The June speaker at the Essex Egyptology Group was Maryan Ragheb who told us about her work on Predynastic body ornaments and identity expression in this period of Egyptian history. Click through to read my write up of her post on my sister blog, Other People’s Tales.
The May 2022 meeting of the Essex Egyptology Group was an in person one, and the talk was given by Dr Kathryn E. Piquette about her fascinating work on the Narmer Palette. Click through to read my write up of her talk on my sister blog, Other People’s Tales.
After writing up Aidan Dodson’s talk for the EEG about the First Pharaohs I went looking for some Early Dynastic objects to share and my photo of this group of human figurines in the Met caught my eye. They were found at the Osiris Temple in Abydos, as part of a deposit of items.
The central female figurine is the one that draws the eye, she’s about 10 inches tall and is made of ivory – it’s quite astonishing how well she’s survived the last 5000 years, many of which she spent buried in the ground.
In the “Dawn of Egyptian Art” Diana Craig Patch positions this figure as being part of the evolution of Predynastic art into the more familiar later style e.g. by the end of the Early Dynastic period a female figure would be wearing a long dress but this one is still naked.
She is now in the Met, acc. no.: 03.4.12
See the photo on my photo site: https://photos.talesfromthetwolands.org/picture.php?/1394/
This stela has the name of the second king of the 2nd Dynasty on it, who reigned some time around 2880 BCE. The name is his Horus name, and is written in a serekh which represents the royal palace with a falcon for the god Horus on top.
The name consists only of two signs, the sun disk (re) and the basket (neb). But whether you call him Nebre or Reneb depends on if you think the Re is written first because it was said first or to indicate respect for the god Re. It may mean “Lord of the Sun” or “Re is My Lord”.
Whichever way round his name is it’s actually the first time that the name of Re has shown up in the name of a king of Egypt. And there seems to be some doubt (from my brief reading) as to whether this is Re the god, or “just” the sun as it begins to become more important.
It was found near Memphis (probably) and perhaps indicates that Nebre/Reneb was buried at Saqqara rather than Abydos (as the 1st Dynasty kings had been), but there hasn’t been a tomb identified for him.
It’s now in the Met Museum, acc. no. 60.144 for the front and 1975.149 for the back.
See it on my photo site: https://photos.talesfromthetwolands.org/picture.php?/1433
I’ve written about the names of kings on the blog before https://talesfromthetwolands.org/2019/08/11/the-naming-of-kings/ and I’ve also written about the Egyptian writing system https://talesfromthetwolands.org/2020/10/01/write-like-an-egyptian/ including honorific transposition.
I enjoy the way that Egyptian furniture often has feet that are modelled after the feet of animals. This example is shaped like a bull’s hoof and is particularly finely carved from elephant ivory.
It was found at Umm el-Qab, a royal cemetery at Abdyos with burials of 1st Dynasty kings as well as some pre-dynastic tombs and two 2nd Dynasty tombs. Bulls are a symbol of the king’s power, and the beauty of this carving suggests to me that it was a piece of royal furniture.
It’s a reminder that even 5000 years ago at the beginning of a unified Egyptian state they were already a highly sophisticated society. The elites lived in luxury, surrounded by beautiful objects.
This object is now in the Met Museum, acc. no.: 26.7.1282.
See it on my photo site: https://photos.talesfromthetwolands.org/picture.php?/1401
This is a jar for oil, dating to around the time of the unification of Egypt about 5000 years ago – it has the name of Narmer on it, inside a serekh, and the rest of the inscription has something to do with taxes. The three strokes below the name indicate the quality of the oil.
It was found at Tarkhan (probably) and is now in the Cairo Museum (as of 2016; acc. no.: JE71602). It’s not really what you might think of as one of the key pieces – it’s not very pretty, the writing is a bit of a scribble – but that’s part of why it’s interesting.
It’s a part of the reality of life in this new state – somebody was (I presume) fulfilling their new obligation to their new ruler by providing him with oil. Some bureaucrat somewhere ticked him off on a list, and scribbled a note on the jar.
