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Sunday, August 4, 2019

Egypt Centre Collection Blog: A Mystery Script on an Object from Armant

Monday, 29 July 2019

A Mystery Script on an Object from Armant

Last year, while looking through the objects in one of the Egypt Centre stores, I came across a wooden object with strange writing (EC3452). It was several months later that I was finally able to look at this object in detail, including obtaining clearer photos. Upon closer inspection, it turned out that the script was not written directly on the wood, but on papyrus affixed to the wood. In total, there are twenty-six lines, which are surrounded by a reddish-brown border (fig. 1). Unfortunately, sections of the papyrus have been lost in places, particularly towards the bottom.

Fig. 1: Front of EC3452

So what is the script written on EC3452 (fig. 2)? Identifying it has proved quite a challenge! Several scripts were rejected early on, including demotic, hieratic, Arabic, Hebrew, and Greek. With no obvious answer, I sent photos of the object to several linguists who proposed cursive ArmenianAvestan, and Sogdian. Yet perhaps the best suggestion so far is Estrangelo, the oldest and classical form of Syriac script.

Fig. 2: Close-up of the script

Little is known about EC3452, although several clues are written on the reverse (fig. 3). Firstly, the rectangular serrated label in the lower left corner indicates that it comes from the collection of Robert de Rustafjaell (1876–1843), specifically his 1906 sale. Yet this sticker does not relate to the lot number, but to an exhibition held in London prior to the sale. The rectangular label with dark blue border, which can be partially seen beneath, usually contains numbers written in pencil, although what these relate to is currently unknown. Secondly, in the top right corner "Armant" is written (very faint and difficult to see) with a red crayon. This would suggest that the object originated from Armant, which is located just south of Luxor. Numerous objects in the Egypt Centre collection have place names written in either blue or red crayon, most (if not all) originating from the de Rustafjaell collection. Perhaps these were written by de Rustafjaell himself during his travels to Egypt in the 1890s.

Fig. 3: Back of EC3452

The aim of this blog post is to seek help with the identification and reading of the script on EC3452. Is it really Estrangelo or something else? What does it say and when does it date to? If you know anyone who can read Estrangelo, please pass this post on to them. Or, if you have another suggestion as to the script, please get in touch with me!

Sotheby, W. H. (1906) Catalogue of the Collection of Egyptian Antiquities Formed in Egypt, by R. de Rustafjaell, Esq. Queen's Gate, S. W. London: Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge.

--   Sent from my Linux system.

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