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Giving potsherds back some importance!

Seemingly discarded in earlier excavations and even now mostly overlooked, potsherds (see fig.1) aren’t always considered the most valuable artefact for ascertaining information. Most Egyptologists (and archaeologists worldwide) look only for diagnostic sherds; this is to say, pieces that are large enough to highlight their former part of the pot, such as a rim, handle or large parts of curved sides. Unless expert in pottery remains, Egyptologists have very little time for pottery, especially when usually faced with such a huge and overwhelming corpus within any given assemblage. Whole pots are a dream to find (see fig.2), whether in situ and complete or fragmented yet representing a whole pot for reconstruction (See fig.3).  I think this comes down to the need of the Egyptologist to “see the whole picture”. As an Egyptologist myself, I appreciate that it can be time consuming working with potsherds, and often at times, hard to know where to even begin with research and analysis!

Sherds are scattered across many sites from ancient Egypt (urban, religious and mortuary), and due to the sheer size of a corpus, they can be left untouched, or even returned back to where they were found after macroscopic and diagnostic examination. However, sherds are important! They have a story to tell and their very presence can say a lot! You can analyse the amount and spatial distribution, they can inform on production, use and re-use.  The context they are found in can hint at individual, family or communal acts (the agents), whether their deposition was the result of a single action or repeated action and whether they are found in a random or fixed location (all of this enables the study of social relationships within communities). Sherds may present with organic residues or interesting inclusions, not to mention the ability to demonstrate foreign trade. The study of sherds is inexhaustible.

We can also discern technology and production methods, raw materials and access to them. We can begin to build a picture of social requirement, use and production by the context they are discovered. For example we can discover whether the pottery was wheel made or handmade, professionally or home-made, factory or estate, home or institution.

pot1

 

Fig.1 Sherd (Photograph taken from the Petrie Museum Website)

pot2

 

 

Fig.2 (Photograph taken from the Petrie Museum Website)

This is a rather fine example of a Naqada II vessel, with geometric design, typical of the period and faunal designs. This pot gives a huge amount of information, such as local fauna (or fauna known to the creator) production, techniques, use etc. You can’t blame an Egyptologist for wanting to study this! And for a full understanding of Egyptian pottery, it is important to study both complete pottery as well as sherds.

pot3

Fig 3. (Photograph taken from the Petrie Museum Website)

Sherds which fit together to form a pot are also useful finds. Ethnographic research and experimental research allows for an understanding of deposition. For example, this pot was probably abandoned whole, but the crushing sands have broken it, rather than this was broken and/or smashed. If it was smashed, the sherds would be considerably smaller and the edges of the breaks sharper. This is from Amarna, a known abandoned desert site. Further research could also be done on the pattern, as this pattern is widely unknown from Amarna. Then again, it was discovered in a box marked ‘Amarna’, the provenance may be inaccurate and we are looking at something from a different period or site. Provenance is very important both as a region, time period, and even more locally, the narrower you can make it the more meaning and context it has.

Ankh_Nfr

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Mummy successfully imaged reveals intact brain, but no heart!

 

You can find this picture and the news article here on discovery.

An Egyptian mummy, that thanks to carbon dating has been dated to being around 1,700  years old, has recently undergone investigation. Female in gender, she is believed to be aged between 30-50 years old and has the usual (this word is used tentatively) skeletal and dental palaeopathology expected for her age. Despite the strong Christian presence in Egypt during the Roman occupation, the family of the deceased issued her with an Egyptian style burial, which suggests that Egyptian custom was still upheld in certain areas (although the provenance of this mummy is widely unknown).

The CT imaging of this mummy has revealed that she no longer retained her heart, but that the brain was in tact. Generally speaking, and again this is a crude sweeping statement due to the longevity and diversity of the Egyptian culture, in mummification the heart remained in the body. The heart after all was needed to balance on the scales of truth against the feather of Ma’at in the underworld. It has been believed that the heart was replaced by a scarab beetle amulet if the heart had been damaged during mummification. There is no such amulet in place. I could speculate here and say that the amulets have probably been stolen by grave robbers, however, I have no further information regarding the condition of this mummy to propose that the mummy has been “meddled” with after burial. Furthermore, I have no knowledge of the belief the embalmers held for the need for a heart, perhaps with the changing customs they no longer regarded the heart in high esteem and instead held the brain in such (I will discuss this later). A further reason could be the continuing trend in a devolvement of skill in the ancient embalmers, as their craft became less used and therefore unpractised they could have simply done a very bad job and almost performed a clean sweep of the inners. They may not have fully known all of the customs or were perhaps even too lazy to selectively leave in the heart or replace it if they damaged it, we can only hypothesise on this.

