Figured ostraka at
the Petrie Museum
The page was last modified on January 28th 2013
1. Museum's web site at
2. Page, Anthea: Ancient Egyptian figured ostraca : in the Petrie collection
Warminster : Aris & Phillips, 1983.
3. Shaw, Ian, Nicholson, Paul: British Museum dictionary of ancient
EgyptLondon: British Museum Press, 1995.
4. Brunner, Emma : Egyptian artists' sketches : figured ostraka from the
Gayer-Anderson collection in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
5. Janssen, Rosalind and Janssen, Jac. J.: Egyptian household animals
Aylesbury : Shire Publications, 1989.
6. Wilkinson, R. H. : The complete gods and goddesses of Ancient Egypt.
London : Thames & Hudson, 2003.
7. Calverley, A.: The temple of King Sethos I at Abydos, vol. IV. Chicago,
1958, pl. 18
8. Janssen, Jac. J.: Daily dress at Deir el-Medina : words for clothing
London : Golden House Publications, 2008.
9. Peck, W. H. : Review of Ancient Egyptian figured ostraca in the Petrie
Collection by Anthea Page IN: The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Vol. 71,
Reviews Supplement (1985), pp. 14-16
10. Gardiner, Alan: Egyptian grammar : being an introduction to the study of
Oxford : Griffith Institute, 1957.
11. Houlihan, Patrick F. and Goodman, Steven M.: The birds of ancient Egypt
(Natural history of ancient Egypt)
Warminster : Aris & Phillips Ltd., 1986.
12. Trope, Betsy Teasley: Excavating Egypt : Great discoveries from the
Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, University College London
Atlanta : Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University, 2005
13. Houlihan, Patrick F.: The animal world of the pharaohs
London : Thames and Hudson, 1996.
14. My own study and observation of the ostraka listed
15. Discussion of UC3321 see
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There is a suggestion (in: Calverley, A.: The temple of King Sethos I at Abydos, vol. IV. Chicago, 1958,
pl. 18) that, the large aquiline nose indicates a portrait of Seti I, Ramesses II or Merneptah. All those
pharaohs were portrayed with a nose like that, which was in contrast to the straight noses of the 18th
dynasty predecessors. For this reason it was suggested that the ostrakon could be a student copy from a
temple relief or from a painting from the temple of Seti I at Abydos.
The figure wears a false beard. His garment is tight fitting and has a narrow collar. His hands are holding
three objects: the closest one to the figure is
"hk3" sceptre - the crook symbolizing the government, the
middle one is
"w3s" sceptre - whose primarily function in funerary context was to ensure the continued
welfare of the deceased, and the flail or
"nekhakha" on the left. All three of them are prominent items in
royal regalia. Before the flail became part of royal regalia, it was associated primarily with the god Osiris.
W.H. Peck argues (Peck,1985,15) that the shape and curvature of the false beard tends to suggest a god
rather than a king. The kings' beards tend to be straighter and squared-off at the end whereas the
beards of gods are curved and rounded, which he points out is the case here.
Standing figure of a goddess, who is depicted as a
lion-headed woman, with a sun disc and uraeus on
her head. Her face is turned to the right towards a
worshipping figure in a elaborate pleated gown,
typical of the late New Kingdom. The worshippers
hands are in a gesture of adoration. The goddess
wears tight fitting dress with straps over her
shoulder. She holds a staff or sceptre in her left
Both the Museum catalogue and Anthea Page (Page,
1983, p. 63) identify the goddess as Sekhmet,
William Peck (Peck,1985,15) disputes the
identification on the grounds that there is no
further indication that it is Sekhmet. He points out
the fact that there are some 30 lion-goddesses
listed among the ancient Egyptian gods and thus the
figure here could also be Bastet, Mut or Tefnut,
among others, who are shown as lion-headed.
Height: 13.6 cm
Width: 11.7 cm
New Kingdom
Drawing of a falcon depicting the god Horus facing
to the right and standing on a  base line. There
are traces of a crown on his head and a flail, the
royal insignia, at his side. Three serpents stand
in front of him.
Black pigment
Height: 10 cm
Width: 12 cm
King making offering to Min-Amun
Possibly from Deir el-Medina or Koptos
19th dynasty of later date - possibly Ptolemaic
Red pigment
Drawing of a king making an offering of two pots to
Min-Amun. The king wears the red crown of Lower Egypt
and a short skirt with pleats and a central panel.
Min-Amun stands on the right on a podium with a sloping
front. He is represented in mummiform. His figure is
faint, while the figure of the king and the podium
underneath Min-Amun's feet are coloured in. Between the
two figures there is an offering table with a cup and
possibly two bull's heads on it.
There are two vertical columns of hieroglyphic inscriptions
at the top, reading Min-Amun, Mn. The horizontal line at
the bottom reads
"htp-di-nsw Mn-Imn", meaning "The
offering which the king gives to Min-Amun".  
