Research Trip to Cairo (EES Patrons’ Award)

Cairo (Funded by EES Patrons’ Award) Jen Turner
10th October 2019

I’ve been very fortunate to have received one of the Patrons’ Awards from the Egypt Exploration Society for 2018-2019. This award will allow me to spend a month in Cairo, primarily to visit the Egyptian Museum in Cairo to view a variety of statues from the Karnak cachette. This is a crucial experience for my doctoral research – and through this page I hope to share some experiences of the trip from October – November 2019!

          My doctoral research focuses on over 200 elite statues originating from the Karnak cachette and dated from the end of the New Kingdom to the Late Period. Some key aims include recording the diverse ways in which inscriptions utilise the statue surface and exploring the placement of text (i.e. its content and wider considerations of audience, visibility, and the temple setting) as a conscious and deliberate factor in the statue’s creation.

Of course, these statues are now spread out in museums across the world and so online resources such as the Karnak Cachette Database are invaluable for gaining a sense of the volume of surviving statues and other objects from this site. Over 90% of those from my chosen time period are held in the Egyptian Museum, and while many examples already have suitable images and object details available in publications and online resources, others don’t. Therefore, being able to view these objects in person not only helps me to finalise the dataset for my thesis, but ultimately as this research is additionally concerned with the ancient audience’s interaction with these objects, being able to view the statues in person is vital. In addition to recording the nature of the text and its placement, I’ll be looking for visual markers that may have helped an ancient viewer to comprehend the layout of the text across the statue surface.

In addition, being able to look at wider examples of statuary from across ancient Egypt in this transitory time period will be a great benefit – there may be comparisons and contrasts I haven’t yet discovered!

Finally, while many statue inscriptions have been translated (for instance the volumes of Jansen-Winkeln), this opportunity will also allow me to compare these renderings with the object, to clarify damaged areas of the statue surface or lost text, and further examine the relationship between text, image and the ancient audience in a way that photographs can only partly facilitate.

I hope to share more soon! And luckily for other students, the EES have announced that the Patrons’ Awards applications for 2020 are now open! There are also a variety of volunteering opportunities available at the EES office in London, so be sure to check this out!

Visiting the Egyptian Cairo Museum Jen Turner

Over the first few days of this trip I’ve visited the Egyptian museum galleries and met with the museum staff to find out exactly where the objects I’m researching are located. Amidst the ongoing move of objects from the current Egyptian Museum to the new building located in Giza, fortunately for me many statues from the Karnak cachette are still here, and many are on display!

This was my first time visiting the museum, and it’s just as vast and packed with eager visitors as you might imagine. Chronologically arranged, the objects from the time period of my own research were located at the rear of the museum’s ground floor, and the volume and diversity of statues displayed throughout the entire museum space was nothing short of impressive.

Some statues included within my research were recognisable to me immediately – for instance the squatting statue of Hor from the 22nd Dynasty (for further information, his entry from the Karnak cachette database can be found here, who has an unusual layout of hieroglyphic text along his kilt that extends from the top of his left leg down to the lower right thigh and round to his back. This makes Hor particularly distinctive! Being able to view his statue in person meant that, as the KCD images attest to, the angle at which you view his image determines how much of the inscription you’re able to see! Viewing his statue’s left side completely conceals his inscription – standing slightly off centre and towards his right side gives you the best overall glimpse of the majority of his text. This conjures up all kinds of interesting questions about visibility and accessibility, as well as wider considerations such as literacy, intended audience, and his original context within the temple.

Squatting statue of Hor (JE 37512)

In contrast to Hor’s statue, for others I had a double take before it fell into place what (and who) I was looking at! In part this was due to their display, as many small-scale block and other type of statues are placed in large cabinets extending to the ceiling. Despite knowing that photographs can distort your initial impression of an object, particularly its size, I was still surprised by how small some of the statues within my research actually are, having until now relied solely on their images from the Karnak Cachette Database and related publications. And yet it’s worth noting that the modern display of the object can also be the cause of misperceptions – for instance Hor’s statue was placed on a base measuring over 45cm high, making him appear much taller. He’s also surrounded by a range of smaller objects, which also serve to make him seem larger, and also draws your attention to him straight away (another important factor when considering the ancient audience).

