Painted limestone ancestor bust

Said to be from Thebes, Egypt
19th or 20th Dynasty, 1300-1150 BC

Around a hundred examples of this type of small bust have been revealed during excavations at Deir el-Medina, the village of the workmen who built the tombs in the Valley of the Kings. They generally do not bear an inscription. This is a particularly attractive example, with carefully modelled features, and painted face, wig and collar.

The figures are generally referred to as 'ancestor busts'. It is thought that they were placed in the small shrine areas which seemed to form part of private homes (such as at Deir el-Medina), and played a part in the private devotions of the family. Rather than representing anyone in particular, their anonymous nature suggests that they represent all the ancestors whom the family might wish to commemorate. They perhaps also acted as intermediaries to the gods.

Similar objects have been found in places other than in Deir el-Medina. These have not always been in domestic contexts, though they may still have been religious. This suggests that such ancestor busts may have had wider uses than previously thought.

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More information


J.L. Keith-Bennett, 'Anthropoid Busts II: not from Deir el Medineh alone', Bulletin of the Egyptological, 3 (1981), pp. 43-71

G. Robins, The art of ancient Egypt (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)


Height: 24.500 cm
Width: 15.500 cm
Thickness: 9.000 cm

Museum number

EA 61083



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