EC446 and EC447
These two pottery figures of naked females, which are about 9cm in height, were made in moulds. The one on the right seems to have a perfume cone on its head and its slim shape suggests a New Kingdom date. The one on the left, with ‘EGYPT/73’ written on it, seems to be later. Such figures seem to have been made until Graeco-Roman times. It is believed that the plaque upon which the figures lie represents a bed.
A number of similar figurines have been found outside Egypt, in Syria-Palestine. Examples bearing a particularly strong resemblance to the Egyptian forms have been found at the Egyptian garrison of Beth Shan.
Until recently these figures tended to be called ‘concubine figures’ with their purpose being to provide a sexual partner for the dead man (e.g. Petrie 1927, 9). However, as Pinch (1983) has pointed out, such figures occur in female burials, in temples and in houses. A number have been found at Amarna, Kom Rabi’a and Deir el-Medina.
Some have suggested that the figure represents a mother goddess. However, Egyptian goddesses are rarely shown nude. The figurines have also been interpreted as dancing girls. Of course, different figurines may have had different purposes. Several seem to have been votive offerings to Hathor. Hathor is associated with fertility and the nude nature of the figurines, together with the heavy wigs depicted on a number of them, may also suggest fertility. We can speculate that the figurines were made to ensure fertility of women. Fertility may also be connected with rebirth in the afterlife.
However, the figures may have had other purposes. Texts suggest that female clay figures were used to ward off snakes and scorpions or were used in healing rites. Waraska (2009) has shown that New Kingdom examples were often coated with a red slip, suggesting that they may have been similar to items used in execration rites. The fact that several have been found broken across a structurally strong area may suggest that they were deliberately broken, perhaps to ritually kill them. It is possible that such figures had a primary use, perhaps as fertility artefacts or as healing objects, but were later ritailly killed once they had performed their purpose.
Other fertility figurines in the Egypt Centre
Giddy, L., 2000. Kom Rabi’a The New Kingdom and Post-New Kingdom Objects. Survey of Memphis 2. London: Egypt Exploration Society.
Petrie, W.M.F. 1927. Objects of Daily Use. London: Egypt Exploration Society.
Pinch, G.,1983. ‘Childbirth and Female Figurines at Deir el-Medina and el-‘Amarna.’ Orientalia 52. pp. 405-14.
Pinch, G., 1993. Votive Offerings to Hathor. Oxford: Griffith Institute and Ashmolean Museum. pp. 198-225.
Waraksa, E.A. 2009. Female Figurines from the Mut Precinct. Context and Ritual Function. Fribourg: Academic Press Fribourg.