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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Fwd: Ugly Object of the Month – February
On 02/22/18 10:53, cperson01 wrote:
Ugly Object of the Month – February

BY SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation

Last month's ugly object skated perilously close to downright attractiveness, so you will be delighted to see us getting back to our roots in February, with a truly hideous creature.

Ugly_Feb 2018

Earthenware "sphinx." AD 1890–1898, Michigan, United States. UMMAA 21492.T.

This bizarre-looking bird-thing, which is trying to pass itself off as a sphinx, if you can believe that, is especially special to me because Francis Kelsey himself was moved to comment on it. It's a nineteenth century fake, made in Michigan, and it and its brethren were so freakin' weird and caused such a fuss that the University of Michigan acquired some of them (google "Soper Frauds" — or better yet, come read about them at the Kelsey). In a 1908 article for the journal American Anthropologist , Kelsey wrote,

The interest of the spurious relics to which I have the pleasure of inviting your attention is, in last analysis, more psychological than archeological; so novel are their designs and so crude the workmanship that an archeologist of training in any field could hardly fail to recognize at a glance their true character.

Nicely said, Professor Kelsey!

These forgeries do not represent a high point in Michigan's state history, but they are really very ugly and make for a great story, which is what we love here in our ugly object blogging. I like how this one — which, again, is supposed to be a sphinx — looks like a cross between a turkey and gargoyle. It has a particularly hilarious facial expression that seems to convey both surprise and confusion, which is probably how a lot of archaeologists felt when they saw it for the first time. Come see it for yourself now in the exhibition Excavating Archaeology @ U-M: 1817–2017, open through May 2018.


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New book unveils secret memoirs from Naguib Mahfouz’s life - Daily News Egypt

New book unveils secret memoirs from Naguib Mahfouz's life

A new book about the prominent late Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz, Days with Naguib Mahfouz, was released on Thursday 22 February, telling untold stories of Mahfouz's life. Written by critic-cum-author Fathy El-Ashry, the book is comprised of real life situations and conversations that Mahfouz had with his friend El-Ashry. It also recounts Mahfouz's life after …

A new book about the prominent late Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz, Days with Naguib Mahfouz, was released on Thursday 22 February, telling untold stories of Mahfouz's life.

Written by critic-cum-author Fathy El-Ashry, the book is comprised of real life situations and conversations that Mahfouz had with his friend El-Ashry. It also recounts Mahfouz's life after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988.

Some of the chapters portray the moments Mahfouz won the Nobel Prize, his time divided between cinema and books, his life at coffee shops, and his countless personal statements.

El-Ashry also explains the events behind the painting and sculpture of Mahfouz by Ahmed Sabry and Abdelaziz Saab respectively. Both artistic works have not been exposed to the public to this day, according to a press release by the Academic Bookshop.

Publisher and head of the Academic Bookshop Ahmed Amin mentioned in the press release that El-Ashry's book is worth reading as it contains special unknown moments of Mahfouz's life.

In his introduction, El-Ashry wrote that he never intended to take advantage of his personal interactions with Mahfouz, but rather, the book is merely a modest attempt to allow fans to know more about the legendary writer.

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Going Underground: Visiting Toronto’s Egyptianising Museum Station - Nile Scribes

Going Underground: Visiting Toronto's Egyptianising Museum Station

Museum Station, located on the eastern part of Toronto's Bloor Street Cultural Corridor, conceals Egyptianising treasures from the eyes of passers-by on the street above. Its design for most of its life was like any other Toronto subway station – bland colours and a band running along the top with the name of the station. As the name indicates, the station was built to allow transit-takers to visit either the Gardiner Museum of Ceramics or the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). Today, visitors using the station can marvel at columns decorated in the traditions of Canada's First Nations as well as those of Ancient China, Egypt, Greece, and Mexico.

Museum Station with the 2008 redesign with a Toltec            column and a Forbidden City column

Museum Station after the 2008 redesign showing First Nations and Forbidden City columns (authors' photo)

Background to the station

Museum Station was originally opened in 1963, but was renovated in 2008 by Diamond and Schmitt Architects to complement its unique location between two museums. The station's remodelling in 2008 came shortly after the reopenings of both museums. The ROM added the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal in 2007 and the Gardiner Museum completed their renovations in 2006. The architects told us that the redesign of Museum Station was only the first remodelling of three stations. Osgoode station connected to the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts and St. Patrick station with the Art Gallery of Ontario unfortunately never went beyond the initial stages.