The style of the drawing shows signs of Ptolemaic style.
It could originate from Koptos, where the local fertility
god Min was worshipped and where Flinders Petrie
excavated the temple of Min.
Height: 18.7 cm
Width: 16.8 cm
The Petrie Museum collection of figured ostraka comes in its major part from purchases Flinders Petrie
made in Egypt, mainly in the Theban area. The places of origin of these ostraka and the dates of their
purchase were not recorded and are still to be researched. The fact, that most of them are just
drawings lacking inscriptions, means that it is more difficult to establish their place of origin, than it is
for the hieratic ostraka, where the names of people involved in transactions are recorded and might be
known to us from other sources. But most figured ostraka are probably from Thebes, specifically from
Deir el-Medina, or from places, where the Deir el-Medina artisans worked. Possible future analysis and
study of the limestone structure could help in locating more accurately their places of origin.
The fact, that authenticity of some of the figured ostraka in the museums around the world is debatable
and some of the pieces could be modern forgeries, has been recognised and written about. To my
knowledge none of the Petrie ostraka have been so far identified as possibly being executed in modern
Egypt rather than in ancient Egypt.
The collection consists of drawings in black, or in black and red mineral based pigments. The drawings are
executed on small pieces of limestone or terracotta sherds. They illustrate every stage from an
apprentice's first attempts to the most elaborate draughtsmanship. Some ostraka show the underlying
sketch in red ink. Themes of the ostraka vary from gods and royal personages to ordinary men and women,
animals represented by mammals, birds, insect and reptiles and even architectural and furniture elements,
boats and individual hieroglyphs.
Some ostraka were clearly the practise pieces of pupils, whose work was subsequently corrected by their
teachers. These pieces allow us to learn their techniques. Some ostraka were products of the moment and
often bear themes and motives that do not appear in official art. They are unique treasures of original
works of art. As freedom is allowed to the artist, these glimpses illustrate fascinating aspects of the
ancient Egyptian culture and life.
I would like to express my thanks to the Petrie Museum and its staff, whose time and help has been
essential. The curator Stephen Quirke kindly gave me permission to publish the ostraka images on my web
site, Tracey Golding and Ivor Pridden have been generous with their time and assistance.
© Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, UCL
Photography Lenka Peacock. The text was composed by Lenka Peacock mainly based on divisions and
descriptions of Anthea Page's black & white publication of 1983 with additional sources.
Ramesside Period
Black pigment with traces of underlying sketch in red pigment
Figure of a seated god Ptah facing towards right. He wears a
tight fitting cap, with his large ear protruding, and a long false
beard which curls up towards the end. His cloak is also tight
fitting. The collar is drawn more carefully than in the ostrakon
above. Anthea Page identifies the object, hanging at the back
of the collar, as a tassel (Page,1983,3), while William Peck
argues, it is probably a schematic rendering of the
counterpoise (Peck,1996,15). Both hands, placed one above the
other, protrude from the garment and hold a
dd-pillar and
was-sceptre. The drawing breaks off at this point and just
above the figure's knees. The top of the seat that the god
sits upon is depicted underneath the figure.
Height: 11.1 cm
Width: 7.8 cm
Figure of a seated god Osiris facing to the right.
He wear the atef crown and a false beard, a divine
attribute of the gods. He sits on a throne, which
stands on a raised platform. Behind the figure of
Osiris, there is the
"imiut" fetish, consisting of a
decapitated animal skin hanging at the top of a pole,
which is a symbol of Anubis, who is associated with
the mummification process linked to Osiris.
At the right top corner there are three columns of
a hieroglyphic inscription.
William Peck (Peck,1985,15) points out that the
condition and preservation of this piece make it
difficult to decide whether the seated Osiris is
related to the platform or whether the elements
are parts of two unrelated drawings.
Height: 9.2 cm
Width: 11.3 cm  
New Kingdom
Red pigment
The upper part of the god Thoth depicted as an
ibis-headed man. He stands inside a shrine and faces to
the right. His head is drawn in a profile, his upper torso
is drawn from the front. He wears a moon and disc on
his head. His left hand holds
"w3s" sceptre. There are
very faint traces of an hieroglyphic inscription - 3
columns to the right of the figure and 2 columns behind
him. The inscription was scraped off in the past and
cannot be read.
Height: 10.1 cm
Width: 9.7 cm
New Kingdom, 1550-1350 BC
Black pigment
Drawing of a ram facing to the right. He has got long
horizontal horns on his head. There is a faint base
line and two horizontal lines, one behind the ram, the
other one, shorter, at the top of his head, starting in
the middle of the horns. It was suggested that the
line might represent uraeus.
