Archive for the 'Faience' Category

Object: Egyptian Amulet

Figure 1 Amulet of Egyptian God Bes from the Classics Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Amulet of Egyptian God Bes from the Classics Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Amulet of Bes
Unknown Date
Materials: Faience (fused glass)

This small amulet depicts the Egyptian God Bes. In ancient times, Bes was very important to pregnant women, mothers and children. He was a god of protection against evil spirits and creatures that wanted to do harm to families.

The god Bes is unlike many of the other Egyptian gods in several ways. He is usually shown as forward facing, which is a very rare trait to see in Egyptian art. Most Egyptian art illustrating humans or gods depicts their subjects in profile view, where the shoulders and upper body of the person or god is shown from the front, the nose is easily distinguished, and both feet can usually be seen. Ancient Egyptians painted in this manner so they could be as accurate as possible when recreating the likeliness of an individual as well as emphasizing what were seen as the most important features of a person or god.

Figure 2 Cosmetic Jar with Egyptian God Bes, photo courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Figure 2 Cosmetic Jar with Egyptian God Bes, photo courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Bes was one of the only dwarf gods worshiped in ancient Egypt. He was very ugly in appearance, with bulging eyes and his tongue sticking out. This strange depiction was in order to scare away evil and poisonous creatures. His legs are commonly shown as being bowed outward, and he is often shown wearing the skin of a large cat such as a panther or a lion. He also always wore a feather headdress, which is another uncommon trait to see in images of Egyptian gods. By being a dwarf, wearing his unique outfit, and being shown as facing forward, some scholars believe he originated from a culture other than Egyptian. Before being incorporated into the Egyptian pantheon of gods, it is guessed that he may have been an African deity of some sort.

Ancient Egyptians believed amulets had to be made in a specific way in regards to the material and the shape. Magic contained in an amulet could be figured out from the form, the materials, what colors were used, and several other attributes. By creating the amulet based on these specifications, the amulet was supposed to grant the wearer’s wish when using it. Amulets could be carried or be worn in many different ways such as on a bracelet, a necklace or a ring. Similar amulets were often also included on the mummified bodies of ancient Egyptians to assist the deceased and guide them into the afterlife.

This amulet from the Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History provides some interesting insights not only into the origin of the Egyptian God Bes but also into the use of amulets in ancient Egypt.

[Katelyn Williams]


Object: Faience Necklace

Figure 1    Egyptian Faience blue beaded necklace from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Egyptian Faience blue beaded necklace from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Blue faience necklace
Africa: Egypt
Date: Modern
Materials: Faience (glass) beads on leather

This small blue beaded necklace is 12 inches long and comes from modern-day Egypt. The leather thong (or string) that holds the beads is tied together in one spot and can be adjusted to fit the person wearing it. The irregular shaped beads are made out of faience, a type of colored glass.

Faience (pronounced “fay-ahns”) has a long-standing history in many countries, especially Egypt. The ancient Egyptians used faience (known as tjehnet) beginning in 3500 BC to make beads, statues, amulets, bowls, and a variety of other objects. One theory is that faience was invented in Mesopotamia in 4000 BC and then brought to Egypt through trade.

Faience was originally developed by ancient Egyptians out of a desire to find a substitute for lapis lazuli, a highly valued dark blue stone. The royalty and nobles of ancient Egypt wanted to show how much power and wealth they had through the beautiful and expensive objects they put in their palaces, temples, and tombs. Lapis lazuli, however, was hard to come by. So, they developed faience, a much cheaper and easily manufactured material, as a substitute.

Faience, known as the “first high-tech ceramic” is made from finely ground quartz (or sand) mixed with lime, copper oxide, water, and a binder agent (such as gum arabic). When mixed together, these ingredients form a kind of paste that can then be put into a ceramic mold, dried, and fired in a kiln (or oven). Early on, it was discovered that adding different minerals (such as manganese) instead of copper oxide would result in different colors of faience including                                                           cobalt blue, purple, and yellow.

Today, the production of faience all around the world has expanded. Artists and scientists continue to experiment with and learn from this fascinating blue glass that experienced its beginnings in ancient Egypt and ancient Mesopotamia. This beautiful beaded necklace is only one example of how faience continues to be used today.

