Amara West project blog

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Investigating life in an Egyptian town

Amara West 2013: (ancient) snakes in the town

Scarab (F9499) with name of Tuthmosis III flanked by cobrasMarie Vandenbeusch, Geneva University

Amara West team members have encountered a number of snakes over recent years – in the house and in the ancient buildings we are excavating – but they must have been a part of life for the ancient inhabitants too.

Detail of a hieratic ostracon (F7168) with depiction of a cobra

Detail of a hieratic ostracon (F7168) with depiction of a cobra

Snakes are prominent in pharaonic Egypt: in texts and representations, as gods and protective entities, or as dangerous and malevolent creatures.

Scarab (F9499) with name of Tuthmosis III flanked by cobras

Scarab (F9499) with name of
Tuthmosis III flanked by cobras

The Egypt Exploration Society excavators discovered snake skeletons in a small building outside the eastern town wall in the 1940s, some buried in pots. A report on the snake remains concluded they may have been pythons.

Our project has yet to find snake remains, but cobras are the most frequently represented animals depicted on the objects we find. Usually, these are symbols of protection or power.

 

Faience figurine of Pataikos with snake held to mouth (F9467)

Faience figurine of Pataikos with snake
held to mouth (F9467)

On one scarab found in Grave 201, a pair of cobras flank the name of King Tuthmosis III.

A cobra also protects the king, shown as a sphinx, on a finely-carved scarab found in house E13.8 in the town.

Cobras are not only found on scarabs: a hieratic ostracon found this year bears a large depiction of a cobra, while a small faience figurine of the god Pataikos also features a snake.

This small figurine of a god is dense with imagery, wearing a scarab on his head and a knife in each hand, and with a snake across his mouth: protective and repulsive at the same time.

The amulet might have been worn by its owner as protection against evil spirits.

 


 

Most intriguing is a thin cobra in copper alloy found in the back room of house E13.8.

Copper alloy object representing a cobra (F5693)

Copper alloy object representing a cobra (F5693)

An unusual artefact: was it part of a vessel handle? Or a fitting for a statue? Answers might be found after the season, when we have time to research publications and collections for parallels.

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Find out more about the Amara West research project
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