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Wooden figure of a human-headed protective deity

  • Detail of head

    Detail of head

 

Height: 42.500 cm (figure)
Width: 20.700 cm

Salt Collection

EA 61283

Ancient Egypt and Sudan

    Wooden figure of a human-headed protective deity

    From a royal tomb in the Valley of the Kings, Thebes, Egypt
    Possibly 20th Dynasty, around 1225 BC

    Originally covered in black resin: symbolic

    The long beard that the figure grasps resembles the mane of a lion and is similar to representations of the beard of the god Bes, whose frightening appearance was intended to scare demons away. The significance of the beard here is not clear, though long beards were associated with kings and gods. In reality, Egyptian beards were often false, held onto the chin with a strap passing along the jawline. The lower part of the body is in a crouching position: this was used in hieroglyphs to indicate divinity.

    It seems to have been the prerogative of the king to include such figures of protective deities in his burial, as no comparable figures have been found in private tombs. These were sent by Osiris to aid and protect the king on his journey to the Afterlife.

    The figure was originally covered in black resin, part of a complex symbolism in ancient Egypt. Black was associated with the god Osiris (known as the 'Black One' in the Coffin Texts). It is also the colour of mud, from which plants grow, and it is also the colour of the Underworld before being illuminated by the sun god, Re. Hence the imagery is strongly associated with the cycle of rebirth and new life. Images of such figures, also coloured black, can be seen on tomb walls in the royal tombs.

    The figure was placed on a base dating to the Late Period (661-332 BC) by its discoverer Henry Salt (1780-1827).

    S. Quirke, Ancient Egyptian religion (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)

    I. Shaw and P. Nicholson (eds.), British Museum dictionary of A (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)

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