Collection online


  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Steatite cosmetic-jar: the container takes the form of a kneeling girl who holds before her a footed jar, a characteristic shape for vessels of the Middle Kingdom. Her head is shaven, except for a plait down the back at the end of which is depicted a fish pendant or 'nekhau', in the shape of a 'Tilapia' or 'bolti'. The girl's only garment is a long skirt from waist to ankles, over which, around her hips, she wears a girdle formed from cowrie shells strung between beads.


  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 1985BC-1795BC (circa)
  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 7.8 centimetres
    • Depth: 6 centimetres
    • Width: 3.3 centimetres
    • Weight: 0.17 kilograms
  • Curator's comments

    The fish pendant, in this context, suggests the amulet's function was probably to ward off drowning by reminding the wearer of the watery environment they wished to avoid, this is known as apotropaic magic.

    Because of its fancied resemblance to the female genitalia, the cowrie, whether of real shell or imitated in precious metal or semi-precious stone, came to form an element of girdles and could thus be worn as close as possible to the anatomical area it was thought to protect. Superb girdles with hollow cowry elements made of gold or electrum are a feature of contemporary royal female jewellery.

    The narrowness of the mouth of the pot shows it was intended to hold eye paint. Though it came from a tomb, this object was first used during the owner's life: the top is scratched by the constant removal and replacement of the lid, which is now lost.

    H. G Fischer, 'Otto Festschrift', p.161-5;
    Staehelin, 'Zeitschrift für Ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde' 105 (Leipzig and Berlin, 1978), p.83-4, pl.11,b,c;
    J. Bourriau, 'Pharaohs and Mortals: Egyptian Art in the Middle Kingdom' [exhibition catalogue] (Cambridge, 1988), p.139,, no. 140;
    C. Andrews, 'Ancient Egyptian Jewellery', (London, 1990), p.173, Pl.156.
    G. Pinch, Magic in Ancient Egypt (London 1994), fig.55.
    C. Andrews, .Egyptian Treasures from the British Museum' (London, 1998), p.264,; 'Egyptian Treasures' [exhibition catalogue] (Shanghai, 1999), p.254-5 No 79; 'Temples and Tombs' [exhibition catalogue] (American Federation of Arts, 2006): 70, cat no. 29;
    P. Nicholson and I. Shaw, 'Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology' (Cambridge 2000), p. 56.


  • Bibliography

    • Andrews 1990 156 bibliographic details
    • Russmann 2001 32 bibliographic details
    • Andrews 2000 p.196-197 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display

  • Exhibition history

    Exhibited: 2006 7 Sept-26 Nov, Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Temples & Tombs 2006 21 Dec-2007 18 Mar, Jackonsville, Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, Temples & Tombs 2007 15 Apr-8 Jul, Raleigh, North Carolina Museum of Art, Temples & Tombs 2007 16 Nov-2008 10 Feb, New Mexico, Albuquerque Museum, Temples & Tombs 2011 27th June - 31st August, Bowes Museum : Ancient Egypt 2014-15 22 May to 19 April, London, British Museum, 'Ancient Lives, New Discoveries'
    2015-2016 5th Oct - 24th Jan. New York. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Middle Kingdom.
    2016-2017 10 Oct-30 Apr, Sydney, Powerhouse Museum, Ancient Lives
    2017 16 Jun-18 Oct, Hong Kong Science Museum, Ancient Lives

  • Condition


  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Ancient Egypt & Sudan

  • BM/Big number


  • Registration number


  • Additional IDs

    • BS.2572 (Birch Slip Number)


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Object reference number: YCA61761

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