William the Hippo

My ARCHAEO-Crush of the month of May is the non-official mascot of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Type: sculpture (faience statuette)
Civilisation: Ancient Egypt
Date: Middle Kingdom, Dynasty 12, reigns of Senwosret I to Senwosret II, circa 1961–1878 B.C.E.

ARCHAEO-Crush: This little statuette is absolutely adorable! A small faience hippopotamus with aquatic plants drawn on its blue body.  Little William from the Metropolitan Museum (the name was given him in 1931 by Captain H. M. Raleigh) was discovered at Meir in  a shaft associated with the funerary chapel of the steward Senbi II’s tomb. The reason for its presence  in the tomb is religious and magical, because, let’s not forget, that hippos are extremely dangerous. (One of the three most terrifying animals in ancient Egypt, the other two being the crocodile and the lion). The animal was a menace to any small craft on the Nile and could wreak havoc in the fields.
The small faience hippo represented the forces of nature that could be harmful to the deceased in the Afterlife, forces that could be controlled or appeased: William the hippo–by his form, colour and the aquatic plants on his body–represented the forces of water and the Nile. With William in his tomb, Senbi II could control the Nile in the Afterlife.  However, in order to prevent the hippo from harming him, three of its legs were intentionally broken.

Bucket list status:  I have seen William a few times and he’s not the only faience hippo at the Met.  There are also other hippos in museums all over the world.

Additional information: William can be seen in Gallery 111 at the Met; he’s number 17.9.1 in the collection.




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