Wednesday, 6 July 2016

My first week at the Egypt Centre/ Mi primera semana en al Centro Egipcio

Guest blog from Juan Dawber, MA student on placement from the Department of Languages, Translation and Communication at Swansea University.

I must say this first week at the Egypt Centre has been a great experience for me. I have met very nice friendly people and have been very happy with my internment choice. Since an early age I have been very interested in History despite the fact that my Master´s degree here in Swansea is in a different subject (MA Translation and Interpreting), so the opportunity presented to me of learning more about the History of Ancient Egypt has been most interesting as it is a subject to a large extent hitherto unknown to me. My only source of information had been films and things I had read in books, but that has been nothing compared to the detail I have learnt here.

My work colleagues have shown me all the objects and material on view to the public, the work involved such as checking that everything is in its correct place, especially the books, for example, and keeping everything neat and tidy and getting a general idea of where everything is in the Museum. 

They also showed me on the very first day the mummy Bob on which the mummification process was done by them a couple of times so as to have a general idea how was done, and this without taking into account the ones I have observed and looked after (studied) throughout the week. I also liked the Hall of Death on the lower floor very much where you can find everything related to the Gods, the religions, the tombs and the funeral rituals. All this latter being more related to the everyday activities through all the periods of Egyptian life; the dynasties, the scriptures, the war weaponry etc.

 I must say in general it has been a very positive experience for me and I would like to thank my colleagues in the museum for being so friendly and helpful. And with very special thanks to Syd for accepting me and letting me have the opportunity to work in the Museum.

Debo decir que mi primera experiencia en el Museo egipcio ha sido muy positiva, la gente y mis compañeros  todos muy agradables y una buena atmósfera de gente, por lo que estoy muy contento a día de hoy con este periodo de prácticas. A pesar de que el Máster que curso aquí es de Traducción e Interpretación, siempre me ha interesado la historia desde pequeño y aunque esto sea un campo algo distinto a lo que estoy estudiando en la universidad, me alegro de poder saber algo nuevo que es la historia del antiguo Egipto la cual es desconocida para mí. Lo único que he oído o visto sobre ese periodo histórico ha sido a través de películas, algunos libros y durante mi periodo de educación básica en el colegio, pero sin especificar de la manera como se hace aquí. Los compañeros del museo me han ayudado y también enseñado todo el material y los objetos expuestos al público, así como los chequeos que se van realizando durante el horario de trabajo donde nos aseguramos de que todo esté ordenado y en su sitio, como por ejemplo los libros, que todo esté limpio y una idea general de donde está todo.

El mismo día que empecé también me enseñaron el muñeco momia Bob en donde me  hicieron la demostración del proceso de momificación como un par de veces dos compañeros míos, sin contar tampoco las veces que tuve que ejercer de asistente a lo largo de la semana.

Me gustó mucho la Sala de la muerte, donde además de la momia Bob, se encuentra todo lo relacionado con la religión, dioses, lápidas, tumbas y rituales funerarios a los muertos. Después tenemos la Sala de la vida en el primer piso, en la que se encuentra todo lo relacionado con las actividades generales diarias a través de los distintos periodos en el antiguo Egipto, ya sean dinastías, escrituras, armas de guerra, artesanía etc.

En general esta primera semana ha sido una experiencia positiva para mí y me gustaría agradecer a mis compañeros por el apoyo y la ayuda recibida. Y en especial agradecer a Syd por darme la oportunidad de poder hacer mis prácticas aquí.


Thursday, 23 June 2016

A head, a collector, leeches and dwarves


I photographed this object on Monday in advance of a talk, and have just found out a little bit more about it's history which I would like to share.

It is a head part from a Third Intermediate Period coffin (so around 3000 years old). It's made of wood and is around 24cm high. The wood is covered with plaster and then painted. The yellow colour suggests that this was from a woman's coffin, as women tended to be painted with yellow paint.

It has a label on the back showing that it was part of the Wellcome collection. Most of the objects in out museum are part of that collection, collected by Sir Henry Wellcome, the pharmacist. More about him here. But where did he get the object from.

Well apparently it was given to him in 1927 by someone who was well known as an Egyptologist, though had never been to Egypt, Warren R. Dawson. Warren Dawson (1888-1968), was encouraged by the curator of the British Museum, Wallis Budge, to study Egyptology. If you google his name, you will see he wrote various articles including the curiously titled Magician and Leech: A Study in the Beginnings of Medicine with Special Reference to Ancient Egypt, a paper on pygmies and dwarves and also material which he published with Grafton Elliot Smith, well known to students of the history of archaeology. Obviously a scholarly gentleman, who knew several other scholarly gentlemen, he was also interested in science and medicine.

Friday, 17 June 2016

A Magic Wand

This is a fragment of a magic wand on loan to us from the British Museum. British Museum EA38192 is16cm long, and made from a  hippopotamus tooth.

In the Middle Kingdom to Second Intermediate Period (2055–1550 BC) these mysterious ‘apotropaic wands’ appear. Around 150 are known in museums around the world. It is possible that these continued into the New Kingdom as they are depicted in New Kingdom tombs, for example that of Rekhmire (Roberson 2009, footnote 66).

These things are usually made of hippopotamus canine teeth, split in half to produce two curved wands with one side convex and the other flat. Hippopotamus tooth is incredibly hard so this would have been difficult to make. So hard in fact that a 2006 television documentary ('The Darkside of the Hippos' broadcast on Channel Five on 31.5.2006) stated that the tusk could reputedly stop bullets. The material possibly invoked Taweret a hippopotamus goddess of childbirth. It is possible that hippopotamus ivory was considered important because of the power, strength and mothering qualities of the female hippo.

Although the whole is usually carefully carved and polished, with well executed animal heads forming the ends of more complete examples; the mythical creatures depicted thereon appear much more roughly engraved. Perhaps this shows that the making of the complete, but un-engraved wands, was carried out by one group of skilled people and the engravings of the animals by another less skilled group. However, not all wands depict roughly executed animals. A fragment of a wand from the Berlin Museum (9611) was described by Adolf Erman as ‘the finest ivory working I have ever seen’.  It has a beautifully executed toad and jackal standard in raised relief (Oppenheim et al. 2015: 200­–201 with references).

