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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Egypt Centre, Swansea: A bit of a shrine with an unknown king

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

A bit of a shrine with an unknown king

I am trying to find out more about this item. It is number EC485 in our collection and measures 264 by 164 mm. It has been mounted on a piece of wood sometime before it came to us. This is what I have discovered so far but would appreciate it if anyone has any helpful comments, or even parallels.

It seems to be the door cover of a (shrine). It is made from wood with modelled gesso (plaster) and would originally have been gilded. The pivot/hinge is on the left hand side. The shrine would have held an image of a god. The decoration shows a king offering to the god within the shrine (who may originally have been depicted on the missing right door leaf).

The king is kneeling, facing right and offering incense with his left arm. He wears a shendyt kilt and the blue (khepresh) crown. This crown goes out of use in the 25th Dynasty (Collier 1993) but is brought back by Saite (Russman 1995) rulers (from 664 BC) and used by later kings. It was often worn when the king was shown offering. In front of the king’s head is a cartouche, but unfortunately the name therein cannot be read. Above the figure is a pt (sky sign) with a row of stars therein and uraei. Stars are also featured on the Late Period naos of Amasis, Louvre E605). Below the king is a row of doors evoking early royal palace facades (also featured on the naos of Amasis, Louvre E605 and the naos of Darius, British Museum EA37496). This façade decoration is also seen on earlier shrines such as the sides of the small golden shrine of Tutankhamun.

Fragments of other small shrines are known in other museums. These are usually made of wood and inlaid with glass or precious stones (e.g. BM EA37496; Louvre E605). Alternatively, they may be wood covered in gold silver or copper (Hope 1998, 829 fig. 9; Spencer, N. 2006, 4).  Unfortunately, often they are without archaeological context. And, if anyone knows of anymore please can they let me know.

A light shrine, made of wood, seems to have been called by the ancient Egyptians a sH-nTr (Spencer 1984, 114, 139 footnote 167). These seem to have either been used as inner temple shrines or as portable outdoor shrines. Small, light shrines were sometimes reused as coffins for animals (Colburn 2014, 259).

Shrines to the gods were often kept in temples. Usually these consisted of an outer stone shrine and within that a portable wooden shrine with two-leaved doors (though also see Spencer 2006, 4). Such double doors were known as ‘the gates of heaven’. Lorton (1999, 128) suggests that the cult statues from such shrines would have been a foot or so in length. While the doors to stone shrines could also have wooden doors covered in precious metal, the larger size of such shrines suggests that ours is unlikely to be part of an outer shrine.

A naos door with inlaid with glass from the British Museum (EA37496) is around 28cm in length, so of a similar height to this example. Like ours, the king is making an offering and is standing on a surface similarly decorated to ours. However, other shrines, suggest much larger cult statues (Teeter 2011, 43).

Shrines could be erected outside temples for temporary festivals, and placed on wooden barques for processions. Such shrines would need to be lighter than the monumental outer shrines in temples. There are also very small shrine doors known from museum collections which have been interpreted as models. Examples include the gilded wood naos door British Museum EA38255 showing Nakhthorheb kneeling and holding ceremonial basket. This latter measures around 11cm in height.

The shrine itself, as an enclosed box, would have been dark. The opening of the doors of the shrine would have let in the light allowing the god to be reborn and for worship to take place (Finnestad 1985, 94–95). The two doors to shrines imitated the two doors to heaven. It seems likely that the missing leaf in our example would have shown the god (as in the naos of Amasis, Louvre E605).

The object was puchased in 1992 by Sir Henry Welcome at an auction of items owned by MacGregor.


Colburn, H.P. 2014. The Archaeology of Archaemenid rule in Egypt. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Michigan

Collier, S. 1993. ‘The Khepresh Crown of Pharaoh’, Ufahamu: A Journal of African Studies, 21(1–2), 137–155.

Finnestad, R. B. 1985. Image of the World and Symbol of the Creator. On the Cosmological and Iconological values of the Temple of Edfu. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz.

Fischer, H.G. 1996. Egyptian doors inside and out, In Fischer, H.G. Varia Nova, Egyptian Studies III, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 91–98.

Hardwick, T. 2003. The iconography of the blue crown.
Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 89, 117–141.

Lorton, D. 1999. The Theology of Cult Statues in Ancient Egypt. In Dick, M.B. (ed.) Born in Heaven, Made on Earth: The making of the cult image in the ancient Near East. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 123–201.

Russman, E.R.1995. Kushite Headdresses and ‘Kushite’ Style. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 81, 227-232.

Spencer, N. 2006. A Naos of Nekhthoreb from Bubastis. Religious Iconography and Temple Building in the 30th Dynasty. London: British Museum Press. acessed January 2016.

Spencer, P. 1984. The Egyptian Temple. A Lexicographical Study. London, Boston and Melbourne: Kegan Paul International.

Teeter, E. 2011. Religion and Ritual in Ancient Egypt. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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