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.