Five new columns were designed for the platform, drawing inspiration from objects in the collections of the ROM and Gardiner Museum: 1) Wuikinuxv First Nation Bear House Post, 2) Toltec Warrior Column, 3) Chinese Forbidden City Columns, 4) Doric Columns, and 5) Osiris Pilaster.

Museum Station before the redesign in 2008 (Photo: Ian            Muttoo)

Museum Station before the redesign in 2008 (photo: Ian Muttoo)

What are the Egyptian elements?

(1) The Egyptianising Osiris Pilasters

The Egyptianising columns, of course, drew our interest; the architects called them Osiris pilasters. They modelled these in two parts: (1) the top depicts typical royal regalia with the nemes headdress, crook, and flail and (2) the bottom reflects the wrapped body of the god Osiris. The image of the king resembles that of the formulaic New Kingdom (1,539-1,077 BC) pharaoh, such as the famous golden mask of Tutankhamun.

The royal regalia and their position reflect well the statues of Ramesses II decorated in Osirian fashion within the Great Hypostyle Hall at Abu Simbel. Looking at the ears, they may also recall the over-emphasised ears of kings of the Twelfth Dynasty, who scholars suggest wanted to emphasise their penchant for listening. However, the overly emphasised musculature of the arms as well as the flatness of the column overall seem to suggest modern Egyptomania influences.

Statues of Ramesses II in Osireian fashion from the Great            Hypostyle Hall at Abu Simbel

Statues of Ramesses II in Osirian fashion in the Great Hypostyle Hall at Abu Simbel (authors' photo)

(2) Hieroglyphic Inscriptions

The back and sides of the columns contain an Egyptian offering formula. It describes the reciprocal relationship between the gods and the kings and reads:

"(The king) offers the best fresh incense to Amun-Re, Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands, Lord of the Sky, so that he will give (the king) life, stability, dominion, health and joy like are, forever." (1)

The outline of the station's names contains a            hieroglyphic inscription

The outline of the station's names contains a hieroglyphic inscription (authors' photo)

The station's remodelling incorporates beautifully another inscription, which is visible within the outline of the station's name. It is an excerpt from an Old Kingdom (2,543-2,120 BC) relief from the tomb of the official Met-jet-jy from Saqqara. The ROM purchased this piece in the 1950s and it is now on display in the museum. It reads:

"I was loved by my father, honoured and praised by my mother. I gave them a proper burial – by royal decree because I was honoured by the king – so that they could praise the god forever. I was a good son from my childhood until their demise, never causing them anger. Moreover, my opinion was considered in every royal project." (1)

Relief sculpture of Met-jet-jy and his son Sabu-Ptah

Relief sculpture of Met-jet-jy and his son Sabu-Ptah (authors' photo)

More photos of Museum Station:


  1. After the Info Pack provided to us kindly by DSAI Architects.
  • DSAI Architects (who were commissioned to do the redesign) produced a cinematic model of what the station were to look like before construction. You can view it here.
  • 1,000 Things Toronto named Museum Station "Toronto's coolest subway stop"

The Nile Scribes are grateful for Michael Treacy and DSAI Architects for providing some background information on their project.

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Ramses II sandstone colossus remains discovered in Aswan | Luxor Times

During the underground water project at Kom Ombo temple which started in September 2017, the Egyptian mission unearthed remains of a sandstone statue of Ramses II wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt. The discovered parts show that the complete statue would be about 7 meters in height. 
Dr. Ayman Ashmawi (Head of Egyptian Antiquities sector) said "The work is still ongoing in search for the remaining parts of the statue hoping to find them to be able to re-erect it in the nearest time."

Mr. Abd Monem Said (General director of Aswan and Nubia antiquities) said "The mission discovered first the head with a part of the crown then the rest of the crown. There is still missing parts of the face and left ear." 
The statue shows Ramses II depicted as God Osiris holding an ankh. The statue has visible colours especially on the hands. 

As for the discovered head, it was unearthed at the external rear corridor of the temple. It measures 70cm height, 56 cm width and 30cm depth. 

