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Figure 1. The remains of a hammer blow on S-6681.
Figure 1. The remains of a hammer blow on S-6681.
Figure 2. Inscribed surface of S-6681.
Figure 2. Inscribed surface of S-6681.
Figure 3. A piece of statue base that has been chipped away after the cartouche was already erased (S-6657).
Figure 3. A piece of statue base that has been chipped away after the cartouche was already erased (S-6657).
Figure 4. Edge fragment from a statue base with the typical two lines of inscription (Brooklyn 16.674).
Figure 4. Edge fragment from a statue base with the typical two lines of inscription (Brooklyn 16.674).
Figure 5. Possible statue base with a single line of inscription (EES Amarna Archive TA_32-33_O_Film_0047).
Figure 5. Possible statue base with a single line of inscription (EES Amarna Archive TA_32-33_O_Film_0047).
Figure 6. Formulae on a statue base found reused at Lahun.
Figure 6. Formulae on a statue base found reused at Lahun.

Figure 7. Statue base fragment from Kom el-Nana naming the Sunshade of Ra of Nefertiti (S-5987).
Figure 7. Statue base fragment from Kom el-Nana naming the Sunshade of Ra of Nefertiti (S-5987).
Figure 8. Fragment of a statue base from the Great Aten Temple with part of the flat top of the base preserved (S-6596).
Figure 8. Fragment of a statue base from the Great Aten Temple with part of the flat top of the base preserved (S-6596).
Figure 9. Small fragment of statue base from the Maru-Aten (Bolton 19.23.2_10).
Figure 9. Small fragment of statue base from the Maru-Aten (Bolton 19.23.2_10).
Figure 10. Small statue base fragment with part of the titulary of the Aten (Brooklyn 16.665).
Figure 10. Small statue base fragment with part of the titulary of the Aten (Brooklyn 16.665).
Figure 11. Part of the edge of an offering table from a statue (Brooklyn 61.18).
Figure 11. Part of the edge of an offering table from a statue (Brooklyn 61.18).

How to Recognize Amarna Statue-base Fragments:

A Short Guide for Curators and Researchers

Kristin Thompson

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[Note: Numbers preceded by S- refer to sculptured stone pieces found and registered by the current expedition and stored in the magazine at Amarna.]

Many museums, and no doubt some collectors, around the world own small pieces from Amarna that have flat surfaces, perhaps a stretch of flat top, and a few hieroglyphs on them. They are usually registered as fragments of reliefs, inscriptions, stelae or even balustrades. In fact, most of them come from the edges of statue bases. Curators are not to blame for such misidentifications, since in some cases the original excavation team members gave the pieces those designations before disseminating them to institutions. (This was particularly true in the 1920s when pieces from the Maru-Aten and other sites were sent by the Egypt Exploration Society.) Moreover, these pieces tend to resemble the other types of pieces mentioned above, since no trace of the statue itself survives.

Nevertheless, there are several distinguishing features of statue-base fragments that allow them to be identified with considerable confidence in most cases. This essay aims to lay out the characteristics that could allow curators and researchers to recognize such pieces and ideally revise their registration information to reflect what they actually are.

A major reason for offering this information is that Marsha Hill, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and I are currently researching and writing an extensive study, Royal Statuary from Amarna. This book will list all the known statuary fragments in annotated catalogs by building, as well as offering thematic chapters on topics like iconography and composite statuary. In the course of this work we have already identified dozens of statue-base fragments in five museums. Our hope is to locate more with a little modest crowd-sourcing, including the help of curators and researchers. Anyone who recognizes a piece of a base in an existing collection can write to either Marsha or me:

marsha.hill@metmuseum.org

kmthomps@wisc.edu

These edge pieces from statues represent a surprisingly large number of the thousands of known surviving statue fragments. For example, the 1916 bequest of Charles Wilbour’s collection to the Brooklyn Museum by his estate contained 49 identifiable pieces of hard-stone royal statues. Of these 29 were fragments of statue-base edges with inscriptions.

