A Trip to the Mut Precinct: Small Figurines and their Significance – a Summary

Our first lecture of 2013 took us on a different path than those of lectures past. In November, we had examined Egypt’s contacts with peoples outside its cultural realm. It gave us some glimpses into the extent of how far these contacts must have reached. Our chapter president, Thomas Greiner, examined the distance that the semi-precious stone, lapis lazuli, must have traveled from its likeliest source in eastern Afghanistan, the Badakhshan mines. Dr Thomas Schneider then reevaluated the current state of our knowledge in regards to foreign relations in the Old Kingdom, which forced us to take a step back and reconsider, what we thought we know. Finally, Dr Ernest Bumann then examined the Canaanite god Ba’al as he was represented on the so-called 400 year stele of Ramses II.

The Mut Precinct at Karnak (WikiMedia)
The Mut Precinct at Karnak (WikiMedia)

Why were these figurines broken?

Now, 2013 took us on a different path as we had the pleasure of having Dr Elizabeth Waraksa come to us from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Before the lecture began, she let us know that she will not focus on the traditional aspects of ancient Egypt, what we have come to know as its splendors, its grandeur. Instead, she wanted to talk to us on her PhD research, which she conducted at the Johns Hopkins University and as part of the university’s fieldwork in the Mut precinct at Karnak. It were to be small, seemingly insignificant objects that were to be the focus of her talk, namely the small female figurines that were found during her excavations. These figurines did not come down to us in a whole, complete state, but mainly arrived in two pieces, broken at the stomach region. In the ensuing question period after the lecture, the audience enthusiastically attempted to find the answer as Dr Waraksa has left us with some tantalizing conclusions. Some focused on the nature of the workmanship of the figurine and sought to identify the method used to break the figurines in half (something which Dr Waraksa repeatedley told us she had tried to figure out in her thesis). No definite conclusion was put forth.

What about Textual Sources?

As the focus of her research dealt with the archaeological findings, she intended to take the textual sources into account as well. In her search for these, she only came across two instances, which may illustrate the “daily life” aspect of such an object. In one of the two, the purpose of these objects may have been to help alleviate stomach pain. The idea here is that the ailment that is within an individual would transfer onto the figurine. In turn, the figurine is broken in the manner described above and the ailment thought have been alleviated. As these figurines were mainly found outside the temple area, that is within refuse pits, it is speculated that they may have been made on site.

The Importance of Small Objects

Sir William Flinders Petrie (WikiMedia)
Sir William Flinders Petrie (WikiMedia)

Dr Waraksa’s presentation did not elucidate the grandeur and splendor of the tombs, temples and great kings of Egypt. Nevertheless, her approach serves as a gentle reminder that even the smallest, seemingly insignificant objects hold some major significance. The reader should be reminded of the contributions that Sir William Flinders Petrie has made in the latter parts of the 19th century. Alone his focus on pottery and potsherds, something which was completely out of the ordinary in his day, has helped us in dating and establishing major typologies for archaeological sites. That is exactly why these female figurines are not insignificant at all.


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