Anthropoid Sarcophagus of Usermontu

This is a relatively unusual object – it’s a human shaped granite sarcophagus, which is not unusual in itself but it belonged to a private individual who lived during the New Kingdom and at that period it was generally only royalty who got stone sarcophagi.

The man who was once buried in it was called Usermontu, and he held a suite of high ranking titles including High Priest of Montu and Overseer of the Treasury. This reinforces the impression of very high status that’s implied by the sarcophagus.

And he didn’t just have one stone sarcophagus – in his tomb (TT382) there’s another larger black one, into which this one presumably fitted (this one wasn’t found in the tomb, it was originally bought in Egypt from an antiquities dealer in 1913).

Yet another indicator of his prestige is the size of his tomb, which is bigger than the others around it. That tomb was known at the beginning of the 20th Century, but somehow misplaced and only rediscovered in 2010 when some modern buildings were demolished.

Anthropoid Sarcophagus of Usermontu. Probably from Theban Tomb 382. New Kingdom, Dynasty 19, reign of Ramesses II, c. 1279-1213 BCE. Acc. No.: 17.190.2042 a-c

This sarcophagus is now in the Met Museum, acc. no.: 17.190.2042

See it on my photo site: https://photos.talesfromthetwolands.org/picture.php?/991/category/6

Jigsaw Puzzles:
easier: https://www.jigsawplanet.com/?rc=play&pid=138c3b85c13d
harder: https://www.jigsawplanet.com/?rc=play&pid=2346e2af6372

Bowl Buried with Rennefer wife of Noferkhawt

This bowl was found inside the coffins of Rennefer next to her head. She lived during the reign of Thutmose III and her husband, Noferkhawt, was a scribe – she’s buried in his tomb (MMA 729, excavated by the Met in 1935 and this piece is now in that museum acc. no.: 35.3.78).

It’s decorated with a marsh scene – the square in the centre is the water, with lotus plants growing from it. Some of these are in flower, while some are still just buds. There are also some marsh birds (6 in total tho I think only see 4 in the photo) and 2 tilapia fish.

It has become rather discoloured over the course of the 3500 years it’s existed, but you can still see some of the original turquoise colour of the faience on the left of the photo. When new this would’ve been vivid and shiny, and really rather nice to look at.

The design is notable given the find context. The marshes are a place of fertility, the lotus flower is associated with rebirth and the tilapia fish is associated with Osiris. So it was included in her funerary goods as part of the process of getting her into the afterlife.

Bowl Buried with Rennefer wife of Noferkhawt. From a tomb east of Deir el Bahri, Thebes. New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, reign of Thutmose III, c. 1479-1425 BCE. Acc. No.: 35.3.1 – 35.3.105 (some)

See it on my photo site: https://photos.talesfromthetwolands.org/picture.php?/1152/category/6

Jigsaw Puzzles:
easier: https://www.jigsawplanet.com/?rc=play&pid=17290a22b444
harder: https://www.jigsawplanet.com/?rc=play&pid=18a34f22dd8e

Jar with Lid Decorated with a Frog

This jar (acc. no.: 22.2.33) is part of a set of four that the Met Museum bought in 1922. Because they were purchased there’s no record of where they were found but they are thought to date to the reign of Amenhotep III, because similar ones were found in the tomb of his in-laws.

Each jar has a different carving on the lid, a frog in this case and the others are an ibex, a calf or bull and the god Bes. They are clearly not canopic jars (wrong animals/deities, wrong shape) and because there are no inscriptions I don’t think it’s known what they were for.

The frog has a long history in Egyptian iconography, and a strong association with fertility, rebirth and large numbers. It is associated with Heket, the goddess of childbirth, as well as with the male members of the Ogdoad (central gods in one of the creation myths).

It’s a shame we don’t know more about these jars. Were they just a fleeting fashion in elite circles? Were the contents linked to the decoration? And many more questions!

Jar with Lid Decorated with a Frog. New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, possibly reign of Amenhotep III, c. 1390-1352 BCE. Acc. No.: 32.2.33

See it on my photo site: https://photos.talesfromthetwolands.org/picture.php?/1118/category/6

I’ve talked about frogs before on the blog: https://talesfromthetwolands.org/2019/12/21/hundreds-of-thousands/

Jigsaw Puzzles:
easier: https://www.jigsawplanet.com/?rc=play&pid=3649e0973060
harder: https://www.jigsawplanet.com/?rc=play&pid=067bd73eb340

“Literacy in Deir el-Medina: Signs, Marks and Tallies” Daniel Soliman

In December Daniel Soliman spoke to the Essex Egyptology Group about his work on literacy at Deir el-Medina. Click through to read my write up of his talk on my sister blog, Other People’s Tales.