The reason for such a high survival rate of base edges dates back to the original destruction of the city of Akhetaten. The first wave of damage came when teams were sent through the area, including the tombs and boundary stelae, hacking out the cartouches and faces of the royal couple from reliefs and inscriptions, as well as smashing the statues. In the Ramesside period, the city was treated as a handy source of portable stone for use in buildings elsewhere in Egypt. At that point, workers who were scavenging large blocks of valuable hard stones like granite and quartzite systematically chipped off the inscription on statue bases. Starting at one corner (many corner pieces survive among the base fragments) and wielding dolorite hammers, they struck the top edge of the base at intervals all the way around. Pieces chipped off, carrying with them small sections of the inscriptions. The goal was presumably partly to get rid of inscriptions mentioning a couple who were still being purged from history and partly to lighten the blocks for transportation.

In some cases, evidence of the hammer blow remains on the top (Figs. 1 and 2, S-6681, width 12.7 cm; from the Small Aten Temple).  It seems almost certain that the edges were not knocked off during the original attempt to wipe out inscriptions mentioning the proscribed royal couple. For one thing, some of these statue-base fragments contain cartouches with the interiors pounded out, something the workers would be unlikely to do if they planned to knock the inscriptions off the bases anyway. Moreover, in some cases the breaks on the edges of the pieces go through these erased cartouches (Fig. 3, S-6657, width 14.5 cm; from the Small Aten Temple).

It also seems likely that in modern times villagers looking through the ruins for stone fragments to sell would be far more likely to recognize the pieces as parts of valuable objects if they saw hieroglyphs on them, as opposed to smooth body surface or odd pieces like ear lobes, knees or elbows. (Ankhs are particularly common on such pieces.) Wilbour is known to have visited Amarna and bought pieces there from local people with whom he dealt regularly. (See Wilbour, Travels in Egypt, J. Capart, ed., 1936, 94-95.)

Figure 4 (Brooklyn 16.674, width 18.9 cm; from Wilbour bequest), contains most of the features that one is likely to find on such edge fragments. The piece has a flat top. A shallow area of smooth surface runs along under the front edge. Below that is a horizontal groove defining the top of the first of two registers of inscription: in this case the end of Akhenaten’s titulary, “great in his duration” and the beginning of Nefertiti’s, “Great Royal wife.” Below this is a second horizontal groove, separating the first line of inscriptions from the second. Here we find “mistress of the two lands” and the beginning of Nefertiti’s cartouche. There would have been a third groove below the second register, with blank surface from it to the bottom.

There seem to have been statue bases with only a single register of inscriptions. So far none of the base fragments we have examined contain evidence for such an arrangement, though this may simply result from the ways in which they broke off the bases. In analyzing the inscriptions from several EES seasons, H. W. Fairman discusses three types of “sandstone” (i.e., quartzite) fragments from the Small Aten Temple as parts of statue bases. Two were fine-grained pink and fine-grained light yellow, both with two registers of inscriptions. He also describes a third type: “coarse grain, very friable, poor quality, dully purples in colour.” These had a single line of inscription. (See City of Akhenaten III, p. 186.) Unfortunately the whereabouts of these pieces are unknown. An image from the EES photographic archive may show these or similar pieces (Fig. 5, TA_32-33_O_Film_0047). The current available evidence suggests that a layout with two registers was distinctly more common than one with a single register.

Statues distinctly under life-size seem not to have had inscribed bases. The hieroglyphs on the base fragments from roughly life-size or larger statues tend to be proportionately larger than one would expect on reliefs or stelae.

As with most Amarna inscriptions, the formulae tend to repeat with small variations. There are few bases from the period substantially enough preserved to offer a reliable pattern for comparison. The granite base found reused at Lahun and published by Labib Habachi offers perhaps the best model of the basic layout (Fig. 6, from Habachi, “Varia from the reign of King Akhenaten,” MDAIK 20 (1965): 80.)