The engravings upon such wands depict deities associated with the protection of young infants and with childbirth, for example the frog goddess Hekat, Taweret and Bes. This broken wand from the British Museum has an image of a frog deity holding a knife blade in its foot. On other knives too, deities often carry protective knives or snakes. The inscriptions also bear witness to the fact that these ‘wands’ are intended to be protective, e.g. ‘Cut off the head of the enemy when he enters the chamber of the children whom the lady…has borne’ and ‘Protection by night, protection by day’ (Steindorff 1946, 50).

The series of mythical animals on wands like this often all face the same way as though in a procession. However, in this one, as in a few other examples (e.g. Louvre 3614 published in Oppenheim, et al. 2015: 200), there appear to be two ‘processions’ facing one another.

On British Museum EA38192, the image on the far left on the wand appears to be a snake. Only its head is shown. In front of the snake is a mythical creature, a serpent-necked feline with spotted coat (these are sometimes called ‘serpopards’). The serpotard appears to have been a Sumerian motif introduced into Egypt in the Naqada II Period. Such creatures appear on other apotropaic wands, e.g. an example in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA 22.1.154, in Hayes 1953 vol. 2, fig. 159) and Walters Art Gallery 71.510 (Capel and Markoe 1996, 64). They also appear on the faience feeding cup also on the Metropolitan Museum of Art, though here without spots (MMA 44.4.4). Since such items seem to occur with other apotropaic creatures, and at least one is shown with the sa-sign for protection on its back (Walters Art Gallery 71.510), it is assumed that the serpent-necked feline is also apotropaic.

In front of the serpopard is a seated ape holding a wedjat eye. It faces a standard with a canine head atop. The canine head, on, or as part of a standard, represents wsr, the sign for power and also appears on Walters Art Gallery apotropaic wand 71.510, The Waters example, however is not so clearly depicted as a standard but rather as a canine head with legs. In both the Walters example and the British Museum example here, the sign holds a knife.

The Walters Art Gallery Example example, also shows a sun-disk with legs, which can be seen as the figure on the furthest right on the British Museum wand.

At the far right are a series of parallel lines. Often such wands have an animal head at one or both ends.

Inscriptions also usually name the mother and the child. The child is invariably a boy. There could be several reasons for this. The first might be that these items were only made for boys. The second might be that as most of the tombs in which the wands were found belonged to men, most of the wands belonged to men, but this does not mean that girls did not have them in life. The preponderance of male names may also be a result of putting names on tusks before the birth of the child and indicate that male children were usually hoped for (Szpakowska 2008, 30). But, the fact that these items were repaired and spells thereon suggest several children it seems likely that these were used for girl as well as boy babies.

Egyptologists usually claim these wands were used to protect women in childbirth or young children, though most have been found in tombs. The fact that the points of some wands are worn away on one side has suggested to some that they were used to draw a magic circle around the child (Hayes 1953, 249). Some examples have perforations at each end with a cord running through perhaps to carry or move other objects (Teeter and Johnson 2009, 77). On tomb walls wands are shown being carried by nurses (Robins 1993, 87) but here their presence shows that they had a secondary function of protecting the deceased at the time of their rebirth.

This item is published in:
Altenmüller, H. 1983. Ein Zaubermesser aus Tübingen, In Welt des Orient 14, 30-45

Goodridge, Wendy and Williams, Stuart 2006. Offerings from the British Museum, Swansea.

References and further reading

Altenmüller, H. 1965. Die Apotropaia und die Götter Mittelägyptens : eine typologische und religionsgeschichtliche Untersuchung der sogenannten "Zaubermesser" des Mittleren Reichs. Munich.

Altenmüller, H. 1983. Ein Zaubermesser aus Tübingen, In Welt des Orient 14, 30-45.

Capel, A.K. and Markoe, G. (eds.) 1996. Mistress of the House, Mistress of Heaven. Women in Ancient Egypt. New York: Cincinnati Art Museum, Brooklyn Museum.

Hayes, W.C. 1953. The Sceptre of Egypt. A background for the study of Egyptian antiquities in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Volume I. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Oppenheim, A., Arnold, D., Arnold D. and Yamamoto, K. 2015. Ancient Egypt Transformed. The Middle Kingdom. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: New York.

Roberson, J. 2009. The Early History of ‘New Kingdom’ Netherworld iconography: A Late Middle Kingdom Apotropaic Wand Reconsidered.  In eds. Silverman, D.P., Simpson, W.K. and Wegner, J. (eds.) Archaism and Innovation: Studies in the Culture of Middle Kingdom Egypt. New Haven, and Philadelphia, 427–445.

Robins, G. 1993. Women in Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press.

Szpakowska, K. 2008. Daily Life in Ancient Egypt. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Steindorff, G. 1946. The magical knives of ancient Egypt. Journal of the Walters Art Gallery, 9, 41-51; 106-107.

Teeter, E. and Johnson, J.H. 2009. The Llife of Meresamun. A Temple Singer in Ancient Egypt. Chicago: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Guest Blog: Swansea University Heritage Skills Placement, Sean McGrevey

