Chapple, R. M. 2012 'A little box full of Egypt: ancient amulets and Victorian fakes' blogspot post
A little box full of Egypt: Ancient amulets and Victorian fakes Originally posted online on 11 April 2012 at rmchapple.blogspot.com (http://rmchapple.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/little-box-full-of-egypt-ancient.html)If you know me – either in real life or just through my activities online – you’ll be aware(possibly to the point of exasperation) that I’m obsessed with archaeology. You’llprobably also know that my main area of interest is Irish archaeology, especiallyprehistory, the Early Christian period, and post-Medieval gravestones – it’s just how Iam! What fewer of you may know is that I’m also pretty obsessed with Egypt andEgyptology! What almost no one knows is that my family and I are the curators of asmall collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts. I say curators, rather than owners, as webelieve that we can never truly own such items – we are merely their custodians for thenext generation.The collection was passed to me contained in a small Godfrey Phillips tobacco tin (Fig.1). I remember clearly the morning when I first opened the lid of that box. In its ownsmall way, it was quite like Howard Carter’s statement on opening the tomb ofTutankhamun and seeing ‘wonderful things’. There may not have been ‘everywhere theglint of gold’, but I was quite taken aback (Fig. 2). Unfortunately, the finds are withoutany real provenance. The only consensus we can come to within the family is that theywere probably purchased in England as part of a job lot at a house clearance sale duringthe 1960s or 1970s. Regrettably, this is the extent of our knowledge on where they camefrom – and this is mostly speculation!Figure 1. The Godfrey Phillip’s tobacco box.Godfrey Phillips Ltd. introduced the B. D. V. brand of cigarettes in the early 1900s.Although popular for some time, the line was finally discontinued in 1948. Within thistime frame, the style of the box may be more closely dated to the late 1920s to early
1930s (pers. comm. Lee Towersey). Although not conclusive, this does provide asuggestion as to when the collection was boxed up in its present form. However, thepresence of various plaques/amulets with ‘X-decoration’ (see below) may be paralleledon strings of beads made up for the Victorian tourist market (Dr. A. Cooke pers. comm.).As such artefacts are not thought to have been recovered from excavated contexts, itmay be that they are ‘fakes’ to fool the tourists and enliven an otherwise ‘dull’ collectionof faience beads. While disappointing to those seeking Egyptian antiquities, it may be areliable pointer as to when the genuine items were discovered, sold and transported outof Egypt.Figure 2. The contents of the box as I first discovered them.Since they came into our possession I have wanted to write about them and make themmore widely known – the natural response of any self-respecting archaeologist.However, there have been a number of barriers to this, not least of which is the fact thatartefacts without their archaeological provenance are largely worthless. One of thecentral tenets of modern archaeology is that artefacts tell us about the people of the past,rather than just being things in their own right. Thus, archaeologists expend much timeand effort in accurately recording the context of their finds so that they may shed themaximum amount of light on past societies. Sites where the artefacts have beenremoved without full recording are vastly diminished, and artefacts without their sitesare similarly depleted of meaning. On top of this are the twin factors that I am neitheran Egyptologist, not a finds specialist – both of which are important in presentingmaterial of this nature. Finally, there is the problem that I felt it would be quite difficultto find a journal publisher willing to accept, even a well-written and researched, paperon this collection. Simply put, there are probably thousands of dusty tobacco tins andcigar boxes, stuffed full of small finds from Egypt, lodged in the backs of cupboards allacross the world. Other than the fact that these are in my care and that I like them, dothey have any other intrinsic merit? The short answer is: probably not. That is prettymuch where I left the argument in my head for quite some time. However, since Istarted this blog in August 2011 it has begun to dawn on me that this may just be theperfect format for disseminating this kind of information. It is less formal than
conventional, peer-reviewed, print-based journals and has the advantage that furthercollaboration and correction can take place after publication to the blog. This form of‘open source’ publication also allows the data to be accessed by anyone with an internetconnection, making it potentially available to most of the planet – or at least thoseinterested in this topic! My aims in presenting this collection are as follows:1) To make the collection know on its own merits to the widest audience – both scholarlyand amateur.2) To invite collaboration in adding detail or correcting inaccuracies in the descriptions.Please feel free to comment directly to the blog or contact me by email. In so far aspossible, I will endeavour to make changes to the text and formally acknowledge anycontributions made.3) I would love to think that this post may act as an inspiration to others to make thecollections curated by them and their families better known and available to a wideraudience. If you have inherited (and are in legal possession of) antiquities (of anyculture, not just Egyptian) and would like to see them enjoyed by both specialists andenthusiasts across the globe, please consider photographing and writing them up. Ifanyone needs a platform to present their results, please consider submitting them hereas a guest writer on this blog! CATALOGUEFigure 3. Necklace composed of faience beads.
