Digging into the Collections May 2020

Egyptian Funerary Cone Update

A lot has happened since my initial blog post about the Egyptian funerary cone in the archaeology collection at Ohio History Connection.  This includes lots of fieldwork, the acquisition of new collections to Ohio History Connection (big and small), Archaeology Day at Ohio History Center (actually, maybe a couple), and the COVID-19 pandemic.

But also new research on the funerary cone!

Dr. Robert Bates of Andrew’s University has been hard at work finding out more about the artifact.  He has translated the hieroglyphics and discovered that the cone belongs to Amenhotep, overseer of craftsmen at the Temple of Min and Isis, and his wife Qedetmeret.  Dr. Bates also determined a probable provenience and now has a good lead of the tomb’s probable location in Egypt!

To recap: Egyptian funerary cones are conical clay objects with stamped funerary text on the base and sometimes sides.  The text states the name and title of the deceased and occasionally includes additional biographical information or a short prayer to the gods.

The purpose of funerary cones is unknown.  They are found in the façade above tomb doorways, so they might have been part of tomb decoration for a specific cultural tradition.

Location of funerary cones above doorways

Funerary cones are most commonly found in tombs in Thebes (modern-day Luxor) and the surrounding areas.  They first appeared during the 11th Dynasty (ca. 2124-1981 BC) and continued to be used until the 26th Dynasty (ca. 668-252 BC).  They were most popular during the 18th Dynasty (ca. 1550-1295 BC).

Map of Egypt (The World Factbook)

The funerary cone in the Ohio History Connection collection was donated in 1920 as part of the Harry J. Thompson Collection by Charles F. Kettering.  It was cataloged into our collection as an “Egyptian stamp; shaped like a local bell pestle” with the provenience information located on a sticker on the object.  Sadly, the sticker has since faded- only the words “from…Egypt, August 4, 1864” are legible. So we don’t know exactly where this artifact came from.

Composite of the funerary cone in the Ohio History Connection collection (courtesy of Dr. Robert Bates, Andrews University)

Luckily, Dr. Bates’ new research has come up with a likely provenience (or the original location of the cone) based on what was stated in the hieroglyphics on the cone.  According to Dr. Bates, the hieroglyphics translate to:
 

“Overseer of craftsmen of Min and Isis, Amenhotep, the justified, his wife mistress of the house, Qedetmeret.” 
(imyr [] tw n Min N ȝst ‘Imn-htp mʒ’ –Xrw snt.f net-pr qdt myrte)

This text identifies the owners of the funerary cone as Amenhotep and Qedetmeret.

Amenhotep’s title was overseer of the craftsmen at the Temple of Min and Isis.  This temple was located in Gebtu, also known by its Greek name Coptus (or Koptus) and its modern name Qift.  According to Dr. Bates, Amenhotep “would have been responsible for the craftsmen who made votives, shrines, furnishings and jewelry, etc. for the joint temple of two important deities in central Egypt.  Every painted, carved or molded image of either god during his lifetime would have been made by one of his craftsmen.”

Location of the Temple of Min and Isis in Coptus (Qift) (Map courtesy of Dr. Robert Bates, Andrews University)

The hieroglyphic for “justified” (also translated as “True of Voice”) denotes that Amenhotep is deceased.  The term is typically a reference to the person surviving the final judgment by the gods in the afterlife and successfully achieving immortality.

“Mistress of the House” was the most common title for a woman in ancient Egypt.  It signified that she ran a household, either as a married woman or a senior independent woman.  In this context, the term signifies that Qedetmeret is the wife of Amenhotep.

So using what was learned from the text, a likely provenience for the cone can be determined based on the following:

  1. The Temple of Min and Isis was rebuilt and expanded by Thutmosis III and his regent Hatshepsut during the 18th Dynasty around 1478-1472 BC.  Royal patronage for the temple waned after Thutmosis III.  It is likely that the position of “overseer of craftsmen” would have been most important during Thutmosis III’s reign.
  2. There are 15 known examples of this funerary cone.  The proveniences of 4-7 of these cones are known.  Most of them (3-6) were found in the courtyard of Theban Tomb (TT) 155 in Dra’ Abu el-Naga.  The other one was found in an excavation about 20 yards away from TT155.  As TT155 is for Intef, the royal herald of Thutmosis III, it is likely that the cones aren’t from this tomb, but rather from a nearby tomb for Amenhotep and Qedetmeret.
  3. The tombs in the area of TT155 date to the early part of the 18th Dynasty.  There are other burials in the area that have later dates, but they didn’t have funerary cones.

This cone, therefore, is likely from near TT155 and was made sometime around the reign of Thutmosis III, ca. 1478-1401.

At the moment, Dr. Bates plans on continuing his research into the origins of the cone, and I’m excited to see what more he finds out!

Meghan Marley

Posted May 22, 2020

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