Sean with 3000 year old coffin of a lady musician
Starting from the 24th May 2016, I’ve been involved in a work experience programme at the Egypt Centre, located in the Taliesin building on Swansea University’s Singleton Campus. The Centre operates as a learning facility for young children to come to, ranging from various ages and venturing from numerous primary schools across England and Wales. My work experience was part of a placement initially organised by the College of Arts and Humanities to give me a chance to work in the heritage sector and understanding the daily operations of a rather unique museum. Also, the placement is meant to give me a platform to pursue other heritage work in the coming years.
            On the ground, the Centre is run by a fairly small core set of staff compared to other larger museums, and then the galleries are largely shadowed and assisted by a large volunteer base. This allows as many people who would like to get involved in heritage work to get a taste of life in the field, and for those who volunteer their time consistently; this format allows working in teams that are never the same and meeting a large amount of people from different backgrounds and walks of life; which is largely rewarding. I have engaged in customer service, shadowing various activities, even conducting a mummification activity on my own.
            The galleries themselves are fascinating to me, as someone who has not studied Egyptology or any ancient civilisations in any depth. The various coffins, mummified animals and precious gemstones form parts of the Houses of Death and Life where the exhibits are held, allowing a contrasted insight into daily Egyptian life and evolving patterns over the various periods. For less intellectual heavy material aimed for younger audiences, the Centre offers a mummification activity for children to wrap their own (doll) mummy, and an enlarged board for the game of Senet, which is similar to the game of Snakes and Ladders. Whilst these two examples are fun for the children and allow them to be interactive, they serve as an accurate representation of things ancient Egyptians would do in their time period, following on from the educational aspects the Centre aims to provide.
            The main plus for the Centre, as stated at the beginning, is its unique nature. The Centre’s outreach to local schools and the wider community differentiates the Centre from larger national museums which often times let the reputations of the museum itself attract the visitors with little work. The Egypt Centre’s volunteers having exposure to working with children provides valuable experience for those who wish to go into teaching or other working environment with younger people.
            To conclude, the Egypt Centre’s charm is its laid back but professional atmosphere and its dedication to the education of young students with a keen interest to learn. The various workshops, gallery exhibits and games allow variety of what can be seen and what can be done, and over the course of the two weeks I have been a part of the Centre, there has not been a day where I have not learnt something new or discovered something previously missed. This is important to attempt to know what it will be like should I work in a national museum in the future; if I am discovering new things every day in a smaller museum, what will it be like in a larger, national museum? This is an exciting prospect, and I’m happy for the Egypt Centre to have given me this insight.

Sean McGrevey, MA in Modern History Student, Swansea University.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Pseudo Mummies or Mummified Foetuses?

I don't have the answer here but was prompted to write something by the recent interest in a newly discovered foetus mummy in the Fitzwilliam Museum and also one which we have known about for a couple of years from the Egypt Centre in Swansea. Both have been CT scanned to show that they have the remains of a foetus therein. Both are young. The Fitzwilliam one is estimated at 'no more than 18 weeks' and the Egypt Centre one at 12-16 weeks.

W1013. This was first thought to be fake because of its meaningless hieroglyphs and because the X-ray showed no bones
CT scan showing foetus and placental sac

The Egypt Centre example, was at first thought to be a pseudo-mummy, partly on the grounds that the hieroglyphs down the centre are false, and partly because when we had it X-rayed nothing can be seen. The story of it and more detail on the findings are available here.

There are very many pseudo-mummies in museums around the world, and many have been shown by X-rays to contain a few random bones (Piombino-Mascal, et al. 2014), sometimes not human. However, some have been X-rayed, but not CT scanned, and seem to show nothing.

However, with foetal mummies X-rays may very well not show bones (Germer et al 1994). The bones would have been far too small to appear. But, could it be that, like the Egypt Centre example, a CT scan, might show foetal remains.

Pseudo-mummies are often small, no more than 50cm long, and certainly some, as stated above, are fake, in that they may either not contain bones or not be ancient Egyptian. Some of these were made for 18th and 19th century century collectors, looking for mummies to use in medicines or as souvenirs of Egypt. Some may even have been faked in ancient times by unscrupulous embalmers, or even perhaps, by individuals in ancient times wanting a burial for a preterm infant, where the remains were not available.

However, there are projects underway examining 'pseudo-mummies'. For example the Vatican Mummy Project, and work carried out at Manchester. Hopefully, as their work progresses we will have more light on ancient Egyptian burial practices regarding foetal remains, as well as on genuine pseudo-mummies, both ancient Egyptian and more recent.

Further Reading

Germer, R., Kischkewitz, H. Lünning, M. 1994. Pseudo-mumien der ägyptischen Sammlung, Berlin, SAK, 21, 81-94.

Piombino-Mascal, D, Jankauskas, R., Snitkuviene, A. McKnight, L., Longo, M. and Longo, S. 2014 Radiological assessment of two pseudo-mummies from the National Museum of Lithuanaia, JSSEA, 40, 69-77. (accessed May 2016).

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Bes the watery deity of betwixt and between

Carrying on from last week's post on Bes [1] and masking, I thought I would explore some ideas on the Bes entity, as a deity associated with water. This seems to be related to his association with the marsh land and the myth of The Return of the Distant One [2].  

First the water connection: 
We have in the Egypt Centre a Horus stela, or cippus, AB110. This is it: You can find out more about it generally on our YouTube video or here. It shows the god Horus the Child (Harpocrates) holding snakes and standing on crocodiles. Above him is the mask of Bes. The cippus is associated with water. Some large Horus stelae from temples, for example the stela of Djedher the Saviour, from Athribis, now in Cairo Museum (accession number 46341; Jelinkova-Reymond 1956), have basins to collect water, which it is assumed was used in healing or protection rites. On cippi, Horus the Child is depicted defeating animals of the water such as crocodiles. I return to this point below. Several cippi have spells against dangerous water animals. For example, one of the most well-known cippi, the 30th Dynasty Metternich stela in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (accession number 50.85) includes the story of Horus in Marsh. 

Bes's watery connection is not only cippi related. From the New Kingdom he is associated with the part hippopotamus goddess Taweret (known variously as Opet, Reret, Isis, etc.). The pair are frequently shown together on Divine Birth scenes, on bed legs (see Egypt Centre W2052). Taweret is a goddess of the marshes. On The Metternich Stela, when in the marshes, Horus was said to be under the protection of various deities including ‘The Great Dwarf’. On the same stela, Isis tells her son Horus that a ‘sow and a dwarf’ were his protectors (Borghouts 1978, 70). The sow might be Taweret and the dwarf could be Bes. Hippopotami were known by the Egyptians as ‘water pigs’ (Reret means sow; more on piggishness of Taweret here). Taweret is also associated withthe story of the Return of the Distant One (Darnell 1995, 90–91). One might also add that Bes's sometime pendulous breasts link him with both Taweret and the Nile god, Hapy.

