Height: 14.000 cm
Gift of the British School of Archaeology in Egypt
Room 64: Early Egypt
Ivory figure of a woman with incised features
Badarian culture, around 4000 BC, Predynastic period
Perhaps a fertility figurine
This type of figure is found in burials of both men and women of the Badarian culture (around 4000 BC), the earliest identifiable culture of the Predynastic period. This is a fine example and is one of the earliest known sculptures from Egypt. It is made from one of the lower canines of a hippopotamus, an animal that could still be found in Egypt at the time. Ivory and bone were used extensively from the Predynastic period onwards for small objects such as beads, needles and combs.
The figure appears to be crudely made, but the carving is precise and the limbs are well formed and smoothly finished. The emphasis on the eyes, breasts, hips and pubic area are stylistic rather than due to poor execution. Similar figures, all of which focused on these areas, were made of clay, wood and stone. This suggests that the figures might have been linked with sexuality, rather than being dolls, as was once supposed. It now seems likely that these figures were linked with the rebirth and regeneration that the deceased hoped would transfer them to the Afterlife. So-called paddle dolls probably fulfilled the same function in the Middle Kingdom (2040-1750 BC).
T.G.H. James and W.V. Davies, Egyptian sculpture (London, The British Museum Press, 1983)
S. Quirke and A.J. Spencer, The British Museum book of anc (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)
T. Phillips (ed.), Africa, the art of a continent (London, Royal Academy, 1995)
A.J. Spencer, Early Egypt, The rise of civil (London, The British Museum Press, 1993)