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Anubis from the ashes!

18 September 2013 by Ashley Cooke

wooden sculpture of a recumbent jackal

Wooden Anubis jackal, accession number M11834, 36 cm long

It’s a new academic year and we’ll soon be welcoming new school groups and university students into the museum to discover more about the ancient Egyptians using our fabulous Egyptology collection. I’ve been working with Adam Gledhill from the education department to refurbish a showcase in our Treasure House Theatre. It’s a part of the museum where visitors can learn more our collections and ancient civilisations through lectures and performances.

Adam teaches schoolchildren about ancient Egyptian burial customs and even has his own dummy to demonstrate how the body was eviscerated. We’ve decided to include more artefacts to enhance the experience for Adam’s groups and so I’ve been selecting objects from the storerooms. One object for the new display is this wooden figure of a recumbent Anubis-jackal dating to about 747 – 332 BC. Anubis was a god associated with mummification and protecting the dead. He was depicted as either a man with a jackal’s head or as a complete jackal. The Egyptians called Anubis ‘he who is upon his mountain’ as if he were sitting up high guarding the cemetery. From the 25th Dynasty (after 747 BC) wooden figures of jackals like this were seated upon outermost coffin lids, placing the dead under the protection of Anubis.

Archive drawing of a museum display case in 1852

Anubis Jackal on display in 1852

This Anubis-jackal figure comes from the Victorian collection of Joseph Mayer and in 1852 it was placed on display in Liverpool. In May 1941 an incendiary bomb fell on the museum and over 3,000 Egyptian objects were destroyed. Whole showcases of coffins and mummies were reduced to ash and the basement storeroom of pottery was obliterated. Some areas of the museum provided shelter from the fire but often object surfaces were damaged by smoke and heat. The Anubis-jackal lost his tail, some paint and his snout broke off. It’s since had some minor repair but hasn’t been on display since the War. From next month a whole new generation of visitors can enjoy seeing him back on display, ehanced within the greater context of our lectures and performances within the Treasure House Theatre.

  1. JA Bosworth says:

    Anubis – the Egyptian god who was Guardian of the Dead and Sacred Burial Places – may have been the model for the original Sphinx at Gizeh. When the head was fell off, (possibly due to an earthquake), the stump of the neck was later recarved as a Pharaonic portrait – perhaps Amenemhet II – during the Middle Kingdom period. (See ‘The Sphynx Mystery’ by Robert and Olivia Temple).

  2. Ashley says:

    There are many sphinxes but the Giza one beside the causeway of Khafre remains the most famous. Most Egyptologists believe the face to represent Khafre but some do consider it may be his predecessor, Djedefra. That it may originally have been Anubis and later Amenemhat III is a theory I’m unfamiliar with, so thank you for this reference.

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