What’s also become noticeable even in these initial few visits to the museum is the impact of the external conditions, particularly direct sunlight, on the visibility of the text. For statues situated next to the museum windows, for instance, depending on the time of day it could be very difficult to view the reliefs and inscriptions on the stone surface. This is also the case for those objects on display within the museum gardens, where the viewer must do some manoeuvring to catch the right light to make smaller inscriptions more visible! If, like me in wandering around the museum space, the ancient viewer was determined to view every visible part of the statue’s inscription, this would have ideally involved viewing the statue from several angles, even moving around the entire statue. Unfortunately, as is also reflected in the modern display, many statues are placed against a wall, making their back pillar or back inscriptions entirely inaccessible.

Over the next few days I’m working through the museum database to establish exactly where my statues are located, and then I’ll be viewing them up close to examine their text, assess their condition, and physically consider the object-viewer interaction and associated issues – something that is ultimately crucial for my research!

A Fascination with (Scribal) Statues Jen Turner

Over the last two weeks, I’ve been working my way around the Egyptian museum and using their extensive database to prioritise the statues still on display that are part of my own research. But this trip has also given me the opportunity to think more broadly about the variety of statues within the galleries (including those from outside my own time period), and to observe in greater detail the contrasts and interactions between the ancient objects created by the modern displays.

Often emphasised through a juxtaposition of the object’s physical attributes such as size, form, and the volume and placement of their inscription, such comparisons would (intentionally or not) have also been a part of their ancient display, particularly in the case of Karnak temple which is often perceived as being overcrowded with votive objects around the time of the cachette deposit. The ‘decision-making process’ of creating a statue and its inscription is fascinating to me – how personally involved could a statue subject or their families be in the process, and what aspects of themselves might they wish to retain through the physical form or accompanying text?[1] The diversity of Egyptian statues in this respect is further reinforced through their display amongst other contemporary objects.

Amenhotep son of Hapu scribal statues (above, the more youthful version, and below an older Amenhotep)

In each gallery there are certain ‘showstopper’ statues that immediately stand out, not only because of who they represent, but also the detail and intricacies of their representation. These two New Kingdom statues of Amenhotep son of Hapu are iconic examples of the scribal statue type, a form of representation fundamentally connected with professional identity, status, and relationship to the king. An immediately recognisable individual, the display of his images within this gallery produces a subtle contrast between not only two representations of the same figure, but the artistic possibilities for the scribal statue type. Physical differences in portrayal of the physical body and clothing are enhanced by the contrasting upward and downward gaze, which also provides a further contrast of action/inaction and engagement with a potential living audience (the more youthful example engaged in writing, while the elder statue gazes forward with his hands placed firmly on his knees, coincidentally drawing your attention towards his main inscription). Their locations slightly apart from one another but along the same wall means that these differences may not be immediately apparent, and the space in between these objects features a great deal of other contemporary objects that may draw your eye.

From certain angles as in the image below, the contrasting physical form of Amenhotep is more noticeable – while the younger figure slouches forward as he writes, the elder is upright and looking forward to a potential viewer. The variety of objects displayed around them also provides an effective contrast between royal and non-royal images and the artistic decorum observed in these spheres (for instance the royal regalia of the crook and flail contrasting with Amenhotep’s scribal materials).

Spot the scribes! One of the New Kingdom galleries where many statues including those of Amenhotep are on display.

Scribal statues within the Third Intermediate and Late Period galleries also demonstrate the diversity and popularity of this statue type – again in one gallery space, the poses of the officials Padiamunipet, Harwa and Nespaqashuty from the 25th – 26th Dynasties can be compared (as well as the statue of Hor, who I blogged about last time!). Here the range of inscriptions was also clear – while the statue of Padiamunipet is more atypical in the positioning of his body and the shape of his kilt, both he and Nespaqashuty look ahead towards their potential audience. The latter figure from the Late Period almost ‘clings’ to the edge of clothing, his writing complete as he patiently waits for the attention of the viewer.

