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.



Object Biography: Meet ‘Felix’ one of our mummified cats

E.5425 a.k.a. 'Felix'

E.5425 a.k.a. ‘Felix’

This is ‘Felix’ one of our mummified cats, or more officially E.5425. Felix often goes with us on outreach activities though he is fairly quiet and doesn’t really eat much even when on the road! Really we should probably call him a more Egyptian name such as ‘Ta-miu’ (literally ‘the girl cat’, think meow), which is the name of the pet cat of a Prince Thutmose, but Felix rather stuck.

However, Felix was not buried in such a lofty location as the Valley of the Kings, in fact we are unsure of where he was originally buried. Instead, we know where he spent a portion of the 20th century- in an attic. On Thursday 12th November 1992, workmen were clearing the loft areas of one of the university buildings not too far from where the museum stands today; as they cleared the space they found some ancient pottery, basketry, mummified pieces and Felix. The building they were clearing, 11 Abercromby Square, had been part of the Institute of Archaeology before the 1940s and it appears that these objects were placed under the eaves for safe keeping and forgotten about for fifty years! An unusual find, but only last year another mummified cat was found lurking in an attic: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2278585/B-B-owner-finds-stuffed-cat-hidden-attic-2-000-year-old-EGYPTIAN-MUMMY.html (although the daily mail suggests that it was a mummified pet- keep reading and we will let you decide whether this is correct).

Scarcophagus of ‘Tamiu’, the pet cat of Prince Thutmose ©Madam Rafaèle

Scarcophagus of ‘Tamiu’, the pet cat of Prince Thutmose ©Madam Rafaèle

Why mummify a cat?

There are two reasons to mummify a cat, the first of these is to provide a pet with a caring burial (like Tamiu), and the second, more common reason is for ritual purposes. A number of animals including cats were mummified to serve as ritual offerings to the gods. Felix is probably one of these offerings. Cats were often offered to the cat-headed goddess Bastet as votives, with the practice of mummifying animals peaking in the 1st Millenium BC.  Huge numbers of animals were often stored on mass in underground galleries. As this was done on such a large scale, most of the mummified cats which were offered as votives were kittens, this was so that the temple could continue to produce these votives without spending unnecessary time raising an adult cat.


Wholesale cat mummies for fur-tiliser

Cartoon from "Punch" (15th February 1890)  showing a grizzly result of using the mummified cat fertiliser

Cartoon from “Punch” (15th February 1890) showing a grizzly result of using the mummified cat fertiliser

Liverpool also has an unusual link with mummified cats, on 10th February 1890, 19.5 tons of mummified cats (approx. 18,000). Found by accident in 1889 in Speos Artemidos, this large shipment was auctioned off in Liverpool and caused quite a stir in the media. The reports of the sale vary but they seem to agree that the cats were sold off wholesale when they had disintegrated (for use as fertiliser), with the more well preserved cats being sold whole or just as heads/bodies. There are even reports of the auctioneer using the skull of one such cat as a gavel!

For more on this, see: