Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Egypt Centre Collection Blog

Monday, 9 December 2019

Statues and a Canopic Jar of the Late Period in Swansea

This blog post is written by Carolyn Harries and Shirley Jones, two Egypt Centre volunteers.

We seem to have arrived at the ninth week of our course on The History of Egypt very rapidly. Each week has been more interesting and more enjoyable than the last. The opportunity to handle and examine the artefacts and to relate them to the various eras of ancient Egypt and to the historical evidence supplied by Ken has been quite extraordinary. Shirley Jones and I have combined forces and are writing this blog together.

This week Ken presented us with five artefacts for the handling session all from the Late Period (c. 664–332 BC). The first object we examined was a lovely copper alloy standing statue (W85) of the god Osiris (fig. 1). The statue dates from the Twenty-sixth Dynasty and was purchased from the Robert de Rustafjaell 1906 collection (lot 309). As to provenance, there is no information regarding where it was originally found. In the Egypt Centre the statue has pride of place in our Gods case in the House of Life gallery. Both Shirley and I have admired this piece in situ in the gallery, but it was a real pleasure to hold the object and to examine it closely. It is very well moulded with some attention to detail, the beard is particularly fine and one can see the plaiting quite clearly. It may originally had glass or crystal eyes. His traditional pose wearing the Atef-crown and carrying the crook and flail make it easy for the children from the school parties to identify this statue as Osiris when they are taking part in the 'Hunting the Gods of Egypt' activity.

Fig. 1: Statue of Osiris (W85)

This was a votive statue given as an offering to the god. The cult of Osiris gained strength in the Twenty-sixth Dynasty and many such offerings were made at this time (Coulon 2010). The inscription on the base of the statue identifies the giver as Ankh-khonsu, an official in the temple of Amun. The inscription is quite difficult to read, but it would appear that this official was associated with the storehouse of gold in the temple of Amun, most likely at Karnak (fig. 2).

Fig. 2: Inscription on the statue of Osiris (W85)

The second seemed unprepossessing at first glance but turned out to be really interesting. It is a fragment of a shabti (W161) made from steatite, with an inscription telling us that it belonged to the Chief Lector Priest, Padiamenope (fig. 3). It was purchased by Sir Henry Wellcome at auction in 1924 (lot 224). There are many shabti fragments belonging to this man in various museums throughout the world, which date to the turn of the Twenty-fifth–Twenty-sixth Dynasty (Gundlach 2013). Padiamenope's tomb (TT 33), where the shabti would have originated from, has the distinction of being the largest non-royal tomb in Egypt, yet no one really knows why he was able to have such an amazing monument. Don't you just love a mystery? Unfortunately, the tomb is not open to the public as yet. It has been known for over two hundred years but was home to a large colony of bats and the build-up of ammonia has made it difficult to excavate. Permission was given to a French Epigraphic Mission to reopen the tomb in 2005 and work has concentrated on cleaning, restoration, and conservation.

Fig. 3: Shabti of Padiamenope (W161)

We moved on to examine an artefact that is well-known to all volunteers; the lovely alabaster canopic jar (W498) in the Mummification case in the House of Death (fig. 4). Although we thought we knew it so well, it had a surprise for us. This canopic jar can be dated to the Twenty-sixth Dynasty. This jar has the human head commonly associated with Imsety, one of the four sons of Horus who were the protectors of the body's internal organs and who aided the deceased to travel into the afterlife (Dodson 1994; Reisner 1967). However, despite having the head of Imsety the inscription on the jar actually refers to Qebehsenuef who would normally have had the head of a falcon. Does this mean that the wrong two pieces may have been put together, perhaps to sell to a collector? We do know that during this period in Egypt's history all four canopic jars quite often had human heads. However, as the inscription refers specifically to Qebehsenuef, it does look like the head and the jar are two separate pieces. Nevertheless, this does not detract from the enjoyment of seeing such a beautiful specimen and indeed the school parties always find this artefact one of the most appealing. Of course, they are usually hoping that it is full of some poor ancient Egyptians' innards!

Fig. 4: Canopic jar of Psamtek (W498)

The canopic jar was purchased by Sir Henry Wellcome at Sotheby's on 13 November 1928 (lot 221), from the collection of Charles James Tabor (1849–1928). We were able, with Ken's help, to read a small part of the two lines of inscription on the jar and this led to yet another mystery (fig. 5). The jar was owned by Psamtek son of Iahweben and is a very important piece. We know something of Psamtek from several stelae but no burial equipment, other than this jar, has come to light so far (Gohary 2009; Jurman 2010). The stelae identify the day and year of his birth (19th Nov 610 BC), the day and year of his death (31st Aug 544 BC), and his burial date (1st Oct 544 BC). This means that Psamtek was buried very quickly after he died and indeed the stelae even record the length of time he spent in the embalming tent as thirty-two days. Why was so little time given to his embalming? We are generally advised that the full embalming process took up to seventy days so why would this be different for poor Psamtek? It would be extremely interesting to find out!

