Personal Piety: Religion and the People

The ancient Egyptians did not have a word for religion; their religion was so deeply ingrained into everyday society that it was more an intrinsic way of life than a formalised set of beliefs. However, decorum during the Old and Middle Kingdoms of ancient Egypt dictated that only royalty could be depicted interacting with the gods. Therefore, our evidence for ancient Egyptian religion and worship is drawn almost entirely from royal tombs and the burials of elite individuals. This gives us a very narrow view of the everyday Egyptian’s experiences with the divine.

One of the few known examples of a god involved in the personal sphere is Bes, the protective dwarf god. His short, squat stature, leonine features and gurning face were believed to have scared away evil spirits. Unusually Bes was always depicted from the front, rather than the traditional profile seen in Egyptian art. Representations of the god are found on so-called ‘Bes Jars’; these were often found in the home and are thought to have protected women and children. Images of Bes (along with numerous other protective demons) are also found on ivory ‘wands’.


‘Bes Jars’ represent the grotesque features of the household god, Bes. (E. 6807)


Ivory ‘wands’ often included images of protective demons with surreal forms. (E. 7007)

It was during the Ramesside Period that changes in belief meant that the gods could be shown interacting with anyone. Increased evidence of ‘personal’ piety during this period gives us a greater understanding of the way the gods were conceptualised in the ‘everyday’. The gods were now represented in almost every aspect of Egyptian life. For example, Egyptian magical medicine rituals used statues of the young god Horus, known as cippi statues, in healing and protective rituals.

In non-royal tombs, it became more acceptable for the tomb owner to show personal interaction with the gods. This personal connection is visible through divine patronage, which could be used by Egyptians to justify their decisions in life and further their status in death. In his tomb, Zimut-Kiki claimed to have left his entire fortune to Mut, emphasising his personal connection with the goddess. Funerary stelae from this time also show the gods having a direct impact on their non-royal worshippers; the stela of Amennakht claims that Amennakht was struck blind by the goddess Meretseger as testament to her power.

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This Graeco-Roman stele depicts the deceased being led to the afterlife with the support of the gods. (E. 89)

During the Ramesside period Egyptians seemed to have more direct access to their gods. Statues of deities were still sequestered away in their temples, and only the very highest order of priests, and the king, were allowed contact with them. However, at the Temple of Amun at Karnak, the addition of a ‘Temple of the Hearing Ear’ suggests that Egyptian people could pray directly to the gods, and possibly receive answers to their questions. Similarly, numerous stelae exist that depict the gods alongside iconography of ears, implying that the gods took a personal interest in hearing the prayers of their followers.

It is hard to understand such a complex religion, which has been extinct for thousands of years, but by looking at the material culture of everyday religion in ancient Egypt we can achieve a broader comprehension of the way that non-royal Egyptians made sense of their world. This enables us to move beyond the historic fixation on the elite of Egyptian society and better understand the lived experience of ancient Egyptian people.

Louise O’Brien, Chris Bebbington



Ancient Egyptian Festivals

Throughout Egyptian history, numerous festivals were celebrated during each year. The Egyptian calendar was divided into 12 months of exactly 30 days, with the year split into three seasons – Akhet, the season of inundation; Peret, the season of growing; and Shemu, the season of harvesting. An additional five days were added to the calendar that were not part of any specific month, each day celebrating a different deity.

Festivals played an integral part in worship in ancient Egypt, and often religious festivals would involve the “procession” of a god, by land or boat, across a specific route. Perhaps the most famous processional route is found at Karnak; the temple of Amun at Luxor depicts scenes of celebration as the boats of Amun, Mut and Khonsu travel from the main temple at Karnak to Luxor during the Opet Festival.

Some Prominent Festivals in Ancient Egypt

The Gods’ Birthday Parties: The Five Special Days

The five days added to the Egyptian calendar to bring it up to 365 days each involved the celebration of the birth of a specific god. The first was the birth of Osiris, the Lord of the Duat (the Egyptian underworld). The second day was the birth of Horus, a very prominent falcon-headed deity associated with kingship. The third day celebrated Seth, a god associated with chaos and the wild deserts of Egypt. The fourth and fifth days celebrated the goddesses Isis and Nepthys, two sisters who were associated with protective funerary rites and who brought the god Osiris back from the dead.