The drawing might be a representation of the god
Height: 6.8 cm
Width: 8 cm
Upper part of Osiris or a king
19th dynasty (?)
Possibly from Deir el-Medina or Abydos
Black pigment
Height: 11.7 cm
Width: 9 cm
Upper part of a king or Osiris facing to the left. The
figure wears the Atef crown (effectively a "white
crown" with plume on either side). A large uraeus is
attached to the crown. His eye is drawn frontally,
the eyebrow and the cosmetic line are extended
across the temple as parallel lines. Both the ear and
the nose are large.
New Kingdom
Black ink
Figure of a standing god Ptah facing right. He is placed
within a shrine. The sloping pedestal on which the god
stands may represent the mound of creation or the
craftsman's level and the hieroglyphic symbol for truth
(maat). He is depicted as a mummiform figure with his
feet together and with his hands protruding from his
tightly wrapped shroud which is his conventionalized
characteristic. He holds the
`nh-sign in his right hand,
w3s-sceptre and dd-pillar in his left hand. He
wears a close fitting skull cap. His beard is straight
rather than the usual curved divine beard found on
other Egyptian gods. He wears a large tassel at the
rear of his garment.
The god Ptah's original cult association seems to have
been with craftsmen. He was revered at Deir
Height: 13.1 cm
Width: 10.1 cm
New Kingdom
Black ink
Drawing of a head of a ram probably representing the
god Amun. He is facing towards right. His large horns
curve around his ears. He has got a serpent drawn on
top of his head.
Height: 7 cm
Width: 7.7 cm
Jackal lying on winged disk
New Kingdom
Black ink
Drawing of a jackal lying on top of a large pair of wings
with solar disk and uraeus, facing right. The wings of a
hawk are symbolizing Horus. Since Horus was
associated with the king, the winged disk  came to have
both royal and protective significance, as well as
representing the heavens through which the sun moved.
Height: 11.3 cm
Width: 10.4 cm
New Kingdom
Black ink
Drawing of the head and the forepart of a kneeling
ram facing right. It has got long wavy horns. There
are traces of faint hieratic inscriptions, perhaps
reading as "may you be divine in..."
Height: 5.2 cm
Width: 8.4 cm
New Kingdom
Black ink
The upper part of a standing figure of the god
Thoth who is depicted as an ibis-headed man facing
right. The lunar disk and crescent on his head
symbolize the moon's phases. He wears a tripartite
wig. His shoulders are drawn frontally. He wears a
short skirt with a broad band across his body and
over his left shoulder.
Height: 18.7 cm
Width: 10.6 cm
New Kingdom, 1550-1350 BC
Black ink
Drawing of a serpent - a rearing cobra - in front of
an offering table/vase/metal stand. The hood of the
cobra is dilated and patterned. The base line is
Meretseger was the goddess of the pyramidal peak
which lies above the Theban necropolis. Her usual
name was "she who loves silence". She was primarily
worshipped by the workmen of Deir el-Medina.
The stand resembles metal stands for vases found in
Theban tombs. This form of stand appears on coffins,
generally under the offering table depiction.
Height: 7.3 cm
Width: 9.4 cm
Queen Ahmose-Nefertari
Possibly from Deir el-Medina
19th dynasty, 1295-1186 BC
Black ink with traces of the preliminary sketch in red
Upper part of a figure of Queen Ahmose-Nefertari
facing left. She wears a long tripartite wig and the
Vulture headdress.
Dating of the ostrakon takes into consideration the
fact that Queen Ahmose-Nefertari was represented
as wearing the "Vulture" headdress after she was
deified in the Ramesside Period.
Height: 11.8 cm
Width: 13.5 cm
Ostraka displaying motives of deities
Head of a man
New Kingdom, 1550-1350 BC
Black ink and red pigment
Leftward-facing profile of a balding male's head. He wears a
collar with lines radiating from his neck. His facial features
are no longer visible. It is possible that this is a trial piece
for a painting in a Theban tomb, representing a member of a
family or a deceased person. The areas around the eye and
the mouth could have been erased as the red wash used for
the face and the top of the head seems to be missing there.
Height: 10.3 cm
Width: 9.5 cm
Head of a noble
20th dynasty? (1186-1069 BC)
From Thebes. Left behind by students of a school of
ancient artists in Ramesseum's mud brick magazines.
Marked "Petrie 2" on its label.
Black ink
Head and a shoulder of a noble drawn in profile facing
left. He wears a short wig brought behind his ears. He
has got a short square beard. His eye is drawn frontally.
The line of his nose is similar to profiles on portraits of
the Ramesside kings.
This is probably a trial piece for paintings in royal tombs
or tombs of private individuals from the Theban necropolis.
