Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Hyksos King Mauling an Egyptian?

            A small ivory figurine in the British Museum has had some speculative things written about it over the years. The object in question shows a sphinx mauling a human and has been referred to as a “Hyksos King mauling an Egyptian” in innumerable publications[1]

     The excavation report claims that this piece does date to the Second Intermediate Period[2], but there is no justification in calling it a Hyksos King. This idea was started shortly after the piece’s discovery, when Dr. Hall decided that the piece had Semitic facial features[3]. It is unreasonable to claim that a piece this small (59 mm. in length and only 24 mm. in height[4] has clear ethnic features. Even if the piece did, to say that those features prove that a Hyksos King is being represented assumes that the Hyksos were Semitic, a point that is by no means settled. 

     The piece is also hard to date specifically. Garstang (the excavator) claimed that it must be later than Dynasty Twelve and prior to Dynasty Eighteen, but admits that he can be no more precise than that[5]. More recent analysis indicates that the archaeological context that this object was found in, was badly disturbed and that a date in Dynasty 12 is possible. There are parallels in the headdress and the facial features in a statue of Senwosret I, so this small ivory carving may properly date to the Middle Kingdom[6].

     While this is an interesting piece of ancient art, any claim that it represents a Hyksos King mauling an Egyptian is pure speculation.

[1] James, T. G. H. Introduction to Ancient Egypt (London: British Museum, 1979), pp. 56-7 to cite only one example.

[2] Garstang, J. “An Ivory Sphinx from Abydos”, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, vol. 14, 1928, pp. 46-7.

[3] Garstang, p. 46, where it is mentioned that Dr. Hall not only claims that this (uninscribed!) piece represents a Hyksos King, but also claims that the King in question is probably Khian!

[4] Garstang, p. 46.

[5] Garstang, p. 46.

[6] Joan Aruz, Kim Benzel & Jean M. Evans, editors, Beyond Babylon: Art, Trade and Diplomacy in the Second Millenium B. C., New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.

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