Inner Coffin of Khonsu

This is the inner coffin of a man called Khonsu, who lived in Deir el Medina and worked in the Valley of the Kings during the reign of Ramesses II (around 3200 years ago). He was found buried in his father’s tomb, and his coffins were sold to the Met in 1886 (acc. no.: 86.1.2).

The portion I’ve photographed here includes the goddess Nut kneeling and spreading her arms and wings around Khonsu’s chest to protect him. She’s wearing a red dress with a yellow (or white?) belt tied round her waist, mirroring a red sash in her hair.

You can tell it’s Nut, not just because it’s normally her depicted in this place on coffins, but also because her name and some titles are written above her head. I think it translates as “Nut, greatest of (the horizon?). Nut, lady of the sky, mistress of the gods.”

The three characters immediately above her head are her name: to the left is a small pot, which stands for the syllable “nw” (the type of pot it is) and to the right is a small semi-circular bread loaf that is the letter t. These spell nwt or Nut.

Underneath there’s a third symbol that represents the sky, it does have sounds associated with it in other contexts but here it’s a determinative. It’s a feature of the writing system not the language and tells you what sort of word you’re looking at: in this case a “sky” word.

Which makes sense, because Nut is the mistress of the sky. And you can see the sky determinative turns up again to the right of her name, at the bottom of a short column, indicating that the two symbols above (p and t) are to be read as pt which is the word for sky.

Inner Coffin of Khonsu. From the tomb of Sennedjem (TT1), Deir el Medina. New Kingdom, Dynasty 19, reign of Rameses II, c.1279–1213 BCE. Acc. No.: 86.1.2

See it on my photo site: https://photos.talesfromthetwolands.org/picture.php?/1578/category/6

I’ve written about the Egyptian scripts on the blog before: https://talesfromthetwolands.org/2020/10/01/write-like-an-egyptian/

And I’ve re-told an Egyptian creation story including Nut’s birth here: https://talesfromthetwolands.org/2019/11/01/how-everything-became/

Jigsaw Puzzles:
easier: https://www.jigsawplanet.com/?rc=play&pid=3f2e50122dc6
harder: https://www.jigsawplanet.com/?rc=play&pid=30bcd6820ee2

Funerary Papyrus of Sethnakhte

This is a scene from the far left end of a much longer papyrus (around 4m) which is a funerary text belonging to a man called Sethnakhte who was a Tax Master and Steward during the 19th Dynasty (around 3,300 years ago). It was read from right to left so this is the final part.

It shows Sethnakhte on the right, in a very high quality linen garment – the pleats are marked on in red, and the linen is of such good quality that you can see his limbs through his clothing. On the left is Osiris-Wennefer-Khentyamentiu, a composite deity with a falcon head.

Sethnakhte is holding one hand up in front of himself in adoration of the funerary deity, who is actually a statue on a pedestal. In front of the divine statue is an offering table, and Sethnakhte is also holding up a small figure of the goddess Maat.

The whole scene is taking place within a shrine – you can see the top of it has feathers of Maat and uraei snakes alternating as protective elements, and the walls double up as the lines separating the vignette from the rest of the text.

Funerary Papyrus of Sethnakhte. New Kingdom, Dynasty 19, c. 1320-1200 BCE. Acc. No.: 35.9.19

Its provenance is unknown, but it’s now in the Met Museum, acc. no. 35.9.19

See it on my photo site: https://photos.talesfromthetwolands.org/picture.php?/837/category/6

Jigsaw Puzzles:
easier: https://www.jigsawplanet.com/?rc=play&pid=0a3e2f200e22
harder: https://www.jigsawplanet.com/?rc=play&pid=057c704e8ca1

Inscription of Khaemwaset on the Pyramid of Unas

Ancient Egyptian history didn’t just happen an awfully long time ago, but their civilisation also lasted an almost unimaginable length of time. It’s often noted that Cleopatra is closer to our time than she was to the time of the builders of the pyramids at Giza.

And the Egyptians knew it. They didn’t have tales of giants building the ancient monuments, they didn’t think it was some vanished race of superhumans, they knew that this was their ancestors constructing these buildings in the same way that their own king commissioned his own.

This is one of the ways that we know this – the vaguely pyramid shaped heap of stone on the left of the picture is the pyramid built by Unas, who ruled around 2350 BCE as the last king of the 5th Dynasty during the Old Kingdom.

And the cleaner looking slabs laid up against it are a (reconstructed) inscription commissioned by a man called Khaemwaset (who was one of the many, many sons of Ramesses II) around 1250 BCE during the 19th Dynasty in the New Kingdom.

The inscription talks about how he found that the pyramid was in ruin, so restored it and made sure that Unas’s name was on it once more. This ruined pyramid wasn’t just a heap of rubble to him, but was known to be the tomb of a specific king some 1200 years after it was built.