Osiris, Isis and Horus were three of the gods honoured on the five special days. (E.9324)

Egyptian New Year’s Day(?): The Coming Forth of Sothis (Akhet Month 1 Day 1 – allegedly!)

The Egyptian New Year was supposed to be celebrated when the star Sothis (modern Sirius) seemed to disappear from the sky and then reappear on the Eastern horizon at sunrise; this is known as the Heliacal Rising of Sothis. Although due to the nature of the Egyptian calendar, the Rising of Sothis did not coincide with the New Year (1st Month of Akhet, Day 1) as it was supposed to, the ancient Egyptians still celebrated the Peret Sopdet, the “Coming Forth of Sothis” festival, at the start of each New Year.

A 15 Day Celebration: Festival of Opet (Akhet Month 2)

During the Beautiful Festival of Opet, which stretched across 11 to 15 days, the Theban Triad (Amun, Mut and Khonsu) would travel from the Karnak Temple to the temple of Luxor. There, Amun-Re of Karnak would meet with Amun of Luxor in union. Through being united, they would ensure the re-creation of the cosmos each year. This potent union would be extended to the King of Egypt, who is depicted as part of the procession and who would also participate in the regeneration of divine power. As well as being an important part of Egyptian religious cosmology, the Opet Festival was the longest celebration in the Theban festival calendar.

The Massive Party: The Festival of the Valley (Shemu Month 2)

The Theban Festival of the Valley was celebrated on the New Moon of the second month of summer. This festival celebrated the bonds between the living and the dead, and was associated with the living strengthening their bonds with the dead. During this festival, citizens would adorn themselves with collars made of fresh flowers (called wah). Feasts were held, offerings were given to the ka of the deceased, and celebrations involved drinking alcohol, singing and dancing.


Offerings for the deceased were placed on offering tables such as this one. (E.44)

A Jubilee Festival: The Sed Festival

The Sed Festival was a special festival in Egypt celebrated by the king during the year of their 30th jubilee (although many kings enjoyed multiple Sed festivals, and the 30-year rule was not always observed!). This festival included religious rites, offerings, processions and the ‘raising of the Djed pillar’, which symbolised stability, strength and potency. On inscriptions, the King is often depicted running during the festival, symbolically proving their fitness to rule.


Some depictions of the Sed festival show the king racing alongside the Apis bull. (E.824)

  Christopher Bebbington.

A day in the life of a Garstang volunteer

Lucy Timbrell: Collections Volunteer at the Garstang Museum of Archaeology and Evolutionary Anthropology student at the University of Liverpool.

When I first started my placement at the Garstang Museum I had no idea what to expect. The museum’s collection is filled with objects from Ancient Egypt, the Mediterranean, and the Ancient Near East. These are cultures that, until now, I have not had the chance to study.

When thinking of museums, people picture the exhibitions and artefacts, but there is a lot more that goes on behind the scenes. I had a lot of learning to do and I was keen to find out more.

Based at the University of Liverpool, the Garstang Museum is a teaching museum, and our collections are used to teach a variety of classes. A big part of a volunteer’s job is to locate and move objects that are being used for classes and lectures, or examined by academics. Volunteers locate objects using a database, before moving them from the stores to the teaching room where they can be easily accessed. This can mean heavy lifting – definitely not my forte – and carefully manoeuvring awkwardly shaped objects around the university.

The Garstang museum has been getting ready for our Book of the Dead exhibition. The exhibition centres on Ancient Egyptian Papyri that describe the journey to the Afterlife and will be opening for Light Night on the 19th May. This has created a lot of opportunities to get involved with. Volunteers have been designing promotional artwork for posters banners and flyers, as well as using social media to invite people to our exhibition, as well as preparing objects for conservation and display.

Other volunteers offer interesting tours of the Garstang Museum, and I was very kindly given a tour myself. Most of the volunteers here are masters and PhD students so they are very knowledgeable!

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Garstang and the variety that each day working in a museum brings.