Height:  8.8 cm
Width:  7.6 cm
Standing man
New Kingdom, 1550-1350 BC
Black ink
Drawing of a standing figure of a headless man facing
right. He wears a wraparound short kilt. His left leg is
drawn advanced, his right arm is held across his chest in
an upright position, his left arm is down holding a long
object, possibly a bouquet as an offering. This ostrakon
might be a trial piece for a painting in an offering scene
on a tomb wall.  
Treated at the Institute of Archaeology.
Height:  12.7 cm
Width:  11.1 cm
Pintail duck
19th dynasty?
Marked from Deir el-Bahari on the back
Drawing of a pintail duck in flight facing right. The body and wings
are drawn in outline, the head is filled in with black ink.
Pintail ducks were the most common kind of duck in ancient Egypt.
They were very frequently depicted on temple and tomb walls.
When depicted in flight they are also a hieroglyphic sign
representing the ideogram
"pa" meaning "to fly". The drawing could
be a trial piece of a hieroglyph, but it can also be a trial piece
for a larger scene.  
Height:  10 cm
Width:  5.6 cm
Head of an owl
New Kingdom, 1550-1350 BC
Black ink
Frontal drawing of a head of an owl, which most
probably represents an artist's study of a
hieroglyphic sign "m". There are several more
drawings representing hieroglyphs - a loaf of
bread at the left top corner representing phonetic
"t", the back of a viper representing "f" and a
part of a feather representing "sw".
Height:  5.3 cm
Width:  5.7 cm
New Kingdom, 1550-1350 BC
Red pigment
Outline sketch of a goose facing right. Its neck is
extended and its head is bent to the ground as if
pecking the ground. The base line is indicated.
The goose was frequently depicted on temple and tomb
walls. It is also a hieroglyphic sign for semi-phonetic
"gb" and determinative for "gb"-goose. This could
have been a preliminary sketch as a draft for an
agricultural scene.  
Height:  10.1 cm
Width:  12.8 cm
Ostraka displaying motives of royal figures
Ostraka displaying motives of men
Ostraka displaying motives of birds
Torso of a king
New Kingdom, Ramesside Period, 1295-1069 BC
Drawing in black ink, there are traces of red pigment on the crown
and in front of the figure
Drawing of the upper part of a king's torso. He faces to the right,
his right arm is raised horizontally at the shoulder level, perhaps
in the gesture of making an offering. His eye and shoulders are
drawn frontally. He wears an elaborate composite crown, consisting
of White crown, flanked by twin plumes, sitting on top of the Red
crown, encircled by uraei with disks on their foreheads. The whole
Double Crown, which could also be seen as Atef Crown, is flanked
with horizontal pair of ram's horns. They end in large uraei,
surmounted with sun disks. The king's head is also adorned with a
short wig, uraeus on his forehead and a false beard on his chin. He
wears a broad collar and a pleated skirt with a wide pleated tie
around his waist and over his shoulder.  
The drawing is skillfully executed and could be a student copy of a
temple relief or a craftsman's draft for a temple relief.
Height: 13.6 cm
Width: 9 cm
Seated man before an offering table
New Kingdom, 1550-1350 BC
Possibly from Abydos?
Black ink
Drawing of a seated man in front of an offering table. He
sits on a low-backed, block throne and faces right. The
small table before him is laden with food offerings: conical
and round loaves of bread and birds. Behind the seated
man stands another figure. Above the figures there is an
wd3t-eye, probably one of a pair, as the surface of the
whole right top corner is flaked off. Beneath the base line
of the drawing there are traces of another unidentified
The drawing represents a typical funerary offering scene
with the deceased seated and his relative in attendance.
Perhaps this is a miniature stela, that could have come
from a workmen's tomb at Deir el-Medina.
Height:  7.2 cm
Width:  6 cm
Kneeling man
New Kingdom, 1550-1350 BC
Black ink
Drawing of a headless kneeling man facing to the
left. He kneels on his left leg and sits on the heel
of his foot. His right leg is drawn up towards his
body. He faces an offering table bearing four
circular loaves of bread and a lotus flower. The
man wears a wide-sleeved garment. His arms are
raised in adoration. There could have been a figure
of a deity behind the offering table, the remaining
line could be the god's leg. The base line is
Marked in black ink "o" below the base line.
This type of scene frequently appears on Deir
el-Medina votive stelae and in the tomb
decoration. If the line of the leg are remains of a
mummiform god, both Osiris and Ptah could have
stood behind the offering table.
Height:  11.3 cm
Width:  13 cm
UC33214 front
Two men walking
New Kingdom, 1550-1350 BC
Black ink, traces of red pigment on upper
arm of the man on the right and in the
bottom right corner of the ostrakon
Drawing on a squared-off piece of a
limestone of two men walking facing right,
holding staffs in their left hands. Both
wear short pleated skirts.