Bes and Taweret Bed legs

But, Bes also has his own marsh connections. He appears on 22nd–25th Dynasty votive beds in marsh scenes (Vesco 2009;Teeter 2010). It has been stated that such votive beds were associated with female rebirth but also with the Inundation and the story of the Return of the Distant One, Hathor and the Plucking the Papyrus ritual (the Plucking of the Papyrus ritual is associated with Hathor. Bes's connection with it might help explain why he appears on sistra (e.g. Egypt Centre W553), apart from his interest in music. The rustling of the papyrus was said to sound like the ancient Egyptian word for a sistrum, seseshet)The Metropolitan Museum of Art has an amulet dating from the 27th–30th Dynasties with a Bes head one side and Isis and Horus in the marshes on the other (Met. Mus. of Art 42.5.19). The associated with the Return of the Distant One may in part explain Bes’ associated with Shu. Not only are both thought of as being between heaven and earth, but Shu is one of the deities sometimes credited with bringing back the Distant Goddess. By the Graeco-Roman Period, Bes is well known to dance at the return of the Distant Goddess (Darnell 1995, 91; Richter 2010, 155–166; Barrett 2011, 274).

Also relating to the Graeco-Roman Period, Török (1995, 63) refers to a depiction of priests wearing ostrich feathers, who are sprinkling water, which he believes may show them imitating Bes. On the same page. Török also refers to refers Graeco Roman terracottas of Bes and Harpocrates with water pots. Barrett (2011, 288–290) also discusses this aspect, including the role of Bes vases of the New Kingdom and later (see Egypt Centre EC257; EC546; W1283; W1702).

W1702 Bes vessel
Perhaps a less significant water connection is the fact that Bes also appears on a Ptolemaic sha-basin from Naukratis (British Museum 1885,1101.22 (number 2). Usually it is Hathor who appears on such objects. There are also Roman Bes figures as fountains, for example Fitzwilliam Museum GR.1.1818 (Willems and Clarysse 1999, 290).

Bes may have gained an association with water because of his leonine features. The lion head image was commonly used as a water spout on Egyptian temples.

So it seems the earlier watery associations of Bes are to do with the marsh scenes and the story of Return of the Distant One. 

The return of the Distant one in the New Kingdom and later, celebrates the annual flooding of the Nile and parallels it to the dangerous aggressive Sekhmet becoming the peaceful, gentle Hathor. Bes dances to welcome Hathor's return. The festival is a time of transition. It is also associated with adolescent daughters in private tombs of the New Kingdom (Graves-Brown 2015). In the previous post we saw how Bes and masking were possibly linked, and how this deity appeared to be a deity of transition. One might see the Return of the Distant One as a similar transitional festival with aggressive Sekhemet becoming the gentle Hathor, and some emphasis on female adolescence, a time of change.  

Further Reading and References

Barrett, C. E. 2011. Egyptianizing Figurines from Delos. A Study in Hellenistic Religion. Brill.

Berlandini, J. 2002. “Un monument magique du ,Quatrième prophète d’Amon’ Nakhtemout”, In La magie en Égypte: À la recherché d’une définition; Actes du colloque organisé par le musée du Louvre les 29 et 30 septembre 2000, edited by Y. Koenig, pp. 85148. Paris: Musée du Louvre.

Bourghouts, J.F. 1978. Ancient Egyptian Magical Texts. Leiden.

Counts, D.B. and Toumazou, M.K. 2006. “New Light on the Iconography of Bes in Archaic Cyprus”, In Common Ground: Archaeology, Art, Science, and Humanities - Proceedings of the XVI International Congress of Classical Archaeology, edited by A. Donohue and C. Mattusch. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 565–569.

Darnell, J.C. 1995. Hathor Returns to Medamûd. Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur, 22, 47–94.

Graves-Brown, C. 2015. Hathor, Nefer and Daughterhood in New Kingdom Private Tombs. In Navratilova, H. and Landgráfová, R. (eds.) Prague, 15–33.

Jelínková-Reymond, E. (1956), Les Inscriptions de la statue guérisseuse de Djed-Her-Le-Sauveur (Bibliothèque d’Étude 23; Cairo: Impr. de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale).

Lefebvre, G, 1931. La statue <<guérisseuse>> du Musée du Louvre, BIFAO, 30, 89–96.

Malaise, M. 1990. “Bes et les croyances solaires”, in Israelit-Groll, S. (ed.), Studies in Egyptology Presented to Miriam Lichtheim, Jerusalem, 680–729.

Nunn, J.F. 2002. Ancient Egyptian Medicine, London, 107–110.

Quibell, M.J.E. 1908. Catalogue Général des Antiquités Égyptiennes du Musée du Caire No. 50001-51191. Tomb of Yuaa and Thuia, Cairo.

Richter, B.A. 2010. On the Heels of the Wandering Goddess. The Myth and Festival at the Temples of Wadi el-Hallel and Dendera. In Dolińska, M. and Beinlich, H. (eds.) Ägyptologische Tempeltagung, Interconnections Between Temples, Warsaw 25th–26th September 2008, Weisbaden: Harrassowitz-Verlag, 155–186.

Ritner, R.K.1989. "Horus on the Crocodiles: a Juncture of Religion and Magic in Late Dynastic Egypt", in Allen, J.P. (ed.), Religion and Philosophy in Ancient Egypt, New Haven, 103­–116.

Ritner, R.K. 1993. The Mechanics if Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice, Chicago.

Seele, K.C. 1947. Horus on the Crocodiles, Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 6, 43–52.

Sternberg-el-Hotabi, H. 1987. Die Götterdarstellungen der Metternichsele, Göttinger Miszellen, 97, 25–70.

Sternberg-el-Hotabi, H. 1994. Der Untergang der Hieroglyphenschrift, Chronique d’Egypte 69, 218–248.

Sternberg-el-Hotabi, H. 1999. Untersuchungen zur Überlieferungsgeschichte der Horusstelen: ein Beitrag zur Religiongeschichte Ägyptens im 1. Jahrtausand v. Chr. Wiesbaden.