Lucy Timbrell

Glitz and Glamour at the Garstang

The ancient Egyptians were mad about bling so it is not surprising that we have a vast collection of ancient jewellery at the Garstang Museum of Archaeology .

In Ancient Egypt, women and men wore jewellery as a mark of status and beauty during life and death. The ancient Egyptians desired to ‘go out in style’, much of the ancient Egyptian jewellery that survives today was found in tombs.

A stunning array of colours and materials were chosen specifically for their aesthetic qualities and symbolism. Precious stones such as lapis lazuli, carnelian, turquoise, amethyst and amber were especially prestigious, while cheaper jewellery was made in faience. Silver and gold were also admired. Silver was particularly rare in Egypt, and often more desirable than gold.

Although jewellery was mainly used to ‘show off’, the Ancient Egyptians did weave protective amulets into necklaces, mummy nets and other ornaments. These would have offered the wearer some divine protection in life and death.

In more recent times, at early 20th century excavations, women were not encouraged to dig. Instead ladies would spend time performing administrative tasks, such as labelling and cataloguing finds, as well as reconstructing ancient jewellery. Marie Garstang, who was married to our very own John, spent hours piecing together strings of beads, and many of the pieces we have on display at the museum are the result of her imaginative work.

Find out more at the Garstang Museum of Archaeology, open every Wednesday 10am – 4pm.

Discover more about death in Ancient Egypt at the Book of the Dead exhibition, open until the 13th September 2017.

Natasha Whittaker & Bethany Dale

Death in Ancient Egypt: The Book of the Dead.

The Ancient Egyptians believed that life continued after death, the deceased could live out eternity in the Field of Reeds, a perfect version of Egypt itself.

However, to get to the Field of Reeds, the dead had to make the treacherous journey through the Underworld. The path through the Underworld was blocked by gates and caverns as well as guardians and demons who would set tests that must be passed before the dead were allowed to journey on.

To aid this perilous journey, the Ancient Egyptians wrote “Books of the Afterlife” that contained spells and maps to guide the dead through the Underworld. Examples include the Book of the Dead, the Book of Caverns, and the Book of Gates.

The Ancient Egyptians also hoped that these spells might prevent a person from dying a “second death”, from which there was no return. At the end of their journey, the Dead were judged in the presence of Osiris, god of the Underworld. The deceased would claim that they were not guilty of any crimes, and hoped that their heart would not betray them when weighed.

Anubis would weigh the heart against the feather of Ma’at, representing balance and truth. If the heart was heavier than the feather, it would be devoured by Ammut and the deceased would die a second death.

If you passed you could go on to the Field of Reeds. You could even come forth by day and visit relatives in the Book of the Dead.

This general overview covers a few certain aspects of death in Ancient Egypt. There are millennia to cover and vast array of different beliefs. Learn more, and see if you will pass the test to join the Afterlife, at the Book of the Dead exhibition… If you dare.

Book of the Dead: Passport through the Underworld, 19th May 2017-13th September 2012, Wednesdays 10am – 4pm. Open for Light Night 19th May, 5pm-Late.

Lauren Hill.

Image: Book of the Dead Papyrus depicting Ammut, photographed by Julia Thorne.

Object in Focus: Reclining Figurine (C.515):

This figurine might represent a man reclining at a Greek drinking party, known as a Symposium.  These parties were common throughout the ancient Greek world, and were primarily attended by men.  Women who attended were servants and slaves, they would pour wine for the men, dance and play music. In some ancient literature they are referred to, simply, as “flute players”.

As shown by the statuette, attendees would recline on couches to gorge on wine and food, listen to music, and discuss the affairs of the day.  They also took part in lively drinking games, such as kottabos, where contestants would try to fling the dregs of wine from their drinking cup or kylix at a spot on the wall, a little like a modern darts game.

Some scholars at the University of Liverpool believe this figurine might represent the god Dionysus.  Dionysus was associated with indulgence, wine and music, hence he was closely connected with the symposium.

Most infamously, Dionysus was the protagonist in The Bacchae, a play by Euripides from the 5th Century B.C.  In the play, Dionysus is seeking revenge on his mortal family who, denying that he was the son of Zeus, had cast him out as an infant.  The play culminates with Dionysus’ aunt, Agave, tearing her son’s head off in a mad rage, she believed him to be a mountain lion.  Plays like The Bacchae were perhaps some of the topics of conversation discussed at a symposia.