UC33214 back
One line of a vertical cursive inscription
The 1st sign reads
ht, the 2nd and the 5th are
probably the same hieroglyph representing the male
figure. The
3rd sign is damaged, the 4th is not
decipherable. The last sign is the sun-disk.
The inscription can be interpreted as a name, the
possible readings could be
Ra-khet or Khet-su.
Height:  6 cm
Width:  7.3 cm
Man carrying bundles
20th dynasty, 1186-1069 BC
Found at Thebes in the brick chamber north of the pylon of
Tuthmosis IV
Black ink
Drawing of a man, possibly a peasant, carrying a bundle in
his right hand at his side and another one on a long stick
held over his shoulder with his left hand. He walks towards
the right, his left leg is advanced. His head is drawn in
profile. His hair is straight. He wears a short skirt tied
around his waist and a short-sleeved top.
Height:  21.3 cm
Width:  18.5 cm
Standing girl
Ramesside period, 1295-1069 BC
Black ink
Drawing of a standing girl facing right. She wears a
sidelock of youth and a diaphanous gown. Her legs and
body are well rounded. Her pubic triangle is indicated. Her
left hand is raised to her forehead, and holds a cup in her
right hand.
Height:  12.4 cm
Width:  10.8 cm
Wennekhu's stela.
British Museum
EA 1248.
An example of a
Deir el-Medina
stela showing the
same position of
Man and bull
New Kingdom, 1550-1350 BC
Red and black pigment
Drawing of a pied bull, whose head is missing, walking
to the right, followed by a herdsman with a feather
on his head. The man, who is disproportionately small,
holds a stick in his right hand and a piece of rope over
the left arm. He wears a short kilt. The base line is
Traces of red pigment from the preliminary sketch,
also there is red pigment on bull's patches.
The surface of the ostrakon is very fragile and
fragmentary. It has been treated in the Institute of
Height:  8.8 cm
Width:  9.4 cm
Ostraka displaying motives of women and children
Curlew ?
New Kingdom, 1550-1350 BC
Black pigment
Drawing of a standing bird, facing right. It has a long
narrow beak, large round eye and thin legs. The feathers
are marked with streaks. This sketch has been
tentatively identified by Anthea Page as a Senegal stone
curlew, a modern resident of both the Nile Delta and
Upper Egypt. However, this species of wading bird is not
known elsewhere in ancient Egyptian iconography (see, for
example, P.F. Houlihan, The Birds of Ancient Egypt [Cairo,
1988]). On the other hand, W.H. Peck has suggested that
this figure may depict a quail chick, which does seem a
far more plausible identification. If so, this ostrakon
would then most likely be a practice piece of a standard
hieroglyphic sign.
Height:  13.9 cm
Length:  13.7 cm
Possibly Ramesside Period, 1295-1069 BC
Black pigment
Drawing of a large vulture facing right, with its neck out
stretched, head down, and with its wings slightly spread.
The bird appears to be grasping prey in its talons and
beak. The outline of the bird is represented in black ink;
the prey is filled in with reddish-brown wash, perhaps to
imitate blood. This detail is quite extraordinary. Large
vultures are only rarely portrayed in Egyptian art feeding
(see, for example, P.F. Houlihan, The Birds of Ancient
Egypt [Cairo, 1988]). The only other instance of it, which
immediately comes to mind, is on the famous Late
Predynastic (Naqada III) "Battlefield Palette," now in the
British Museum, London pictured on the left). It is,
therefore, tempting to see this as a work of spontaneity,
executed by a draughtsman who had witnessed this
activity. The bird can be identified as either the Griffin
Vulture or the more powerful Lappet-faced Vulture. In
ancient Egypt, vultures were common as hieroglyphic signs:
determinative for
nrt (vulture), and a phonetic value for
Mt. A large vulture also represented the goddess Nekhbet
of El-Kab.
Height:  9.8 cm
Length:  11.8 cm
Ostraka displaying motives of mammals
Fighting bulls
New Kingdom, 1550-1350 BC
Black pigment
Drawing of two bulls facing each other. Their
heads are down and their horns are
interlocked. The ground is indicated by a line.
Above the bull on the right side, there is a
man facing left, striding out, his right arm
raised. He wears a short kilt. His head is
Height:  13.1 cm
Width:  16 cm
Leaping bull and a duck
Late 18th dynasty, Amarna Period
Black ink
Lively drawing of a young bull leaping towards
the right. A pintail duck is flying above, also
facing to the right.
Similar motives were found at palaces at
Amarna and at Malqata.  
Height:  6.1 cm
Width:  12 cm
Black ink
The bull or a cow is standing and facing right. There
is a sun-disk between his/her horns. The disk is
drawn frontally. Smudged beneath the body. The
drawing is very crude and it is difficult to establish
which bovine-deity is represented here.