Teeter, E. 2010. Baked Clay Figurines and Votive Beds from Medinet Habu. Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

Török, L. 1995. Hellenistic and Roman Terracottas from Egypt. Rome.

Vesco,  P. Del. 2009. A Votive bed fragment in the Egyptian Museum of Florence (Italy). EVO XXXII, 31–37.

Willems, H. and Clarysse, W. (eds.) 1999. Keizers aan de Nijl. Exhibition Tongeren. Leuven: Peeters.

[1] Bes is not one deity, but a group of deities, here I have defined him as a dwarf deity with leonine head.
[2]The Story of the Return of the Distant One, is first written down in the New Kingdom but was probably earlier. It relates how the daughter of the sun god went on the rampage in Nubia, killing humankind. She is brought back to Egypt by a male god, variously Thoth, or Shu, or others and becomes peaceful and pacified. Her return is marked by celebration including drunkenness. See Richter (2010, 155) for references.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Shamans, Masks and Bes, Again!

Cippus, notice the Bes head above Horus the Child
I've been reading some interesting stuff recently. It all started as I was thinking about the Bes objects in the Egypt Centre. Many of them seem to show Bes’s head but not the rest of him. For example, we have Bes head amulets, a Bes head bell, Bes head pottery vessels. Our cippus has Bes's head only.

Bes bell

This seems to suggest that that it was the head that was the most important bit. While this may be natural, most other deities tend to be shown with their full body. Perhaps Hathor is the sometime exception, where her head appeared particularly powerful. Both and Bes and Hathor are unusual in Egyptian art with their heads turned towards the viewer.

Bes holding his tail
So, maybe, the Bes head is actually showing that the ancient experience of Bes was through a masked human, maybe a dwarf, or child (when Bes is shown with his body he appears dwarf-like)? The way New Kingdom Bes’s are shown holding their tails might support this idea that the Bes the ancients were thinking of was a dressed up human. If one is cavorting around in a costume, a long tail might get in the way, hence the need to keep a hold of it. If one was a real deity, one would expect that one could control one’s tail!

Maybe this doesn’t matter, but it does raise some interesting related issues. For example, did the ancient Egyptians have shaman-like figures, where, the human might become an actual deity through costume and masking? Masks enable people to cross over from one sphere to another. Masking activities may be dismissed as mere 'role play', but it is possible that they actually represented the actual becoming a deity. There is non-Bes related supporting information for shamanic type ideas in ancient Egypt. For example, one might see the cloaked king in the Sed festival as renewing his divinity, then there is the evidence for masked Anubis priests. But, we’re on Bes here, so back to him.

A masked figure, allowing a crossing over from one realm to another would be perfect as a protector in liminal areas. And Bes does seem to be associated with liminal areas. He appears fro example on artefacts to do with Birth (apotropaic wands, a birthing stool, etc.). He appears on things to do with sleep and dreamers are between worlds, and he appears in areas associated with death and transition to death. He is also associated with music and musicians. In some cultures musicians are considered to be possessed by daemons. We do not know if this was the case in ancient Egypt. However, in some New Kingdom tomb scenes, the musician is turned towards the viewer, which might suggest and apotropaic or liminal quality (Graves-Brown 2015, 22). Bes is also associated with female adolescence, though in the New Kingdom these tend to be musicians (Graves-Brown 2015, 23). One might also posit that he appears in areas associated with puberty rites (see below). He also appears in areas associated with the story of the Return of the Distant One, in which the angry goddess of Eye, Sekhemet turns into the peaceful Hathor. This story is associated with female adolescence (Graves-Brown 2015), a time of transition. There is a little more on this, in the next blog post dealing with Bes as a god of watery abodes.

First, what is the evidence for Bes masks, apart from that listed above? Well, Bes covers a whole host of deities, some not all called Bes, so here I should state that I am using the term to cover leonine-headed, dwarf deities.

The earliest possible evidence for a masked 'Bes' is a fragment in the BritishMuseum (EA994). It belongs to the 5th Dynasty and shows a lion-headed figure dancing with children. He holds up his tail. This has been seen as a puberty rite (similar scenes without Bes are described and discussed by Janssen and Janssen 1990, 62-66). Above the figure is written: xb.t jn SdXt translated by Smith (1946, 210) as ‘dance of the SdXt youth’ (Capart 1931). See Weis (2009, 201 footnote 72) for different interpretations of translation. Bes is well known as a protector of children and it is possible that he started out, not as a dwarf wearing a mask, but maybe as a child wearing a mask (an idea suggested by Penny Wilson). There is another Old Kingdom relief in Leipzig (Number 2095)showing an androgynous figure wearing a mask (Wente 1969, 86–8) and a third now in Berlin. Horváth (2015, 138) discusses all three.  There are also Middle Kingdom statuettes of boys wearing such masks, for example the Middle Kingdom ivory figure from Sedment  (Petrie Museum UC 16069; Petrie and Brunton, 1924, 18, pl. XL; 27, pl. XLII, 7).

Of the actual evidence for masks themselves, there is the so called ‘Bes’ mask  from Kahun found in the room of a house in the workman’s village, with a wooden statue of a masked dance nearby, now lost (Petrie 1890, Plate VIII). But is it really Bes? It does look weird. It is now in Manchester Museum (Manchester 123). The masked dancer is much more convincing. The dancer was buried with clappers. A line can be seen dividing the body from head which supports the idea of this being a mask. It has drooping breasts, which might indicate a female persona, or alternatively, if one believes this depicts a divinity rather than a human dressed as a divine figure, it could be a fecund male figure, like Hapy, or a fat males, possibly like the priests in Kheruef's tomb discussed below. There are New Kingdom depictions of Bes breast feeding, which may be relevant here. This Kahun figure is similar to the one from the Ramesseum which is more clearly female, to which I shall return shortly.

