How can I pick just one?

Inspired by a recent chat I had with a friend which started as a harmless comment of ‘so what’s your favourite fact about ancient Egypt?’. A common question for Egyptologists or those with just an interest in history. This promptly turned into a two hours conversation with topics ranging from talking about ancient Egyptian soldiers, a prothetic toe and cesarian sections. So it has prompted me to change the format of this week’s blog to not cover a topic but to jump around a bit and explore some favourite facts, objects and insights.

Over on my Instagram the alternate week I don’t post I make an addition to my digital cabinet of curiosities. A place where I can highlight objects I either didn’t get the chance to use or just want to pique people’s interest in the most recent post. In this spirit, I have got five different objects to take a look at.

Golden Flies of Valour

Figure 1: The Golden Flies of Queen Ahotep – Fletcher-Jones, N., 2020. Ancient Egyptian Jewelry. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press.Page 56

The fly might seem like a strange choice of animals to be regarded as a military award. But for the ancient Egyptians, they were. The gold of valour usually took the form of three golden fly pendants strung on a necklace. These pendants were must larger than those usually used as amulets and were made exclusively of gold.  The unrelenting persistence that flies are known to exhibit might be wise they were given as a military reward to inspire similar resistance in their compatriots. Just think about how a single fly can vex you bobbing and weaving and a swam forget it! This example of the gold flies comes from the burial of Queen Ahotep and was given to her by sons Kamose and Ahmose due to her aide given during the struggle with Egypt against the Hyksos[1].  

Wadjet Eye Incision Plaque

 I first came across this type of object in my third year of university I a trip to have a look at the subject of my dissertation. My dissertation centred around a Third Intermediate Period coffin belonging to a High priestess of Amun named Perenbst. When looking at Perenbast the curator told me that she had been recently ct scanned and that they had found amulets in her mummy wrappings. From the CT scans, they had been able to 3D print some of the amulets. One of them being a Wadjet Eye Incision plaque.  Although this example isn’t that example it is loosely inspired and does at least come from the same time period. The example in figure 2 was found within the mummy wrappings of a man named Gautsosohen and is made from bronze or another copper alloy and measures 8cm in length and 7.1 cm in width. These incision plaques are designed to magically heal the incision that embalmers made to take out the viscera and organs. The wedjat eye is incised is the Wedjat Eye of Horus which embodies healing, regeneration and protection. This plaque then would magically heal the incision of the mummy and further protect the mummy from any harm.

Prosthetic Toe 

Cairo Toe
Figure 3: The so-called Cairo Toe
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/study-reveals-secrets-ancient-cairo-toe-180963783/

This object is one of the most intriguing objects from Ancient Egypt I can think of and highlights the ingenuity of the ancient Egyptians and the technology that they developed. This object is suspected to be the oldest example of a practical prothesis discovered. This toe was discovered almost two decades ago, by archaeologists at Sheikh ´Abd el-Qurna necropolis west of Luxor[2]. Known colloquially as the Cairo Toe or Greville Chester Great Toe and is roughly 3000 years old. A test carried out in 2011 on modern replicas of this toe and others from ancient Egypt showed interesting results. In the trial two volunteers both missing their right big toe. The volunteers were then asked to walk on a 10m walkway barefoot, in their own shoes and wearing the replicas with and without the sandals. Their movement was then tracked. Dr Jacky Finch who headed the research said: “The pressure data tells us that it would have been very difficult for an ancient Egyptian missing a big toe to walk normally wearing traditional sandals. They could of course have remained barefoot or perhaps have worn some sort of sock or boot over the false toe, but our research suggests that wearing these false toes made walking in a sandal more comfortable.”[3]

Folding Cubit Rod of Kha  and Gilded Version   

Figure 4: The folding cubit of Kha https://collezioni.museoegizio.it/en-GB/material/S_8391/?description=&inventoryNumber=&title=&cgt=&yearFrom=&yearTo=&materials=&provenance=Deir+el+Medina+%2f+tomb+of+Kha+(TT8)&acquisition=&epoch=&dynasty=&pharaoh=

Figure 5: The folded cubit measure showing the simple lines carved into the rod resrpesnting the different units of measreumet https://collezioni.museoegizio.it/en-GB/material/S_8391/?description=&inventoryNumber=&title=&cgt=&yearFrom=&yearTo=&materials=&provenance=Deir+el+Medina+%2f+tomb+of+Kha+(TT8)&acquisition=&epoch=&dynasty=&pharaoh=

