coffin – that Ta-sheri-ankh worked, like her mother, as a temple singer of Min.

The name of ‘Ta-sheri-ankh’ in hieroglyphs. The final two signs have been mixed up.

Ta-sheri-ankh had been labelled with a nebulous ‘Late Period’ date. It is difficult to be precise about dating Late Period coffins from Akhmim, because of a lack of reliable date indicators and variation between Akhmim styles and contemporary coffins made elsewhere in Egypt at the same time. However, the large size of the eyes on the coffin’s gilded mask and the fact that Ta-sheri-ankh is referred to as a ‘Hathor’ seem to indicate a date of around the beginning of the Ptolemaic Period (c. 300 BC).

Further investigation of Ta-sheri-ankh’s mummy is planned, but for the moment it is satisfying to be able to refer to her by name. It was, after all, the prime Egyptian funerary wish that the name should survive after death – so Ta-sheri-ankh is lucky in comparison with so many of her contemporaries, who met a rather different fate at the end of the 19th Century.

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