Painted pottery group of cattle


  • View from front

    View from front

  • From Egypt, Middle Kingdom, about 2040-1750 BC

    From Egypt, Middle Kingdom, about 2040-1750 BC

  • Branding iron

    Branding iron


On display

Egyptian clay model of cattle

From el-Amra, Egypt, Predynastic, Naqada I period, around 3500 BC

This model of four cattle standing in a row is one of several found in graves at el-Amra.

The clay from which it is made was fired to only a low temperature and remains dull grey in colour. Modelling the animals was simplified by reducing the legs to single supports at front and back, with no attempt to distinguish right and left legs.

The black and white markings are typical of cattle throughout the historic period, and can be seen on similar models of the Middle Kingdom (about 2040-1750 BC). Comparable markings can be seen on cattle in agricultural scenes in the tomb decoration of the New Kingdom (about 1550-1070 BC), over 2000 years later. These cattle differ from their later descendants in having horns which turn downward and inward, rather than upward and outward.

This model, like those of the Middle Kingdom, was placed in a tomb, probably with the intention that food would be provided to the deceased for eternity in the Afterlife. Unlike later models, it is made of pottery rather than wood, as it was probably more readily available and perhaps easier to use.

Traces of linen on the surface of the object may indicate that it was placed in the grave under a cloth cover, or perhaps completely wrapped.

Models of houses were also included in burials, perhaps to give shelter to the spirit of the deceased. This tradition also continued into the historic period, when they were also used to house model offerings.

Conserving the painted model of cattle


Preparation for display

Having been in the the British Museum collection since 1901, the cattle figurine was examined and conserved for display in 1993.

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Ancient Egypt


Towards the end of the fourth millennium BC independent city-states unified to begin of over 3,000 years of pharaonic civilisation in the Nile Valley.

Ancient Egypt world culture

The Predynastic period

Egyptian clay model of cattle


Egyptian clay
model of cattle

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Object details

Height: 10 cm
Width: 30 cm
Depth: 15.300 cm


Gift of the Egypt Exploration Fund


EA 35506

Room 64: Early Egypt


    See this object in our Collection database online

    Egypt Exploration Society

    Further reading

    D. Randall-MacIver, El Amrah and Abydos, 1899-1901 (London, 1902)

    J. Clutton Brock, A Natural History of Domesticated Mammals (Cambridge, 1999)

    B. Midant-Reynes, The Prehistory of Egypt: From the First Egyptians to the First Pharaohs (London, 2000)

    E. Check, ‘Human Evolution: How Africa Learned to Love the Cow’, Nature, 444 (2006), 994–996

    D. Gonzalez-Gifford, ‘Pastoralism and its Consequences’, in A. Brower-Stahl (ed.), African Archaeology (Oxford, 2005) pp. 187– 224.

    P. Mitchell, African Connections: Archaeological Perspectives on Africa and the Wider World (Lanham, 2005)

    J. Spencer, Early Egypt: The Rise of Civilization in the Nile Valley (London, 1993)

    D. Wengrow, The Archaeology of Early Egypt. Social Transformations in North-East Africa, 10,000-2,650 BC (Cambridge, 2006)