As for the brain being left in, I am aware of this happening in some late 18th dynasty mummies, for example the younger mummy in KV35. I also recall an investigation of five mummies from the 21st dynasty whereby four out of the five retained their brains (I will find to reference at a later date). It may have been the change in belief during the Amarna period which created a desire for the brain to be left in tact, this may be true of the 21st dynasty as it was part of the Third Intermediate Period and this also could have been the case during the Roman period. I feel I have not researched this area before in any depth, although I may after this article (so look out for an update). So realistically, anything I say is purely my inference.

 

I suppose the last strange quality of this mummy was the use of plaques over the abdomen and sternum. Sometimes plaques were used as a supernatural glue, to bring together the flesh of the mummification incisions in the next life. However, these plaques were positioned where there were no incisions. It has already been suggested by the team working on the mummy that the one covering the sternum may have served to replace the heart. Again I don’t think even in general enough research has been done on this to hypothesise fully. However, I will add my thoughts here, it could be further proof that the mummy had been tampered with post inhumation, perhaps the plaques did in fact cover the incision holes as were the custom but were moved (a long with the scarab for the heart). A second theory could be supporting the idea that the work of the embalmers was sloppy, and they really had no customary idea of where they were supposed to place everything, they had the materials, did the job they thought and shoved in the plaques. I couldn’t possibly assert this claim to being anything other than pure conjecture without knowing the quality of other aspects of the mummification.

 

Picture taken from Livescience

Anyway, something to think about!

 

 

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Object biography #15: A previously unidentified statue of Senenmut (Acc. no. 4624)

Egypt at the Manchester Museum

Our fragment (Acc. no. 4624) came to the Manchester Museum from the excavations of Edouard Naville at the site of Deir el-Bahri between 1894 and 1907. A more precise provenance for the piece or when exactly it entered the collection is not known. The fragment is 48.5cm high and 31cm wide, made of indurated limestone, and depicts the lower portion of a seated figure at about half lifesize. It is badly damaged but still carries hieroglyphic text on the sides of the seat, base and over the knees. Interestingly, the seat retains an artisan’s red ink guidelines for the inscription. Traces remain of blue pigment within individual hieroglyphic signs, implying that the statue was not, however, left unfinished.

Left_blogJPEGThe identity of the individual represented is recorded in our catalogue – based on hieroglyphs on the base – as ‘the priest of Amun, Userhat’ and the piece is there dated to…

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MUSEUM PIECE: Ba bird? Or Nekhbet?

I decided this would just be a quick look at this quirky little Old Kingdom amulet, but as with most things, I managed to uncover more questions than answers!

I decided this was an interesting piece, as there seems to be a great amount of facial detail. I particularly loved the bulbous nose and chin. It looked a bit like a grumpy old man!

amarna potBritish Museum

So, this is a blue lapis lazuli amulet. It has the hybrid form of a vultures body and a human head. I personally had never seen anything quite like this, but I will admit it’s not my specialist area, more of a curiosity. So I began thinking, is it an amulet to represent the Ba bird? The character or uniqueness of someone, the aspect of a person the ancient Egyptians believed would live on after death. It certainly has character in the face! The Ba was represented as half human half bird, and would take flight from the tomb to re-join the Ka (soul). However, when I looked at other amulets that represented the Ba I was met with pictures of hybrid forms that seemed to take on more of a falcon like body, or alternatively the wings were outstretched (see below). While I am not ruling this out, I would need more evidence (and more time to research) to find out the answers.

Other examples of Ba amulets and figurines seem to have a more falcon like body, whereas on this amulet you can clearly see the back wings hunched over like a vulture.

Ba-bird, 6-4th century B.C. EgyptianEgyptian Ba statue

amarna potAmulet representing Ba bird

Perhaps instead, the amulet symbolised Nekhbet the vulture goddess of Upper Egypt, however, she isn’t usually portrayed as a hybrid, instead she retains her vulture face as well as body. Her wings are almost always out in a protective way. I wonder if I could see the amulet face on whether there would be more to tell.

I will keep searching and researching on this one, but in the meantime if you have more information on this amulet or a similar piece, then please do get in contact and share!

