Tag Archives: tree goddess

Lecture 29/06/13: “Talking Trees in Ancient Egyptian Love Poetry” by Cynthia Sheikholeslami

TreesSenedjemA special lecture as part of our Collecting Trees programme and exhibition:

“Talking Trees in Ancient Egyptian Love Poetry” by Cynthia Sheikholeslami (American University in Cairo).

Saturday 29th June, 2pm, Kanaris Lecture Theatre.

FREE but booking required.

An ancient Egyptian papyrus, dating to around 1100 BC, contains a series of love songs related to trees and fruits. This lecture will explore the themes and imagery of these Egyptian love songs, and how they were related to the worship of the Egyptian goddess Hathor, a deity associated with fertility – but also with trees.

CYNTHIA MAY SHEIKHOLESLAMI studied Egyptology at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago, and UCLA. Her interests are in the history and society of the New Kingdom and the Third Intermediate Period in Egypt. She has published a number of studies dealing with the cult and priests of Montu in Thebes during the 25th Dynasty, and is preparing a publication of some of their funerary equipment discovered in the Hatshepsut Temple for the Polish-Egyptian Mission at Deir el-Bahari. She has also researched information about Egyptian antiquities contained in the travel accounts of 19th century visitors to Luxor.


Filed under Egypt events at the Manchester Museum

Trees in Ancient Egypt

Tree_climbing 655

Faience vessel showing a boy climing a palm tree to collect dates (Acc. no. 655).

As we enter 2013, here at the Museum we’ve been thinking a lot about trees. Trees in ancient Egypt were comparatively rare, and quality timber had to be imported from abroad. Native species included acacia, tamarisk, date and dom palm, persia and sycamore fig (Ficus sycamorus). The goddess Hathor was ‘Lady of the Sycamore’ and the tree was also associated with Isis and Nut, as well as appearing in funerary scenes wholly or partly as a ‘tree goddess’ who offers refreshment to the deceased.

Sling 102 (8)

Palm-fibre sling probably used to climb trees (Acc. no. 102)

The ished tree – a fruit-bearing deciduous species, probably the persia – had solar symbolism, and was the tree on which the king’s name and number of regnal years was inscribed. From love poetry, there is even evidence of talking trees!

In addition to associations with life, fecundity and rebirth, trees were also a source of food, such as dates and dom nuts. The Manchester Museum holds two complementary objects that illustrate the Egyptians’ dexterity in the practicalities of retrieving this produce. From the Middle Kingdom pyramid-builders town of Kahun comes a palm-fibre sling (Acc. No. 102), most likely used as an aid in climbing trees. On a New Kingdom faience bowl from Gurob (Acc. No. 655) is a lively scene of a small boy doing just that – perhaps helped (or discouraged?) by another figure at the foot of the tree. The harvesting of dates can still be seen in Egypt, albeit done with more modern climbing equipment, and British supermarkets often stock this popular export.

Date collecting in the Faiyum. Photo courtesy of Anna Hodgkinson.

Date collecting in the Faiyum. Photo courtesy of Anna Hodgkinson.

The Museum has embarked on a tree project, which aims to actively collect further specimens (many people believing that we no longer add to the Museum’s collections) and explore the cultural significance of trees in the past and for living cultures. Working with my colleague Rachel Webster, Curator of Botany, I look forward to investigating the resonances of trees – both practical and symbolic – for the ancient Egyptians.

Do you collect things tree-related? What do you think of this strategy of adding to the Museum’s collections? We’d love to hear from you.


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