Ancient Egyptian Mummies



Content Warning: Images of unwrapped mummy. 



The discovery and analysis of mummies from ancient Egypt, has fueled a long-standing fascination with ancient Egyptian culture. Mummies enable the modern audience to connect with the physical forms of people who lived thousands of years ago. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, mummies inspired morbid curiosity among the upper classes and wealthy patrons would host ‘unwrapping’ parties where the remarkably preserved bodies would be have their bandages removed, bringing people face to face with ancient Egyptians. Modern analysis of mummies is far more controlled and scientific, involving scanning, x-rays, DNA analysis and blood tests. For example, the mummy displayed here at the Garstang Museum is known to be blood group A from the tests performed on it in preparation for their later use in testing the mummy of Tutankhamun. The stunning preservation of mummies enables archaeologists to reconstruct ancient lifeways in beautiful technicolour, but the process of mummification is perhaps one of the most intriguing practices in ancient Egypt.


The Garstang Mummy (2015/13)

How to make a mummy?

The extensive, 70 day embalming and burial process was an important part of Egyptian belief, and was crucial for a successful journey into the afterlife. The mummification process consisted of two main components: the embalming of the remains, and the wrapping and burial of the body.


Canopic jar heads in the shape of the hawk-headed deity Qebehsenuef and the baboon-headed deity Hapi (E.7840 E.7841).

During the embalming process, the body was washed with water from the Nile for purification. The internal organs were then removed and stored in canopic jars. Canopic jars come in sets of four, each identifiable with a specific god; Imsety, a human-headed jar to store the liver; Qebehsenuef, a falcon-headed jar to store the intestines; Hapy, a baboon-headed jar to store the lungs; and Duamutef, a jackal-headed jar to store the stomach.

Next the heart (ib) was put back into the body, and the body was stuffed and covered with natron (salt) to dry it out, before being covered for 40 days. The body was then unwrapped for the final time to be coated in embalming oils before being stuffed with dry materials to give the corpse the appearance of life.

The wrapping of the corpse began with the head and neck, then the individual fingers and toes, and finally limbs. Ritual spells would be spoken over the mummy by priests during the wrapping to protect against evil spirits in the journey into the afterlife. The limbs were then bound into the body with cloth that was wrapped around the entire corpse, and liquid resins were used to glue the bandages tightly. The body was then placed into a series of coffins for its final journey.


Canopic jars featuring the human-headed deity Imsety and the hawk-headed deity Qebehsenuef (E.5267 & E.5266).

How do we know about the mummification process?

Greek historical texts are a useful (if often confusing) source of information for mummification; writers including Diodorus of Sicily and Herodotus discuss mummification practices in ancient Egypt. Herodotus left little to the imagination in his description of the processes:

“…making a cut near the flank with a sharp knife of Ethiopian stone, and then take out all the intestines, and clean the belly, rinsing it with palm wine and bruised spices.”

Perhaps even more interesting in Herodotus’ writing is the discussion of burial practices when there is little physical body to preserve:

“…anyone, Egyptian or foreigner, known to have been carried off by a crocodile or drowned by the river itself, must by all means be embalmed and wrapped as attractively as possible and buried in a sacred coffin by the people of the place where he is cast ashore…”

Mummy Mysteries

At the Garstang Museum, a mummy placed in a child’s coffin was always believed to be the remains of a child. However, X-Ray analysis revealed that the mummified remains were those of two cats, wrapped to look like a child.

There are two obvious possibilities here; the most likely theory is that there was a mistake by the embalmers leading to the original body being lost and replaced, but it is possible that the child was carried away by some creature from the Nile. The embalmers may have crafted the best impression of a child mummy they could to allow the ka (soul) of the child to carry on into the afterlife with some form of a physical body buried in their place, as alluded to in Herodotus.

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Child’s coffin containing the mummified remains of two cats (E.537).

Preserving Identity

The processes and rituals behind mummification have long fascinated societies around the world, from ancient Greek travellers and historians to modern archaeological scientists. Mummies provide a remarkable opportunity to understand ancient Egyptian people, their lives and their identities. Arguably, the most striking feature of mummies is how easily identifiable they are as humans, allowing a modern audience to look directly into the face of the past.