There are two other possible Bes masks, both from Deir el-Medina found in house S.E.IX Room 1, which according to the excavator had once contained a ‘lit clos’ though no evidence of it remained (Bruyère, 276–7 and fig. 148). Bruyère assumed the masks had decorated the ‘lit clos’ platform. These are clearly clay Bes heads, and they are life-size, but are they actually masks? Unfortunately the publication doesn't show the backs of them and I'm not sure where they are now (if they still exist). They could just be flat depictions of Bes masks.

The Ramesseum figure of the Late Middle Kingdom has a Bes head, but is it a mask? It has lines on the cheeks, something also seen on other depictions of Bes. These may be jowls or indicate that the mask is a partial face mask covering the upper part of the face.

The New Kingdom tomb of Kheruef (TT192) shows three figures wearing lion masks (discussed by Wente 1969, 86–87). These appear to be either androgynous or overweight males and have pendulous breasts.

By the Graeco-Roman Period, Bes masks seem to have been similar to satyr masks.
So then there does seem to be evidence of people dressed up as Bes throughout Egyptian history.  But this doesn't mean that all depictions of him were necessarily people dressed up.

Volokhine (1994) points out that as dwarf figures in the Old Kingdom go out of use, figures of Bes tend to come in. This might suggest that Bes is derived from the dwarf, perhaps a masked dwarf.

Of course it could be that these Bes heads don't actually represent masks but are related to beheaded deities. For example the Mesopotamian Humbaba with wild locks and staring eyes was beheaded and his head used an an apotropaic charm. There is also the Greek Medusa. There are other examples in other cultures.

This is only part of what could be said about Bes and masking. For more information you might like to read the following:

Bruyère, B. 1939. Fouilles de Deir el Medineh (1934-1935) III. Cairo.

Capart, C. 1931. Note sur un fragment de bas-relief au British Museum [avec 1 planche], Bulletin De L’Institut Français D’Archéologie Orientale, 30,  73–75.

DuQuesne, T. 2001. Concealing and Revealing: The Problem of Ritual Masking in Ancient Egypt, Discussions in Egyptology, 51, 5–31.

Graves-Brown, C. 2015. Hathor, Nefer and Daughterhood in New Kingdom Private Tombs. In Navratilova, H. and Landgráfová, R. (eds.) Prague, 15–33.

Janssen, R.M. and Janssen, J.J. 1990. Growing up in Ancient Egypt. London: The Rubicon Press.

Horváth, Z. Hathor and her Festivals at Lahun, In Miniaci, G. and Grajetski, W. (eds.) The World Of Middle Kingdom Egypt (2000-1550BC). Contributions on archaeology, art, religion and written sources,  Vol. 1., 125–144.

Wente, E.F. 1969. Hathor at the Jubilee In Hauser, E.B. (ed.), Studies in Honor of John A. Wilson. University of Chicago, 83-91.

Petrie, W.M.F. 1890. Kahun, Gurob and Hawara. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner.
Petrie, W.M.F. and Brunton, G. Sedment I, London.

Smith, W.S. 1946. A History of Egyptian Culture and Painting in the Old Kingdom. Boston.

Volokhine, Y. 1994. Dieux, Masques et Hommes: À Propos de la Formation de l’iconographie de Bès. Bulletin de la Société de Egyptologie, Genève, 18, 81–95.

Weis, L. 2009. Personal Religious Practice: House Altars at Deir el-Medina. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 95, 193–208.

Wilson, P. AB. 2011 Masking and Multiple Personas. In Kousoulis, P. (ed.) Ancient Egyptian Demonology. Studies on the Boundaries Between the Demonic and the Divine in Egyptian Magic. Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta Leuven, 77–87.

Friday, 29 April 2016

The Underworld, Anubis and the Greeks

The Egypt Centre has two shrouds from Deir el-Bahri dated to AD 220-270, the Roman Period. They do look a bit odd compared to typical pharaonic iconography. Indeed, early excavators wondered if they were Christian. Well you can see why with the cup, etc. (Added: They are in fact typically Egyptian for the date).

There is some general information about them here. However, today I wanted to concentrate on the depiction of Anubis in canine form with a key around his neck (he is shown twice in symmetry, near the bottom).

This key-carrying links him with the Greek god Aiakos, a judge of the dead. And indeed in Egyptian iconography, one of the roles of Anubis was as a judge of the deceased.

Anubis is sometimes given the title ‘he who is over the scales’ (Seeber 1976, 154) or, as early as the Pyramid Texts (DuQuesne 2005, 465), ‘assessor of hearts’ and ‘overseer of the tribunal’. His role as a judge and his epithet ‘assessor of hearts’ are discussed by Willems (1998). Prior to the 21st Dynasty, Thoth or Horus took the role as deity in charge of the weighing proceedings; during the 21st Dynasty, Anubis takes on this role.

On our shrouds, he has a key around his neck. Anubis with keys also occurs on magical gemstones of the later periods. They are keys to Hades, the Underworld. Many Egyptian texts speak of the afterlife as being celestial, or in the west, or even in some unspecified place, 'yonder'. But here we have the suggestion,  that the deceased lived in Hades; the Underworld. This idea of the afterlife as in the Underworld seems to show a Greek link; one could say it is very much un-Egyptian. Joanne Conman has written a convincing argument which suggests that the Egyptians certainly did not think of the deceased as inhabiting an Underworld, as such a realm did not exist for them, at least in earlier periods.

And, finally, as Terence DuQuesne (1991) explaines, Anubis, as a jackal is an archetypal gatekeeper. One would expect a post Egyptian gatekeeper to hold keys (earlier Egyptian ones are shown with knives).

Conman, J. 2009. It's About Time: Ancient Egyptian Cosmology. SAK, 31, 33-71.

DuQuesne, T. 1991, Jackal at the Shaman's Gate: A Study of Anubis Lord of Ro-Setawe, with the Conjuration to Chthonic Deities (PGM XXIII; pOxy 412). Thame: Darengo.

DuQuesne, T. 2005. The Jackal Divinities of Egypt I. Oxford Communications in Egyptology VI. Oxford: Darengo Publications.

Seeber, C. 1976. Untersuchungen zur Darstellung des Totengerichts im Alten Ägypten. München: Deutscher Kunstverlag.