Necklace (Fig. 3)Weight: 49.4gComposed of 82 lenticular/disc beads, apparently of blue faience. Arrange in size toform a symmetrical composition. The largest bead, at the approximate centre of thecomposition, measures 16.29mm in diameter, decreasing to 9.71mm in diameter nearthe ends. The design is augmented with a further 36 flat blue faience beads (on the leftof Fig. 3). These too are arranged from largest (6.04mm in diameter) to smallest(2.12mm in diameter). At the point where a modern necklace would have a clasp there isa small scarab bead/amulet (10.40mm x 7.76mm x 5.81mm) and a lozenge-shapedpendant (27.73mm x 7.65mm x 3.17mm) also in blue faience. The beads show a varietyof different types of wear and attrition patterns and appear to be derived from a numberof sources. The whole composition is strung on what appears to be modern linen thread.A small paper tag is attached to the necklace by thin thread. The label is written in inkand reads: “Egyptian XXVI Dynasty circa 600 BC. Found Thebes”. Current theories ondating the Egyptian chronology would place the 26th (Saite) Dynasty, in the period from664-525 BC. However, such lenticular/disc beads were very popular throughout theNew Kingdom and may be dated to a significantly earlier period (1550-1069 BC) (pers.comm. Dr. A. Cooke; Brovarski et al. 1982, 238-9). It may be supposed that, rather thanbeing an intact original collection, the composition was put together from a number ofsources, presumably to make it more attractive to a prospective buyer.Two tangled necklaces (Fig. 4)Combined weight: 43.2gThis appears to be two, highly tangled, strings of beads. One (largely on the left of Fig. 4)is composed of a large number of ‘flat’ or plain beads of various types and colours,interspersed with occasional tubular beads of faience. The second necklace (mostly inthe top right of fig. 4) is chiefly composed of blue faience tubular beads with occasional‘flat’ or plain beads interspersed. The majority of the tubular beads are plain, but somesegmented examples are also present. The ‘flat’ beads are present in a variety of colours,including shades of blue, yellow, red, and also black. Both necklaces there areinterspersed with larger beads/amulets, which are described in more detail below. Bothnecklaces appear to be strung on modern linen thread, suggesting that they were notoriginally part of a single artifact, but have been assembled, presumably to make themmore saleable. A small paper label, now detached, may originally have been associatedwith either or both of these pieces. It is identical to the one detailed above. The variouscomponents of the necklaces are listed individually, below.
Figure 4. Two tangled necklaces with various large beads/amulets.
Figure 5. Underside of scarab with possible ‘Ra’ hieroglyph.Scarab amulet (Fig. 5)30.34mm x 23.35mm x 12.14mmUnderside stamped with possible hieroglyphic text. Circular indentation may betranslated as ‘Ra’, while the linked lozenge shapes on either side appear to be a ‘Ka’.Together these may be read as ‘Ka-Ra’: the vital essence (soul) of Ra. Dr. A. Cooke (pers.comm.) suggests that the lozenges may be better interpreted as two crocodiles.
