This delightful little piece is only 7.5 inches tall and is inscribed with the name of Merenre I who ruled immediately before the better known Pepi II towards the end of the 6th Dynasty. This makes it over 4000 years old, and despite being that old it’s still in pretty good nick!
It’s made of alabaster and shows a mother monkey cuddling her baby. It’s thought to’ve been a vessel which once held oil or unguents, and may’ve been gifted to a woman of the court by the king. The imagery has connotations of the exotic and of fertility.
It also makes me think a bit of the small alabaster statue of Pepi II on his mother’s knee that’s in the Brooklyn Museum now, but I rather think no Ancient Egyptian would make that link!
It’s not clear where it was found but it is now in the Met Museum (acc. no.: 30.8.1340.)
There’s something fascinating about damaged and fragmentary statue faces, and I frequently find myself photographing them in museums. They evoke the same feeling as Shelley’s Ozymandias, and I find the look of faded grandeur in the resulting photos compelling.
This face depicts Khafre, the fourth king of the 4th Dynasty and builder of the second biggest pyramid at Giza (put on a higher foundation than Khufu’s so that it would look bigger!). It was probably found in his pyramid complex (it’s now in the Met Museum, acc. no.: 26.7.1392),
It’s made of Egyptian alabaster (aka travertine, aka calcite). I particularly like the juxtaposition between the smooth, almost soft-looking, finished surfaces and the rough stone where it has broken apart. It must’ve been beautiful when originally made.
The words “ancient Egyptian coffin” conjure up images of gold, of intricate decoration & texts, and of human shaped boxes. But this was not always the case, and earlier coffins (like this one which dates to the early Old Kingdom) can be quite a bit less ostentatious & elaborate.
To start with it’s shorter than you might expect – this is because in this period (c. 2500 BCE) people weren’t laid out straight for burial. Instead they were placed in their graves curled up in a contracted position that’s sometimes referred to as the foetal position.
But don’t mistake it for a cheap or shoddy piece of work. Decent wood wasn’t plentiful in ancient Egypt, so a wooden coffin is demonstrating that you can bury a certain amount of wealth. Even given it was local Egyptian tamerisk wood I imagine it would still make a statement.
It’s also shaped to convey meaning. The long sides mimic the palace facade motif, which is part of the king’s iconography and is also used in the funerary context by more than just the king. The lid is vaulted and this is the shape of the shrine associated with Lower Egypt.
This coffin was excavated by Petrie at Tarkhan in the Faiyum and is now in the Met Museum (acc. no.: 12.187.54).
This is one of several scenes of butchering that are present on the walls of a tomb chapel that originally stood in Saqqara and dates to the 5th Dynasty in the Old Kingdom (around 4500 years ago). The whole chapel is now in the Met Museum (acc. no.:08.201.1).
Butchering scenes were common in these chapels to provide meat for the deceased person in the afterlife. This one is on the west wall of the chapel, near the false door where offerings to the deceased were placed. So its likely function is to provide offerings in perpetuity.
Despite being a common scene type this example is still unusual. The museum website points out that it’s a stage in the process not normally represented – the cow is part butchered and its ribs are exposed now that the first cuts have been removed.
This alabaster jar is well over 4000 years old, dating to the reign of Pepi II at the end of the Old Kingdom. It’s about 5½ inches tall, and presumably once held some sort of unguent or ointment or other cosmetic. It no longer has a lid, but probably did when new.
It’s a beautiful piece of work, I am always a fan of these sorts of vessels with the juxtaposition between the creamy alabaster and the neatly incised and coloured text. And although it’s showing signs of its age, you can still imagine how lovely it would’ve been when brand new.
The text gives us two of the names of the king – on the left his Horus name in its serekh (Netjerikhau), and on the right his throne name in a cartouche (Neferkare). Below the names “given life like Re” runs in both directions sharing an initial hieroglyph.
The rulers of Egypt appear to’ve shared my liking for these sorts of pieces – for instance a thousand years later Tutankhamun was buried with many alabaster vessels, several labelled with his names. They probably took them rather more for granted as a piece of everyday life!