#Egypt #Aswan #Egyptology #Archaeology #RamsesII
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Parts of Ramses II statue found in southern Egypt - ABC News

Parts of Ramses II statue found in southern Egypt

CAIRO — Feb 27, 2018, 9:54 AM ETThis photo released by the Egyptian Ministry of              Antiquities, shows the head of a statue of one of the most              famous pharaohs, Ramses II, that was discovered along with              other parts of a statue in the Temple of Kom Ombo, in Aswan,              585 miles (940 kilomete
The Associated Press
This photo released by the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, shows the head of a statue of one of the most famous pharaohs, Ramses II, that was discovered along with other parts of a statue in the Temple of Kom Ombo, in Aswan, 585 miles (940 kilometers) south of Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. The statement said the discovery was made during a project to protect the site from groundwater. (Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities via AP)mo

Egypt says archaeologists have discovered parts of a statue of one of its most famous pharaohs in the southern city of Aswan.

The Antiquities Ministry said Tuesday the head and chest of the statue of Ramses II were found in the Temple of Kom Ombo during a project to protect the site from groundwater.

Egypt hopes the find, along with other recent discoveries, will help revive its tourism sector, which has been battered by years of unrest since the 2011 uprising.

Ramses II, also known as Ramses the Great, ruled Egypt from 1279 B.C. to 1213 B.C. He is credited with expanding Egypt's reach as far as modern Syria to the east and Sudan to the south.

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The Egyptian Artifacts of a Little-Known, Victorian-Era Woman Collector


The Egyptian Artifacts of a Little-Known, Victorian-Era Woman Collector

An exhibition at the Atkinson Art Gallery and Library sheds light on the somewhat mysterious 19th-century scholar and collector Anne Goodison.

Quartzite fragment with the hieroglyphic name of the sun god Aten, from a statue of Akhenaten or Nefertiti (ca 1350 BCE), picked up by Anne Goodison at Akhenaten's city of Tell el-Amarna in January 1891 (all photos courtesy Atkinson Art Gallery and Library)

For Victorian women with access to education and funds, Egypt could serve as a source of adventure and even escape from a restricting society. Women such as Marianne Brocklehurst, Annie Barlow, and Amelia Edwards journeyed to the desert, often more than once, not simply as wide-eyed tourists but as dedicated collectors and scholars whose knowledge could rival that of some of their male peers. Their visits built their legacies: Barlow, for one, is recognized as the mother of the Bolton Museum's Egyptian collection; Edwards co-founded the Egyptian Exploration Fund, now known as the Egypt Exploration Society, to promote fieldwork in Egypt.

Share certificates from Western investments in Egypt surround a case of objects relating to Bolton Museum's Egyptian collection, which was formed thanks to the energetic involvement of Annie Barlow

One other notable woman bitten by the Egyptology bug was Anne Goodison, whose collecting habits serve as a focal point for an exhibition at the Atkinson Art Gallery and Library in England. Goodison visited Egypt in 1887, when she was in her 40s, and then again in 1897. Over the course of her travels, she amassed nearly 1,000 objects in her collection — from jewelry to wooden coffin lids to ritual statuettes — which she kept private until her death in 1906. Adventures in Egypt – Mrs Goodison & Other Travellers presents her trove supplemented by loans from major museums including the British Museum and the Brooklyn Museum that place her within the broader, complicated history of collecting Egyptian objects under British imperialism.

Born Anne Padley in 1845, Goodison married a civil engineer whose career allowed the pair to retire early in the Lake District. (Their neighbor, significantly, was the critic John Ruskin, who would often welcome them over to tea.) Very little is known about Anne Goodison: no diaries have surfaced, and no identifiable photographs or portraits of her have survived. What she did leave behind was her collection of Egyptian objects, which are often labelled by her handwritten notes. Her careful records speak to her strong desire to deepen her knowledge and appreciation of ancient Egyptian culture.

"She was more than just a lady who lunched and liked Egypt," curator and archaeologist Tom Hardwick told Hyperallergic. "She was campaigning for excavations, and she showed her druthers by learning hieroglyphs and corresponding with scholars.

"She was doing her own research at a time when women were barred by law and social pressure from having professional careers, in many cases," he continued. "She was trying very hard to earn and justify her credibility as someone with a serious interest in Egypt."

