Height: 11.400 cm
Acquired by the British Museum in 1899
Room 64: Early Egypt
Bone figure of a woman
From Upper Egypt
Early Predynastic period, Naqada I, 4000-3600 BC
The earliest three-dimensional representations of humans from ancient Egypt have been found in graves of the Predynastic period (sixth millenium - about 3100 BC). In the majority of cases they were found singly, but groups of up to as many as sixteen have been recorded. This example is one of a type of statue which shows a female figure with the arms either folded below the breasts or hanging down beside the body. Some examples were carved from limestone, but they are mostly of bone or ivory.
From their nakedness and from their emphasized sexual organs it has long been assumed that these figures were placed in the grave to act as concubines to the deceased in the Afterlife. However, they have not been exclusively found in burials of men but also of women and children, which suggests that their purpose was more generic. It is now thought that their presence was to provide magical support for the owner's rebirth and regeneration.
The large and striking eyes are inlaid with lapis lazuli. The use of this rare material bears witness to the extensive trade network that must have existed in the Near East at this early a date, for the nearest lapis lazuli quarries are to be found in modern-day Afghanistan.
G. Hart, Pharaohs and pyramids: a guide (London, The Herbert Press Ltd., 1991)
I. Shaw and P. Nicholson (eds.), British Museum dictionary of A (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)