Willems, H. 1998. ‘Anubis as a Judge’, in Clarysse, W., Schoors, A and Willems, H. (eds.) Egyptian Religion the Last Thousand Years. Studies dedicated to the memory of Jan Quaegebeur. Leuven: Uitgeverij Peeters, 719–743.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Warrior queens, beautiful princesses and gentle Hathor: various aspects of women in ancient Egypt

With Mothers’ Day coming up, and of course International Women's Day, I thought it might be fun to take a quick peak at the varied ways in which women, human and divine, were depicted in ancient Egypt, specifically warrior queens, beautiful princesses, and gentle Hathor types. And before we get onto the Egyptological bit, we do have stuff in our shop which would make perfect gifts for any of these types

There do seem to have been stereotypes, such as the gentle Bastet vs aggressive Sekhmet trope. And, generally, it seems as though women were expected to be meek and gentle. But things are totally two sided.

While women did not enter the army, at times queens do seem to have been buried in ways suggesting warrior attributes. First there is the possible warrior queen, Ahhotep II. Her tomb was discovered in 1859 at Dra Abu el-Naga, Thebes and her coffin bears the title ‘King’s Wife’. Ahhotep II was buried with a dagger and battle axe, as well as three golden fly pendants. You can see a picture of that here, it is from the Wikimedia page about the lady. Such pendants were given as awards for military valour, because good warriors were like flies - persistent, impossible to ward off and numerous! Although the dagger and battle-axe found in the tomb are usually associated with her, they do not actually bear her name and since the Dra Abu el-Naga tomb was not her original burial place, it is possible that the objects belong to another person altogether. The axehead shows Ahmose smiting his enemies. However, the golden fly jewellery was closely associated with the queen, as the pendants were found inside her coffin. Unfortunately, we don't have any golden fly ancient Egyptian necklaces in the Centre, but you can get a replica from our shop!

Another Ahhotep, Ahhotep I, is also credited with aggression. She was the mother of Ahmose, honoured in a stela at Karnak as ‘one who pulled Egypt together, having cared for its army, having guarded it, having brought back those who fled, gathering up its deserters, having quieted the South, subduing those who defy her’.

These two Ahhoteps were queens in that they were royal women. They did not however, rule in their own right as kings did. In ancient Egypt only a few women reigned in the way king’s did, and these include Sobekneferu, Hatshepsut and Cleopatra VII.

Queens ruling in their own right were endorsed as real kings partly through use of the warrior image since the king is shown as engaged in warfare in order to maintain cosmic order. Thus, the king’s title ‘Lord of Doing Things’, occurs on many items of warfare in Tutankhamun’s tomb. The feminine version of the title is used by only two women, both of whom ruled as kings, Sobekneferu and Hatshepsut. Hatshepsut herself took part in at least two military campaigns, but whether or not she led from the front, as kings claim to have done, is unknown.

In contrast we have the beautiful princess trope. Georgia Xekalaki, in particular, has written about the role of princesses in ancient Egypt. Of course there role changes over time; but, as one might expect, the role of the princess was usually a ritual one, and often to support and revive the king through her youthful beauty. So for example, In the Twelfth Dynasty Tale of Sinuhe, they are said to welcome the hero with their sistra. On depictions of New Kingdom sed festivals, festivals of royal revival, the royal daughters appear in processions carrying sistra. The named daughters of Rameses II are shown in the Great Temple of Abu Simbel shaking sistra.

In popular literature, the most famous royal daughters are those of Akhenaten and Nefertiti. They are shown in Amarna art as childlike (even when the date of the works suggests they must have been adults). Sometimes they are shown playing musical instruments. It seems that in private tombs daughters were sometimes shown in a similar way, reviving guests and their parents and funerary parties. They play musical instruments and serve wine. The picture of the rig bezel on the right shows a young woman playing a lute. The bezel is from Amarna and may well have been connected with festivals of revival.

There is also the gentle Hathor trope. Hathor was, for most of Egyptian history, the most important goddess, with more temples built to her than any other deity. Because of her gentle nature she is sometimes depicted as a cow, and no, cows did not have the same metaphoric values in ancient Egypt as they do today! Cows were considered loving, gentle creatures. Hathor was also a goddess of minerals and the eastern desert, she was linked to other worlds and associated with music and dance. She was even a goddess of drunkenness. Here you can another object from the Egypt Centre's collection, it is part of a sistrum, the two sides are shown. A sistrum was a kind of rattle. It shows the goddess Hathor; but look carefully at her ears. They are cow's ears showing her cow-like attributes.

There is also a story which suggests that although goddesses might seem one-sided, their nature could change. The story of the quarrel between Hathor and her father, and her later return, exemplifies this. There are several versions of the story.

An early version of this myth is extant on the Book of the Heavenly Cow, which first appears, though in incomplete form, on the outermost of the four gilded shrines of Tutankhamun. The story, called ‘The Destruction of Humanity’, goes that, in times past, a golden age existed when humans and gods existed under Re, and night and death did not exist. Humanity plots against Re and the god sends his daughter, the Eye in the form of Hathor, to kill them all. ‘Hathor, the Eye of the Sun, went into the desert transformed into the raging lioness Sekhmet, the powerful one. There she began slaying humanity for the evil they had done’. She goes on the rampage wading in their blood. Re changes his mind, but no one knows how to stop the furious goddess, so he orders 7,000 jars of beer to be made and coloured with ochre. Thinking that this is blood, the goddess drinks, and then in a drunken stupor, becomes happy and pacified, with all thought of killing forgotten. Once again, she is the beautiful and gentle Hathor. Her return to Egypt is celebrated by song and dance and drinking. Re returns to the sky on the back of the heavenly cow and institutes the netherworld as a dwelling for the dead.

There are several variations to this myth: in one version Hathor becomes cross with Re and that is why she storms off to Nubia. Thoth has to coax her back by telling her stories. She bathes in the Nile, which becomes red with her anger, and then she becomes peaceful and happy. In other variations, it is Tefnut who goes to Nubia and Shu who brings her back.

So then there are at least three different types of women which we can see through ancient Egyptian literature and archaeology.


