Thursday, June 22, 2017

Egyptian Artifacts Research

Hello everyone, my name is Holly and I’m a collections volunteer here at the Museum of World Treasures.  I help our curator, Steven King, research the artifacts.  At the moment we’re in the process of researching the Museum’s collection of Egyptian artifacts and placing them in chronological order for a new exhibit.  The list below highlights several periods of Ancient Egyptian history below:

Pre-Dynastic (before 3100 BC)
Old Kingdom (2686–2181 BC)
Middle Kingdom (2055–1650 BC)
New Kingdom (1550–1069 BC)
Ptolemaic (332–30 BC)

Of these, our recent focus has been the Ptolemaic years.   This era began in 305 BC when Ptolemy I Soter, one of Alexander the Great’s successors, gained control of Egypt.  His Ptolemaic Dynasty ruled Egypt for the next 300 years.  (Fun fact: the last Ptolemaic monarch was Cleopatra VII Philopator, better known as THE Cleopatra. After her death in 30 BC, Egypt became part of the Roman Empire.)

During the Ptolemaic years, a melding of Egyptian and Greek culture occurred.  This was perhaps most notable in the religious sector.  A great example of this is the hybrid god Harpocrates, invented by the Greeks based upon the Egyptian god Horus the Child.  To the Egyptians, Horus the Child was the god of the newborn sun.  He was often depicted with a finger to his lips, in representation of the hieroglyph for “child,” but the later Greeks and Romans took this to imply silence and secret-keeping.  Therefore, Harpocrates became the god of silence, secrets, and confidentiality.

We have two, possibly three, Harpocrates terracottas in our collection.  The first depicts him riding a horse, as featured below.
The second terracotta is more worn, but unique in that it serves to demonstrate the number of ways a single deity could be depicted.  Here, along with the usual finger to the lips, Harpocrates holds a pot under one arm.  On his other side is a large circular object that has yet to be identified.
Finally, we have the figure of a head featured below.  Given the mischievous, childlike features, as well as the same, distinctive pointed hat we saw him wearing on the horse, it’s reasonable to assume this is also Harpocrates.
Objects like the Harpocrates terracottas remind us that the cultures of the ancient world were not isolated.  Just like today, there was a constant exchange of ideas, beliefs, and traditions between ethnic groups.  Sometimes, when these ideas are borrowed or modified to suit the needs of a new audience, hybrid cultures such as Ptolemaic Egypt occur.  Research is ongoing.  

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