The main unit of measurement was the royal cubit (52.4 cm) approximately the length of a forearm and is represented by the hieroglyph of an arm [4]. The royal cubit could be further broken down into 7 palm widths each further broken down as 4 digits of thumb width thus 28 digits in a cubit[5].  This example of a cubit stick is a rare folding version and belonged to an architect named Kha The Overseer of Works at Deir el-Medina. Originally found when Schiaparelli discovered the rod, it was folded inside a leather bag with a strap and was used by Kha on a daily basis. The rod folds in half with a simple bronze hinge at the centre the carved tally marks are only rough divisions into palms and the digits[6].   Kha served in the reigns of Amenhotep II and is known for serving three generations of kings, including Thutmosis IV and Amenhotep III[7]. His service to all of these monarchs is further shown in another cubit owned by Kha. This one is not as practical as its folding counterpart but is gilded. This cubit is covered in gold leaf and was a token of Amenhotep II’s appreciation with a hint of royal propaganda that celebrates the pharaoh’s military valour[8]. The tomb goods of Kha and his wife Merit are amazingly displayed in the Turin Egyptian Museum so if you ever find yourself in Turin I highly recommend going to the Museum and spending a few hours there. You don’t have to spend a whole day there like I did the first time I visited but for a few hours, I guarantee you will be intrigued.

Figure 6: https://collezioni.museoegizio.it/en-GB/material/S_8647/?description=Cubit&inventoryNumber=&title=&cgt=&yearFrom=&yearTo=&materials=&provenance=&acquisition=&epoch=&dynasty=&pharaoh=

The Silver Pharaoh‘ – The Silver Coffin of King Psusennes I

Figure 7: The Silver coffin of Psusennes I http://www.globalegyptianmuseum.org/record.aspx?id=15413

I am going to bet you probably haven’t heard of Psusennes I? Yet his tomb found in 1940 by Pierre Montet has been said by many to trivial the riches found in the Tomb of King Tutankhamun by Howard Carter in 1914. Psusennes was the second king of the 21 st dynasty at Tanis during the Third Intermediate Period [9]. During this time there were two capitals of Egypt ruled by different ruling parties Tanis led by Semendes founder of the 21st DYnasty and Thebe ruled by Pinudjem I of the Chief Priests of Amun in the south. The silver coffin of Psuesennes I has always captured a bit of my imagination and sticks out in my mind (Figure 7). Silver was comparatively rarer when compared to gold and electrum for the ancient Egyptians. Gold and Electrum (the natural alloy of silver and gold) could be found in the Eastern desert and Nubia to the south. Silver seems not to have been an unknown material in early Egypt as the Egyptian language does not have a would for silver rather they called it ‘white gold’[10]. Also once introduced to the Egyptian economy the value of silver was to be higher than that of gold and silver was considered in myth to be the bones of the gods and associated with the moon. The coffin lid of Psusennes shows the king laying arms crossed in a typical mummiform shape and in his have he grasps the flail and sceptre. On his brow, a golden band and a solid gold uraeus sit -the protective royal cobra who spat fire at her enemies. His eyes are created using coloured glass paste and he wears a false beard. All of these are the emblems of kingship (Figure 8). Following down from the head the chest and body show representation of three vultures their wings outspread and carrying the Shen ring of eternity in their talons [11]. The lower portion of the coffin is decorated with detailed long feathers and finished with images of Isis and Nephthys at his feet.

References


[1] http://www.touregypt.net/egyptmuseum/egyptian_museumm5.htm

[2] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/study-reveals-secrets-ancient-cairo-toe-180963783/

[3] https://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/news/egyptian-toes-likely-to-be-the-worlds-oldest-prosthetics/

[4] Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P., 2008. The British Museum Dictionary Of Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press. Page 195

[5] Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P., 2008. The British Museum Dictionary Of Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press. Page 195

[6]https://www.academia.edu/32133439/_The_Folding_Cubit_Rod_of_Kha_in_Museo_Egizio_di_Torino_S_8391_in_G_Rosati_and_M_C_Guidotti_eds_Proceedings_of_the_Eleventh_International_Congress_of_Egyptologists_Florence_2015_Archaeopress_Egyptology_19_Oxford_2017_pp_450_456

[7]https://www.academia.edu/32133439/_The_Folding_Cubit_Rod_of_Kha_in_Museo_Egizio_di_Torino_S_8391_in_G_Rosati_and_M_C_Guidotti_eds_Proceedings_of_the_Eleventh_International_Congress_of_Egyptologists_Florence_2015_Archaeopress_Egyptology_19_Oxford_2017_pp_450_456

[8] https://collezioni.museoegizio.it/en-GB/material/S_8647/?description=Cubit&inventoryNumber=&title=&cgt=&yearFrom=&yearTo=&materials=&provenance=&acquisition=&epoch=&dynasty=&pharaoh=

[9] Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P., 2008. The British Museum Dictionary Of Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press. Page 256

[10] Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P., 2008. The British Museum Dictionary Of Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press. Page 304

[11] http://www.globalegyptianmuseum.org/record.aspx?id=15413

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