Object in Focus: Stela of Amenysoneb (E.30)

Ancient Egyptian stelae are slabs of stone or wood which are typically inscribed with funerary and biographical texts and images. The Garstang Museum of Archaeology has a rather unique example of a Middle Kingdom (2055-1650 BCE) stela which belonged to a man called Amenysoneb. This stela dates to the 13th Dynasty (1795-1650 BCE) and was discovered at the site of Abydos by John Garstang in 1907.

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Obverse of Stela. Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

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Reverse of Stela. Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Abydos was a highly important religious and funerary site for the ancient Egyptians. During the Middle Kingdom, the Northern Cemetery at Abydos served as the primary burial ground for non-royal individuals. One area of the site was dedicated to cenotaphs and small ka chapels often containing stelae and ka statues and statuettes. These mud-brick cenotaphs were intended to serve as a place where the ancient Egyptians could commemorate their dead. They were a locus for the offering of food to the ka (soul) of the deceased so that they might be sustained in the afterlife. Not all stelae were placed in cenotaphs, some were erected along a processional route where cult activities honouring the god Osiris took place.

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A stela in mud-brick chapel at Abydos, A.253. Garstang Museum of Archaeology

The stela of Amenysoneb is highly unusual for a number of reasons. The large ankh, perhaps the most eye-catching feature of this object, with the cut-out window is not a common feature of Middle Kingdom stelae. In fact, only five similar examples are known to exist. The double-sided decoration on the stela is also unusual, with most stelae only being decorated on the front side. Unfortunately, the stela is damaged with two corners missing.

The obverse of the stela shows the stela owner, Amenysoneb, on the left of the cut-out. He is raising his hands in adoration to the funerary god Wepwawet who is shown in jackal form above. Traces of paint are visible on Amenysoneb, with his body being painted red-brown and his collar a blue-green. The hieroglyphs above Amenysoneb’s head read ‘Adoration of Wepwawet by the regulator of the phyle (group of priests) of Abydos’, to the right they read ‘Amenysoneb begotten of Waemsha’.

Below this figure of Amenysoneb, is a women holding a lotus flower to her face. This is a common scene in Egyptian art as the lotus held religious and funerary associations. This woman is labelled as ‘His mother, the lady of the house, Nebetitef, the justified’. Below Nebetitef sit her son, Sainheret, and daughter, Nebetaneheh, the siblings of Amenysoneb.

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Obverse, detail of Amenysoneb. Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

On the right, two sisters of Amenysoneb sit at his feet and hold lotus flowers. Nenni, the lady of the house, sits underneath Amenysoneb’s feet next to her daughter. In the bottom register, the doorkeeper of the temple, Siankhenptah sits next to his wife Titiu.

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Obverse, detail of figures. Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

On the reverse, six registers show different scenes of daily life. Various workmen and women prepare food (top register), slaughter cattle (second register), mill grain and prepare bread and beer (third register), harvest (fourth register), transport grain (fifth register), and sow crops (sixth register).

The depiction of scenes of daily life is common in Egyptian tombs, but on stelae it is perhaps unique to this stela. These scenes were intended to magically provide for the deceased and their ka in the event that physical food offerings were lacking.

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Reverse, detail of registers 1 and 2. Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

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Reverse, detail of registers 2, 3, and 4. Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

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Reverse, detail of registers 4, 5, and 6. Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Amenysoneb held the title of ‘regulator of the phyle of Abydos’, and he was probably in charge of the rota of the priests at the temple of Osiris at the site. Two other stelae belonging to Amenysoneb are also known, although this is the most unusual and curious example.

Stela were erected where those visiting these sites would see them and speak the words written on them, so it might have interested Amenysoneb to know that as well as an Egyptian and Liverpool audience, his stela has also been seen by visitors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Suggested Bibliography

Hill, J. A. (2010). ‘Window Between Worlds: The Ankh as a Dominant Theme in Five Middle Kingdom Mortuary Monuments’ In Hawass, Z. and Houser Wegner, J. (eds), Millions of Jubilees: Studies in Honor of David P. Silverman Vol. 1, Cairo: Conseil Suprême des Antiquités, 227-247.

Kitchen, K. (1961). An Unusual Stela from Abydos. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 47, 10-18.

Oppenheim, A., Arnold, D., Arnold, D., Yamamoto, K. (eds) (2015). Ancient Egypt Transformed: The Middle Kingdom. New Haven, London: Yale University Press.

By C. Sargent

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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!