Best wishes,

Ankh Nfr

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MUSEUM PIECE: Amarna blue pottery with interesting detail

Amarna pots

                                                            Amarna Jar                                                                                                                     Amarna blue pottery

Above, are two brilliant examples of Amarna blue pottery, a distinctive form of storage vessel from just before, during and just after the Amarna period.

First I will talk about what exactly they are in terms of how they were made and function.

Most examples of Amarna blue pottery were made out of Nile fabric and the blue pigment came from cobalt aluminate (CoAl2O4, presumably from the Dakhleh oasis in the Western Desert. Generally speaking, the pottery decorations consist mainly of geometric lines and floral motifs. Floral motifs seem to imitate actual garlands, but the shape of the pots may have just leant itself to the decoration looking like garlands. However, actual garlands have been seen in tomb decoration wrapped around storage vessels (as seen below). We see this in a party or festival scene in the Tomb of Nebamun and perhaps this form of decoration on the Amarna blue pots was to replicate this. It has also been suggested that the frequency of lotus flower decoration may be because those vessels used for wine, the wine may have been infused with lotus. Perhaps these type of vessels were used for parties or festivals.

Amarna pots

amarna pot

                                                                  Floral motif                                                                                                                      Fauna motif

However, the second of the complete pots I am talking about in this post has two eyes of Horus, which suggests either a link to royalty or to the funerary cult, so would they have been for storage? It is interesting that the two pots I am discussing in this article both have elements which are linked to the religious principles of ancient Egypt. Let’s not forget though that during the Amarna period, the time when the capital of Egypt was based in Middle Egypt at Amarna, the “old gods” were not venerated. Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV) had all but abolished the 3000 year old pantheon of gods to raise up the cult of the Aten (the sun god). The original vessels in this post were both discovered at Amarna, the city of the Aten, so why then does the first have a carving of the cow goddess Hathor whilst the second has two Horus eyes painted on. It is not unusual to find artefacts linked to the older pantheon at Amarna, private religion does not always match that of public religion and it is apparent that the inhabitants of Amarna may not have desired to change their religion. These are really beautiful pots and I would imagine they belonged to a wealthier inhabitant. There is no specific provenance as to the area of the city it was discovered, so I can’t narrow it down to a household or type of household, or whether perhaps they were for funerary purposes. It has conversely been asserted that primarily Amarna blue pottery was made in royal residences or palaces by select and skilled craftsmen. The poorer classes would have had similar but the vessels were made of poorer materials and the decoration would be poor quality. I think the decoration is lovely, in my opinion, but a look in to the actual material could help ascertain who would have owned one of these pots. I would find it odd that one of these pots belonged to a royal, because of the iconography discussed previously. It would also be interesting if we knew if any remnants or residues were left behind inside which could be further investigated.

All the best,

Ankh nfr

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MUSEUM PIECE: Unfinished Stele of Nebheq

This is a most fascinating artefact housed in the Museum of fine arts in Boston.

Unfinished stele of Nebheq

This gives great insight in to how these stelae were actually made and how carvings were completed. I love how crude the images are, perhaps even done firstly by a novice craftsman such as we see in Horemheb’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings, where novices are seen to be corrected by master craftsmen. The two styles of relief are displayed here we see raised and bas relief and I wonder why the artist chose to use both? This could support the argument further that this was a practice piece, with the craftsmen experimenting with the two forms of carving. In fact, the more I look at it, particularly the detail of the face and other features the more I believe it was a novice artist who undertook this. I don’t know who Nebheq was, the museum dates it between the Old Kingdom-1st Intermediate Period, and the provenance as Dendera (but not specific). I note also there is an unfinished bee in the middle right, linked to royalty as”nswt bjty” in the Pharaoh’s titularly. Interestingly I have seen it used in conjunction with the Queen of the 4th dynasty Khentkaus I, her title, mwt nswt bity nswt bity, is proposed to be read as  “The Mother of two Kings of Upper and Lower Egypt”. Was the inscription on this stele going to tell us she was a Queen? Mother to a King? There is a fan bearer and an attendant at her feet. There is however, also a child behind her which clings to her hands, she could have been a wet nurse for a King. Unfortunately, my Egyptian language is not what it used to be (an area I hope to develop fully in the next year) so I cannot accurately transliterate and translate the broken text. Maybe this will be something to revisit later on as well as looking for other contemporary pieces.