Figure 6. Small amulet possibly depicting a deity.Small deity amulet (Fig. 6)18.26 mm x 6.76mm x 6.44mmThis is a small and roughly-made faience amulet. It is possible to interpret it as arepresentation of the goddess Taweret, associated with childbirth and fertility. However,the level of craftsmanship is such that any one of a number of interpretations is possible.Figure 7. Small sub-oval amulet/plaque.Small amulet/plaque (Fig. 7)15.86mm x 12.32mm x 5.05mmSmall sub-oval amulet/plaque. Five impressed lines on one flat surface produced ahatched X-decoration. The opposite flat surface is decorated in the same manner, but
with four lines used to create the X. Edges are decorated with vertical incised lines tocreate a scalloped effect. Dr. A. Cooke (pers. comm.) has noted that the various smallamulets/plaques in this collection are apparently unknown from excavated contexts, butare relatively common components of strings of beads put together for the touristmarket during the Victorian period. While the may not be genuine, they do serve to givea likely date for when the collection was put together for sale and exported from Egypt.Figure 8. Sub-rectangular amulet/plaque.Amulet/plaque (Fig. 8)21.34mm x 14.13mm x 5.16mmSub-rectangular amulet/plaque. Both flat sides are decorated with four impressed linesto produce a hatched X-decoration. Edges are decorated with vertical incised lines tocreate a scalloped effect. Possibly fake (see entry for Fig. 7).
Figure 9. Upper surface of small scarab amulet.Figure 10. Underside of small scarab amulet with hieroglyphic inscription possibly tothe sun god, Ra.Small scarab amulet (Figs. 9 & 10)11.77mm x 9.07mm x 7.18mmUnderside is decorated with rough hieroglyph of seated/kneeling human form and anincised dot. The text may be interpreted as the name of the sun god, Ra, with the seatedfigure intended as a determinative symbol to ensure that the meaning referred to thegod as opposed to the actual sun. The text is enclosed within an impressed cartouche-like oval. Dr. A. Cooke (pers. comm.) suggests that the seated figure could be a baboon.
A number of deities in the Egyptian pantheon were depicted as a baboon, mostnotably Thoth.Figure 11. Wedjat/Eye of Horus.Wedjat/Eye of Horus (Fig. 11)25.53mm x 16.55mm x 2.83mmFinely-made Wedjat, representing the right eye, decorated with fine impressed lines.The only significant damage to the artefact is that the vertical stave beneath the pupil isbroken and missing. The back is left blank.
Figure 12. Upper surface of pierced/open work bead/amulet.Pierced/open work bead/amulet (Fig. 12)14.16mm x 13.29mm x 5.46mmLarge bead or small amulet with five linear perforations running the length of the body.Either end is decorated with a series of vertical incised lines to create a scalloped effect.The upper surface (pictured) is slightly domed, or convex, while the underside is flat. Dr.A. Cooke (pers. comm.) suggests that the decorative intention may have been to portraya group of wedjat eyes.Figure 13. Pierced disc/bead.
Disc/bead (Fig. 13)Pierced circular disc20.44mm in diameter x 5.12mmDisc or bead possibly made of faience or pottery. Un-fused surfaces, present from thetime of moulding, are visible.Figure 14. Sub-rectangular amulet/plaque.Amulet/plaque (Fig. 14)13.31mm x 10.90mm x 4.17mmSub-rectangular amulet/plaque. Both flat sides are decorated with four impressed linesto produce a hatched X-decoration. Edges are decorated with vertical incised lines tocreate a scalloped effect. Possibly fake (see entry for Fig. 7).Figure 15. Hemispherical seal amulet.
Hemispherical seal amulet (Fig. 15)14.22mm in diameter x 4.79mmHemispherical bead/amulet with plain (curved) back. Flat surface is decorated with fourimpressed lines in the form of a cross with a raised central boss. The intervening anglesare each decorated with two lightly-impressed lines with curling ends. The whole givesthe impression of a stylised flower motif. Dr. A. Cooke (pers. comm.) notes that thisexample compares well with a plain scarab illustrated by Flinders Petrie (1925, Pl. VIII,no. 276, 16). The type is dated to the New Kingdom (1550-1069 BC) and later.The collection also includes a small number of beads/amulets not worked into necklaceforms. These are described and illustrated below.Figure 16. Amulet, possibly of the god Pataikos.Pataikos amulet (Fig. 16)41.43mm x 21.72mm x 13.24mm, 8.9gSmall amulet depicting the naked dwarf deity, Pataikos. Pataikos was associated withPtah of Memphis, and was an apotropaic god in his own right. This amulet had apronounced lug at the back of the neck for suspension and a pronounced naval, oromphalos. The amulet appears to have been broken at the knees in antiquity. Althoughcrudely produced amulets of this type appear in the late Old Kingdom (2345-2181 BC), itis not until the New Kingdom (1550-1069 BC) that clearly detailed examples are found.Dr. A. Cooke (pers. comm.) suggests that this example is likely to date from the ThirdIntermediate Period (1069-656 BC) or later.