The titulary of the Aten typically occupies both registers of the front surface, starting with “May my father live.” This is followed by Akhenaten’s titulary beginning on the top register of the side, followed by Nefertiti’s titulary. The most extensively preserved bases give the titularies of princesses on the lower register; these include a short form of Nefertiti’s titulary. There are variants of this layout. The corners may come at a different point in the inscription. One base from the Maru-Aten places the front right corner between “Lord of the Two Lands” and Akhenaten’s prenomen.

Some surviving fragments contain the name of a building, most likely the one where the statue stood. A corner of a base found during excavation by the current expedition in the Kom el-Nana preserves a small stretch of the upper register naming the Sunshade of Ra of Nefertiti, though all that remain are the bottom edge of the fan and its handle, along with the t-sign (Fig. 7, S-5987, width 15.5 cm). Below it is the second groove and the full depth of the second register, giving much of the titulary of a princess. The third groove is present, and, unusually, a stretch of the blank surface below has also been preserved.

The most obvious and defining trait of the inscriptions on statue bases is that they are horizontal. There are horizontal inscriptions on walls reliefs and other architectural contexts, but these are seldom made of hard stones like quartzite, granite, granodiorate and indurated limestone, the principle types used in Amarna royal statuary. The majority of surviving edge pieces consist primarily of small bits of titularies. As with any hieroglyphic inscription, the writing can face either direction, though within a single statue’s inscription, our evidence suggests that the signs all would face the same direction. Well over half of the known fragments retain some portion of the base’s flat top (Fig. 8, S-6596, height 8.3 cm; a surface find from the dumps south of the Great Aten Temple sanctuary).

The traits listed above are specific enough to statue bases that it is possible to identify even small fragments with one or two signs only partially preserved. Figure 9 (Bolton 19.23.2_10, height 8.2 cm; from MII in the Maru-Aten complex) retains parts of the bee of “King of Upper and Lower Egypt” and of the ankh from “living in truth,” the beginning of Akhenaten’s titulary. Figure 10 (Brooklyn 16.665, height 6.1 am; Wilbour bequest) preserves only the cartouche sign from “lord of everything which the orb encircles,” a part of the Aten’s titulary which appears in the second register of the Lahun base. Here the sign appears directly beneath the groove dividing the two registers, above which is a cartouche border, probably that of the first cartouche of the Aten in the upper register.  

The only other object that would be easy to mistake for a statue-base edge is the edge of an offering table from a statue. The inscriptions around the edges of such a table share some features with base edges. The edges of the top of the table are flat, and a groove runs parallel to the edge a short way below it. The texts on the edges run horizontally and are titularies (Figure 11, Brooklyn 61.18, width 10.5 cm; an unprovenanced donation). If the piece is extensively enough preserved, however, differences should be apparent. Most Amarna tables have offerings on top, either carved in relief or done as inset areas for inlays; these tend to extend fairly close to the edges. (A few tables have blank, flat tops.) There is only one register of inscriptions. A second groove borders the bottom of the register a short distance above the lower edge of the piece. The titularies are more abbreviated than is typical on statues. In some cases, the hieroglyphs can face two directions on the front, with a symmetrical double titulary of the Aten running outward and sharing a single ankh in the centre.

We invite curators and researchers who have pieces that fit the description given above to send information concerning them, including photos, to either or both of us at the above addresses. We will be happy to provide any additional information we may have about them and to include them in the appropriate catalog of our book.  

Photographs reproduced courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum, the Bolton Museum collection of the Bolton Council and the Egypt Exploration Society. Thanks to Marsha Hill for discussions and suggestions.


 
 

Website first posted September 2000; last updated October 2017 | enquiries concerning website: email bjk2@cam.ac.uk