Ceramic bowl acquired by Goodison (ca 2300 BCE)

Egyptomania had long gripped Western Europeans by Goodison's lifetime, following Napoleon's failed military campaign that ended in 1801. It's uncertain what specifically sparked this Victorian individual's interest in Egypt, although Hardwick notes that she was certainly fascinated with the work of Edwards and her popular travelogue, A Thousand Miles Up the Nile. Trips to Egypt were also easily arranged then, thanks to the British travel agent Thomas Cook, who provided holiday packages that took British visitors from site to site. Relatively well-off, Goodison chose to hire her own dahabeya to travel under her own sail and move at her own speed.

By her first visit, British forces had occupied the country for nearly five years. The Atkinson's exhibition strives to showcase Goodison's collection in the context of this involved history of war, politics, and imperialists' powers. One section, for instance, explores how British influence over Egypt was administered under officials such as Lords Cromer and Kitchener.

Copper alloy ring with an image of Seth, God of chaos (ca 1400–1200 BCE), purchased by Anne Goodison in 1891

About half of the objects on view represent Goodison's habits as a collector. Among them are letters sent between her and the Egyptologist Charles Edwin Wilbour, who helped her learn hieroglyphics. Yet, while her interests in the culture were serious, her reasons behind forming her collection were clearly very personal, Hardwick said. Many of the artifacts she acquired are simple ones, like small stone fragments and pot shards that she picked up while walking around ancient sites, like souvenirs. Others she purchased from dealers. On her second trip, she travelled with the clergyman Greville John Chester, who helped her make some of her acquisitions. (Chester, himself a collector of Egyptian artifacts, is known for acquiring what is now one of the oldest prosthetic devices.)

Example of a dealer's parcel with an official stamp from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo

For the most part, Goodison didn't seek out highly unique objects, although the amulets, votive figures, and faïence ushabtiu are cherished today and do speak to the history of traveling and collecting in Egypt. She did collect three very special figurines known today as paddle dolls. Dating to about 2000 BCE, they are carved wooden slabs that represent stylized figures of women, and were produced during a fairly short period in ancient Egyptian culture.

"They are pretty rare," Hardwick said. "Most museums would be glad to have one, and Mrs. Goodison collected three. It's something that really shows that she was a discerning collector — she knew what she was acquiring."

In the late 19th-century, antiquities were supposed to be approved for export by a curator at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. After Goodison presumably completed the necessary paperwork, she brought all her objects back to England, where she kept them under her own guard instead of selling them or placing them in museums. Sadly, it seems that Mr. Goodison did not share her passions. While Anne might have found some level of liberation in her studies and adventures, her collection ultimately ended up in her husband's control. Two years after her death in 1906, he sold, rather than gifted, the entire trove to the local museum, evidently seeing in it pure financial value.

His deed, however, did mean that Anne's collection remained unified and was displayed to the public for many decades. In 1974, the museum closed, and the entire collection was transferred once more, to the Atkinson. It now stands as a rare example of a private collection from the 19th century that has not been broken up and dispersed. It also provides a voice to a long-forgotten woman who worked independently to participate and establish herself in a male-saturated field. Goodison's dedication is emphasized by the fact that many objects are labelled with numbers that indicate a catalog system of sorts, although no catalog survives. This system could have lent important insight into how she would have organized and displayed her prized possessions; its loss only adds further mystery to this ancient collector's story.

"Her controlling mind, her vision for the collection — even if we can't quite decipher it, it's still intact, hopefully to be deciphered at some point in the future," as Hardwick said.

Fragment of dyed woolen cloth, mounted by Annie Barlow as an eductional tool at her educational institution in Bolton
Installation view of Adventures in Egypt: Mrs Goodison & Other Travellers
Installation view of Adventures in Egypt: Mrs Goodison & Other Travellers
Installation view of Adventures in Egypt: Mrs Goodison & Other Travellers

Adventures in Egypt – Mrs Goodison & Other Travellers continues at the Atkinson Art Gallery and Library (Lord Street, Southport PR8 1DB, United Kingdom) through March 10.

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Egypt does the talking for expert Dr Joyce Tyldesley | The Bolton News

Egypt does the talking for expert Dr Joyce Tyldesley

Angela Kelly columnist
joyce tuldesley

joyce tyldesley

FOR a world-famous expert in Egyptology, Dr Joyce Tyldesley is remarkably modest and low-key.

