Tracing the provenance of unfired ancient Egyptian clay figurines from Saqqara through non-destructive X-ray fluorescence spectrometry

Dennis Braekmans, Vanessa Boschloos, Hendrik Hameeuw, Athena Van der Perre

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
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Abstract

A collection of Prime Cultural Heritage artefacts consisting of Egyptian late Middle Kingdom figurines (c. 1850–1700 BCE), made of unfired clay and covered in inscriptions, is kept at the Royal Museums of Art and History (RMAH) in Brussels, Belgium. Several of these hieratic inscriptions curse enemies of the Egyptian state, including Canaanite, Nubian and Libyan entities; thus providing invaluable information for Middle Bronze topography in ancient Near Eastern studies. What makes the extensive Brussels group even more exceptional, is the fact that these figurines were discovered in a closed archaeological context in Saqqara, Lower Egypt. Defining and classifying clay and ancient ceramic provenance groups in Egypt is highly complex due to variability in Nile and marl clay deposits. Chemical characterization of this figurine assemblage (n = 91) allows to effectively study the potential direct use of clays in the vicinity of Saqqara and characterize the nature of the raw materials used. Additionally, it aims to assess the validity of portable XRF spectrometry for this type of materials and its provenance resolution. Analyses show that very similar clays were used to produce the different morphological types of figurines in the assemblage. The chemical profile indicates the use of a mixed source at Saqqara rather than pure marl or Nile clays, which are common for ancient pottery production.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1207-1217
JournalMicrochemical Journal
Volume145
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Keywords

  • Ancient Egypt
  • Clay figurine characterization
  • Clay provenance
  • Non-destructive chemical analysis
  • Portable XRF
  • Unfired clay objects

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