Object in focus: A fragment of a “dummy” funerary vessel (E.586)

Whilst working in the museum stores, we often come across objects that have suffered from the effects of time, wear and tear. This is the case with object E.586, a broken piece of limestone with a polished, curved surface inscribed with two lines of hieroglyphs.

E.586 front view

E.586 front view

We came across this object, and many others during  the museum redevelopment project. At first sight, it was assumed to be part of a statue. However, one of our volunteers (who is a ceramic specialist) noted two slight breaks in the curve above and below the hieroglyphs, this led him to suspect that this was in fact a dummy funerary vessel.

After a little research, a number of similarities between this fragment and a type of dummy funerary stone vessel popular during the 18th Dynasty  became clear.  These dummy vessels had the outward appearance of popular shapes, but were not hollowed out. This type of object has been found in several high-ranking Theban tombs, such as the one belonging to Tutankhamun’s grandparents, Thuya and Yuya.  . Without the complex and time-consuming effort of hollowing out these stone vessels, they were much quicker, cheaper and easier to produce, they functioned as magical stand-ins for the real thing.

The inscription on E.586 identifies the owner of the vessel as “The Overseer of the Fields of Amun, the Osiris, Nebseny”. During the 18th Dynasty the title “Overseer of the Fields of Amun” was held exclusively by very high-ranking officials associated with the Karnak Temple. One particularly famous holder of this office was the 18th Dynasty official Senenmut who lived during the reign of Hatshepsut.

Reconstructed side view E.586

Reconstructed side view E.586

Image copyright of the Griffith Institute

Image copyright of the Griffith Institute

Curiously, E.586 is not the only museum object to mention Nebseny. A funerary cone in the British Museum (EA62848) contains an inscription for “The Overseer of the Fields of Amun, the Accounting Scribe of All Supplies in Upper and Lower Egypt and The Overseer of the Cultivators of Amun, Nebseny, the Justified”. EA62848 was gifted to the British Museum by Egyptologist Norman de Garis Davies in 1930. Davies had received the funerary cone from Sir Robert Mond, who found the object during his excavations near the tomb of Ramose (TT55) in 1903-1904. Robert Mond also has close links to the University of Liverpool and to John Garstang, having been associated with the Institute of Archaeology in its formative years.

Unlike funerary cones (which were displayed outside tombs), the dummy vessels were part of the burial equipment and would have been placed inside the tomb shaft itself. Mond does not report discovering any tomb belonging to Nebseny, it seems  likely that the heavily broken E.586 was damaged as the tomb was looted, only to be discarded in the vicinity of the tomb. The tomb of Nebseny,  remains undiscovered.

 

The Texts of the Coffin of Userhat (E.512)

One of our most prized and most viewed objects is the box-coffin of Userhat (E.512). The coffin was excavated by John Garstang in 1902 and was one of the first objects on display in the museum of the Institute of Archaeology in 1904. The text inscribed upon the coffin tells us that Userhat was a soldier He lived during a period Egyptologists call the Middle Kingdom (c. 1991-1783BC).

The Inner coffin of Userhat (E.88.1903) kept at the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge

The Inner coffin of Userhat (E.88.1903) kept at the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge

When Userhat died, he was mummified and interred in an anthropoid (human-shaped) coffin, which was then placed inside the box coffin. Userhat’s inner coffin was donated to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge by the Beni Hasan Excavation Committee in 1903, where it is kept today (E.88.1903).

http://webapps.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/explorer/index.php?qu=E.88.1903&oid=50697

As Garstang was a pioneer in the use of photography within archaeology we are also able to see the coffin as it was first discovered, with the inner coffin laying on its side, with the face of the coffin looking out of the painted eyes upon the outside of the box coffin . The rest of the tomb merely contained a few pieces of pottery.

The coffins of Userhat in situ

The coffins of Userhat in situ

The texts which adorn the coffin are dedicated to a number of funerary deities, such as Osiris, Anubis, Isis and Nepthys. Most of these texts are highly standardised, with only a few alterations made in each register. The texts translated here are the first inscriptions that would have been seen by Garstang, they are from the head end of the coffin and refer to “the revered one” (i.e. deceased) Userhat in reference to specific deities.

TEXT IN TRANSLATION

Userhat Text

Top: Revered one before Nepthys, the Soldier Userhat

The image in the centre of this panel is of the goddess Nepthys, whilst the goddess Isis strikes a similar pose at the foot end of the coffin.

Left column: Revered one before the Great Ennead, the Soldier Userhat

Right Column: Revered one before the Lesser Ennead, the Soldier User(hat)       

An Ennead (pesdjet in Egyptian) is a grouping of nine-god. Some of these groups are more important than others, hence the “Great” and the “Lesser” Enneads.

It seems that the painter of this coffin had not planned the size of the text out fully before applying the paint as despite requiring the same amount of space and signs, they ran out of space  for Userhat’s  name, cutting off the lower parts of these signs.

Detail from the Coffin of Userhat as it stands on display in our galleries

Detail from the Coffin of Userhat as it stands on display in our galleries

Come and see the Coffin of Userhat in our Egyptian Afterlife Gallery, we are open to the public every Wednesday from 10 ’til 4 and are completely FREE!