Fig. 5: Inscription on the canopic jar (W498)

Our fourth artefact, also from the Twenty-sixth Dynasty, was the limestone statue of a seated priest (W921), which resides in the House of Life gallery (fig. 6). The inscription identifies the owner as Iba, a priest of Sopdu who was a solar god associated the sun rising in the east. The inscription goes on to link Sopdu with the god Horus, describing the owner Iba as 'priest of the Horus of the East', which was an epithet of Sopdu (Leahy 1990). This statue is important because it is one of the few pieces from Saft el-Henna in the Nile Delta, which was the primary cult centre for the worship of Sopdu. The statue was purchased in 1922 from the collection of the Reverend William MacGregor (lot 1627). It is very beautiful piece and we admired the calm and contemplative expression on the priest's face as he gazes into eternity. One always wonders whether such statues were genuine likenesses of their owners. Whether or not this is the case, clearly the sculptors had given them a lifelike quality. Did they have life models as artists do today, or did they copy them from other statues? Who knows!

Fig. 6: Statue of Iba (W921)

The final object was another statue (W1163), much smaller this time but quite charming (fig. 7). It is made of faience and depicts Sekhmet and her son Nefertum, possibly dating to the Twenty-sixth Dynasty. The statue normally resides in the Gods case in the House of Death gallery. The female figure appears slightly taller than the male figure and as the female's head is damaged it was difficult for us to identify the pair. In fact, we were rather surprised that the female figure appeared taller than the male. However, the back support contains a beautifully carved inscription with prayers to Sekhmet and her son Nefertum. Everything becomes clear when you can read the hieroglyphs. The inscribed prayers are for wellbeing, for "all life, health, and joy". When in place in its cabinet, the rear of the statue is reflected in a mirror to allow the viewer to see the inscription and to read it if they are able to do so. One can imagine the members of an ancient Egyptian household kneeling before this lovely little shrine and seeking the blessings of these gods and goddesses. Ptah, Sekhmet, and Nefertum are associated with the ancient capital Memphis and are commonly known as the Memphis Triad.

Fig. 7: Faience statue of Sekhmet and Nefertum (W1163)

One of the best things about the course has been discovering the significance and importance of the objects in the care of the Museum. We volunteers are now better able to help visitors to appreciate the culture and history of ancient Egypt. Many thanks to Ken for giving us this opportunity!

Anonymous (1924) A catalogue of curios consisting of old savage ceremonial masks, fetishes, idols, witch-doctors' rattles, stone axes, etc., from all parts of the world. Unique Elizabethan medical charm stone. Weapons, grandfather clocks, embroideries and hangings, oil paintings, prints, china, models of boats, old medical works. Collection of ancient carved stone heads from Central India. ancient Roman and Egyptian curiosities. Which will be sold at Stevens's auction rooms Ltd. At their great rooms, ... on Tuesday, July 22nd 1924. London: Riddle, Smith, & Duffus.
Coulon, L. ed. (2010) Le culte d'Osiris au 1er millénaire av. J.-C.: découvertes et travaux récents. Actes de la table ronde internationale tenue à Lyon, Maison de l'Orient et de la Méditerranée (Université Lumière-Lyon 2) les 8 et 9 juillet 2005. Bibliothèque d'étude 153. Institut français d'archéologie orientale.
Dodson, A. (1994) The canopic equipment of kings of Egypt. Studies in Egyptology. London: Kegan Paul International.
Gohary, S. (2009) 'New evidence on the duration of mummification'. In Die ihr vorbeigehen werdet … Wenn Gräber, Tempel und Statuen sprechen: Gedenkschrift für Prof. Dr. Sayed Tawfik Ahmed, ed. U. Rössler-Köhler and T. Tawfik. Sonderschrift, Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Abteilung Kairo 16. Berlin; New York: de Gruyter. 103–104.
Gundlach, M. (2013) Typology and artisanship in Twenty-fifth Dynasty Theban shabtis: The chief lector priest Pedamenope. PhD thesis, Swansea University.
Jurman, C. (2010) 'Running with Apis: the Memphite Apis cult as a point of reference for social and religious practice in Late Period elite culture'. In Egypt in transition: social and religious development of Egypt in the first millennium BCE. Proceedings of an international conference, Prague, September 1–4, 2009, ed. L. Bareš, F. Coppens and K. Smoláriková. Prague: Czech Institute of Egyptology, Charles University in Prague. 224–267.
Leahy, A. (1990) 'A Late Period block statuette from Saft el-Henna'. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 76: 194–196.
Reisner, G. A. (1967) Catalogue général des antiquités égyptiennes du musée du Caire, Nos 4001–4740 and 4977–5033: Canopics. Catalogue général des antiquités égyptiennes du Musée du Caire. Cairo: Institut français d'archéologie orientale.
Sotheby, Wilkinson, & Hodge. (1906) Catalogue of the collection of Egyptian antiquities, formed in Egypt by R. De Rustafjaell, which will be sold by auction by Messrs. Sotheby, Wilkinson and Hodge...19th December, 1906 and two following days... London: Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge.
Sotheby, Wilkinson, & Hodge. (1922) Catalogue of the MacGregor Collection of Egyptian Antiquities. London: Davy.
Sotheby & Co. (1928) Catalogue of antiquities, etc., comprising the collection of Prehistoric implements, the property of Miss Carey, Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities, etc., comprising the collection of the late C.J. Tabor, the property of Princess Ghika, the property of Mrs O. Gregory, the property of Mrs A. Belcher, the property of Mrs de Burley Wood, the property of W. Kennett, and other properties, including Indian and South American objects; which will be sold by auction by Sotheby and Co. ... on Monday, the 12th of November, 1928, and following day. London: Sotheby & Co.
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