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Monday, July 1, 2019

Egypt Centre Collection Blog: News from Luxor: Reconstructing a Fragmentary Middle Kingdom Stela

Monday, 24 June 2019

News from Luxor: Reconstructing a Fragmentary Middle Kingdom Stela

This past Saturday I arrived in Luxor, which will be my home for the next four weeks. I'll be joining up with the South Asasif Conservation Project (SACP), directed by Dr Elena Pischikova, a project I've been involved in since 2010. My role on the project is as an epigrapher, working mainly on reconstructing the religious texts in the tomb of Karakhamun (TT 223). In particular, my work this season will focus on helping the team reconstruct the Ritual of the Hours of the Night, which was inscribed on the southern pillars within the First Pillared Hall of the tomb (fig. 1). While the tomb had completely collapsed in fairly modern times, over 20,000 inscribed fragments have been recovered from the floor since 2006. As a result, the reconstruction of the monument is a giant jigsaw puzzle!

Fig. 1: Reconstructed vignette of the Seventh Hour of the Night

In preparation for my trip to Luxor, I decided to look at two related boxes in the Egypt Centre store. One was labelled as "stela", while the other contained just over forty fragments of broken limestone (fig. 2). These fragments, which carry the accession number EC1848, were originally part of the collection of Charles James Tabor (1849–1928), a British businessman, bibliophile, lecturer of folklore, and collector of 'curios' (Hardwick 2012, 49). They were sold as part of lot 235 on the 13 November 1928, with the auction catalogue describing it as "six sepulchral stele in limestone". No details of its provenance are recorded. The lot was purchased by Harry Stow, a long-term buyer for Henry Wellcome, for the sum of £19/10. The Egypt Centre has at least three other objects (W348, W349, W1710) allegedly from this lot, although two of them are sandstone!

Fig. 2: Fragments of EC1848 before reconstruction

Using the experience gained through my work with the South Asasif Conservation Project, I spent a day trying to piece the fragments together. Several fragments had been previously glued together at an unknown date, perhaps by the late Anthony Donohue (1944–2016), who worked on the collection for many years. The largest fragment contains the upper figure of a man carved in sunk relief, with a table of offerings above. Traces of an inscription are located above this. Thus, it was already clear that EC1848 contained at least three registers (fig. 3). Stylistically, the stela can be dated to the Middle Kingdom, specifically the late Twelfth or Thirteenth Dynasties.

Fig. 3: Largest fragment of EC1848 before joins

Following a quick examination of all the fragments, around half of which contained decoration, I was able to join two of the larger fragments to the inscription at the top. This revealed that the text consisted of at least four lines of hieroglyphs (fig. 4). While fragmentary, it was possible to reconstruct a part of it. On the second line is the well-known phrase n-kꜢ-n, "for the ka of", which traditionally precedes the name of the deceased. Unfortunately, this name is missing. Line 3 has ir-n ḥꜢty-Ꜥ wr [...], "made by the Governor [...]". This identifies the father of the deceased, whose name perhaps begins Wer-[...]. Finally, on the bottom line, the inscription provides the title and name of the owner's mother: nbt-pr Bbi͗ mꜢꜤt-ḫrw, "Mistress of the House, Bebi, the justified". The name Bebi is well attested for both males and females of the Middle Kingdom (Ranke PN, 95. 16).

Fig. 4: Upper register inscription during reconstruction

Several joins were made to the scene in the central register, which allows for a reconstruction of a large offering table with a duck on top and drinking vessels below (fig. 5). To the right is a fragment containing the upper body and arm of a person, perhaps seemingly sniffing a lotus blossom. To the left of the table, only the remains of a toe from another figure and the base of a staff are present. This would suggest that we have a seated male figure (the owner of the stela) on the left side, and a female figure (likely his wife) on the right (Budge 1912, pl. 22). In the centre of the lower register, a male figure is depicted looking to the right. The inscription in front of him reads sꜢ.s sꜢ-ḥwt-ḥr, "Her son, Sahathor". Sahathor, meaning "son of the goddess Hathor" is another common name in the Middle Kingdom (Ranke PN, 283. 20). Directly behind him is a column of hieroglyphs, which reads as ḫw-ni͗wt.f mꜢꜤ-ḫrw, "Khuniwtef, the justified". This name is much rarer, although it is attested on a stela in Cairo (CG 20134), which also dates to the Middle Kingdom (Lange & Schäfer 1902–1925 I, 158). I am grateful to Wolfram Grajetzki for bringing this stela to my attention!

Fig. 5: Reconstruction of EC1848

Despite ten new joins to the stela being made, around thirty more fragments (mainly undercoated) remain. From the decorated fragments, three contain traces of arms holding flowers. One of them even includes the partial inscription sꜢt.f [...]-ḥwt-ḥr, "his daughter, [...]-Hathor". It is thus clear that we have in the Egypt Centre a rather fragmentary family stela dating to the late Middle Kingdom.

Budge, E. A. W. (1912) Hieroglyphic Texts from Egyptian Stelae, &c., in the British Museum. Part II. London: The British Museum.
Franke, D. and M. Marée (2013) Egyptian Stelae in the British Museum from the 13th–17th Dynasties. Volume I, Fascicule 1: Descriptions. London: British Museum.
Griffin, K. (2018) 'A Preliminary Report on the Hours of the Night in the Tomb of Karakhamun (TT 223)'. In Thebes in the First Millennium BC: Art and Archaeology of the Kushite Period and Beyond, ed. E. Pischikova, J. Budka and K. Griffin. GHP Egyptology 27. London: Golden House Publications. 59–70.
Hardwick, T. (2012) 'The Obsidian King's Origins: Further Light on Purchasers and Prices at the MacGregor Sale, 1922'. Discussions in Egyptology 65: 7–52.
Lange, H. O. and H. Schäfer (1902–1925) Grab- und Denksteine des Mittleren Reichs (CG; 20001–20780). 1–4. Catalogue général des du Musée du Caire. Berlin: Reichsdruckerei.
Ranke, H. (1935) Die ägyptischen Personennamen, vol. 1. Glückstadt: Verlag J. J. Augustin.
Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge. (1928) Catalogue of Prehistoric Implements, Egyptian, Greek and Roman Antiquities, &c.: Monday, the 12th of November, 1928, and Following Day. London: Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge.
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