Sunday, September 21, 2014

Museum Pieces - Vase dedicated to Osiris

Vase dedicated to Osiris

This vessel of red terracotta was found in the tomb of king Djer of the 1st Dynasty at Abydos; it dates from the Ramesside Period and its shape, that of the hieroglyph for 'heart', is very striking. In the centre a mummiform figure of the god Osiris, squatting on a platform, is shown. He wears the white crown, and holds the sign for 'life' (ankh) on his knees. The vertical inscriptions on either side of the god give the names and titles of the two members of the Abydos priesthood who dedicated this vase to Osiris.

Photocredit: The Global Egyptian Museum
Present location: BRUSSELS
Inventory number: E.0579
Dating: 19TH DYNASTY
Archaeological Site: UMM EL-GA`AB/UMM EL-QA`AB
Category: VASE
Material: POTTERY
Height: 34 cm


High priest of Osiris, Sawypaankh
Osiris, lord of the necropolis
Godsfather, priest of Osiris and scribe of the army, Wenennefer.


L. Speleers, Recueil des inscriptions égyptiennes des Musées Royaux du Cinquantenaire à Bruxelles, Bruxelles 1923, 60 nº 251
L. Limme, in Schrijfkunst uit het Oude Egypte - Écritures de l'Égypte ancienne, Bruxelles 1992, 34-35

The tomb of "Osiris"

It is sometimes difficult for us to completely comprehend the great antiquity of Egypt. Consider the fact that by Egypt's 12th Dynasty, some of the tombs of the 1st Dynasty (and earlier) kings of Egypt at Abydos were already over one thousand years old. Yet the Egyptians of that later period in the Middle Kingdom knew that Umm el Ga'ab held the gravesites of Egypt's first kings and thus, they believed, of Osiris himself. These Egyptians investigated this necropolis around the 11th Dynasty, and though we do not know what sort of evidence they used to make their selection, chose the Tomb of Djer as that of Osiris.

At first, the attention given to the tomb was limited, though we see some limited dedications such as an offering table attributable to the 11th Dynasty king Montuhotep III, and a stela fragment we believe may have been contributed by Amenemhet II. However, by the 13th Dynasty, actually as Egypt sank into the Second Intermediate Period, the site began to receive monumental attention, and even as early as the end of the 12th Dynasty, many Egyptians desired to be buried at Umm el Ga'ab. Those who could not be buried there at least wanted to leave some memorial at the site, from a simple votive stela to a full scale cenotaph tomb.

So predominant was the desire to build in this area that eventually, a King Wagaf who presumably was the founder of the 13th Dynasty, erected four stelae in order to mark the sacred area, which was the key part of the wadi leading towards the Tomb of Djer (now the Tomb of Osiris). These stelae, of which one was preserved and placed in the Egyptian Antiquity Museum in Cairo, warned against trespassing and any attempt to build in the area under penalty of death by burning. Hence, we know that people were encroaching on the sacred ground itself with their building projects. Many people came to watch an enactment of a play surrounding Osiris which is referred to as the "Passion Play", and while visiting for this purpose, attempted to obtain preferable lots of land.

From this point onward, the "Tomb of Osiris" grew in importance. Hence, King Khendjer, who ruled soon after King Wagaf, adorned the tomb with the fine basalt image of the recumbent god discovered by Emile Amelineau and Neferhotep I, who was Khendjer's fourth successor to the throne and a fairly prominent ruler for the 13th Dynasty, usurped the four Stelae erected by King Wagaf. He also left behind a sandstone stela that was unearthed by Auguste Mariette near the entrance of the Osiris temple. It describes how Neferhotep I went to the Temple of Re-Atum at Iunu (Heliopolis) to research the correct forms due to Osiris, and afterwards, made renovations deemed necessary and exhorted the Osiris priesthood to maintain them.

The popularity of Umm el Ga'ab and the "Tomb of Osiris" continued into Egypt's late antiquity, only ending with the Persian invasion, though some offerings continued to be placed here even as late as the Roman period.


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