Holy rubbish? Human statuettes from the Hierakonpolis main deposit in the Ashmolean Museum – Liam McNamara [EVENT CANCELLED]
The spectacular cache of objects excavated by James Quibell and Frederick Green in the ‘Main Deposit’ at Hierakonpolis in 1897–1898 included hundreds of fragments of human statuettes carved from hippopotamus and elephant ivory. Ranging from more or less complete examples, to the detached heads, arms, legs, feet and bases of many others, the group represents men, women and children in a variety of poses and costumes. The conditions of the excavation and the challenges faced in conserving the decayed ivory were such that most of the statuettes have never been systematically published, and therefore remain largely unknown. The majority of the Hierakonpolis ivories were presented to the Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford, soon after their discovery. An on-going project to catalogue the collection has now identified more than 700 pieces, including some 323 fragments of human statuettes.
More than a century after the discovery of the ivories, debate continues concerning the date of their manufacture and the reason for their deposition. Re-analysis of Frederick Green’s original excavation reports, now in the Department of Manuscripts and University Archives at the University of Cambridge, has shed new light on the archaeological context in which the statuettes were discovered, as well as opening up alternative interpretations of the site and its significance during the period of state formation.
In this lecture, Liam McNamara will present the results of a study of the corpus, relating the Hierakonpolis statuettes to comparative material from deposits found at other sites including Elephantine, Abydos, Tell Ibrahim Awad and Tell el-Farkha, before challenging the standard interpretation of such deposits as discarded temple offerings and proposing an alternative explanation of the contexts in which they should be understood.
Liam McNamara is the Lisa and Bernard Selz Curator for Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the Ashmolean Museum. He was Lead Curator on the redevelopment of the Museum’s Egypt and Nubia galleries which opened to the public in November 2011. He also co-curated (with Paul Collins) the temporary exhibition Discovering Tutankhamun at the Ashmolean from 24th July–2nd November 2014. From 2015–2019, Liam was also Director of the Griffith Institute at the University of Oxford.
McNamara is Assistant Director of the Ashmolean’s Expeditions to Hierakonpolis and Elkab in Egypt. He has worked as an archaeological illustrator and field archaeologist on excavations at Kom Firin in the western Nile Delta, and he has also worked on an epigraphic survey of sites in northern Sudan with the British Museum. His research interests centre on the archaeology and material culture of ancient Egypt and Sudan. He specialises in the late Predynastic and Early Dynastic periods (late 4th–early 3rd millennium BC). He focusses on the dynamics of the transformation to statehood, whereby Egypt became a unified polity ruled by a single king, and the processes by which dynastic traditions in art, religion, and written language became established. His current work re-examines a major group of early votive objects and the temples from which they are presumed to originate.
The conference will be held in English and will be introduced by Christian Greco, Director of the Museo Egizio.
The conference will be broadcast via streaming on the Museum's Facebook page and Youtube channel.