Xekelaki, G. 2007. ‘The Procession of Royal Daughters In Medinet Habu and their Ritualistic Role: Originas and Evolution.’ In Proceedings of the Ninth International Congress of Egyptologists. Grenoble, 6-12 septembre 2004. II edited by J-C. Goyon and C. Cardin, C. Leuven, Paris and Dudley MA: Uitgeverij Peeters, 1961–1965.

Xekelaki, G. and el-Khodary, R. 2011. ‘The Cultic Role of Nefertari and the Children of Ramesses II.’ In Ramesside Studies in Honour of K.A. Kitchen edited by M. Collier and S. Snape. Bolton: Rutherford Press Ltd., 561-571.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Marble Footprint. Guest blog by a child volunteer

Marble Footprint

I like this object because it is interesting seeing a person’s footprint from ancient Egypt (and it reminds me of bigfoot).  The footprint was used to make sure that the owner stayed in the presence of the gods.  People gave personal gifts to the gods through a worshipper at the temple, wanting to secure benefits.  Different types of votive offerings were used.  They were objects which represented the real things.  For example, people give stelae, figures of cows and cats, models of ears and eyes, fertility figurines and jewellery.


Hywel Protheroe Jones

Hywel has been a volunteer with the Egypt Centre since 2007, initially as one of our young volunteers (who are aged 10-18) and more recently as an adult volunteer. He wrote this when he was a child volunteer.

For more information on this object click here.    

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Gruesome rites? Book of the Dead Fragment.

I thought in this blog I would concentrate on what is going on in the illustrations to this piece of the Book of the Dead. And, if anyone has any comments please feel free to let us know. Part of the reason for my doing this blog is so I can learn (as well as letting you know about our collection).

First some background. This particular piece is Late Dynastic-Ptolemaic. It was sold to Henry Wellcome in Sotheby's sale of 1932 and is now catalogued in the Egypt Centre as W867. It is a papyrus sheet from the Book of the Dead. This particular piece depicts the hymn to the rising sun, Chapter 15 of the Book of the Dead. The scroll belonged to Ankh-Hapi, son of Pa-Khered-en-Min and Ta-di-Aset. Other pieces of the book are in the British Museum (EA9946) and two other pieces are known from elsewhere (Hurst 1997, 14-16). It has been published by Kate Bosse-Griffiths in ZAS 123 (1996) p97-102.

And now to the illustration along the top.

It shows a funeral ceremony in front of the tomb, a vignette which usually illustrates Chapter 1 in the New Kingdom but which by the Late Dynastic and Ptolemaic Period can be used to illustrate chapters 1-15. Anubis (or a priest wearing an Anubis mask) appears on this scene, together with the sacrifice of a bull, the implements used in the Opening of the Mouth Ceremony, and an adze being used in the ceremony, etc. Anubis/priest with Anubis mask is shown propping up the coffin of the deceased in front of a lamenting woman and a priest who is purifying.

The mummy would be propped up in front of a stela in the courtyard of the tomb and exposed to the rays of the sun. It has been suggested that the setting up of the mummy ‘before Re’ took place at midday (Assmann 2005, 318; Taylor 2010, 88), though as this illustrates a hymn to the rising sun, perhaps the ceremony took place in the morning. The courtyard of the tomb would have been symbolically in the east. The practice of setting up the mummy in the courtyard to receive the rays of the sun, in front of stelae, probably with solar hymns thereon, gained popularity from the New Kingdom (Assmann 2005, 320). Re can be seen enthroned on the far left. The presentation of the mummy before Re mirrored the mythical judgement before the enthroned god which is shown, for example, on the coffin of Iwesemhesetmut in the Egypt Centre (in fact on this coffin it is shown twice, as a judgement by Osiris, and a judgement by Re). The pointed roof of the tomb which is shown in front of Re and his offering table actually went out of favour during the Ramesside Period, though would have been understood in later times as a tomb.

The figure holding up the mummy may be either mythically understood as Anubis, or as an actual priest in an Anubis mask. Anubis masks have been found, making the latter interpretation seem more likely. One is now held in Harrogate Museum (HARGM10686 02). Another is in the Roemer Pelizaeus- Museum, Hildesheim (1585). Additionally, at Dendera is a depiction of a procession of priests. One is shown wearing a mask (that it is a mask seems to be the case from the way it is shown as transparent, see Mariette IV, pl. 31).

The rite of placing the mummy in the sun, purifying it and performing the Opening of the Mouth Ceremony, is described in TT23 (Assmann 2005, 323–324). The Opening of the Mouth Ceremony ensured that the deceased was able to act after death.

To the right of the priest forming the opening of the mouth ritual is a priest wearing a headdress of two ostrich feathers. He is the lector priest. From the Third Intermediate Period the lector priest was sometimes shown with such a headdress and was thus sometimes called a ‘wing-wearer’ (Greek-pterophorus). Lector priests were responsible for chanting or reading from sacred texts and sometimes acted as oracles for the people.

To the far right is a dreadful scene, an essential part of the Opening of the Mouth ritual. A foreleg of a still living calf is chopped off, witnessed by its mourning mother. The leg is presented to the deceased while still warm (Assmann 2005, 324-329). Both the leg and the mourning cow were important in ensuring that the deceased was reborn. In some texts, it is suggested that the calf represents the god Seth who must be punished so that eternal life is possible.


Assmann, J. 2005. Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt. Translated from the German by David Lorton. Ithica and London: Cornell University Press.

Hurst, N. A Passion for the past. Historic Collections from Egypt and the Levant. Cambridge (Mass,).

Mariette, A. 1871. Dendérah: description générale du grand temple de cette ville (Vol. 4): Plates, Paris.

Müller-Roth, M. and Weber, F. 2012. Pretty Good Privacy. In Lucarelli, R., Müller-Roth, M. and Wüthrich, A. Herausgehen am Tage. Gesammelte Schriften zum altägyptischen Totenbuch, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitx,  113-134.

Taylor, J.H. 2010 (ed.) Journey through the afterlife. Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. British Museum Press.