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Object discovered by the Society featured on BBC Radio Four

A clay model of cattle dating to the Predynastic Period (Naqada I) discovered by the Society at El-Amrah in 1900-1901 was recently featured in the BBC Radio 4 series ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’. The programme is written and presented by Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, where the object is now kept.

The Society’s excavations at El-Amrah, six miles to the South-East of Petrie’s Royal Tombs at Abydos, were led by David Randall-MacIver and Anthony Wilkin, and published in a special extra publication of the EEF: El-Amrah and Abydos 1899-1901. The site had already been extensively worked a few years earlier by Jacques de Morgan and Émile Amélineau. The EEF team however “hoped, that the site would prove to be less exhausted than it first appeared; and it soon became evident that these hopes were to be more than justified.”

The EEF house at el Amrah which was purpose built at the beginning of the season and demolished at the end. "In spite of the not unnatural objections of the local authorities, who fail to understand that explorers prefer a new house built on clean desert sand to the insanitary filth of a native village, the building was successfully completed in six days." - David Randall-MacIver writing in the Introduction to El-Amrah and Abydos 1899-1901

Fortunately for Randall-MacIver and Wilkin, whose object was to uncover tombs of the Pre- and Early Dynastic, the tombs which had been plundered were largely those of the Middle and New Kingdoms. The earlier burials were very “closely ... packed together, generally within only a space of a few inches between each. In just under a month beginning on 22 December 1900, the excavators had recorded over two hundred graves at the extreme west of the site, along with many more that had already been plundered. They estimated that there were over six hundred burials in total in this area.

The model cattle were discovered here, in a tomb labelled ‘a 23’, which the excavators described as an “exceptionally rich tomb for the very early period ... The man who was buried in it was lying on his right side wrapped in a reed mat, and close beside his right side was the clay staff painted with red stripes ... Next to the handle of the staff was a clay platter, to which were affixed three clay models of cows, while a fourth had broken off and was found in the rubbish. This was the first instance at El Amrah of the occurrence of such clay animals, though a considerable number were brought to light from graves subsequently opened.”

A sketch by Mrs A A Quibell of tomb 'a 23' at the time of its opening. The cattle model is clearly visible in front of the remains of the tomb-owner.

The model was divided to the EEF by the Cairo Museum authorities and it was subsequently brought back to London where it was first displayed at the Fund’s annual exhibition at University College. It was later given to the British Museum, along with the clay staff and a pottery box which also came from the same burial. The model cattle are now on display in the Early Egypt rooms in the Museum, whose website provides further information (here).


The catalogue for the EEF exhibition in 1901 (at left), and a page from the handwritten distribution list, now kept in the Society's Lucy Gura Archive, recording the division of several objects, including the cattle model (here labelled 'Stand of 4 mud kine'), to the British Museum.

If you are in the UK you can listen to the Radio 4 programme on BBC iPlayer; alternatively you can also read a transcript of the programme, and further information is available here.

The Society's fundraising campaign for 2009-10 focusses on raising money to preserve the material in the Archive. For further information or to make a contribution please see here.

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