The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, the Lapworth Museum of Geology and the University of Birmingham Collections - Objects
ID number: BIRRC-X2000
Institution: Research and Cultural Collections
Named collection: The Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity Museum
Title / Object name / Definition: Egyptian Anthropoid Wooden Coffin Lid of Ahmose
Object type: Coffin
Date made: Possibly 550B.C.E.
Place collected: Beni Hasan, Egypt
Materials: Painted wood
Measurements: Height/length 178cm, width at base 38cm, width at widest point (shoulders) 50cm, depth at base 32cm, depth at deepest point 25cm
Description: It is most likely that this coffin lid originated from Beni Hasan in Middle Egypt, a location infamous for its use as a burial site. A series of correspondence between Professor. John Hopkinson, a lecturer in Greek at the University, and John Garstang, director of excavations at Beni Hasan, suggests that this lid was gifted to the University by Garstang during the 1904 excavations. However, Professor Robert Dudley appears to have gifted the lid to Leamington Spa Museum and Art Gallery at some point before the Archaeology department moved to its current location in the Arts Building on the Edgbaston campus. The modern history of the lid then becomes more confusing and no solid evidence can be found as to whether the lid now displayed in the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity Museum is indeed the same one donated by Garstang in 1904. On the other hand, the approximate date and style of the lid strongly suggest that they are one and the same.
The lid is made from wood, covered with gesso (a white primer) and then painted. The lid is not hewn from a single piece of timber (likely to be sycamore which is locally grown in the area around Beni Hasan), instead it is made up of approximately 15 separate pieces. The face shows very faint traces of gold leaf, particularly around the nose, it is likely that most of this was removed during excavation.
Unusually only the outer surface of the lid is decorated; the main part of the decoration consists of an image of the goddess Nut (given the epithet wr.t ntr.w ‘Great Mother of the Gods’) with her wings outstretched. Down the left and right hand sides of the lid eight different gods are depicted, four on each. A large majority of the lid is given to a panel of hieroglyphic text arranged in columns, read from right to left, top to bottom. This text panel is considerably wider than many contemporary examples. The name of the lid’s owner ‘Ahmose’ is clearly visible, as is his mother’s name ‘Payesherynetjer’, although his father’s name is notably absent.
‘George’ (as the lid has now been nicknamed) was last conserved in 2002, to remove a 2-3mm layer of paraffin wax; paraffin wax is mentioned in a letter from Professor Hopkinson to John Garstang on 1st June 1904 (“The surface of the mummy case is still inclined to ‘start’ in spite of its treatment with paraffin wax”). ‘George’ is now housed in a custom-made case in the IAA Museum.
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