Terracotta figurine of a woman riding on a pig
Hellenistic, 1st century BC
Made in Egypt
Where was the kiln site for these figurines?
The figurine shows a large pig, bearing on its back a fat woman riding side-saddle, naked apart from the tall object she wears on her head, and the long veil that covers it. This object appears to be a calathus, or measuring vessel for corn, and this, together with the woman's nakedness and the stele or shrine she holds in her left arm, suggests that she may have some religious link, perhaps with Demeter, the goddess of corn and fertility. The statuette was made of micaceous brown Nile silt, and was made in a two-piece mould with a vent at the back to prevent misfiring in the kiln. In its original state it was covered with a layer of white gypsum, then gaudily painted.
Terracotta figurines were made in Egypt from the Phaoronic period but most Egyptian terracottas now in museums and collections date from the Hellenistic and early Roman periods. Their function cannot be known for certain, but it seems very likely that most were predominantly religious in character, particularly in the household, where they brought good fortune and fertility, and averted the evil eye. It is significant, perhaps, that the vast majority have come not from tombs but from the remains of houses and from large rubbish mounds outside major settlements such as Karanis and Oxyrhyncus. Yet although the figurines have been found in their thousands throughout middle and lower Egypt, no kiln site for their manufacture has yet been discovered.