But then, as someone with a genuine fascination for her subject, she has always let this speak for itself, both through her teaching, her 20 or so books and her TV collaborations.

Born in Farnworth into a family of dentists, Joyce had an early interest in archaeology.

She said: "I think I was very lucky to be brought up in Bolton with its excellent Egyptology museum, and so close to Manchester and its fantastic Egyptology collections."

Thanks to the region's strong history of cotton trading and its natural links with Egypt, expeditions there meant artefacts were brought back by travellers and many donated to local museums.

Joyce's early fascination with archaeology in general and Egyptology in particular was cemented when Professor Rosalie David, who pioneered investigations into mummies, spoke at a Bolton School speech day.

Joyce decided to study the subject at Liverpool University where she gained a first-class honours degree in the archaeology of the Eastern Mediterranean and then a D.Phil in prehistoric archaeology at Oxford University. Her student days included digs in Egypt.

At Liverpool, she met her future husband, fellow archaeologist Steven Snape. They married in 1985 and had two children, Philippa, now 28, and Jack, 24.

Joyce taught for a year at Liverpool University, filling in for someone's sabbatical, and enjoyed the experience. "But I didn't want to have a career filling in at various universities," she said. "I always wanted a proper job and money was tight in education."

As a result, in 1986, she decided to train as an accountant and moved to London to study. She had already started writing, publishing her thesis and various articles and establishing two separate lives - working in accountancy by day and writing on ancient Egypt in her spare time.

After three years living in London, the couple decided to return to Bolton and moved into the Over Hulton home where they still live. Joyce joined local accountants Crossley and Davies and worked there for 17 years.

During that time, she started writing mainstream books that established her reputation in the non-academic world.

"I always wanted to write books that would explain the lives of the Egyptians in a simpler, non-technical way, like what they wore and what they ate," she explained.

Her first book was "Daughters of Isis: Women of Ancient Egypt" which was very well-received. "I was quite shocked when I read a very positive review in the Daily Telegraph!" recalled Joyce, laughing.

She followed this with "Hatchepsut: The Female Pharaoh" and "Nefertiti: Egypt's Sun Queen" which sold well and raised her profile.

In fact, TV companies commissioned her to work on accompanying books for TV series "The Private Lives of the Pharaohs", "Egypt's Golden Empire" and BBC 1's ground-breaking series "Egypt".

These days, Joyce, aged 57, is a senior lecturer in Egyptology at the University of Manchester and an honorary research associate of Manchester Museum.

She teaches the University's online certificate in Egyptology and other shorter online courses to students from America, Canada, South America Germany, Scandinavia and, unusually, Egypt. She works from her home office and finds creating these online groups "fascinating and enjoyable".

She has just published a new book called "Nefertiti's Face – The Creation of an Icon" which looks at the popularity surrounding the famous bust of the Egyptian queen in the Neues Museum in Berlin. "It's amazing what has grown up around that bust, which was first shown in 1922," said Joyce.

"A copy of it is in Bolton Museum and that has become our image of Nefertiti, even though the Pharoahs didn't have portraits and it could just have been a depiction of how she would like to have looked."

The subject is bound to prove of great interest and Joyce is doing a free talk on Nefertiti in Bolton on Thursday, March 1 at 7pm at Bolton Museum.

As for the future of Egyptology and of Dr Joyce Tyldesley, it's plain that her enthusiasm for the subject – and her desire to help share it with others – will continue.

"I think that we can now learn a great deal by re-appraising artefacts and treating Egyptology more like an art history subject," she said. "There is just so much more for us to discover."

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Tut’s Mesopotamian Side - Archaeology Magazine

Tut's Mesopotamian Side

Monday, February 12, 2018

Trenches Egypt Tutankhamun Artifacts Block2
(Christian Eckmann/Copyright: RGZM, DAI Cairo and University of Tübingen)

Clockwise from top left: wooden box, embossed gold sheet, and gold fragments


Although the treasure of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun's grave, one of the most famous archaeological discoveries of all time, was found nearly 100 years ago, researchers are still learning new things about ancient Egyptian society by studying the grave assemblage. In 1922, British archaeologist Howard Carter uncovered the lavish 3,300-year-old tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Now, a German-Egyptian project has analyzed hundreds of embossed decorative gold items from the grave for the first time. The fragmented gold pieces were boxed up shortly after they had been discovered and remained in museum storage until recently.


