Friday, 21 February 2014

Egypt in Edinburgh

What would a national museum be without an Ancient Egyptian section? There would be none of those night time shenanigans where the mummies come to life and chase pesky kids and their great dane around the building. The National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street in Edinburgh certainly hasn't been left out on this front, but apart from being a useful comedy and horror tool the artifacts of Egypt offer an interesting insight into the life (or perhaps more often death) of the area two thousand and more years ago.

A row of coffins from various periods.

This coffin belongs to Irthorru from the 6th century BC. The label in the museum is slightly at odds with the information in the museum website - the label says the coffin belongs to Irthor, which sounds nearly the same, and that it is 300BC. It's difficult to make out in this picture (it's in the lower of the three wide horizontal bands just above where I imagine his knees to have been), but you can see the jackal headed god Anubis and hawk headed Horus. Anubis is particularly associated with mummification and the afterlife and here they are attending the body of Irthorru on a table to bring it back to life. Underneath the table are four canopic jars.

Canopic jars were used by the Egyptians when they were mummifying bodies to put the internal organs in. The lids were carved to represent one of the four sons of Horus, each of which was responsible for protecting one of the internal organs. The next two pictures show a complete set - Qebehsenuf, the falcon headed god responsible for the intestines, Duamutef, the dog headed god responsible for the stomach, Hapy, the monkey headed god responsible for the lungs (the one belong to the set is in the second picture and to my mind looks more like a seal but there is an odd Hapy in the front of the first picture too) and Imsety the human headed god responsible for the liver.

Canopic jars were carved with these gods after 1539 BC (good grief - could historians not be a little more accurate). After about 1075 BC the Egyptians stopped using canopic jars and returned the organs to the body, they would instead be accompanied by was wax figures of the four sons of Horus for protection. The set below are from around that date in 1075 BC.

This little figure is a Shabti, he was intended to accompany the deceased into the afterlife and do any work for him. The spell on a Shabti might read something to the effect of, "Oh this shabti, if the late (deceased persons name) is selected for an work which is done in the underworld or for labour there as a man at his tasks, you shall say, 'Here I am'. You may be selected at any time for working there - to cultivate the field, irrigate the riverbanks, or transport sand East or West. 'Here I am' you shall say."

There are a large number of shabtis from various periods of ancient Egypt on display.

This one, which is much plainer than the ones above has his own little coffin.

This shabti coffin is much more elaborate (doesn't look like the right shabti for the box)

The Pharaoh Amenhotep III (1386 BCish to 1349 BCish - there seems to be some debate as to the exact years)  liked to issue commemorative scarabs for significant events during his reign. There are five known scarabs and this is the most common type (123 are known). It commemorates that in his first 10 years as King, Amenhotep killed 102 fierce lions (is there another kind!). It's worth visiting the Wikipedia page which has a translation of some of the hieroglyphics on this scarab as well as information on the other sorts.

The museum has a large number of  small models of Egyptian gods. These may have played a part in domestic life as well as being used in graves. Many are the more common Egyptian gods that most will be familiar with but many were quite new to me. Below, the crocodile was Sobek who created the body of the king. Above him Atum is represented by the mongoose, sometimes known as Atem or Tem, he created the universe.

The lion headed goddess is Sekhmet, was concerned with war (as well as healing (which is quite handy really))

Sekhmet (you can see here again in the back of this picture) was married to Ptah, in the foreground, represented as a dwarf and god of craftsmen.

This container doesn't look at all Egyptian to me (it is though) and features Bes, represented as a dwarf with lion features, who was the protector of pregnant women and the family. Quite handy too, I read, with scorpion and snake bites. This box bears the name of Amenhotep II which dates it to about 1420 BC.

This little statuette doesn't appear to be anything mystical at all, it's just a rather charming model of a young girl from about 1800 to 1350 BC.

This is a wooden child's doll from about 500BC. As with many of her later counterparts, she has lost and arm and a foot and the other arm has come off too.

These toy animals are even older - they date from about 1900 to 1300 BC.

These marbles are about 5000 years old - they date to 2950 to 2650 BC and are engraved with the names of the first six kings. It is thought that they might have been used for a game known as the serpent game or Mehen.

The above marbles are noticeably Egyptian at 5000 years old, but it is possible to find artifacts predating the civilisation we recognise in Egypt. The figures below are plaster copies of ivory and terracotta originals in the British Museum. The originals, thought to be fertility figures, were found in burials in upper Egypt and date to about 4000 BC.

Pottery dating back to 4000 to 3200 BC

By the time you get back to about 4000BC, when this flint was worked, Egypt is very much in the stone age with the rest of the world.

These axe heads from before 5000 BC are as far back as the Egyptian exhibition goes.


Louise said...

Very interesting!

Sandy's witterings said...

Thank you Louise.

The Glebe Blog said...

Some quite strange and interesting pieces Sandy. It's amazing how comprehensive the history of Egypt is. As you point out thought, things don't always match.
I quite like Sekhmet, but I'm not sure about her whiskers. Was it the Egyptians that first started putting animal heads on people I wonder.
Nice one Sandy.

Shundo said...

You are a mine of wonderful information as always Sandy, which really beings these old artifacts to life. An email to you is in the offing...

Sandy's witterings said...

Jim, masks seem to have cropped up all over the world but the Egyptians seem to have been a few years ahead of the rest of the world for a long time so it wouldn't surprise me if they were the first people to put an animal on their heads.

Thank you Shundo.

Crafty Green Poet said...

thanks for the tour, it's a while since I've been to Edinburgh's Ancient Egyptian collection. I find that period of time fascinating though and it's always one of my favourite parts of a museum.