If anyone has any more information or ideas about this artefact I would be very interested in hearing from you.

Best wishes,

Ankh Nfr

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Care for some ‘meat mummies’ with your stale bread?

It would appear that the ancient Egyptians had a desire to preserve meat to take for sustenance in the afterlife. It would make sense seeing as they took almost everything else from their daily life with them, and if it wasn’t there in tangible form it appeared in artwork somewhere in the tomb. So, it seems only natural that the ancient Egyptians wanted to take all kinds of dietary goodies with them to the other side. Ancient Egyptians were masters of mummification and preservation so it will come as no surprise that they knew exactly what to do with a rack of ribs… mummify it of course! Above you can see a picture of one of these so called ‘meat mummies’ and an x-ray which shows clearly the ribs inside. King Tutankhamun went to his tomb with 48 cases of beef and poultry!

Little research has been done of these ‘meat mummies’ until recently, but now biochemical analysis has been conducted on four samples from varying time periods. It was interesting to see that a luxury resin from a pistacia tree (a desert shrub) was used on a beef cut from the tomb of Yuya and Thuya, the resin itself was usually reserved for varnishing high quality coffins and wasn’t even used in human mummification until 600 years later. However, Yuya and Thuya were the parents of the Queen of Amenhotep III, it goes without saying that they were affluent and influential and the funeral would have been conducted with no-expenses spared.

Full article Via Discovery

All the best,

Ankh Nfr

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PICTURES: Tomb of “new” pharaoh Senebkay

Incredible colour left in the decoration of the tomb.

Note the cartouche beneath the Horus wings, that is of Senebkay, we know him to be a King as he has the son or Ra Hieroglyphics accompanying it.

Common funerary iconography, we can see Ankhs (life) held by the goddesses Neith and Nut, and the Wadjet eyes of Horus (protection, royalty, health) beneath the wings of Horus.

Pillaged goods: Not much remains because the tomb was looted, probably in antiquity.

Pictures via Discovery

Best wishes,

Ankh Nfr

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Blood sucking parasites discovered on ancient Egyptian dog!

mummified dog with parasites, ticks
Brilliant preservation shown in a mummified dog from El Deir via Livescience

The remains of over 400 dog mummies have been discovered in the ancient site of El Deir, an ancient Roman fortress from the late third-century AD. Fascinatingly, one of the dogs was so well preserved (as seen pictured above) that the remains of two ectoparasites remained. The parasites identified are the common brown tick and louse fly. Both are known to carry harmful diseases, to both dogs and humans. It is an interesting discovery for attempts to understand the co-evolution of disease in mammals.

It is rare to find ectoparasites, as they live outside of the body, however they were attested in Greek literature but are now slowly being archaologically proven.

The mummified dog was discovered in one of many tombs that surrounded the Roman fortress. The hardened skin remains of maturing fly larvae also suggests that the dying or dead dog attracted two species of carrion flies before it was mummified. It certainly appears there was no foul play, so this dog almost certainly died of natural causes and was not sacrificed to the jackal headed God Anubis. In fact, it was stipulated by the discoverers that the dog likely died of a disease called babesiosis, a condition that destroys red blood cells. This has been asserted because the dog was young, and it is known that ticks carry this disease.

Many questions remain about the mummified dogs of El Deir. Archaeologists are trying to answer questions like whether the dogs were domesticated, where they came from, if they had owners and whether they were sacrificed or died of natural causes. All the answers will further highlight the relationship between man and man’s best friend, as well as elucidating ideas on why animals were in fact mummified. Commonly, mummified animals served as offerings to gods, to eat in the afterlife or to be as pets.

It will be interesting to see the outcome of further research.

Full article here: Livescience

Best wishes,

Ankh Nfr

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NEWS: 13th Dynasty tomb discovered in Upper Egypt

The Egyptiana Emporium

20140106-195209.jpg(Source: Luxor Times).

“Dr. Mohamed Ibrahim announced today the discovery of the tomb of King Sobekhotep (1786-1763) who is probably the first King of the 13th Dynasty.

The tomb was discovered by Pennsylvania University mission working south of Abydos, Sohag.

The Minister said that the first lead in this discovery was when the huge quartzite sarcophagus weighing 60 tonnes was found in 2013 then last week, parts of tablet were found depicting the name of the King and showing him sitting on his throne.

Parts of canonic jars and funerary objects were also found” – via Luxor Times.

Read more here.

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