Experts have painstakingly reassembled the ornamental applications, which would have been attached to objects in the pharaoh's tomb, such as quivers, bow cases, and bridles. They were surprised to detect decorative motifs foreign to Egyptian art at the time. Scenes such as fighting animals and goats at the tree of life were typical of Mesopotamian art, and their presence on the objects from Tutankhamun's grave demonstrates how Egyptian artists were cognizant of and influenced by outside cultural styles that had seemingly passed to Egypt through the Levant. Although chemical analyses of the gold artifacts with Egyptian motifs and those with foreign motifs showed that they had different chemical compositions and sources, it is not thought that the eastern-style objects were imported. Instead, they were likely created in workshops specializing in Mesopotamian styles.

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Sunday, February 25, 2018

Broken Dishes | iMalqata
On 02/25/2018 07:07 AM, iMalqata Blog wrote:
Broken Dishes

Susan Allen

While the pottery of the West Settlement has been buffeted by millennia of wind and water (from the wadi that runs through the site), much has been recovered from our recent excavations. This year, we were able to build on the progress made last year by Egyptian interns Aisha Mohamed Montaser and Hussein Fawzi Zaki, with the expert assistance of Pamela Rose. Using the corpus of pottery fabrics and forms developed by Pamela at Amarna, we are now tackling the substantial number of still-to-be-analyzed pottery groups.


A collection of sherds from the West Settlement

From each context (living surfaces, trash pits and other features) all pottery is collected and bagged. The first step is to lay out each group and divide the sherds into the two basic clay types: Nile silt and Marl clay (clay mined from desert sources). These are then divided between those from open forms (such as bowls), those from closed forms (jars, amphorae), and non-containers such as stands or lids. Each group is then sorted by surface treatment. Diagnostic sherds (rims, bases, handles, etc.) are counted and set aside for further analysis, comparison to the Amarna corpus, and in some cases for drawing. The body sherds, if they cannot be associated with a diagnostic form, are recorded and disposed of at a set location on site.

At this preliminary stage, it appears that the majority of the pottery is made of Nile silt and includes bowls and dishes of all sizes and medium-sized jars. Only a small percentage are Marl clay sherds, usually from large amphorae. Some of the bowls, especially the large ones, show indications of burning and were probably used as braziers, while smaller dishes were sometimes used as lamps. Each group collected usually includes a few pieces of the beautiful blue-painted decorated pottery that is characteristic of the late 18th Dynasty and particularly of the reigns of Amenhotep III and the Amarna period.


Left: Body and rim sherds from a blue-painted vessel found in the West Settlement. Right: Blue-painted vessel from The Met's earlier excavations at Malqata (Rogers Fund, 1911, 11.215.462)

The shapes and wares analyzed so far support the interpretation of this site as a settlement area, where non-elite inhabitants of the complex were living. The predominance of dishes, bowls and jars may show that they were used for the consumption of food prepared elsewhere at Malqata. The large Marl clay sherds mixed with a few imported types from elsewhere in the Levant come from wine and oil amphorae which would have been stored and consumed in areas like the Palace. These large sturdy sherds may then have been reused in the West Settlement as leveling and filling material.

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Lecture: "Maces and Daggers from the ROM's Egyptian Collection" - Nile Scribes

Lecture: "Maces and Daggers from the ROM's Egyptian Collection"

The Nile Scribes are pleased to host another guest blogger on our site to give us a summary of her research on Egyptian weapons at the Royal Ontario Museum. Carla Mesa Guzzo presented some of her findings at a talk in January of this year for the Toronto Chapter of the SSEA.

Guest Scribe: Carla Mesa Guzzo

The Egyptian collections at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) encompass everything from objects of daily use to mummies and coffins to relief fragments. Among these are some 25,000 accessioned objects, about 2,000 of which can be viewed in the Egypt and Nubia galleries. There are a variety of Egyptian weapons, including maces and daggers. These objects have complex histories and a significance that goes beyond simple martial function. Our knowledge, however, is often limited by the more recent histories of these objects and how they came to be in the ROM's collections. In order to understand the ancient origins of these pieces, it is fist necessary to understand the means by which they came to us in the present.