Padiamunipet (CG 48615, 25th Dynasty)
Harwa (CG 48606, 25th Dynasty)
Nespaqashuty (CG 48634, 26th Dynasty)

Did the pose/positioning of the hands, the gaze, solely depend on the workshop and the skill of the artists and craftsmen available? Was there a choice made by the statue subject and/or dedicator? And in terms of the inscription, how important was placement? These are questions I’m hoping to delve into more throughout my research using statues from Karnak. There are many fascinating and interesting examples of unusual text placement across the statues still on display within the Egyptian Museum – I’ll save a few for another blog update!

[1] See for instance the work of Kjølby listed here for further discussion of the ‘decision-making process’.

Kjølby, A. 2007a. ‘Decision-making Processes: A Cognitive Study of Private Statues in New Kingdom Temples’, in J. Goyon and C. Cardin (eds.), Proceedings of the Ninth International Congress of Egyptologists. Grenoble, 6-12 September 2004 I. Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta Vol. 150. Leuven. 991-1000. 

Kjølby, A. 2007b. New Kingdom Private Temple Statues: A Study of Agency, Decision-making and Materiality I-II. Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Copenhagen.

Kjølby, A. 2009. ‘Material Agency, Attribution and Experience of Agency in Ancient Egypt’ in R. Nyord and A. Kjølby (eds.), “Being in Ancient Egypt”: Thoughts on Agency, Materiality and Cognition: Proceedings of the seminar held in Copenhagen, September 29-30, 2006. BAR international series Vol. 2019. Oxford. 31-46.

Statue Inscriptions and their Placement Jen Turner

One of my main interests in Egyptian statuary is the placement of inscriptions and relief scenes, particularly from the Third Intermediate Period and Late Period. Various textual and visual trends in elite statuary take place during this phase of Egyptian history, including a generally larger amount of accompanying inscription, more ‘personal’ vivid biographies relating to the self, and in some cases an interesting and innovative use of the physical space and representation of the body.

One particular trait I’ve come across within a variety of statues from the Karnak cachette, but which are also visible in other objects across the Egyptian Museum galleries, includes the addition of a relief figure typically found on the left side of the statue surface.

The size of the statue clearly doesn’t deter from using this feature – for instance, the striding statue of Inamunnefnebu (JE 38045) from the 26th Dynasty stands at just over 30cm tall, but the placement of the relief figure is identical to that of the much larger striding statue of Pasherienmut (CG 42243) from the same era, who stands at over 120 cm tall. In both instances, the small relief figure is placed on the left side of the statue with a brief inscription, his right-hand extended outwards towards the statue’s thigh, almost touching the statue subject.

Left side of statue of Inamunnefnebu (JE 38045)
Image from Karnak Cachette Database:

Left side of statue of Pasherienmut (CG 42243)
Image from Karnak Cachette Database:

This feature doesn’t seem to be confined to a particular statue type either, though it’s more likely to be found with striding statues as a feature of this particular side of the back pillar. The 22nd Dynasty block statue of Djedbastetiwefankh (CG 42251) interestingly features relief scenes across the entire statue surface, while the back of the statue form features a male relief figure on the left, and a parallel female figure on the right.

Left side of the block statue of Djedbastetiwefankh (CG 42251)

In this instance, the statue subject’s relief figures are shown in the same pose with one hand outstretched, as if supporting the statue subject. This particular statue is still on display within the museum at the moment and stands on a base that measures over 55cm tall (yes, I did get some odd looks for measuring this). This makes his statue quite imposing, and though mostly visible, these relief figures at the back of his statue may not have been visible to the ancient audience in the object’s original context within the temple space.

In other cases, this negative space at the statue’s side is crammed full of text – for instance the 25th-26th Dynasty striding statues of the officials Nespamedu (CG 48608) and Montuemhat (CG 42236). In both of these statues, almost no blank space is left uninscribed. The use of this particular striding statue type, particularly in the case of Montuemhat, is often interpreted as a harkening back to the ‘glory days’ of the Old Kingdom, with an archaising style of wig, face, and idealised body. And yet while we might look at the overall corpus of statues from the Karnak cachette and see an increase in the amount of text, other contemporary examples show that minimal inscription and the ‘blankness’ of such a space of the statue’s surface was still entirely possible.

