Monday, 21 October 2019
Treasures from the Age of the Pyramid Builders
The blog post for this week is written by Sam Powell, an Egypt Centre volunteer and Masters student of Egyptology at Swansea University, who has previously written guest posts this year.
This week's class focused on the Old Kingdom (namely the Third–Sixth Dynasties, approximately 2700–2200 BC). The Egypt Centre holds comparatively less material that can be definitely dated to this timeframe than other periods (the Tjenti lintel was too big to remove from the wall!), but in spite of this Ken was able to select some really beautiful pieces for the class to demonstrate the type of material being produced during this important period of Egyptian history.
|Fig. 1: Siltstone dish|
Our first object was the reserve head (W164), which has been discussed in a previous blog post, but was very well-received by the class, many of whom have admired this object on display and were very pleased to finally view it up close. A siltstone dish (W412), likely dating to the First–Second Dynasty (Aston 1994, type 51), was helpful to compare the shift from the Early Dynastic Period to the Old Kingdom (fig. 1).
|Fig. 2: Breccia bowl|
A red and white breccia bowl (W400) is unprovenanced but typical of vessels produced during the Early Dynasty Period (fig. 2). However, the typology established by Aston (1994, type 108) also suggests these vessels can be found in tombs of the early Old Kingdom. It's a sizable and very heavy piece (which isn't appreciated when viewing in a case), and the amount of time and skill that must have gone into its production cannot go unnoticed when viewed up close.
|Fig. 3: Offering table|
We had two travertine (Egyptian alabaster) objects this week—a dish (W398), and an offering table (W2045)—and as with the breccia bowl, being able to handle these vessels really allows you to appreciate the scale of the work involved. The travertine bowl is fortunate to have a known provenance, allowing us to securely date it to the Third Dynasty. It was excavated by John Garstang (1876–1956) from the site of Raqaqnah (Tomb 1) between 1901–2 (Garstang 1904; Thomas 2002). The offering table (W2045) stylistically dates to the Fifth Dynasty, and would have been placed on a stand in front of a false door in a tomb to receive food offerings for the deceased (fig, 3). This object was a gift from the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff.
|Fig. 4: Admiring the aragonite dish|
My favourite object of the week was the aragonite dish (W307), which fits with Aston's type 51 (figs. 4–5). I'd been lucky enough to help with the condition checks for the objects prior to the class, and Ken and I noted this item was listed as travertine (likely due to its translucent nature, and ivory colour). However, we realised that the red bands were very unusual and the stone much smoother and crystalline than other travertine objects of a similar date. After a little research, we concluded aragonite a much more likely candidate for its material.
|Fig. 5: Aragonite dish|
The thing that really impressed me with the dish was the skill and forethought of the artist who created the piece over four thousand years ago, who realised the bands of different colour within the natural rock could be utilised to create the beautiful effect around the circumference of the dish—it is stunning!
|Fig. 6: An excellent photo op|
There were audible "oohs" and "ahhhs" in the class (as well as the hasty grabbing of camera phones!) when we put the translucent objects on the light box that Ken had brought up from the stores (fig. 6). This handy bit of kit allowed us to illuminate the objects from below. As well as just being very pretty, this allowed the class to really see the tool marks and veins of the natural stone within each piece.
Thank you to Ken, and the Egypt Centre, for allowing us the opportunity to appreciate these beautiful and fascinating objects—I can't wait to see what objects we get next week!
Aston, B. G. (1994) Ancient Egyptian stone vessels: materials and forms. Studien zur Archäologie und Geschichte Altägyptens 5. Heidelberg: Heidelberger Orientverlag.
Garstang, J. (1904) Report of excavations at Reqaqnah, 1901–2: tombs of the third Egyptian dynasty at Raqâqnah and Bêt Khallâf. Westminster: Constable.
Thomas, A. P. (2002) 'The rediscovery of some Dynasty III stone vessels from Reqaqnah'. In Mélanges offerts à Edith Varga: "le lotus qui sort de terre", ed. H. Győry. Bulletin du Musée Hongrois des Beaux-Arts: Supplément 2001. Budapest: Musée Hongrois des Beaux-Arts. 459–468.
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