Monday 3 November 2008

Where is Ani?

A hundred and twenty years ago, the British Museum purchased a papyrus scroll containing the text of the one of the best known and complete examples of the Theban recension of the prt m hrw 'Coming Forth by Day' (the “Book of the Dead”). Today the text and figures from this colourful manuscript are one of the more popular versions available in the Internet. The scroll had been deposited (as the names and titles in the document proclaim) in the tomb of one Ani, who seems to have lived in the nineteenth dynasty, and we may presume this tomb was situated somewhere in the vast cemeteries across the Nile from Luxor. Ani was an important man about town: “royal scribe veritable, scribe and accountant of the divine revenues of all the gods”, “Governor of the granary of the lords of Abydos, scribe of the divine properties of the lords of Thebes”. He had the ear of Pharoah (“beloved of the lord of the North and South") and was married to Thuthu ("the lady of the house, the chantress [qematet] of Amun"). Apart from this, we know little else about Ani, we cannot name the pharaoh he served, or say which of the Theban tombs of the Nobles was his. All we have is the scroll now thousands of kilometers away from Thebes, arbitrarily cut up by Budge and mounted in a museum in damp London to be gawped at briefly by thousands of tourists on their way to stare at the mummies before they are enticed into the gift shop.

It is reported that the scroll was light coloured and flexible when bought. It darkened soon afterwards – suggesting it had come from a hermetically sealed and therefore probably unrobbed tomb. Some time before 1888 the tomb was entered and the scroll taken and sold to collectors. But no other items of Ani’s funerary equipment seem to have been noted to have surfaced on the market. It seems highly unlikely that the scroll was the only potential collectable in the burial of such an official, so we may presume that other items were taken by those who had found his tomb. So where is the rest of Ani’s tomb equipment? Is it still scattered unrecogised between numerous unpublished and ephemeral personal artefact collections in both hemispheres? Or did these ‘curios’ enter the possession of other nineteenth century pleasure seeking European travellers of the Nile and were lost to disinterest soon after they returned to Europe?

The sixth chapter of Ani’s papyrus contains the shabti-formula:
Illuminate the Osiris Ani, true of voice, o shabti. If it is reckoned or accounted to do any work which is done in the underworld, to destroy
obstacles there from under someone, or to plow the fields, or to fill the
irrigation canals, or to transport sand [of the east to the west, I will do it, truly, when called there.
But where are the figurines to which this spell* refers? Like the scroll, they were supposed to lie eternally in the tomb alongside the mummy. In whose collections are they? Are they still able to work for Ani and his lady in the afterworld, or has their scattering between ephemeral personal collections left the couple there without help? If they were items taken from Native American graves, collectors could not treat them so cavalierly as they do the things sold daily on eBay, at least not in the US. Despite their claims that possession of no-questions-asked portable antiquities helps them to "get a deeper understanding of other cultures", individuals unconcerned about the origins of these curios of a foreign past are probably totally oblivious to the intended function of the objects they hoard in their homes and their deep significance to the original makers and owners. In a way, it is a pity that the Curse of the Pharoah is just a journalists' myth.

*actually this formula (From Digital Egypt) is read from the mid Eighteenth Dynasty Papyrus of Nu

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