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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Egypt Centre Collection Blog: Tracking the History of a Decorated (D-Ware) Vessel
On 04/08/19 05:00, Ken Griffin wrote:
Tracking the History of a Decorated (D-Ware) Vessel Last week's handling session for the Egyptian Art and Architecture module focused on decorated pottery. One of the vessels chosen was W5308 (figs. 1–4), which is one of the most favourite artefacts amongst staff and volunteers at the Egypt Centre. This pot is part of a group called 'D-ware' or 'Decorated Ware', a classification of Predynastic pottery originating from Flinders Petrie's seriation of Predynastic material from Diospolis Parva. The primary characteristics of D-ware pottery is that it was made from Marl clay and decorated with a red ochre. The decoration usually consists of scenes depicting the natural landscape of the Nile Valley, in addition to humans and animals. Numerous examples also show geometric patterns. Pottery vessels such as these date between the Naqada IIA and Naqada IIIB periods (3600–3100 BC) and are found mostly in sites located in Upper Egypt (Cox 2015). This corpus was recently published by Gwenola Graff (2009), with W5308 being given the catalogue number 410.

Fig. 1: W5308

W5308 is a small (10.7cm in height) decorated ovoid marl pottery jar with flat base, ledge rim, and two cylindrical pierced handles on the shoulder (fig. 2). At an unknown date, the vessel had been broken before being reconstructed with glue. The exterior is decorated in dark red paint with representations of two oared boats, one on each side. Each boat contains two central cabins to which a standard has been attached, each bearing a different emblem: a Z-motif or zigzag; five triangular hills or mounds. A study by Aksamit (2006, 559) has shown that these two standards are the most common on D-ware pottery. One of the boats has a large frond hanging from the left prow that arches over the vessel and terminates in an irregular shape above the cabins. The other has a fan-shaped bush motif projecting from the rear cabin. A similar fan-shaped bush is also shown under the boats. Additionally, S-motifs are painted below and between the boats. Four wavy lines encircle the top of the rim, with a further five covering each handle.

Fig. 2: Decorated faces of W5308

So what is the history of W5308? Well, from a number (3367) written on the pot we can trace it back to the collection of the Reverend William MacGregor (1848–1937), who owned one of the finest private collections of Egyptian antiquities ever assembled. The vessel is first mentioned by Percy Newberry (1869–1949) in a 1913 article discussing cult signs on decorated pottery. MacGregor's collection of objects was sold over the course of nine days by Sotheby's auction house between the 26 June–6 July 1922. W5308 was one of two pots making up lot 1757, with the catalogue describing it as follows: "Two others [vessels], with ovoid bodies, flat lips and tubular handles, 5½ in. and 4½ in. high, the taller of the two with a two-cabined boat on each side, and ostriches, sails, etc., below, the smaller with two-cabined boats on each side; found opposite Gebelein, both of the Archaic Period." Since there are no ostriches on the Swansea vessel, W5308 clearly relates to the smaller pot. This was easily confirmed by checking the measurements. Moreover, a photograph of W5308 is represented in plate 53 of the catalogue (fig. 3)! Lot 1757 was purchased by John Sunley Comins, who was employed at Sir. Henry Wellcome's Historical Medical Museum from 1921 onwards, for the sum of £10/10.

Fig. 3: W5308 as shown on plate LIII of the MacGregor catalogue

Eagled-eyed readers have probably noticed that the vessel depicted in the MacGregor catalogue was complete in 1922. This is confirmed by the flimsy slip kept in the Wellcome archives (13434), which doesn't mention the vessel as being broken or repaired. No record of when the pot was broken and subsequently restored is recorded in the Egypt Centre archives. However, a photograph showing the pot on display in the 1970s clearly shows that it had been restored by then (fig. 4). This perhaps suggests that the vessel had been broken prior to it arriving in Swansea in 1971, although it is also possible that the damage occurred during the transit of the objects. Whatever the case, the restoration of the pot was not particularly well done, with lots of excess glue present on the surface. The photo shows a young Prof. Alan Lloyd standing in front of the Predynastic case in the old Wellcome Museum at Swansea University. W5308 continues to be the centrepiece of the Predynastic case in the Egypt Centre, although no longer suspended in mid-air like in the archival photo. Perhaps it's time to give this beautiful vessel a new lease of life by sending it off for new conservation work!

Fig. 4: Prof. Alan Lloyd in front of the old Predynastic case. 

Aksamit, J. (1998a) 'Egyptian Predynastic D-ware: Archaeological Evidence and Social Context'. In XIII International Congress of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Sciences - Forlì - Italia - 8/14 September 1996. Proceedings 6: Workshops, ed. C. Giunchi. Forlì: A.B.A.C.O. Ed. 561–565.
———. (1998b) 'The D-ware from Abusir el-Meleq'. In Proceedings of the Seventh International Congress of Egyptologists, Cambridge, 3–9 September 1995, ed. C. J. Eyre. Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 82. Leuven: Peeters. 31–38.
———. (2006) 'A New List of Vases with Cult-signs'. In Archaeology of Early Northeastern Africa: In Memory of Lech Krzyżaniak, ed. K. Kroeper, M. Chłodnicki and M. Kobusiewicz. Studies in African Archaeology 9. Poznan: Archaeological Museum. 557–592.
Cox, J. (2015) 'From Nubia to the Levant: The Distribution of Predynastic Egyptian Decorated Ware in Space and Time'. In Ancient Cultures at Monash University: Proceedings of a Conference Held Between 18–20 October 2013 on Approaches to Studying the Ancient Past, ed. J. Cox, C. R. Hamilton, K. R. L. McLardy, A. J. Pettman and D. Stewart. BAR International Series 2764. Oxford: Archaeopress. 71–77.
Graff, G. (2009) Les peintures sur vases de Nagada I - Nagada II: nouvelle approche sémiologique de l'iconographie prédynastique. Egyptian Prehistory Monographs 6. Leuven: Leuven University Press. 
Hardwick, T. (2011) 'Five Months before Tut: Purchasers and Prices at the MacGregor Sale, 1922'. Journal of the History of Collections 23, 1: 1–14.
———. (2012) 'The Obsidian King's Origins: Further Light on Purchasers and Prices at the MacGregor Sale, 1922'. Discussions in Egyptology 65: 7–52.
Newberry, P. E. (1913) 'List of Vases with Cult-signs'. Annals of Archaeology and Anthropology 5: 137–142.
Sotheby, Wilkinson and Hodge. (1922) Catalogue of the MacGregor Collection of Egyptian Antiquities. London: Davy. 

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