On this blog a while back I discussed a group of newly-surfaced shabti figures which it seems came from a newly-discovered tomb that had succumbed to the tender mercies of the artefact trade. The hieroglyphic inscription on the back was read by a collector as an extremely improbably long name which in referring to these groups I abbreviated to "Wenneb". The original reading however turned out to have been way off mark, as seems to be shown in a text I missed when it was posted at the beginning of April last year, Kea Johnston's discussion, 'The Internet, Mistaken Identity, and a Dog without a Tail' on her "Egyptological Geekery" web-page. I'm no hieroglyphics expert, but the argument looks convincing - certainly I was more than a bit dubious about the earlier reading being bandied about Tim Haines' Yahoo Ancient Artifacts collectors' list (what do they know?). So, the long and short of it is that instead of reading the scratchy inscription on the back of these objects as the mouthful: "Wennebpawepwaoetdjeseroeiamet" it should most probably be read as:
The name actually means 'the Cat'. Johnston suggests that the title Wn-r (the first two hieroglyphs on the left)Wn-r p
The Wn-r priest Pa Miw, son of It
can be translated from Late Egyptian as "opener of the mouth" [...] (Wainwright 1932, p160) This is a priestly title attested from at least the time of Djoser, and it is associated with the high priest of Letopolis. The inscription wn-r pA mjw makes grammatical sense on a shabti.She points out though that it is difficult to explain how other titles of High Priest are omitted. Letopolis was a Hellenistic town in the southern part of the Delta, just 13 kilometers northwest of Cairo. The place is nowadays called Ausim but in ancient times it was called Khem, and was the capital of the second Lower Egyptian nome, going back like its principle god, Khenty-irty (Khenty-Khem) to the Old Kingdom. It is also mentioned in Middle Kingdom Coffin Texts as a centre of worship of the god Horus Khenty-Irty, or Horus Khenty-Khem, one of many local aspects of Horus. Very little of the old city has been discovered, not even the temple of Khenty, the whole area is now built over. There are however one or two inscribed items with the names of late pharoahs ( Necho II, Psammetichus II, Hakoris, Nectanebo I) of the 26th to the 30th dynasties which is about the date range the dealers selling them have offered for these shabtis.
These objects have appeared on the market relatively recently, there is a suggestion that a UK (London?) dealer was instrumental in the distribution of many of them, and we have seen Holyland Numismatics and its business partner Ayman Ramadan were also offering bulk lots a while ago. Johnston says the earliest record of their appearance is 2004. Could it be that these items come from a tomb discovered by a resident of Ausim in illegal excavations in the vicinity of the town?
Johnston is puzzled by the crudeness of these objects:
these shabtis are crude and overfired. You can see the burnt bubbling on the back [...] It seems suspicious that a high-priest as important as the wn-r priest of Letopolis would have gotten such a shoddy burial assemblage.[...] I'm in the process of researching the social status of this type of priest in the Ptolemaic or Late period in which this piece would have been fired. Perhaps the holder of this ancient title was less exhaulted as native Egyptians lost power.She then raises the fundamental problem afflicting those who pay a lot of money for decontextualised ancient things without knowing were they actually came from:
Finally, there is also a definite possibility that this piece is a fake--support for this is in the clumsy firing, the lack of provenance, the fairly recent appearance of these shabtis on the market, the crudeness of the workmanship [...] and the difficulty of the inscription.The lack of provenance and recent appearance could both mean the objects are faked, or they could mean they are freshly looted. Late Period shabtis can be very crude (as can some of the earlier ones) and not all would have been made in the best workshops. It is worth noting that some dealers with "good reputations" (in the collecting milieu that is) as suppliers of authentic antiquities have been offering them without qualm, they presumably trust the supplier who sold them as genuine dugups, and they saw nothing wrong in them. My feeling is that they are not fakes.
There are two more on eBay at the moment: "Ancient Egyptian faience ushabti, Circa: (600 B.C. - 400 B.C.) with hieroglyphic. Size : 6.4 cm x 2.5 cm. Good condition" being offered with absolutely no collecting history or supporting documentation by Adamantiquities1 ("USA, United States");
"Egyptian Ushabti 30th Dynasty /Late Period, Pale blue Ushabti 6.2 cm high with a panel of heiroglyphics impressed on the back. Sold genuine as described and comes complete with a certificate of authenticity" being offered by dic.caesar (Clive Sawyer, Kent TN15 6XD, UK) with absolutely no collecting history or supporting documentation. This one has a variant inscription.
Let's have a look at them before they disappear into a personal collection somewhere:
So, where did these two dealers get these items from?