Inscription of Khaemwaset on the Pyramid of Unas.

See it on my photo site: https://photos.talesfromthetwolands.org/picture.php?/713/category/5

Jigsaw Puzzles:
easier: https://www.jigsawplanet.com/?rc=play&pid=0cea0019c3a5
harder: https://www.jigsawplanet.com/?rc=play&pid=14ff0a1e6e2f

Granite Doorjamb of Ramesses II

This is another bit of royal re-use of a predecessor’s monument, this time from the Ramesside Period. The blocks were found in 1912/3 by the Met Museum’s excavations in the Asasif, the area of Western Thebes in front of Hatshepsut’s temple at Deir el Bahri.

They were part of the foundations of a large temple, started by Ramesses IV and continued by his two successors but never finished. Originally, however, the blocks were part of a doorjamb in a monument belonging to Ramesses II, who ruled about 60 years before Ramesses IV.

That’s not the only way it’s been reused. If you look at the cartouches you can see that those on the bottom register are different to the pairs of cartouches above. That’s because the ones at the bottom were added later, by Ramesses III.

Granite Doorjamb of Ramesses II. From Thebes. New Kingdom, Dynasty 19, reign of Ramesses II, 1279-1213 BCE. Acc. No.: 13.183.2 A-B

The blocks are now in the Met Museum, acc. no.: 13.183.2 A-B

See it on my photo site: https://photos.talesfromthetwolands.org/picture.php?/833/category/6

Jigsaw Puzzles:
easier: https://www.jigsawplanet.com/?rc=play&pid=06c242a4fc2d
harder: https://www.jigsawplanet.com/?rc=play&pid=119523239792

Statue of a Queen

This face once belonged to a seated statue of an Egyptian queen, perhaps with the king seated beside her. It was broken up in antiquity with only the torso and head of the queen (less than a foot tall) remaining to be found by the Met Museum in the early 20th Century.

She’s wearing the vulture headdress over a large wig. In this photo you can mostly see the wing of the headdress, with just the one braid of the wig framing her face. The vulture’s head has been damaged (along with the queen’s nose, cheek & lips).

The museum dates it on stylistic grounds to the beginning of the New Kingdom, or just before, and very tentatively suggest that it might be Ahmose-Nefertari who was one of the line of formidable queens who oversaw the inauguration of the New Kingdom.

Her husband (and brother) was Ahmose I, the first ruler of the 18th Dynasty, and her son was Amenhotep I. Alongside her son she was deified after her death and they were worshipped in Deir el-Medina as patrons of the village.

Statue of a Queen. Possibly Ahmose-Nefertari, the mother of Amenhotep I. From Asasif, Thebes. New Kingdom, Dynasty 17, c. 1580-1550 BCE. Acc. No.: 16.10.224

It’s now in the Met Museum, acc. no.: 16.10.224.

See it on my photo site: https://photos.talesfromthetwolands.org/picture.php?/1163/category/6

I’ve written about Ahmose-Nefertari on the blog before: https://talesfromthetwolands.org/2019/12/11/ahmose-nefertari/

Jigsaw Puzzles:
easier: https://www.jigsawplanet.com/?rc=play&pid=30ceb69caa1d
harder: https://www.jigsawplanet.com/?rc=play&pid=165b733a244c

Ramesside Glass Vessels

Glass is something we rather take for granted in the modern world. We have our windows with large, flat, clear panes; cheap jewellery might have coloured glass to mimic semi-precious stones; food comes in disposable glass jars.

But in ancient Egypt glass was more of a luxury item. Glass working & production were unknown before the New Kingdom, so glass used prior to that was naturally formed in the desert. And even once glass can be made rather than found it’s valued similarly to semi-precious stones.

And it didn’t even really look like our modern idea of glass – if I say “glass vessel” then whether you think wine glass or vase you’ll be thinking see through. But as these vessels demonstrate the Egyptian glass vessels were opaque and look more like painted stone at a glance.

These four date to the Ramesside period, in the second half of the New Kingdom. This was in the middle of the period when Egyptians made glass – it started around the time of Akhenaten and faded out at the end of the New Kingdom, only returning with the Ptolemies.

Ramesside Glass Vessels. New Kingdom, Dynasties 19-20, c. 1320-1085 BCE. Acc. No.s: 30.8.170 (plus others unknown)

They are now in the Met museum, the blue one at the back has the accession number 30.8.170 but I don’t have the details for the other 3.

See it on my photo site: https://photos.talesfromthetwolands.org/picture.php?/846/category/6

Jigsaw Puzzles:
easier: https://www.jigsawplanet.com/?rc=play&pid=20a09042bdc1
harder: https://www.jigsawplanet.com/?rc=play&pid=30f6a084fcaa