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. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/284869488_Egyptian_pseudo-mummies (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.