Figure 17. Large faience bead.Large bead (Fig. 17)16.80mm diameter x 12.62mm. Piercing 3.51mm widening to 4.13mm at base, 3.1gLarge, near spherical bead, probably of faience.Figure 18. Possible Sphinx amulet.Possible sphinx amulet (Fig. 18)23.49mm x 15.51mm x 7.63mm, 2.2gSmall, crudely-made, amulet, apparently of faience. The form is interpreted as adepiction of a sphinx. However, the level of detail is such that a number of
interpretations may be equally supported. A hole through the ‘eye’ suggests that it wasintended for suspension.Figure 19. Small faience amulet, possibly depicting Taweret.Figure 20. Small faience amulet, possibly depicting Taweret.Small deity amulet (Figs. 19 & 20)13.63mm x 8.31mm x 5.18mm, 0.5gThis is a small and crudely-executed faience amulet. Similar to the example detailedabove (Fig. 6), it is possible the interpret the deity depicted in numerous ways, includingas Taweret. Although the level of detail is minimal, it does appear that, in common withmany amulets, the deity is depicted as having the left foot ahead of the right. Dr. A.Cooke (pers. comm.) suggests that the amulet may equally be interpreted as depicting a
jackal-headed deity, such as Anubis, or Duamutef. There is a piercing in the back platefor suspension.Figure 21. Amulet/plaque.Amulet/plaque (Fig. 21)27.29mm x 17.76mm 5.46mm, 3.8gSub-rectangular amulet/plaque. Both flat sides are decorated with four impressed linesto produce a hatched X-decoration. Edges are decorated with vertical incised lines tocreate a scalloped effect. Possibly fake (see entry for Fig. 7).Figure 22. Amulet/plaque.
Amulet/plaque (Fig. 22)26.02mm x 21.85mm x 5.72mm, 4.9gSub-rectangular amulet/plaque with rounded corners. Both flat sides are decorated withfour impressed lines to produce a hatched X-decoration. Unlike similar amuletsdescribed in this catalogue, the edges are smooth. Possibly fake (see entry for Fig. 7).AcknowledgmentsI would like to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Lee Towersey(http://www.cigarettecards.co.uk/) for his assistance in dating the Godfrey Philipscigarette box. Much assistance was given on all things Egyptological (and gratefullyaccepted) by Dr. Ashley Cooke, Head of Antiquities & Curator of Egyptology, NationalMuseums Liverpool. I would also like to thank Prof. Maria Helena Trindade Lopes,Professor Catedrático na Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas da UniversidadeNova de Lisboa, Portugal.ReferencesBrovarski, E., Doll, S. K., & Freed, R. E. (eds.) 1982 Egypt’s Golden Age: The art of livingin the New Kingdom 1558-1085 BC. Boston.Flinders Petrie, W. M. 1925 Buttons and Design Scarabs. London.NoteThere are various schools of thought as to the derivation of the Godfrey Phillipsmonogram ‘B. D. V.’. One theory suggests that it derives from Boyd & Dibrell, Virginia,the U.S. suppliers of the tobacco. Another possibility, apparently given by a member ofthe Phillips family during a court case, is that they are an abbreviation for the Latinphrase Benedictus dominus vobiscum, meaning ‘pipe of peace’(http://www.oldshopstuff.com/SallesdeChat/tabid/1803/aft/533/Default.aspx.Accessed 17 February 2012).