Height:  11.3 cm
Width:  14.4 cm
Head of a donkey and Amun
New Kingdom, 1550-1350 BC
Black ink
A drawing of a donkey's head facing left. One pair of
ears is long and pointed, then lower at the back of
the head there is another ear added. Below the
donkey's head there are several more motives: two
wide horizontal lines joined together by a herringbone
design, upper part of a figure of the god Amun with a
long beard and wearing the crown with double plumes
and holding a
w3s-sceptre. In front of the donkey
there is a fragment of a possible bowl, again with a
herringbone design.
The herringbone design was used to show the veining
seen in travertine (Egyptian alabaster).
William Peck suggests the drawing to be that of a
horned animal with the ear correctly placed at the
back of the head. The zigzag line at the top of the
head might indicate horn sockets but the horns are
badly resolved. It could be a head of bubalis (an
antelope). Donkeys' muzzles are usually depicted with
their characteristic thickness (Peck,1985,16). The
identification is supported by a parallel from the
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford: Head of bubalis (antelope)
No. 1938.913, where the head is executed in a
strikingly similar way but the horns are those of an
antelope (image on the right).
Height:  13.5 cm
Width:  13.9 cm
Galloping horse
New Kingdom, dynasty 18th until dynasty 19th,
1550-1186 BC
Red and black pigment
Figure of a galloping horse, facing left. The horse
is painted with red pigment. The legs of the
animal are missing. Behind the horse there is a
drawing in black of part of a chariot and reins
that lead the horse.
Height:  10.7 cm
Width:  16.5 cm
Possibly Ramesside Period
Red and black pigment
Verso: drawing of a lion facing right, waiting to strike. He crouches on his front legs with his head down.
A ground line is indicated. Above the lion's body is the figure of a man with his leg advanced and his arms
raised as if in a hunting position.
W.H. Pecks suggests that rather than the lion crouched to pounce, this lion seems to be in the act of
expiring. The line from his mouth might be an indication of the tongue extended in death.
Recto: drawing of a lion striding out towards right, with his head up and his mouth open.
We possess evidence that lions were tamed in ancient Egypt. New Kingdom pharaohs are often shown in
the company of a docile lion. They are portrayed lying beside the throne or running along the royal horses
and chariots. These scenes might bear symbolic significance and emphasise the strength of the king, but
the evidence shows lions were serviceable creatures to the ancient Egyptians.
During the New Kingdom the Theban tomb walls were decorated with exotic and strange animals and the
artisans from Deir el-Medina shared the appreciation of this taste for unusual and reflected it in skillful
sketches, the two examples of which we can see here.
Height:  16.1 cm
Width:  12.3 cm
Ostraka displaying motives of beetles and insects
Scarab beetle and hieroglyphs
New Kingdom, 1550-1350 BC
Black ink
Drawing of the top side of a scarab beetle (
Scarabeus sacer)
with its body, legs and head competently drawn. A vertical
column of hieroglyphs runs down the right side of the ostrakon.
The inscription reads:
(ntr) nfr nb t3wy nb ir ht = Good (god),
lord of the two lands, lord who makes everything
Only the nefer sign is drawn and that not enough space is left
for the ntr sign to be added in the inscription, but it is assumed
that the sign should have been present as it would form a
common epithet of kings - ntr nfr = good god (Page,1983,52).
The brackets are present to indicate the addition to the
Height:  7.1 cm
Width:  5.3 cm
Wasp or a bee and a grasshopper
New Kingdom, 1550-1350 BC
Red pigment
Verso: drawing in red pigment of a wasp or a bee on the left and a grasshopper on the right. The left
image is drawn in greater detail. The body is striped, there are four legs with feet, long antennae, and a
pair of wings. The image of the grasshopper is fainter and more schematically drawn. Only the body and
the long bent leg are depicted.
Recto: a drawing of another grasshopper in red pigment. Again schematically drawn with antennae, long
bent leg and the long closed wings. Although there is no convincing evidence that the ancient Egyptians ate
grasshoppers, a custom practiced by many other cultures, it is not excluded that they might have been
regarded as a food item (Houlihan,1996,193).
Height:  16.4 cm
Width:  13.1 cm
Ostraka displaying motives of reptiles
New Kingdom, dynasty 18th until dynasty 19th,
1550-1186 BC
Black pigment
Drawing of a tail and back leg of a crocodile. The artist
tried to express some of the characteristics of the
crocodile, such as the dorsal plates and the back foot.
The drawing could either be part of a representation of
the god Sobek who manifested himself either as a human
with a crocodile head or completely in animal form, or it
may have been a draft intended to be used in the
decoration of a tomb wall, as the crocodile is sometimes
depicted in such scenes as the deceased hunting in the
Treated at the Institute of Archaeology.
Height: 7.2 cm
Length: 7.9 cm
Ostraka displaying various shapes
Rectangles of various shapes
New Kingdom, 1550-1350 BC
Black ink
Drawings on both sides.
