Statue of Hemiunu

Work has kept me away from An Archaeologist’s Diary more than I ever thought it would so far this year… and December is not going to be any different! So today’s  ARCHAEO-Crush is for October, November and December… and it was inspired by one of the men whose accomplishments were presented in my Egyptology Seminar last weekend.

Civilisation: Ancient Egypt
Date: Old Kingdom, Dynasty 4 (circa 2613-2494 B.C.E.)

ARCHAEO-Crush: This Old Kingdom statue is remarkable in a number of ways, First of all, the physique of the man depicted here is more than stunning in its appearance.  He is stocky and fleshy in a manner seldom seen in Egyptian art, which normally depicts men as eternally youthful, slim and with well-defined muscles… which is not the case with Hemiunu.  Was the man really this corpulent and he wanted to be represented in a realistic manner? Or was his massive physique synonymous with wealth and accomplishment, indicating his important status in the Egyptian government and society?
Both hypotheses are possible because Hemiunu was indeed a very important man in ancient Egypt.  The colourful inscription on the base of his statue gives us numerous titles and offices. Among other titles, Hemiunu was of royal blood (the son of either Snefru or Nefermaat), the vizier (prime minister) during the reign of King Khufu, a priest and the overseer of all the construction works of the king.  As the latter, he was in charge of all the architectural projects initiated by the king for whom he worked.  And he worked of King Khufu…. and you know what that means, right?  Hemiunu was likely the man in charge of the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza! Not too shabby an accomplishment, that!

Bucket list status: The first time I saw this statue with my own eyes was at the Royal Ontario Museum when the statue was part of the Egyptian Art during the Age of the Pyramids exhibition. The Hildesheim Museum, where Hemiunu normally resides, was under renovation and it travelled to Toronto.  I have since been to Hildesheim to him again… he’s always so impressive.

Additional information: When Hermann Junker discovered the statue in Hemiunu’s mastaba at Giza, the head had already suffered some damage. The nose was smashed and the eyes had been gauged out.  The face of the statue was restored in the early 20th century based on Hermiunu’s features as seen from a relief from the MFA Boston that shows him with an aquiline nose.

Beetlemania!

My ARCHAEO-Crush for September is not a specific artefact, but an ancient Egyptian symbol that has transcended time and can be found as a decorative motif in other cultures and historical periods.

WINGED SCARAB

Civilisation: Ancient Egypt

Date:
various periods

ARCHAEO-Crush: In ancient Egypt, the scarab (Scarabaeus sacer) is a symbol of resurrection associated with the rising sun, appearing on the eastern horizon after dying in the West the previous evening. The winged scarab was thus a popular funerary amulet and motif associated with the deceased and his funerary goods. At the NCMA, we find a winged scarab drawn on top of the head of Amunred’s coffin (Late Period) as well as incised in the gilded pectoral of Golden Boy (Ptolemaic Period). In a recent post, I also mentioned the short term loan of a faience amulet of a winged scarab temporary exhibited in our permanent galleries. This type of amulet could be sewn to a bead net shroud that covered the mummified body of the deceased, helping them reach the afterlife and achieve immortality.
The Egyptians’ observation of the natural world was the impetus for the association between the dung beetle and the sun. They had noticed that these beetles pushed around dung balls that contained their eggs and imagined an invisible scarab similarly pushing the fiery ball of the sun across the sky–the avatar of the sun god Khepri. The fact that the scarab babies emerged from the dung ball (from which they had fed as larvae) only reinforced the connection with resurrection, new life emerging from the decay of death.
The scarab beetle is one of the Egyptian symbols that has transcended time and has become a decorative motif in subsequent historical periods and different cultures.  In more recent times, we find it beautifully incorporated in decorative art and jewellery.

Bucket list status: Well, the bucket list status isn’t quite applicable in this Beetlemania post, but I do have a new favourite dung beetle: the wonderful  winged scarab on the front of the 1936 Stout Scarab, an Art Deco automobile in the Rolling Sculpture: Art Deco Cars from the 1930s and ’40s presented at the NCMA from October 1 to January 15, 2017 (which I curated with guest curator and automobile expert Ken Gross). Although a bit odd-looking, the car is absolutely fascinating! Its interior is spacious and some of the seats can be reconfigured for various activities. The perfect car for an Egyptologist who wants to read, cogitate, nap, work, meet with colleagues or dine (it includes a table and a long couch-like seat)!

Additional information: The winged scarab at the front of the car is undoubted inspired by the fresh new wave of Egyptomania that swept the world during the Art Deco period resulting from the discovery of Tutankhamun’Ts tomb in 1922. This is the perfect finishing touch for a car whose monocoque body and chassis combination  resembles the exoskeleton of a bug.