Whether this figurine is a depiction of a mortal male, or of Dionysus, the association with the symposium is consistent and allows us a small insight into one of the major cultural practices of the ancient Greek world.

John Parker.

The Two-Headed “Donkey” in the Basement (E.6953)

This unusual object was rediscovered during curatorial work in the Garstang Museum stores. The two-headed (or bicephalous) equine figurine, made Two headed horseof terracotta, was excavated by Sir Robert Mond at Thebes.

It was originally thought to be a donkey, the most common equid found in Ancient Egypt.  However, a closer look shows the animals are wearing blinkers and bits, this was unusual for Ancient Egyptian donkeys and it is now thought that this figurine represents two horses. Horses were not introduced to Egypt until the New Kingdom, meaning this object is probably not more than 3500 years old.

Horses were enormously high status animals in Ancient Egypt, when they were first introduced they were very rare and probably only used for military purposes. Horses were so important that only the highest ranking officials were appointed as stable overseers, these officials went on to hold other chief posts, such as viceroy of Kush.

Bicephalous animals are unusual in Egyptian art, it may be that the artist has styled two horses together for convenience. The horse equipment, and a break to the rear of the object, suggest that these horses were hitched to a chariot. This is consistent with contemporary Egyptian art, pairs of horses pulling chariots are often shown on temple walls. Similar objects have been found elsewhere in Egypt, examples include:

  • A Dynasty 18 terracotta horse’s head from Amarna (BM EA 26535)
  • 1st Century BCE example (80.202.26), which is very similar to E.6953. This indicates that this style of object was in some way popular from the New Kingdom to the Roman Period.
  • A collection of horse figurines from Late Period Medinet Habu.
  • Graeco-Roman examples.

Comparable objects have been found in the ancient Near East, at Tell es-Sweyhat very early examples of terracotta horses dated from around 2300BC.  Groups of terracotta horses have been discovered at temples, dedicated to warrior gods, across the Near East, indicating they might have had a votive role. These figures have also been found in Iron Age Israelite houses, and there are examples of glazed terracotta figurines from Susa.  Likewise, examples from Ancient Greece and Cyprus are similar to the Garstang Museum’s pair of horses.

These cultures intermingled, trading with one another and copying ideas and objects, like this pair of horses. This small, thought provoking, figurine is representative of a valuable and powerful military asset in Ancient Egypt, but also indicates connections and shared ideas between ancient cultures.

Lauren Hill

Object in Focus: A Terracotta Figurine of the Goddess Nike (C.531)


Terracotta statuette of the goddess Nike (C.531)

This terracotta figurine is of the Greek goddess Nike (C.531). It dates to the Hellenistic period (2nd – 1st century BC) and comes from Apulia in Italy.

During the Hellenistic Period (c. 323-31 BC), winged statues of figures like this one of Nike, the personification of Victory, or of Eros, personification of love, became increasingly popular.

These figurines, typically made of terracotta, were mainly deposited in tombs, most often


Terracotta figure of Nike (C.531)

those belong to women and children. They were also often placed in sanctuaries, where they were dedicated as votive offerings, expressing the desire of visitors to communicate with and show devotion to the gods.

By the 8th century BC, the city-states of Greece had colonised much of Apulia (modern Puglia) in south-eastern Italy. In 706 BC, the Spartans founded the city of Tarentum (modern Tarento), one of the most prominent cities in the region. With their easy access to the Mediterranean, fertile hinterland, and quality craftsmanship, many of these colonies flourished.

This figurine may have been manufactured in Tarentum, as the motif of the winged Victory was a popular one in this area. Beyond this, however, its provenance is largely unknown, but it is unlikely to have come into the Museum’s collections from John Garstang’s excavations, as is the case for many of the Egyptian objects in the collection.