Greta Brown.


All You Need Is Love: Modern Themes in Ancient Egyptian Love Poems

It is easy to get distracted by the largest and most obvious material from ancient Egypt – vast tombs, colossal statues and beautiful jewellery. This can lead to a disconnect in our understanding of what ancient Egyptian life was really like – how ‘normal’ people felt, behaved, and acted. One of the ways that scholars try to connect with ancient Egypt at a personal, individual level is through the translation and understanding of literature written by ancient Egyptians themselves; and on Valentine’s Day, what better way is there to do that than to read some ancient Egyptian love poetry?

What Is Love?

Surviving evidence of Egyptian love poems and songs comes from the Ramesside workman’s village of Deir el-Medina (a community of craftsmen who worked on the tombs in the Valley of the Kings). Because of the dry desert conditions, fragile material such as papyrus survives to a greater extent here than it does elsewhere. Exceptional literary finds have been discovered at Deir el-Medina, including the famous cache of the scribe Kenherkhopeshef; dream books, medico-magical papyri and literary tales. Some of the rarest of these finds are poetry and songs meditating on love, romance and desire.


The site of Deir el-Medina; its unusual location has led to a very good rate of preservation(photograph by Kingtut, distributed under a CC A-SA 3.0 license).


Vision of Love

One of the most curious and enjoyable aspects of Egyptian love poetry is how similar the sentiments and expressions are to modern love songs; the language of love transcends time and place. Often, the songs list the beautiful qualities of their subjects, going into (sometimes slightly excruciating!) detail about just how wonderful their lover is. Often, the poetry will discuss emotions and situations that the modern reader might be quite familiar with; for example, the idea of the ‘girl next door’ – or in this case, the ‘girl across the Nile’!

“I love a girl, but she lives over there,

On the far side of the river,

A whole Nile in flood rages between,

With a crocodile hunched on the sand.”

– Cairo Ostracon 25218

Often, metaphors and similes are used which are familiar to us as modern readers – ideas such as feeling ‘drunk’ on love, becoming ‘ill’ with desire, and in this particular case, having one’s breath stolen away by the one they love.

“Whenever I leave you, I go out of breath,

(Death must be lonely like I am);

I dream lying dreams of your love lost,

And my heart stands still inside me.”

– Papyrus Harris 500

Other metaphors that are often used in Egyptian love poetry relate to animals, geography and the natural world. The geography of the Nile Valley, and its flora and fauna, was an important source of inspiration in Egyptian art from theriomorphic vessels in the Predynastic period, to Middle Kingdom tomb paintings, to decoration on the floors of the New Kingdom city of Amarna. This fascination with the natural world is also evident in Egyptian love poetry.


Motifs found on the decoration of Predynastic ceramic vessels such as this one illustrate the Egyptians’ fascination with the geography, flora and fauna of the Nile Valley even from the very earliest periods of history (E. 3030).

“Oh, hurry to look at your love!

Be like horses charging in battle,

Like a gardener up with the sun,

Burning to watch his prize bud open.”

– Papyrus Harris 500

Some of the themes that are reflected in Egyptian love poetry might seem more distant from the modern perspective; in particular, there are a number of poems which refer to religious themes and divine aspects. However, a reflection of religious ideas in love poetry was a common motif throughout ancient and modern history, and given the inextricable connection between religion and literature in ancient Egypt, it is not unexpected to find religious ideas reflected in love poems.

“I found my love by the secret canal,

Feet dangling down in the water,

He had made a hushed cell in the thicket, for worship,

To dedicate this day,

To holy elevation of the flesh.”

– Papyrus Chester Beatty I


The prevalence of religion in daily life in ancient Egypt makes religious themes and motifs an obvious inclusion in love poetry. This sculpture depicts the cow-goddess Hathor, who was associated with love and fertility (E. 66).


Of course, that is not to say that all Egyptian love poetry was focused on beautiful metaphors, charming compliments and delicate longing. In fact, some of the poetry might be seen as a little raunchy by modern standards – here is one of the tamer examples!

