|Deir el-Medina stelae, offering
tables and other fragments from
the Petrie Museum
|The New Kingdom stelae very often show the owner in adoration in front of deities. The position of
honour seems to be the left, so the deities occupy that area, and may be seated, while the owner
stands to their right. Stelae of the 18th dynasty often show only the owner, his wife and his children.
Stelae of the Ramesside period may include other family members.
The upper parts of offering tables were often carved with the loaves, trussed ducks and vessels, so
that the stone-carved images could serve as magical substitutes for the real food offerings. Usually
the hieroglyphic offering formula and/or lists of produce are also present. Sometimes there were
grooves or channels cut into the surface of the table so that liquids such as water, beer or wine could
be poured on to the table.
|Top register: leg and foot in a sandal on the left side, before the words "on the west of Thebes" (hr imnt
W3st). Also visible are the remains of the white skirt.
Middle register: "... made by (likely with the meaning: son of) one who is greatly favoured by
...", [...r.n Hsy aA n ...]
[with thanks to Jan Kunst from the Netherlands for the translation and transliteration]
Bottom register: a couple facing to the right, only the heads remain. The man is wearing a cone on his
head, the woman - according to the inscription "his wife" (hmt.f) wears a cone on her head and a blue
lotus on her forehead. Her name is illegible.
|Seventy-five examples of small anthropoid, oracular or ancestral busts have been revealed during
excavations at Deir el-Medina. They generally do not bear any inscriptions, but some are inscribed for
specific individuals. Typically small, they measure from 10 to 25 cm in height (there are 2 known bigger
busts, one of which is the bust of Muteminet EA 1198 in the British Museum measuring 51 cm) and are
made of limestone or sandstone. We can assume that most were originally painted as remains of pigment
on some are evident. The gender of the most of the busts is open to question.
The figures are referred to as 'ancestor busts'. It is thought that they were placed in the small shrine
areas which seemed to form part of private homes, and played a part in the private devotions of the
family. Five busts were found in houses at Deir el-Medina, where they could have been placed in wall
niches in the first and second rooms. The wall niches are comparable in size, so this seems probable.
Rather than representing anyone in particular, the busts anonymous nature suggests that they represent
all the ancestors whom the family might wish to commemorate. Another theory is that they represent
"the able spirit" of those, who had been authoritative in life, by inference, the older members of the
community. In troubled times people turned to them for help, i.e. to a parent still remembered, not to an
ancestor of long ago. Some of these must have been older women.
The busts could have been transported from house to tomb or chapel where identification, if desired,
could be supplied by the inscribed stelae, offering tables, or naos-shrine. As the "3h ikr", they carry on
the traditions associated with 3h since the Old Kingdom, especially in the requirement for feeding and i
its function as the 3h-statue resting within the 3ht-shrine (Friedman, p. 97).
The ancestor busts are mentioned in the Book of the Dead under spell 151, "the spell of the head of
mysteries". It reads: " hail to you whose face is kindly...your head will never be taken away".
Similar objects have been found at fourteen other sites from the central Delta to the Third Cataract.
They were found in or near houses as well as in tombs and temples. Whether the context was domestic or
religious we cannot be sure, but it is understood that for the worshiper the ancestor busts conjured up
memories of a deceased relative.
Ancestor bust-shaped amulets occur as jewelry during the New Kingdom.
|There are 6 vertical columns of hieroglyphic inscription above the two men. Thutmose is identified as
"3h ikr n R'", "the able spirit of Ra". The akh-spirits were the blessed dead, those who had attained a
seat in the sun-bark of the god Ra.
Their magical powers protected them from the dangers of the afterlife. They could also use them for
or against the dead and the living. To become an akh (plural akhu) one had to know the magic spells,
perform funerary rites and have the gods,
especially Ra, intervene on one's behalf. Over 50 stelae from Deir el-Medina testify to the existence
of household cults devoted to deceased relatives who had become akhu. The spirits could be dangerous if
offended, and the offerings to the akhu were both propitiatory and reverential.
Probably from Deir el-Medina
Pyramidion of Nebamun
19th dynasty (1295-1186 BC)
Of the 4 sides of this pyramidion, 3 sides are inscribed. Below is the depiction of a man with intricate
hairstyle shown in the pose of adoration with his arms raised. He wears a pleated kilt. The hieroglyphic
inscription mentions name of Nebamun.
Height: 18.5 cm
Width: 15 cm
|We cannot attribute this offering table to either of the 3 known Penrennuts, who lived at Deir el-Medina
and possessed the title "Servant in the Place of Truth" with certainty. Penrennut (i), who lived in the
village during the reign of Ramesses IV, was married to a lady called Tadehnetemheb. His father was
called Nakhtmin. He appears together with his family on Bankes stela no. 10 - nowadays in the National
Trust, UK collection at Kingston Lacy. On the basis of dating the object to the 19th dynasty by the
museum curators, it could have belonged to the two earlier workmen, Penrennut (iii) and Penrennut (iv), a
cup- bearer, lived at Deir el-Medina during the reign of Ramesses II and Merneptah respectively