Recto: traces of rectangular
wall, basket-shape with zigzag line near the top,
standing man facing right, his left arm is stretched
out and his right arm is bent. He wears a short wig
and a wrap-over garment. There are traces of
butcher's block on the right. Below the block there
are faint traces of possibly a seated person.
Anthea Page (Page, 1983, p. 56) suggests that all the
shapes appear in hieroglyphic writing and that they
could have been student's exercise: ideogram or
determinative in
inb "wall" [Gardiner O36], wicker
basket with a handle, for unknown reason phonetic
[Gardiner V31], butcher's block is semi-ideogram in
hr "under" [Gardiner T28], and a man of rank seated
on a chair is a determinative for a revered person
[Gardiner A50 or 51].
Head and shoulders of a child
New Kingdom, 1550-1350 BC
Black and red ink
Head and shoulders of a female child, with her fingers
held to her mouth. She wears a braided sidelock of
youth with a hair-ring keeping it in order, streamers
down the back of her head, and a large round ear-stud
decorated with a cross. Lines on her upper arm may
indicate a pleated loose piece of garment.
The drawing is of a noble or royal child. The ear-studs
were a fashion introduced during Amarna Period. The
drawing is carefully executed (Page,1983,35).
Height: 3.2 cm
Width: 5 cm
Face of a man or a woman
New Kingdom, 1550-1350 BC
Black ink
Drawing of a face of a man or a woman with frontal
aspect. S/he has got long wavy hair parted in the
centre, large, asymmetrically drawn eyes, thin nose
and wide rectangular mouth. The marks to the right
of  the head are unidentifiable.
Height: 9.8 cm
Length: 12.4 cm
Head of a king
New Kingdom, Ramesside Period, 1295-1069 BC
Drawing in black ink with the preliminary sketch
in red.
Drawing of a left-ward facing profile of a head
of a pharaoh. The eye and shoulders are drawn
frontally. The lower part of the crown is
visible, also traces of a wide collar.
Height: 8.1 cm
Length: 10.6 cm
Pharaoh smiting a captive
New Kingdom, Ramesside Period, 1295-1069 BC
Black ink
Drawing of a Pharaoh smiting a fleeing captive.
Both figures face toward the right. The king holds
a club in his right hand. He holds his captive's
throat with his left hand. The king wears a wig,
uraeus and a long pleated skirt. There are traces
of a canopy over the figure of the king.
Height: 13 cm
Width: 11 cm
Face of a man
Black ink
Trial piece with various figures. From top left to right:
1. seated figure of a child with sidelock, facing right,
with left hand held forward and right hand at its side.
2. face of a man with a square beard and large ears.
The face is drawn frontally
3. outline of an oracular bust facing toward right
Bottom left to right:
4. kneeling figure wearing a heavy wig, and facing right
5. ibis facing right, and before it two parallel lines
Height: 8.1 cm
Width: 10.2 cm
Summary drawings
19th dynasty, 1295-1186 BC
Drawings in black ink on both sides of the ostrakon
of stick-like figures
Concave side: three registers of figures. Top
register: a seated god or king in front of an
offering table. A royal figure stands on the right
side of the table, holding out an offering in his
right hand and an
'nh-sign in his left. Smaller
figures, mainly obliterated, follow behind him.
Middle register: two seated figures with five
standing figures in front of them. Each one stands
in a different pose, two figures on the right hold
bows. Bottom register: four men standing in
different poses, the two on the right are holding
Convex side: two registers of figures but
barely recognisable. Top register: male
figure in a short kilt walking toward the
right. Little trace of the other figures.
Height: 14 cm
Width: 10.5 cm
Anthea Page suggests that the bottom rectangle
may represent the piece of cloth - ideogram or
determinative in
si3t "piece of cloth with fringe"
[Gardiner S32]. The sandal was used as an
ideogram or determinative in
tbt "sandal"
[Gardiner S32]. Page also suggests the star to
be ideogram or determinative in
sb3 "star"
[Gardiner N14].
Jac Janssen (Jansse,2008,89) suggests a
different explanation for ostraka with pictures
of garments. He suggests they functioned as
laundry lists, made by illiterate housewives.
Janssen points out that if the rectangle with the
fringes represented the sign S32, then the other
two rectangles could be explained as signs N37,
"garden pool". He argues that the presence of
sandals rather suggests items of dress.
Height: 10.2 cm
Length: 11.5 cm
In my opinion, Jac. Janssen's theory could be
supported by the star appearing on the right
below the sandal. There are various marks on
ostraka and pottery from Deir el-Medina, that
could represent house marks or ownership
marks. Although the marks varied in shapes,
this explanation could help solving the mystery
of the sign in one of the workmen's huts on the
top of the cliffs.  
