Amara West project blog


Investigating life in an Egyptian town

Amara West 2013: fragment of a female figure found

Clay fecundity figurine (F2284) found in villa D12.5Marie Vandenbeusch, Egyptologist

Last season, three fragmentary fertility figures were found in house E13.6, with another four recovered from other houses within the town at Amara West.

These are all hand-modelled clay objects, mostly rectangular in shape, without a distinct human, or even female, shape, other than an occasional hint of shoulders, pubic triangle or breasts. Similar objects have been found in various ancient settlements in Egypt and Nubia.

A few days ago, Rizwan Safir and Vera Michel discovered a new fragment in villa D12.5 (F2284). This figurine is rather different. Very fragmentary, it is preserved only from the navel to the upper part of the legs, but preserving rather realistically modelled buttocks. The genitalia are represented by a series of dots gathered inside a triangle. A further detail is the large dot indicating a navel, surrounded by smaller dots that might represent a tattoo.

Clay fecundity figurine (F2284) found in villa D12.5

Clay fecundity figurine (F2284) found in villa D12.5

The generous, curvaceous form of the figurine contrasts with the schematic, almost geometric, shapes of the other Amara West figures. Here the nature and purpose of the figure is more immediately apparent.

Such figurines of naked women can be modelled in clay, but examples in faience, wood and stone are known, found in settlements, tombs and temples. Sometimes referred to as “concubines of the dead”, “fertility figures” or “female figurines”, most scholars believe they are related to conception, rebirth or sexuality.

In short, they could clearly be used in life as well as death, sometimes in association with divinities. Their purpose was most likely benevolent, and hints at the needs and fears of those living at Amara West.

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