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Mummies and Redheads

 I was talking about my hieroglyphic pendant at the market yesterday, and then today at the Eastern States expo a rendition of Seti I’s tomb ceiling on papyrus caught my eye. So it felt like time for a little more on ancient Egyptian art. (I was very good and did not cut in when a customer asked about how papyrus was made though it took a lot of effort to keep my history geek bottled!)


The coffin of Hor was the inspiration for my cameo style papyrus pendant more because I liked the saying than for its particular artistry. Artistry alone I would have chosen like for like and grabbed something off of papyrus-less problematic to carry over!


I generally prefer slightly earlier eras for ancient Egyptian art and architecture.


Hor lived during the 22nd dynasty, around 850 BCE. This was the Third Intermediate Period, a time with multiple centers of power-the priests in Thebes and the royal dynasty in the Delta region- bickering amongst themselves. It was more stable than the previous Intermediate periods, but not as solid as the dynastic eras with their mostly orderly succession of kings.

My favorite periods of ancient Egyptian art are either the Middle Kingdom (the elegance and color of the glass and jewelry) and the early New Kingdom for stonework. Especially the funerary and wall decoration of Seti I.


Seti I was a pharaoh of the 19th dynasty and father to the famous Ramesses II. He ruled around 400 years before Hor would have been born. Seti I consecrated and ordered less monuments built during his lifetime than his son, but they had beautiful quality detailing.


(An interesting article on his tomb, sadly without the degree of photography I’d expect from National Geographic! So a quick tour guide view instead. And a nice museum’s page for children, but with an x-ray of his mummy and a nice close up view of carving. Ignore Dr. Hawass, he seems to get into nearly every photoshoot…)


For example, next time you’re at a museum look closely at the hieroglyphics on/in stone. The most common are incised, cut into the stone and then raised in relief in their little niche.

Incised relief from the tomb of Seti II


This was a more cost effective way because the entire wall could be cut evenly and then the hieroglyphs added. (This was the style most often used in Ramesses II’s building projects.) The purely relief hieroglyphics on stone required more planning and delicacy of carving, because the wall had to be reduced around them, almost like little sculptures.

Relief from Seti I’s temple at Abydos




Okay, and some morbid trivia because part of me is still that third grader who wanted to be an Egyptologist and loved the gruesome:


The mummies of Seti I, Ramesses II and Ramesses V were well enough preserved that you can see the family resemblance, especially in the hook nose and high cheekbones. (Which in the case of Ramesses II was propped up with a small animal bone and some peppercorns.) They’re very interesting but still a bit gruesome, so I’ll let you choose to follow that link or not.


Scientists could also tell than Ramesses II used henna to dye his hair red even as an old man. (And since he was a pharaoh his hair would have normally been covered by his crown and regalia.) It has been proposed that the family were natural redheads, which would explain why they took the name of the god Set who was originally viewed as a god of evil. As well as of the desert and foreigners (!) He was often imagined as a redhead.


So far as family resemblance goes, there is an unknown mummy that some think might be another Ramesses and he was being compared to these guys to see if he too held a family resemblance.

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