“When we kiss, and her warm lips half open,

I fly cloud-high without beer!

What paradise gained, what fulfilment, what a heavenly turn of affairs!

Oh, raise one to Menkat, Our Lady of Liquor,

But keep your mouth tight on the girl!”

– Cairo Ostracon 25218

The Power of Love

One of the most endearing aspects of Egyptian love poetry is undoubtedly how relatable the thoughts and feelings expressed within it are to the modern audience. Poems that describe the delicate flutter of the heart when a paramour is near; the delight of a chance meeting with someone you have a crush on; and the joy of spending a day with someone you truly love. It can be said that love forever changes, but the language of love translates remarkably well across great distances and vast gulfs in time. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Christopher Bebbington.

Translations taken from:

Foster, J.L. (1992) Love Songs of the New Kingdom. Austin: University of Texas Press.

The Tale of Osiris and Isis

The Osiris Myth is one of the most important surviving pieces of Egyptian mythology. The tale is incredibly old, with the earliest surviving attestation found in the Pyramid Texts, that were inscribed on the walls of royal pyramids during the 5th Dynasty (c. 24th Century BCE). The myth was retold throughout Egyptian history, with elements recurring in the Middle Kingdom Coffin Texts and in New Kingdom Books of the Dead. The most complete (and most famous) telling of the myth comes from Plutarch’s De Iside et Osiride. The long history of transmission of the myth is evident in the Graeco-Roman influences present in Plutarch’s version of the story.

From King of the Living to Lord of the Dead

According to the myth, Osiris was the first Pharaoh, and the one who united Egypt. He was directly related to the gods, with a bloodline stretching back to the creator god, Atum. Osiris ruled Egypt alongside the goddess Isis, his wife, and their rule ensured that balance and justice (ma’at) were maintained. However, their brother Set – a deity associated with chaos (isfet) – conspired against Osiris; he murdered him, dismembered his body, and scattered the pieces across Egypt.

While Set sat upon the throne of Egypt, Isis travelled across the land with her sister, Nephthys, to find the pieces of her deceased husband. They travelled to each and every region (nome) of Egypt, finding all the pieces of Osiris to make the dead Pharaoh whole again. Together with Thoth (an ibis-headed god associated with hidden knowledge) and Anubis (a jackal-headed god associated with embalming and funerary traditions), Isis and Nephthys reassembled the body of Osiris and used their magic to bring him back to life.


This faience pectoral shows the gods Osiris, Isis and Horus represented together. Between Osiris and Horus, there is a representation of the djed pillar, an Egyptian icon symbolising stability. (E. 192)

With Osiris restored to the realm of the living, Isis was able to conceive a child with him who would go on to become the true king of Egypt. However, Osiris was unable to remain in the land of the living, and after conceiving their child he went into the duat – the Egyptian underworld – to spend eternity as lord of the dead. This isn’t the end of the story, however; Isis and Osiris’ child, Horus, would grow up to challenge Set and take his place as rightful pharaoh of Egypt.

The Importance of the Osiris Myth


This 26th Dynasty bronze statuette of Osiris was graciously lent to the Garstang Museum by the Liverpool World Museum. (M11410)

The Osiris myth illustrates a number of important tenets in Egyptian mythology and religion. Osiris can be seen to reflect the Egyptian expectations of the afterlife – their understanding that even after death, life continued in the world below. Osiris was a victim of betrayal and fratricide, but through the proper application of funerary ritual he was restored and became one of the justified dead (ma’at kheru). This illustrates the central Egyptian religious belief that, providing the proper preparations were made before burial, the deceased would be able to live on in an idealised afterlife.

The myth also relates a key philosophical component of ancient Egyptian belief – the ongoing battle between the forces of balance and righteousness and the forces of chaos. Osiris and Horus represent ma’at, the ‘correct way’, and thus they are the true kings of Egypt. Set, however, is an agent of isfet, and so he is seen as a usurper who has no right to take the throne. The belief that the world was in constant conflict between ma’at and isfet is an important part of the way that ancient Egyptians conceptualised the cosmological state of reality.

Christopher Bebbington.



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