Wing and wing-tip from C.531

The figurine is in good overall condition. The left wing was reattached by restorers, but the tip was not. The right wing is detached from the object, and the tip is missing. Based on the marks of repair at the figurine’s neck, the head was likely also restored or reattached. The base also shows signs of restoration. The base of the statue is hollow, and there is a circular whole at the back of the object, between the wings. The figure’s clothing also has residues of green, red, yellow, and white pigment. Coloured glazes or slips were used to decorate terracotta in this way until the 5th century BC.

From the Archives: John Garstang at Alawniyeh , Beit Khallaf, and El Mahasna, 1900-1901

One of the most important collections in the Museum consists of the photographs from the excavations of John Garstang. Some of these have recently been catalogued and digitized as part of the ‘Ancient Egypt in Focus: The photographic Archives of John Garstang’ project, which is now available online.


Map showing approximate location of sites surveyed by Garstang in 1900-1901. © 2016 Google Maps, ORION-ME

Dish from grave L209, Alawniyeh

Small, four-legged dish discovered in grave L209 at Alawniyeh. The white line decoration on the interior depict a human figure and animals. (JG/F/2/1)

The earliest photographs in the collection come from Garstang’s excavations in 1900-1901, between the villages of Alawniyeh and Beit Khallaf, north of Abydos. Unfortunately, many of the original negatives from these excavations have been lost,including images of the tomb superstructures at Beit Khallaf.

Only two photographs of objects from burial L209 at Alawniyeh survive in our collection: a four-legged dish in Naqada II style, and a selection of unusual clay model arrowheads, and human figures.

Clay objects from tomb L209, Alawniyeh

Nine clay objects discovered at grave L209 at Alawniyeh, thought to be models of flint tools and human figures. (JG/F/2/3)


Limestone offering table with inscription found in tomb M366 at El Mahasna (JG/F/3/12), now in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium (E.0924).

The survey found a cemetery dating from the Early Dynastic period to the 11th Dynasty, south of the village of Mahasna. Garstang believed the majority of the burials to date from the Old Kingdom onward, though in 1908, the Egypt Exploration Fund excavated a predynastic cemetery to the west of the village. Garstang’s photographs only depict the more attractive or unusual objects discovered and the larger grave deposits.


Stoneware vessels, an alabaster head rest, and a copper mirror discovered in tomb M107 at El Mahasna (JG/F/3/7). The deposit was discovered in a bricked up chamber at the bottom of a burial shaft, and were taken for display in the Cairo Museum.

Much of the cemetery covered an earlier prehistoric settlement at the site. Although Garstang found little indication of dwellings, he discovered several pot kilns, including one with a half-baked pot still inside.


Close-up of a kiln discovered at site M S, showing a half-baked pot supported by fire bricks (JG/F/4/3).


Vessel in the shape of a frog, discovered at site M S near El Mahasna (JG/F/4/4).


Garstang also investigated the large, mud-brick structure near the village of Beit Khallaf, as part of the same work season. This structure had been thought to be an Old Kingdom fortress.

Garstang's published plan and section of tomb K1 (Mahasna and Bet Khallaf, 1903: pl. VIII).

Garstang’s published plan and section of tomb K1 (Mahasna and Bet Khallaf, 1903: pl. VIII).

Excavation revealed it was in fact a previously unknown mastaba tomb, which Garstang called K1. The burial shaft was found 25 metres below the surface, at the bottom of a stairway covered with alabaster vessels. This had been blocked by six massive stones lowered through shafts at the top of the tomb.

In addition to the alabaster vessels, Garstang found copper implements, stoneware vessels, and flint tools. Many of the alabaster vessels had mud seals bearing royal names of the 3rd Dynasty. Most of these bore the name of Djoser. Garstang believed that K1 was the burial place of Djoser, and not the Step Pyramid at Saqqara, which he thought showed little evidence of having been used as a tomb.

Group of alabaster vessels discovered in tomb K1 at Beit Khallaf (JG/F/1/10)

Group of alabaster vessels discovered in tomb K1 at Beit Khallaf (JG/F/1/10)

Further excavations in this area revealed four smaller mastabas. One of these, which Garstang called K5, was the tomb of prince Nedjemankh. Another (K2) contained seals bearing the name of Sanakht, who may have succeed Djoser. As with K1, Garstang believed this was the burial place of Sanakht.