An Open Letter to Ancient People

Found this post very amusing. It’s  An Open Letter to Ancient People from Conservator Suzanne Davis at the Kelsey. Love it! There are many times when archaeologists, conservators and other scholars would like to speak to ancient people…

SUZANNE DAVIS, Curator of Conservation Dear Ancient People, I am writing this letter in response to my recent work on your textiles for the upcoming Kelsey Museum exhibit Less Than Perfect. I am writing this letter because I love you. I do. Please believe that. Your textiles are lovely. Super beautiful. But they are […]

via An Open Letter to Ancient People — Kelsey Museum

A scarab showed up at the museum…

A winged scarab showed up at the Museum on Monday afternoon… the cute little faience thing is a short-term loan related to the upcoming exhibition Rolling Sculpture: Art Deco Cars from the 1930s and ’40s.   As you can guess from the title, the show is about vintage automobiles and you might wonder how on earth that is connected to Egyptology.

Unbelievable as though it may seem, there is a connection about the cars and Egyptology.  One of the automobiles is a 1936 Stout Scarab that features on its hood a spectacular Egyptian winged scarab. Imagine that, the car is actually painted turquoise, so it even looks like a faience scarab! (I’ll talk more about this car in a later post.) As the NCMA does not have a collection of decorative arts (from any period) and none of the artists represented in our modern art section did not work in the art deco style, the only connection between the exhibition and the permanent collection is the Egyptian scarab.  (Who knew?!)  We have two scarabs represented on two artefacts in the Egyptian collection–one painted on the top of head of Amunred’s coffin, the other carved in the pectoral of Golden Boy’s gilded cartonnage.  I want to show a scarab amulet so visitors could see the scarab as an object in and of itself, not just a decorative motif, so I borrowed one for a few months.(It’s been up for just a few days and security guards have told me that people are very excited about it and find the connection with the car show very amusing!)  I’ll talk more about scarabs later… and I’ll add illustrations as well.

I’d like to thanks Nicole B. for sharing her photo of a faience bead net that incorporates a winged scarab amulet. (It’s the photo on the left on the label.)  This helps understand what these scarab amulets were used for. Also, a big thank you to the generous lender for sending his wonderful little scarab on a trip to the museum.

Studying Etruscan art…

One of the many projects and tasks that occupied me last week was the ongoing research on the NCMA’s classical collection.  This time around, it was the Etruscan objects and other early Italic material that was under study.

Professor Nancy de Grummond was in town for the examination.  It was an intensive two-day study, but it was great fun to learn from her.  She is a wonderful wealth of information about all things pre-Roman.

Venus of Meroe

My ARCHAEO-crush for the summer–June, July and August (blame this on the fact that my schedule has been unbelievably busy)–is a wonderful Sudanese Venus.

VENUS OF MEROE

Type: artefact (sculpture)
Civilisation: Ancient Sudan, Kingdom of Kush, Meroitic Period
Date: 2nd-3rd century
ARCHAEO-Crush: The Venus of Meroe is called Venus because of  because she was found in the so-called ‘royal baths’ at Meroe and the position of her body that reminds us of Hellenistic and Roman statues of Venus… but not so much because of her proportions. Indeed, the Meroitic Venus is not as svelte as those from the ancient Mediterranean with their mathematically calculated proportions. This lovely Venus represents the Meroitic ideals of beauty normally found in Meroitic art, with ample forms synonymous with fertility and wealth.
Also, unlike Greece or Italy, there is no marble in Sudan. This statue is made of sandstone covered with painted stucco to make it smoother and lustrous in appearance, perhaps to resemble painted marble.  (Sandstone is rather rough and granular.)
It is interesting that the Kingdom of Kush, which was never controlled by the Romans, held some interest in Hellenistic and Roman art.  Except for a few skirmishes when Egypt became part of the Empire and the Romans got their butts kicked by a Meroitic queen (but they later signed a peace treaty), Kush had little to do with Rome.  Yet we find we find in Sudan some objects influenced by or from the ancient Mediterranean… and these are often luxury goods.
Bucket list status: I have seen this charming Venus a number of times when visiting the Staatliche Museum Ägyptischer Kunst in Munich.  She is wonderfully displayed in the  Nubia gallery.
Additional information: The statue was discovered along with others during John Garstang’s 1912-13 excavation season. Take a look at the photos in this article and near the bottom, you’ll find an image of Garstang and his wife Marie at the bottom of the bassin of the baths, surrounded by sculptures and several fragments that once stood on the steps surrounding it Garstang is actually holding the Venus in his arms.