A brief history of the ROM

The Royal Ontario Museum of Archaeology was officially created in 1912, and opened its doors in March of 1914. There are many figures that feature prominently in the establishment and early development of the Royal Ontario Museum, but among them was Charles Trick Currelly, the first director of the museum from 1914-1946. While many individuals have contributed to building the Egypt and Nubia collections over the past century, including through fieldwork, Currelly was particularly active in building the ROM's collections during the early 1900s, while the museum itself was still in the process of being created. He worked at several sites in Egypt, including Deir el-Bahri and Abydos, around the turn of the (last) century. Many items were acquired via excavations as well as through his connection to the Egypt Exploration Fund and to W.M. Flinders Petrie.[1]

Charles Trick Currelly (Photo: Smithsonian Institute Archives)

The ROM's Egyptian Collection

While some of the maces and daggers at the ROM which came to the museum in its early years do come from recorded excavations, a great number of objects were purchased in Egypt by Currelly himself. In the case of a great many of these purchased objects, the exact provenance of a piece is often uncertain or unknown altogether. To a great extent, the significance of an object can only be fully gleaned by considering it in its original context. This, naturally, presents a problem to researchers attempting to understand these objects and limits what we can say with any degree of certainty about the history and meaning of certain pieces.

This lack of recorded provenance is not the only challenge facing researchers interested in the ROM's Egyptian collections. Currelly's work resulted in a very important collection of Egyptian antiquities, which has been highly valuable for many researchers and scholars as well as for the public. However, Currelly and his contemporaries were active within the period of colonial archaeology in Egypt. Because of this, the work, collecting practices, and findings of such individuals and various institutions around the world must be understood in retrospect and with a critical eye as necessarily being informed by the attitudes and the colonialist, Eurocentric approaches of the day. This colonial legacy is still very much alive today, and something with which Egyptologists and museologists alike must continue to grapple, both within the context of the ROM and these disciplines at large. This context has also, unsurprisingly, affected our ability to access the histories of individual objects in the collection, partially because of the aforementioned issues with provenance, but also because it has affected the filter through which we view these objects.

In terms of the weapons themselves, there are roughly 43 maces in total, and around 10 Egyptian daggers or parts thereof in the Royal Ontario Museum's collections. While each is fascinating in its own right, two of these objects are particularly apt for demonstrating the challenges facing researchers, who try to piece together their histories without recorded provenance.

(1) Macehead with depiction of an animal

One of these items is an early predynastic, biconical macehead made of red breccia, probably from Upper Egypt (see image). The figure of a small animal decorates one end. Ciałowicz has suggested that this creature is a scorpion. During the later Predynastic and the Proto/Early Dynastic periods, scorpions are important emblems.[2] They are familiar to us from the early history of Egyptian kingship, either as a name (as in King Scorpion, the figure on the Scorpion macehead) or as "an expression of royal power".[3]

Macehead in the Royal Ontario Museum, Acc. No. 900.2.55 (author's photo)

But representations of scorpions from early Egypt tend to look quite different from the creature on the ROM macehead. They often show rounded segments on the tail, or a greater number of appendages which are placed differently.[4] The assumption that this is a scorpion may in fact be inspired by the much later Scorpion Macehead, resulting in a projection of our own expectations onto an object, based on later circumstances, and regardless of whether or not these expectations actually describe what we can observe.

If we look at representations of animals on predynastic pottery, the closest parallels to what we see on the ROM mace are crocodiles or lizards (according to Jean Capart's identification of these animals).[5] A crocodile would certainly make sense on a weapon as an aggressive, forceful animal. However, that this could be a lizard is important to consider as well. In addition to a strong initial visual resemblance, it should be noted that the figure is carved on the underside of the macehead (i.e. the side of the mace bearing the larger end of the perforation).[6] This seems to indicate that this creature is a lizard rather than a crocodile, since this may be a reference to the ability of some lizards to walk vertically and upside-down.

The symbolism of the macehead

But if this is the correct interpretation, it still does not really tell us why such an image would be carved on a weapon. In a period where we lack any form of written record, it is nearly impossible to say what the meaning of a lizard (or crocodile) on a macehead could be. Ultimately, this image could be anything from a personal marker, to a magical or apotropaic symbol. It is difficult, even, to rely on the significance of these animals in the historical period for answers, since this meaning may have changed drastically over such a vast span of time. Any answers to this question that may have been provided by considering the mace in its original context, whatever that may have been, have been lost.