This jar is now in the Met Museum, acc. no. 12.182.17
There were eleven wooden statues found in the tomb of Merti at Saqqara, who lived during the 5th Dynasty (over 4000 years ago) and was a high official and provincial governor. These two are Merti (back) and his wife (foreground).
I say “his wife” coz that’s what the museum label says, but she has no inscription so it’s really shorthand for “a woman associated with Merti perhaps his wife, perhaps his mother”. A reminder that the limited space of a museum label can make it sound more definitive than it is!
The statues are made of acacia wood, and would once have been painted. I’m always astonished that wooden objects like this have survived so long. They’re still beautiful too, and display a great attention to detail. Once they must’ve been spectacular.
These two are now in the Met Museum (acc. no.s: 26.2.2 and 26.2.3), along with 3 others; 5 more are in Cairo and the last is in Stockholm.
This is an example of some ancient royal recycling! It was dug up at Lisht North, in the pyramid complex of Amenemhat I (of Dynasty 12), but was originally created for the pyramid complex of Khufu (of Dynasty 4) at Giza (i.e. to go with the Great Pyramid).
This happened a lot throughout Ancient Egyptian history and beyond – why go to the trouble of quarrying new blocks of stone and carefully shaping them when you could just nick some from a monument of a long dead king and flip them round to carve on what had been the back side.
The female figure on this is the personification of an estate which was endowed by Khufu to supply offerings to his funerary cult in perpetuity – the text and cartouche above her head give the name of this estate: Perfect is Khufu. Khufu was not modest! 😉
Graffiti is an odd two-natured thing, and it fascinates me. When it’s modern, we cry “vandalism!” and punish the perpetrator. When it’s ancient we cover it with perspex and take the tourists to see it.
This is a photo of the latter, of course – graffiti written some 3500 years ago on the walls of an Ancient Egyptian site (the Step Pyramid complex at Saqqara) which dates to the reign of Djoser of the Third Dynasty some 4500 years ago!
It’s written in the hieratic script and I don’t know exactly what it says (I tried to look it up, but failed to find it). However I do know that it’s (roughly speaking) a verbose form of “Name was here!”. It tells you who the person was and that he visited, and when he visited.
One of the things that’s both fascinating and frustrating about the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, Cairo is that as well as the big set piece “masterpieces” of Egyptian art there are also other intriguing objects tucked into corners but they’re often unlabelled.
This is a case in point, a stone … something … tucked into a corner in a doorway between two Old Kingdom reliefs. I’ve just captioned it “Stone Vessel” on my photo site, but I think it might be a stand for an offering bowl as I’ve seen something similar in the Brooklyn Museum.
I love the detail in the hieroglyphs, I’m always a sucker for objects where the Egyptian who made it has blurred the boundaries between writing and art (which are already pretty blurred for the hieroglyphic script).
Edited to add: Nigel Strudwick has given me more information. It’s from tomb B7 at Saqqara, dating to the 5th Dynasty (probably) and is published in Porter-Moss II 2nd ed p490 with the text published in Strudwick’s “The Administration of Egypt in the Old Kingdom” p333. The accession number is CG1298 or CG1301. The text is a sequence of titles and a name, transliterated as: tAyty, zAb imy-r zS, Hry-sStA zT(A)w. He didn’t give a full translation in the comment but piecing it together from what he, Vicky Metafora, Dave Robbins and John Patterson have said I think it’s something like: ?, Judge, Overseer of Scribes, Master of Secrets Zetjau (where Zetjau is the man’s name). Thank you everyone, it’s nice to find out more about this! 🙂
This is one of my favourite pieces in the Cairo Museum, it’s a wooden statue of a man carrying containers and it’s a bit over a foot high. It was found at Meir, in the tomb of a man called Niankhpepi who lived during the reign of Pepi I in the 6th Dynasty in the Old Kingdom.
The box in his arms is very highly decorated, and you can just see the handle at the top. And on his back he carries what looks very like a child’s school satchel, except that it has legs sticking down from the base so that when you put it down it will stand up.
The statue is a model servant, placed in the tomb to work for Niankhpepi in the afterlife. These sorts of models developed into the elaborate dioramas of activities like bread baking or brewing which have been found in First Intermediate Period and early Middle Kingdom tombs.
It’s in the Cairo Museum, acc. no. JE30810 or CG241.