Take a look at this cool video that shows step-by-step out to make faience objects using ancient Egyptian molds from the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology:

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

Object: Votive replica


Cast Replica, Votive of Snake Goddess
Crete, Palace of Knossos
ca. 1750-1580 B.C.E.
Materials: original of faience

This object is a cast replica of a votive found in the excavation of the Palace of Knossos on the island of Crete in 1903. The leader of the excavation was Sir Arthur Evans. The original statue was found in an area of the palace named the Temple Repositories. Evans named the figure in this votive the Snake Goddess because of the repeated theme of snakes throughout the palace compound. For the Minoans, snakes were honored for their ability to shed their skins and resurrect themselves. This votive was found with another statue of a woman with snakes, and the two are thought to be a pair. However, the two objects have definite distinctions between them.

The original votive shows the woman with a full bell skirt, short apron, tight shirt exposing the chest, and arms raised above her head. The other statue shows a woman in a similar shaped skirt and tight shirt but her arms are raised out in front of her instead over her head. Some scholars still debate, which representation of the woman is the snake goddess and which is the snake princess.

As a method of understanding the Minoan culture, objects such as this one have been helpful, since scholars do not have a complete written record for the Minoans. Current research indicates that literacy was not widespread in Minoan culture and may have been strictly confined to the palaces. Additionally, most of the evidence of Minoan writing (Linear A) is found only on seals. Many think that because the figure of the Snake Goddess is prevalent in the palace artwork then they may have been a matriarchal society and worshiped primarily female deities. This has been used as evidence that Minoan society focused on fertility instead of warfare, and has given Minoan culture a much more peaceful reputation than their mainland counterparts, the Myceneans.

Presently, the original votive is located in the Heraklion Museum, but replicas like this help visitors all over the world see what Minoan artwork was like.

[Brittany Teel]

Object: Amulet

Date unknown
Materials: faience

The museum’s catalog identifies this amulet as depicting the Egyptian god Anubis. In Egyptian mythology Anubis plays a crucial role as guide and protector of the deceased.

However, after examining the piece I feel that this amulet does not depict Anubis. Anubis, when shown in his half human form, has the head of a jackal while this amulet shows the head of a lion. Additionally, this figure is shown wearing a special type of crown called the atef crown. This type of crown is typically associated with the god Osiris and symbolized the priesthood and divine power. The atef crown resembles the white crown of Upper Egypt which has been decorated with two vertical rows of ostrich feathers. It seems more likely that this amulet depicts the god Maahes, rather than Anubis.

Maahes (also known as Mahes, Mihos, Miysis, or Mysis) was a male deity most commonly associated with fighting, war, and violence. Some myths describe him as a protector or guardian of Ra, the god of the sun disk. In this role he would protect Ra from Apep, the god of darkness while he traveled through the underworld during the night. In times of war, Maahes was also thought to be the protector of the pharaoh. Other myths describe him as an executioner, a protector of the innocent, a guardian of sacred places, or as one who could find “truth.” He also shared many characteristics with other lion headed deities such as Nefertem and Shesmu. It is likely that an amulet of Maahes was thought to protect the wearer from evil and ensure their safe passage in the underworld.

An example of a faience amulet depicting the god Anubis can be found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

maahes amulet

Object: Amulet

Date unknown
Materials: faience

Amulets were used by ancient Egyptians as good luck charms and offered protection from evil forces. Amulets could be worn as jewelry or carried by the living. Amulets were also often inserted in the wrappings of mummies to protect the deceased. During the 19th century this practice of inserting amulets within the wrappings helped to encourage the seemingly bizarre practice of “mummy unwrapping parties.” Mummies were collected by travelers and shipped back to Europe and the Americas where the new “owner” would host an event featuring the unwrapping and destruction of the mummy. During the course of the event many of these amulets could be discovered and kept as souvenirs. Many mummies were destroyed in this way.

This amulet is made of green Egyptian faience. While faience can be produced in different colors, many pieces of Egyptian faience are blue, a very powerful color to ancient Egyptians. The color blue symbolized the Nile, which was a source life and rebirth. Blue faience also provided a more reasonably priced alternative to the semi-precious stone, lapis lazuli.

The museum’s catalog identifies this amulet as depicting a lotus blossom, however, upon examination of the piece I believe this to be incorrect. Instead, I believe this is a “heart amulet.” Ancient Egyptians believed that the heart, rather than the brain, was the source of human intelligence, emotion, and the conscience. When mummifying a body all of the other internal organs were removed from the body and stored in special jars in the tomb. Even the brain, which today is seen as the source of human thought, was removed from the body through the nose. However, the heart was kept in the body so that the deceased would have it at judgment in the afterlife. Heart amulets were placed within the mummy’s wrappings near the chest of the deceased so that if his/her real heart was damaged or destroyed the amulet could take its place.

Other examples of heart amulets can be found in the Egyptian Museum of Cairo, and the Governorate of Alexandria. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]


Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.


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