The Ramesseum Papyri

R. B. Parkinson

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The archaeological context (continued)

The objects

The material that the excavators discovered scattered around the box — and which is unlikely to have ever been inside it — included various artefacts. Despite their proximity, there is no absolute certainty that these items were originally placed in the same burial chamber as the papyri or were used together, although this seems probable. These artefacts are numbered here after the numbered items as published by Quibell in a plate which he described as only ‘some’ of the group (1898: 3, pl. 3; Fig. 1), with any other objects cited by Manchester Museum number only. In an unpublished catalogue of the Manchester collection compiled by Margaret A. Murray, all of these numbered items are designated as ‘Ramesseum XII Dynasty’, and Bourriau has suggested that some of the other catalogue entries with this same designation might have derived from the tomb.[2]

Some of the items as published in Quibell 1898: 3, pl. 3. Courtesy of the Egypt Exploration Society.


The objects included:

  • Several female fertility figurines, three in limestone and faience and one ‘pre-formal’ one in wood (numbered items 9–11, 13 = Manchester 1832, 1789, 1787, 1794, and perhaps also Manchester 1788). Such fertility figurines are found in both funerary contexts and household shrines (e.g. Pinch 1993: 211–25; Gnirs 2009: 138–9), and so are not necessarily exclusively funerary equipment.
  • Faience and gem-stone beads, perhaps from a necklace or funerary flail (item 6).[3] Current location unknown.
  • Model food and vessels: a blue faience bunch of grapes (?) (Manchester 1841),[4] a white faience gourd (item 7 = Manchester 1792), and a small blue faience lotus-shaped cup, probably a miniature version of tableware (item 16 = Manchester 1791; cf. Bourriau 1988: 103 [no. 89]). The find also included ‘seeds of the dom palm and of balanites’ (Quibell 1898: 3), suggesting that real fruit was also placed in the burial chamber.
  • Faience animals: a small lion, standing upright (item 5 = Manchester 1839), and several baboons of various sizes (items 6, 14 = Manchester 1835, 1837).
    The faience lion may be a protective funerary figure, but such a figure is also mentioned in spells for the living (Altenmüller 1979: 11) and it resembles a figure on one of the wands (item 2[b] = Manchester 1799; cf. Bourriau 1988: 116–17). The figures of baboons may also be protective figures, as on one of the ivory wands (item 2 [a] = Manchester 1798; cf. Bourriau 1988: 116–17), or images of the scribal god Thoth, such as are attested in a later basket of scribal equipment placed in another slightly later tomb.[5]

Plate 2a The ivory dwarf (Quibell 1898: pl. 2). Courtesy of the Egypt Exploration Society.

    Plate 2b: the ivory dwarf (Pennsylvania E13405), and above. Courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.


  • A fine ivory statuette of a naked dwarf carrying a calf (Quibell 1898: pl. 2; Dasen 1993: 282; Plate 2a–b). Quibell considered that this must be part of the same deposit (1898: 3), although Bourriau has suggested that it might be a later intrusion (1988: 110). It is currently in the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (E13405), although its location has often been cited as unknown. The ivory dwarf may be a funerary servant bringing offerings, and statuettes of dwarfs are well attested in Middle Kingdom burials apparently with protective aspects, but this function can also be attested in domestic contexts (Bourriau 1988: 121–2; Dasen 1993: 134–42, 278–85; Gnirs 2009: 141–2). Like some other figurines, he carries a calf, which may relate to his protective capacities and even to water-spells in particular (Dasen 1993: 138–9; Ritner 1993: 225–31).
  • A pair of ivory clappers (item 17 = Manchester 1796, 1797).
  • Fragments of four ivory magical wands carved with protective demons (items 1, 2[a–b], 3 = Manchester 1798, 1799, 1800, 1801).
  • A section of an ivory magical rod decorated with figures of lions (item 18 = Manchester 1795) and an ivory djed with holes for a headdress and for a dowel, perhaps to attach it to the rod (item 15 = Manchester 1838; cf. Bourriau 1988: 115–16 [no. 104]; Forman and Quirke 1996: 103; Gnirs 2009: 137–8).
  • The ivory head of a staff, or perhaps a papyrus burnisher (item 8 = Manchester 1834).
  • A bronze serpent, found entangled in a mass of hair (item 4 = Fitzwilliam Museum E.63.1896; the hair seems not to have been preserved).[6] A similar bronze serpent was found inside an early 18th-Dynasty coffin, which might suggest that such objects were placed in burials to protect the body of the tomb-owner (British Museum EA 52831).[7]
  • A small painted wooden figure of a young naked woman with a partly animal head, holding two bronze serpents just like the tomb-owner’s (item 12 = Manchester 1790; H. 19.9cm: Bourriau 1988: 111–12, fig. 1). The snake-wielding figure could have had a specifically funerary function, but similar material, including clappers, has been found in the settlement site of el-Lahun in a non-funerary context.[8] The figure represents a female Aha or Bes — or someone acting as this goddess — who was often concerned with protecting women and childbirth (e.g. Dasen 1993: 67–75; Gnirs 2009: 144–6; Wegner 2009: 467–71), and she is similar to a figure portrayed holding serpents on one of the ivory wands (item 2[b] = Manchester 1799: Ritner 1993: 223–5).

