Egypt | Artifacts

4 Less-known Artifacts of Ancient Egypt

Published: Jan 17 2021

In-depth stories about 4 artifacts from Ancient Egypt. Among them, a bust from Cleopatra's sunken palace and Tutanchamon's meaningful neck stand.



Introduction

   Many stories have been written about the Rosetta stone and the bust of Nefertiti. They sure are mysterious, and beautiful.

   But, that does not mean we should forget more obscure items. So here they are, 4 less-known artifacts from Ancient Egypt.

  1. The Bust of Cleopatra VII Philopator
  2. The Headrest of Tutankhamun
  3. The Sphinx of Hatshepsut
  4. The Book of the Dead

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Bust of Cleopatra VII Philopator

Cleopatra, the queen of Roman-ruled Egypt.

  The bust was most likely found in the Sunken Palace of Cleopatra, a small royal island close to Alexandria’s harbor. This island, ‘Antirhodos’, is believed to have sunk in the 4th century CE after a series of earthquakes and tsunamis. It submerged the palaces of Cleopatra and Marc Anthony - and beautiful artifacts like this one.

   The island was officially rediscovered in 1996, but busts like the one above may have been discovered and resurfaced much earlier than that.

  You may enjoy watching this documentary about the underwater excavations around Antirhodos.

   If you want to view the bust for yourself, you have to visit the Royal Ontario Museum (Canada).

Headrest of Tutankhamun

   This ivory headrest was one of the many items found in the tomb of tutankhamun. The two lions represent East and West. They are also the typical companion animals of the God Shu, who is seen in the center.

  Shu is the god of peace and the atmosphere between earth and universe He is also the great-grandfather of Tutankhamun (as Pharaohs claim to be either Horus or his son). But, the reason for Shu’s presence goes beyond that:

Headrests symbolize the sky. They hold up the head (the figurative sun).

   ...And that is the puzzlepiece we need to figure the meaning of this piece out:

  • The lions point east and west, and rest on the soil.
  • Shu connects the sun with the soil.
  • The pharaoh’s head is a figurative sun, as he is a reincarnation of Horus (whose head bears the Sun).

   If you want to know more, you may enjoy reading the established Egyptologist Bart Hellinckx, who wrote about the meaning of headrests. You could also read the Rijskmuseum der Oudheden's insights on this exact piece (they kindly helped me out with writing this article).

  

The Sphinx of Hatshepsut

The book of the dead

The Sphinx of Pharaoh Haphsepsut

  When people are asked to name a female pharaoh, they will mostly name Cleopatra. But, Hatshepsut shows that other women were Pharaoh too. Hatshepsut reigned from the start untill the middle of the 15th century BCE. She was not the first female to sit on Egypt's throne, but is remembered for a successful kingship and progressive reforms. Her motuary temple was rediscovered in the late 19th century.

   It is remarkable that the Sphinx of Hatshepsut portrays the pharaoh as a man. It is not the only artifact that mispresents the subject's gender. Some of the statues at her tomb are masculine for instance. Osirian statue of egyptian pharaoh hathsepsut

This Osirian statue is another example of Hatsheput's masculine presentation (standing next to the male god Osiris)

  A last remark about this sphinx concerns its geometry. If you were to measure the false beard, you may realize it has a ratio of 1:2. It goes to show that Egyptian sculptors were keen on manifesting proper geometry in their works. Another measurement is much more interesting however: if you measure the angle of the headwear's sides, you may discover it is the angle of the Golden Triangle. The golden ratio is known to have been used in other Egyptian designs, like the Great Pyramids at Giza. Geometric proportions of the sphinx of Hatshepsut

Illustrating the presence of the golden ratio in the Sphinx of Hatshepsut. Note that the 1:2 ratio technically relates to the golden ratio as well, since both those numbers are part of the Fibonacci sequence.


Exerpt of a documentary; on the geometric proportions of an Ancient Egyptian sculpture

The Book of the Dead

The book of the dead

An exerpt of Hunefer's Book of the Dead.

  Most of the Ancient Egyptian relics concern burials and tombs. In the end, that is where we found the bulk of known Egyptian artifacts. Among these artifacts is what we know as ‘The Book of the Dead’. But, in Egypt it was known as the Book of Coming Forth by Day or the Book of Emerging Forth into the Light (it is difficult to translate).

  This book consists of a series of rituals or magic spells - call it what you will. These spells were probably not performed in real life, but were meant as instructions for the deceased. He could carry out the spells from the book to get a good passage to the afterlife.

  The Ancient Egyptians put in place many other measures to get a good afterlife. The goal was to prevent their soul from dwelling in limbo forever. If any burial ritual would fail, the soul might be stuck in a liminal, gloomy place between life and death. To risk this fate was unacceptable for elite Egyptians, like the pharaohs; that is why they received the Book of the Dead and entire tombs to ensure a proper rite of passage.

  There were many measures to help with a pharaoh’s final right of passage. Among them:

  • Paying homage and tribute to gods: you will see their depictions in burial chambers and on Sarcophagi
  • Preservation of the body through mumification, layered Sarcophagi and canopic jars
  • Helpful elements like Ushabti

Conclusion

  Those were four less known Ancient Egyptian artifacts. In the process of discovering the story behind these items, we learned about Ancient Egyptian culture, art and belief.