It’s also worth pointing out that interesting placement of text and reliefs within elite statuary didn’t begin here – in fact, there are many unusual examples from much earlier dynastic periods, many of which are still on display within the Egyptian Museum now.

Selection of statues within interesting text placement from the Egyptian Museum Middle Kingdom gallery – including the block statues of Hetep!

In addition to thinking about the ‘decision-making process’ in such elite statuary, the range of possibilities and choices within the content and placement of inscription and reliefs also raises the tricky question of authorship. Were these interesting features a mark of the statue subject, the dedicator, or traits and favoured markers of particular craftsmen? Could it be a combination of all of these ‘authors’? And how important was the intended original context and associated visibility of the statue – did this have some bearing on the choice of statue type and where the inscription was placed, or was it the other way around? What could the placement of relief figures on the left side of these striding statues mean?

There are many possible ways of approaching such questions and ideas, and again these are things I hope to explore with the Karnak cachette dataset!

Some Sights and Socialising! Jen Turner

Aside from working on my research and consulting objects in the museum, during my trip I’ve also been fortunate to attend other events taking place in Cairo, from some public lectures at the German Archaeological Institute and a conference at the American University to a traditional Tanoura dance show and free talk at the EES.

A series of free public lectures take place within the German Archaeological Institute based in Zamalek, and I was able to attend two of these events. The first was given by Professors Atef Moatemed and Hossam Ismael on ‘Environmental Hazards and their Impact on the Archaeological Sites of Kharga City, Al Wadi Al-Jadid’, and the second given by Abdelaziz Elmarazky from the Conservation Centre of the Grand Egyptian Museum, on ‘The Secrets of Ancient Egyptian Metal Artefacts: A Conservator’s Perspective’.

I was also lucky to be able to attend the Women in Ancient Egypt conference held at the American University in Cairo (Tahrir campus) from 31st October – 2nd November. This was a really great opportunity to network and hear from a variety of distinguished scholars from across the globe discussing various aspects of ancient women, from evidence of female titles and literacy across the entirety of Egyptian history to the purpose of uncertain female figurines held across various collections in Egypt and beyond. The initial speaker and organiser of the event Dr Mariam Ayad passionately spoke about gender bias and the tendency to discount female agency in Egyptology, both past and present, and the need to both recognise and address this within our discipline.

Women in Ancient Egypt Conference at the American University Cairo

The conference covered a range of chronological periods and themes, delivered through a mixture of presentations and posters. Overall the event was described as considering both ‘old data’ and ‘new perspectives’, substantially raising the profile of ancient Egyptian women. It was a privilege to be able to attend this conference and to meet so many other researchers.

On this same weekend, friends from Cairo who also study Egyptology took me to see the famous Tanoura show of Sufi dancers, a traditional dance involving lively music and performances with ‘whirling’ colourful skirts. This was an incredible experience and we all commented on the use of colour, sound, lights and musical instruments and how this made us wonder about ancient Egyptian performances!

It was also a real privilege to meet Essam Nagy from the EES at the British Council, and to attend a free talk given by Dr Anna Garnett from the Petrie Museum in the final week of my trip.

A talk by Dr Anna Garnett on the exciting work and future plans of the Petrie Museum (06/11/19)

Anna’s talk was a fascinating insight into the work done by the Petrie Museum, ranging from their exciting loans and exhibitions to the funding used to create new displays. It was particularly great to hear about their fantastic work on making the museum and the collection more inclusive in their work with the visually impaired, and also all about the Papyrus for the People project that seeks participation from the wider public. There’s very exciting things ahead for the museum, and it was great to hear more about the Petrie Museum app, which I spent the rest of the night browsing through!

Though there’s still so much that I wasn’t able to do during this trip in terms of sightseeing, this does give me an excuse to come back to Cairo again!

Sincere thanks to the EES and their Patrons for the opportunity to spend this time in Cairo. It was an invaluable opportunity and I am incredibly grateful!

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