Digging into the Collections June 2016

Ancient Egyptian Funerary Cone

The artifact for this month chose me 🙂

I was looking in the storage area for another more recognizable artifact in our collection to write about (a glass bottle base from the palace of King Henry VII of England- which may still be a future blog post) when  I found this artifact.  It wasn’t the familiar conical, bell-pestle shape that drew me to it, but rather the hieroglyphics written on the bottom of the base.  So what is this object?

This artifact is typically referred to by Egyptologists as a “funerary cone.”  These clay objects are usually conical in shape with stamped funerary texts on the base and/or sometimes the side(s) which state the name and title of the deceased.  Occasionally, the text includes some additional biographical information or a short prayer to the gods.

The earliest examples, according to the University College London, date to the 11th Dynasty (ca. 2124-1981 BC).  These early examples are uninscribed and are usually larger in size than later examples with some as long as 53 cm.  Funerary cones reached their height during the 18th Dynasty (ca. 1550-1295 BC) and lasted until around the 26th (ca. 688-252 BC).  They are commonly found in Thebes or the surrounding area and were usually painted.

The purpose of these objects is unclear.  According to the Fitz Museum, “it is probable that these objects formed part of the decoration of the façade of the tomb…however, many more cone types have been found than can be attributed to known tombs.”  Most funerary cones that exist today have no provenience, but some were actually found in situ (or in its original place or position).  These were found in the façade above tombs or tomb chapels.

The funerary cone in the collection at Ohio History Connection is about 177 mm in length and 75.34 mm in width.  It is conical in shape with a circular inscription on the bottom.  What this inscriptions says, however, I do not know as I do not read hieroglyphics.  But as Donald P. Ryan states, the text can “[provide] a wealth of information” concerning the individual including their occupations, genealogy, etc. so it would valuable to the object and the Ohio History Connection to translate the inscription.

Luckily, Christine Chitwood (our AmeriCorps member) knows someone who can help!  Her friend Dr. Bob Bates, who has his PhD in Egyptology, has graciously agreed to examine the cone for authenticity and to translate the text.  From the picture Christine initially sent him, Dr. Bates believes that the cone is authentic as the hieroglyphics are all genuine and the firing is typical of the period.  The text appears to be a funerary inscription for Amenhotep.  As Dr. Bates gleamed all this information from just a picture, I am excited to hear what he can tells us once he examines it.  So stay tuned for another blog post about the results!

Posted June 22, 2016

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