Other items possibly from the tomb are the remains of containers:

  • Two pieces of wood, perhaps from the underside of a small box lid (Manchester 1886).
  • Parts of a miniature wooden box with a piece of plain ivory inlay (Manchester 1887, 1884).

Many of these objects are typical of a late Middle Kingdom burial, but as noted above it is uncertain to what extent all of the artefacts are exclusively funerary in function.[9] For example, the use of such serpent-wands is shown in an early 17th-Dynasty tomb, where two women attending the tomb-owner and his wife hold wands and serpents. While this is from a funerary context, the fact that both are ‘nurses’ suggests a this-worldly aspect to the scene.[10] The ivory wands arguably had a similar protective function among the living (Altenmüller 1965: I, 18–87; Bourriau 1988: 114–15; Gnirs 2009: 131–3), and the clappers are suggestive of performative rituals (cf. Bourriau 1988: 113–14; Gnirs 2009: 146–8).

At least some of these items may be magical equipment that had been used in life and were also secondarily intended to assist in the tomb-owner’s rebirth after burial. The serpent staff was worn thin and is now broken at the point where it would have been held (Ritner 2006: 207 n. 16), the djed is worn, and some of the ivory wands have been repaired and then cut down and re-shaped after breakages (items 1–3 = Manchester 1799, 1800, 1801; like many examples: e.g. Altenmüller 1965: I, 12–13). The base of the wooden figure also shows signs of having been adapted and altered at some point. Such wear and alterations suggest that these objects had had considerable function among the living before they were buried, and may thus record and display the tomb-owner’s activities in the necropolis.

  • ^ [2] - Pers. comm. These include a faience baboon (Manchester 1840); a pottery offering tray (Manchester 1863), a double wooden kohl-pot (Manchester 1883), and a later fragment of a sandal (Manchester 1885). Previous listings include: Kemp and Merrillees 1980: 166; Parkinson 2005: xii–xiii; Lorand 2009: 13–22; Gnirs 2009.
  • ^ [3] - Compare the published drawing with e.g. Arnold 1992: 62 (no. 61), 66 (no. 98), 75 (no. 207) pl. 75, 78, 91.
  • ^ [4] - Compare Kemp and Merrillees 1980: 138, pl. 13. It may also be the body of a faience hedgehog: cf. Kemp and Merrillees 1980: 139–40, pls 13, 15; Bourriau 1988: 118–19 (no. 110).
  • ^ [5] - On animal figures in general see Gnirs 2009: 140–1. The later basket is from the early 18th-Dynasty Tomb 37 of the Birabi (PM I.22, 615–16; Carnarvon et al. 1912: 75–7 [12], pl. 66; Miniaci 2011: 84–91).
  • ^ [6] - Bourriau 1988: 113 [no. 100]; see e.g. Morenz 1996: 144 n. 624; Ritner 2006: 206–7.
  • ^ [7] - Coffin of Montuhotep, Tomb 37 of the Birabi (PM I.22, 615–16; Strudwick 2001: 26 [no. 6]; Ritner 2006: 209). For other examples see Ritner 2006 (to which add Ashmolean E. 1907 from grave Y. 458 at Hu); Gnirs 2009: 142–3.
  • ^ [8] - Willems suggests such figures were agents in the Stundenwachen (1996: 127–31). On the el-Lahun material see Petrie 1890: 30, pl. 8; Quirke 2005: 81–4.
  • ^ [9] - Bourriau 1991: 20; cf. Quack 2006: 75–6; Miniaci 2011: 1–4. Compare the material from the late 12th- to 13th-Dynasty tomb of a woman at Abydos (Tomb 416: Kemp and Merrillees 1980: 105–75; Bourriau 1988: 116–17), or a Middle Kingdom tomb near Matariyeh (e.g. Kemp and Merrillees 1980: 163–4; Raue 1999: 470–1). Other parallels: Kemp and Merrillees 1980: 165–7; Arnold 1992: 78–9.
  • ^ [10] - Tomb of Bebi, el-Kab (Wreszinski 1927: 79, pl. 36). See, however, Willems 1996: 131; Ritner 2006: 212. Similar serpents also occur on a Middle Kingdom faience feeding cup for a child (Fischer 1968: 33, pl. 20).