New Kingdom
Black pigment
Lion-headed goddess and a worshipping figure
New Kingdom, around 1550-1350 BC
Limestone (more dense)
Red pigment
William Peck (Peck,1985,16) suggests this is a
part of the process by which the artist
planned the layout of a large wall decoration.
This short-hand notation seems suitable for
this step in the development of a composition,
and as such gives valuable insight into the
working processes of the ancient artist.
These drawings seem to be practice work of an apprentice who was employed in the tomb or temple wall
decorating. They all would have been motifs familiar to the ancient Egyptian artist. The seated figure
of a child, was used as determinative in "be young" and "child" [Gardiner's A17]. The face of a man
was used as ideogram of
hr "face" [Gardiner's D2]. The kneeling figure is similar in posture to the
hieroglyphic sign of a noble squatting with a flagellum, used as determinative for revered persons
[Gardiner's A52]. The sacred ibis was used as determinative in
hb "ibis" and as determinative in Dhwty
"Thoth" [Gardiner's G26].  
The Battlefield Palette
British Museum, London, EA 20791
Perhaps from Abydos
Late Predynastic period, around 3150 BC
Length: 28 cm
Width: 20 cm
Girl with a monkey
Ramesside Period, 1292-1069 BC
From the Ramesseum
Drawing of a girl in profile from her shoulder up. She wears
a wig, 2 lotuses and an incense cone on her head. A monkey
faces the girl and reaches up to her nose with its paw.
It has been suggested the monkey was added at a later
stage in a clumsier style to turn the drawing from an art
school into a joke by a fellow student
(Janssen,1989,23-24). Stephen Quirke suggested the
ostrakon could have served as a caricature of the Opening
of the Mouth ritual (Trope,2005,151).
The ostrakon was conserved at the Institute of
Archaeology, University College London.
Height: 9.4 cm
Length: 8.4 cm
Head of a man
New Kingdom, 1550-1069 BC
An informal drawing in black ink of a man in profile with long
wavy hair and stubble. In contrast to these he has got a
lotus flower attached to his forehead and an incense cone
atop his head, both marking special occasion.
A pattern of a knot or another element of clothing is drawn
in red across his temple.  I tried to link the Egyptian word
for knot to a name from Deir el-Medina, but failed. It could
have been connected to a nickname, in which case it would
be even more difficult to establish the link. Or indeed, it
can be completely disconnected and the red drawing is just a
The stubble has been traditionally interpreted in the
Egyptological literature as a sign of mourning. But here it
could be a sign of realism or of a caricature, perhaps of a
man who had one party too many.
Height: 10.8 cm
Width: 7.3 cm
Figure of Bes
New Kingdom, 1550-1069 BC
Limestone with traces of several different pigments
The figure of the god Bes is depicted in his usual frontal
squatting pose. His arms are outstretched, each upturned
hand is holding a shallow bowl. The image is outlined in
black, the details are painted in several colours. Bes is
usually depicted naked, but here he wears a short kilt
with a long wide ribbon in the front and red patterned
garment around his shoulders. A plumed headdress adorns
his head. A pair of large wings is depicted on his back
reaching all the way to the ground.
Bes was one of the most popular and widespread deities
in ancient Egypt. He was associated with sexuality and
childbirth as protector of the family. Remains of wall
paintings depicting Bes were discovered at Deir el-Medina
during excavations. This ostrakon could have had the
function of a protector of family members and could have
been placed within the household shrine.
The ostrakon was conserved at the Institute of
Archaeology, University College London.
Height: 11.7 cm
Width: 11.3 cm
Figure of Isis
New Kingdom, 1550-1069 BC
The goddess is depicted in kneeling position.
Both her arms are outstretched with large
wings spread below them. Each of her hands
holds a big bunch of lotuses. The
hieroglyphic sign of a throne on top of her
head indicates her name. The pose of a kite
hovering over the deceased is typical of her
protective role in the afterlife.
Preliminary outlines and the artist's grid are
visible in red, the final drawing being
executed in black pigment.
Height: 11.4 cm
Width: 7.3 cm
Figure of Hathor
New Kingdom, 1550-1069 BC
Hathor is depicted as a piebald cow standing on
a sledge. Her eye is drawn in the form of
wedjat eye, a symbol for strength and
protection. She is wearing
menat necklace, a
symbol closely associated with her. It was of
protective nature and used to be worn for good
fortune. Hathor is smelling a large lotus
blossom that curves in front of her. There are
5 lotus plants below her body.
There are 3 columns of a hieroglyphic
inscription on the back of the ostrakon,
written in black ink. The columns are
read from right to left, the signs from
top to bottom:
"Hathor, Lady of the Sky, Mistress of
all gods. Made by the scribe Twt, true
of voice, the excellent scribe Ptnw".
Photograph by Su Bayfield