Ostrakon showing a baboon eating

From Thebes, Egypt
19th Dynasty, around 1200 BC

Sketch on a limestone chip in red and black

This is a particularly fine example of a figured ostrakon, one bearing an image as opposed to having been used to write text. Unlike many, which are drawn in black outline only, the decoration on this ostrakon is additionally coloured with brownish-red paint. It shows a baboon eating figs from a dish on a stand, with a jar to the right.

Baskets of figs, bread and other foodstuffs were sometimes included among the burial goods in tombs, to provide food for the deceased in the Afterlife. They were also shown on offering tables in the decoration of the tomb. The artist's familiarity with this subject might explain the precise and quite formal appearance of this part, while the baboon is drawn in a more sketchy manner.

The scene may simply be intended to show a humorous subject, though it may have a deeper significance. Baboons were sacred to the lunar god Thoth, and their dawn howling was seen as the greeting that these creatures of the moon gave to the rising sun. Thoth was sometimes represented as a baboon, and these animals were mummified and dedicated to him.

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More information


C. Singer and others, A history of technology, vol. I (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1954)

T.G.H. James, Egyptian painting and drawing (London, The British Museum Press, 1985)

S. Quirke and A.J. Spencer, The British Museum book of anc (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)


Height: 10.500 cm

Museum number

EA 8507



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