(2) Dagger of Ahmose

Dagger bearing the name of Ahmose in Royal Ontario Museum, Acc. No. 909.97.2 (Photo: ROM)

Similarly, most of the daggers at the Royal Ontario Museum are listed as having been bought by C.T. Currelly and are lacking in concrete provenance. The particularly vexing nature of this piece is not due to uncertain authenticity, but rather uncertain context and meaning. This is a dagger with bronze blade, ebony handle, and a stone pommel bearing a gold plaque with the throne name of Ahmose, founder of the New Kingdom. It also contains several other decorative elements in gold. The finely crafted nature of the piece, in conjunction with the fact that it bears a royal name, might seem like a straightforward case for seeing this as something owned by Ahmose himself.

Indeed Currelly seems to have thought so.[7] In his autobiography, Currelly tells us how he acquired the dagger:

"…a dealer whom I knew was sitting on the bank waiting for me. He had several things to sell, but what made my eyes pop was that one of them was the sword of Aahmes [i.e. Ahmose]. It was a beautifully made bronze sword, with a gold and ebony handle and an alabaster pommel with Aahmes' name on a gold plate, fastened to the alabaster. The dealer told me that it had been found in a tomb, in a certain place which I knew was not far from where Aahmes had been buried. My guess was that it had been stolen from the king's tomb when his body was removed, and buried in the tomb of the thief."

The dagger as a military reward

Currelly's assumptions may be correct. But royal weapons are not the only ones that could bear a royal name. According to Sonya Foke, this kind of assumption is made with weapons bearing royal names in general.[8] However in many cases with a known provenance, the item actually comes from a private context and should be seen, as Foke argues, as a reward granted by the king to private individuals for, e.g. military service.[9]

Pommel bearing the name of Ahmose on dagger in Royal Ontario Museum, Acc. No. 909.97.2, close-up (author's photo)

An alternate explanation for this dagger, then, is that it was, in fact, given as a reward and that the tomb in which it was reportedly found was that of its original owner. But even if this is not a royal dagger, the significance of this piece is not lessened, but rather changed. The history of this dagger speaks more to the relationship between the king and his military officers. This alternate version of events does, however, serve to further illustrate the pitfalls researchers may face when dealing with objects without a secure provenance. The recent history of the ROM's Ahmose dagger highlights the uncertainty that can be faced when approaching the ancient origins such objects, as well as demonstrating the potential dangers of assigning meaning without considering all possibilities for the origins of a piece.

Carla Mesa Guzzo is a PhD candidate in the department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations at the University of Toronto. During the course of her volunteer work at the Royal Ontario Museum, she has researched and catalogued a variety of objects from ancient Egyptian games to Meroitic glass. Her primary focus, however, has been on the ancient Egyptian weaponry in the ROM's collections.


[1] More abut the ROM's history can be found on the Royal Ontario Musum's website and in Lovat Dickson's The Museum makers: The Story of the Royal Ontario Museum. Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum, 1986.

[2] See Krzysztof M. Calowicz, Les Têtes de massues des périodes prédynastique et archaïque dans la Valée du Nil. Warszawa: Państwowe Wydawnictwa Naukowe, 1987. p. 27

[3] From Toby A. H. Wilkinson, "What a King is This: Narmer and the Concept of the Ruler" Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 86. (2000): 23-32.

[4] E.g. see Jean Capart, Primitive Art in Ancient Egypt. London: H. Grevel & Co., 1905. p. 222, fig. 97

[5] E.g. see Jean Capart, Primitive Art in Ancient Egypt. London: H. Grevel & Co., 1905. p. 122. fig. 96-97

[6] Also noted by Dr Steven Shubert.

[7] C.T. Curelly. I Brought the Ages Home. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. p. 56.

[8] Sonia Foke in "'His Majesty Saw My Valour': Weapons as Rewards for Feats on the Battlefield." Warfare and Society in the Ancient Eastern Mediterranean: Papers Arising from a Colloquium Held at the University of Liverpool, 13th June 2008. Eds. Stephen O'Brian and Daniel Boatright. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2013. 5-18.

[9] ibid.

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