Or was this new? Maybe it just felt like “same stuff different day”? Meet the new king same as the old local lord? How long had taxes been a part of life? There was little explanation on the label (I’ve told you pretty much all of it) so I’m left with these questions and more!
Was this good quality oil? What oil was it? Was this the whole of someone’s tax burden or a fraction? Who would’ve paid it, a single person or a whole village? Did it feel like a lot or not? Did they feel like they got something in return? Or was it just a protection racket?
See it on my photo site: https://photos.talesfromthetwolands.org/picture.php?/483/
This board and pieces date all the way back to near the very beginning of Egypt as a unified country – to the Early Dynastic Period, with the board just generically dated to the 1st & 2nd Dynasties, and the pieces rather more specifically to the reign of Djet in the 1st Dynasty.
They are probably for the game of senet, which is known from throughout Pharaonic Egyptian history and on into the Roman period. Later on, in the New Kingdom and later, it definitely has spiritual connotations and represented the journey of the ka to the afterlife.
Exactly what rules the Egyptians used to play the game, and how those rules changed over time, is unknown. But it is thought to be a race game, where dice determine how many spaces you can move your pieces and the first to get all of them to the last square wins.
Both board and pieces are in the Cairo Museum (as of 2016 when I visited), the board (acc. no. JE35038) was found at Abu Roash and the pieces (JE98212) were in Mastaba S3504 at Saqqara (the tomb of Djet or a high official).
See it on my photo site: https://photos.talesfromthetwolands.org/picture.php?/472/
These two small stone vessels were found in the tomb of the 2nd Dynasty king Khasekhemwy at Abydos. After more than 4500 years they are still sealed with their original gold foil lids and little clay sealings – and so they may still hold cosmetic material of some sort.
They look quite simple but they would be luxury items. And it’s not just the gold that makes them so. Carving out a hard piece of stone into a graceful and polished container with the technology available at the time would be extremely labour intensive as well as requiring skill.
They are now in the Cairo Museum, acc. no.s: JE34941, JE34944
See them on my photo site: https://photos.talesfromthetwolands.org/picture.php?/477/ and there’s a side on view to the right.
I’ve written about Khasekhemwy on the blog before: https://talesfromthetwolands.org/2019/10/01/the-two-lords-are-at-peace-in-him/
This is part of the grave goods of a man called Hemaka, who was Seal Bearer of the King of Lower Egypt in the reign of Den. Den was the fifth king of the First Dynasty of Ancient Egypt and reigned for four decades around about 2950 BCE.
It’s not clear what purpose this disc had – there are others with different designs from this tomb, and they have definite holes in the centre. So they’re been suggested to be spinning discs (but still the function isn’t clear).
And you can see that this design would probably work quite well if it was spinning round: the dogs would seem to chase and catch their prey. It’s a very typical Egyptian scene and has connotations of the victory of order (domestic dogs) over chaos (desert gazelles).
Found at Saqqara in the tomb of Hemaka, now in the Cairo Museum (acc. no.: JE70164).
See it on my photo site: https://photos.talesfromthetwolands.org/picture.php?/475 and go left for photos of the other two discs.
I’ve written about Den’s mother on the blog before: https://talesfromthetwolands.org/2021/03/07/almost-but-not-quite-a-king/
The objects that survive from Ancient Egypt are often beautiful things, to enjoy looking at. Or practical items that remind us that they were people too, just like us. But there are also less palatable remnants – like this mace from Predynastic or Early Dynastic times.
This roughly 6000 year old carefully smoothed and shaped piece of stone with a hole for the handle painstakingly (and slowly) drilled through it was not intended to inspire or delight, it was intended to be used to hit someone else with until they stopped fighting back.
It’s also a symbol of power – from the Narmer palette through to every temple pylon facade there’s the image of Pharaoh holding an enemy by the hair and raising his mace up to execute his victim. Not all of Egyptian history is gold and beauty, some of it is power and fear.
It’s in the Garstang Museum, either E.611 or E.614. I saw it at the Before Egypt exhibition they put on in 2019.
See it on my photo site: https://photos.talesfromthetwolands.org/picture.php?/401/