Garstang argued that there were no remains at Saqqara which had been positively identified as belonging to Djoser. By contrast, K1 was near other royal tombs, and close to the 3rd Dynasty necropolis at Raqaqna. However, today it is more generally believed that the tombs belong to high officials of the 3rd dynasty, and not to the kings themselves.

The sites Garstang worked at in 1900-1901 have not been excavated since. The photographs in our archives provide context to objects now found in Museums around the world. These sites are not well-known outside the academic community. It is our hope that the digitization of the photographs from this expedition will make it more accessible to researchers and the general public alike.

The Mummy Returns!

The Garstang Mummy in his new home

The Garstang Mummy in his new home

Over the past few months we have been busy arranging the move of the ‘Garstang Mummy’ to a new climate controlled display case in the museum. The mummy, which dates to around 1000BC, was brought from Egypt to Liverpool by Professor John Garstang, along with the base of the coffin of an unrelated woman, dating to the much later Roman Period in Egypt.

Moving the Garstang Mummy from his home in Anatomy

Moving the Garstang mummy from his previous location in the University of Liverpool Department of Anatomy

A peaceful afterlife in the Institute of Archaeology was interrupted in 1941, when the Blitz struck Liverpool. Much of Liverpool was destroyed beyond recognition, including parts of the University. A bomb dropped on the Abercromby Square area damaged a number of buildings where the Sydney Jones Library now stands. The artefacts held within the collection of the Institute were dispersed, with some even being kept at the house of Professor Garstang. Our mummy was evacuated to the Department of Anatomy.

However, he was in safe hands. After the war, the Department of Anatomy was at the forefront of the scientific examination of mummified remains. In 1968 Professor Ronald Harrison performed the first x-ray of the mummy of King Tutankhamun. Professor Harrison and his then post-doctoral student, Dr Bob Connolly, went on to examine a great number of mummies.

All wrapped up and ready to move. The blue cover is designed for patients in a CT scanner (keeping them completely still).

All wrapped up and ready to move. The blue cover is designed to keep patients in a CT scanner completely still, and allowed us to minimise the risk of any damage occurring when we transported the mummy across the university campus.

While investigating the mummy of Tutankhamun, the Garstang mummy was used for trials of new techniques, before they were performed on the royal body. Thanks to the work of the Department of Anatomy we know a lot about our mummy. He was in his late 20’s when he died, though the cause of death is unknown. He also lived well, and was likely a member of the elite section of society – this is reflected in the good condition of his teeth: often the non-elite of ancient Egypt had teeth in poor condition due to a high quantity of sand in their bread, which wore tooth enamel down over time.

The Curator Gina and Assistant Curator Dan ready to move the Garstang Mummy into his new case.

Curator Gina Criscenzo-Laycock and Curatorial Assistant Dan Potter, ready to move the Garstang mummy into his new case.

Following the Blitz, the Garstang mummy spent the next 74 years in the Department of anatomy. He was on display within their departmental museum for a short time. However, with the redevelopment of the Garstang Museum in 2014 it was agreed that he would return to the museum, to be housed in the Egyptian funerary gallery. A grant was secured to purchase a custom-made climate controlled display case, thanks to the generosity of the Friends of the University of Liverpool.

Making the final adjustments

Making the final adjustments

The gallery in the Garstang Museum in which the mummy now resides contains a wide range of funerary equipment from ancient Egypt, much of it of a type that our individual would originally have been buried with. In reuniting him with this material, we not only 20150806_130558give our visitors an understanding of the practical requirements of an ancient Egyptian in order for them to reach their afterlife, but we honour the beliefs of this particular individual, by providing him with the tools that he would have considered necessary in order to have the eternal existence he wished for.

Dr Bob Connolly reunited with the Garstang Mummy. we have Bob to thank for much of the scientific information we have about the Garstang Mummy

Dr Bob Connolly reunited with the Garstang mummy. We have Bob to thank for much of the scientific information we have about the mummy


We would also like to thank National Museums Liverpool, Victoria Gallery and Museum and the Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease, for all their help in bringing the Garstang mummy home.



LightNight 2015 at the Garstang Museum


Curatorial Assistant Dan Potter explaining the history of the Garstang Mummy