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W283 Votive segmented faience balls

w283Hollow segmented faience balls like these have been found at the end of necklaces. They also seem to have been votive offerings (Pinch 1993, 268-9). Most date to the New Kingdom but some have been found as early as the 11th Dynasty. 

Several have been excavated in the vicinity of the Hathor temple at Faras. It has been suggested that this temple was dedicated to Hathor, Lady of Ibshek and built c1770B.C. and expanded in the reign of Ramesses II. Hollow beads are found at other sites dedicated to Hathor such as Deir el-Bahri and Dendera.

Broken examples show impressions of reed fibres suggesting that the beads were made by moulding the faience around an organic core. When the faience was heated up the core would be burnt out (Friedman 1998, 259).

Leather balls of alternate colours of between four and twelve segments appear from the Middle Kingdom (Nicholson and Shaw 2000, 309). For example, red and yellow segmented yellow balls have been found in leather from el-Riqqa (UC31433 Nicholson and Shaw 2000, 311, fig. 12.7) measuring about 7cm in diameter. It may be that our faience examples are copes of these, though the faience ones, being fragile, would have been unlikely to have been used in games. In fact it is possible that even leather examples were not used in games as known examples are from graves. It may be, that like the game of senet, ball games also had religious significance. There is a ritual of ‘striking the ball’ which meant deliberate breaking of balls which symbolised the enemies of the god and king.

Ours had previously been part of the MacGregor collection purchased by Welcome in 1922.

Blog Post including these objects.


Bourriau, J., 1988. Pharaohs and Mortals Egyptian Art In The Middle Kingdom, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 132-3. 

Friedman, F.D. (ed.) 1998. Gifts of the Nile. Ancient Egyptian Faience. New York: Thames and Hudson. 

Nicholson, P.T. and Shaw, I. 2000. Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Pinch, G. 1993. Votive Offerings to Hathor. Oxford: Griffith Institute.