Treasures of Ancient Egypt from the Fitzwilliam Museum

Hetepni, an Ancient Egyptian Tax Collector

Seated statue of Hetepni, chamberlain of the King. Old Kingdom, 6th Dynasty, 2200 BC, from Saqqara, Egypt, now at Neues Museum AM 34428
Seated statue of Hetepni, chamberlain of the King, 2200 BC

 

Hetepni was an accountant and tax collector in the revenue office of the king over 4000 years ago in Egypt. Found in Saqqara, this mortuary statue tells us that he was was responsible:

‘…for the counting of everything that crawled or flew in the water and in the marshland‘.

The statue dates from the end of the 6th Dynasty, the last of the Old Kingdom, after which Egypt entered a period of political unrest. He may have served was Pepi II, who is credited at being one of the longest reigning monarchs in history at 94 years.

Seated statue of Hetepni, chamberlain of the King. Old Kingdom, 6th Dynasty, 2200BC, from Saqqara, Neues Museum AM 34428
Seated statue of Hetepni, chamberlain of the King, 2200 BC

King Khasekhemwy

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Khasekhemwy (ca. 2690 BC) was the final king of the Second dynasty of Ancient Egypt.

This statue of him in the Ashmolean Museum is the oldest example of royal statuary from Egypt. It shows him wearing the White Crown of Upper Egypt.

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30th Dynasty Canopic Jars

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These exceptional canopic jars from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford belonged to Zenbastef’onkh, son of Harwoz and Nakhtubasteran. They date from the 30th dynasty (380-343 BC).

Above is seen Imsety, the human-headed protector of the liver, and Hapi the baboon-headed protector of the lungs. Below is Duamutef, the jacket-headed protector of the stomach.

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An Ancient Computer: The Antikythera Mechanism

Antikythera mechanism
Antikythera mechanism

The highlight of a recent trip to Athens was a visit to the National Museum of Archaeology. The museum had a special gallery for the finds from the Antikythera shipwreck, a boat carrying luxury goods from around 75–50 BC which was wrecked in a storm. It was discovered in 1900 by sponge divers.

Antikythera mechanism
Antikythera mechanism

The highlight of the exhibition however is the Antikythera mechanism, the so-called 2000-year-old computer. It is designed to calculate astronomical positions. The construction has been dated to the early 1st century BC. Technological artefacts approaching its complexity and workmanship did not appear again until the 14th century AD, when mechanical astronomical clocks began to be built in Western Europe.

Detail of the Antikythera mechanism
Detail of the Antikythera mechanism

The mechanism could track the movement of the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. It could also track when stars would rise and set and compared different calendars such as the Egyptian Sothic year.

Another of the dials showed which of the Pan-Hellenic games were being held next, as they rotated on a four year cycle. The Olympiad Dial is divided into four sectors, each of which is inscribed with a year number and the name of two Panhellenic Games: the “crown” games of Isthmia, Olympia, Nemea, and Pythia; and two lesser gamesat Naa and another which has not yet been deciphered.

Detail of the inscriptions on the Antikythera mechanism
Detail of the inscriptions on the Antikythera mechanism

There are many inscriptions all over the mechanism, some of which explain what the dials refer to, others which give instructions for how to operate it. Its complexity makes people think it wasn’t was one-off but a practised art, and it’s compact size and wood casing meant it could have been easily transported and operated by a lay-person.

Details of the gears on the Antikythera mechanism
Details of the gears on the Antikythera mechanism

It has 30 separate gears and would have been operated using a hand crank.

The wreck is famous for the Antikythera mechanism but also contained fine tableware, pottery, sculptures of bronze and marble from Rhodes, Delos, Pergamon, Egypt, Antioch and the Syrian-Palestinian coast. I’ll make the other treasures from the Antikythera Wreck in another post!

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