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Chariots, Cobras and Canaanites:

a Ramesside Miscellany from Tell Abqain


Susanna Thomas
In Pharaoh Triumphant Professor Kitchen describes the steps taken by Ramesses II to control the
Libyan population to the west of Egypt, Along the western desert edge of the Delta, between Memphis
and the sea, he strengthened a series of settlements, sometimes building new temples on them to the local
gods of the west, ancient towns that are now mere mounds. This offering describes work to date on one
of those ancient towns/mounds, Tell Abqain.
At the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty the relationship between Egypt and the different groups that
made up the Libyans changed. The Meshwesh and the Libu first emerge in Egyptian records after the
reign of Amenhotep III, appearing to have been both larger in population and more efficient in organization than the earlier attested Tjemeh and Tjehenu. From the Nineteenth Dynasty there is the record
from Year 4 or 5 of a Libyan war of Seti I at Karnak also showing prince Ramesses, although this may
represent a border skirmish or punitive raid rather than a full-scale campaign. By the times of Merenptah
and Ramesses III Egypt had to contend with full-scale Libyan invasions.
Although the current state of evidence for the exact nature of the Libyan threat during the reign of
Ramesses II is unclear, we do know that a major building programme was undertaken both of fortifying existing settlements and of constructing new fortresses against a perceived menace. The sites of these
fortified towns and fortresses include Kim el-Hisn, Kom Firin and Tell Abqain along the western Delta
edge, and Gharbaniyet, Alamein and Zawiyet Umm el-Rakham stretching along the Mediterranean coast
towards the modern Libyan border. There are varying amounts of evidence for the Ramesside presence in
the fortresses along the coast. From Gharbaniyet there is a red granite column and from Alamein a granite
stele, both showing Ramesses II with Shu and Horakhty. These are now on display in Burg el-Arab. At
Zawiyet Umm el-Rakham, where a Liverpool University mission has been working since 1994, there is a
complete fortress where many of the buildings are still standing, some as high as the first floor.
Surprisingly little is known about settlement in the Western Delta, despite sporadic explorations over
the last century and a renewal of interest in the Delta region in recent years. Kom el-Hisn and Kom Firin
were visited by Petrie while he was working at Naukratis during the 1880s, and at Kom el-Hisn he saw
K. A. Kitchen, Pharaoh Triumphant: The Life and Times of Ramesses II, King of Egypt (Warminster, 1982), 712.

Most recently S. Snape, The Emergence of Libya on the Horizon of Egypt in D. OConnor and S. Quirke (eds), Mysterious Lands (London, 2003), 93106 and refs.


S. Snape, The Excavations of the Liverpool University Mission to Zawiyet Umm el-Rakham 19942001, ASAE 78 (2004),
14960.


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Susanna Thomas

Fig. 1. Map of the Nile Delta and Mediterranean Coast, showing the location of Tell Abqain and other fortress towns.

a statue of Ramesses II describing him as beloved of Sekhmet-Hathor lady of Imu. More recent work
has revealed evidence at both sites of fortified enclosure walls surrounding an area containing a temple
precinct constructed mainly of mud brick with limestone jambs and lintels inscribed with the names and
epithets of Ramesses II.

Fig. 2. View of the main tell from the northeast.

Tell Abqain, which is located 75 km southeast of Alexandria and 5 km southeast of the modern town
of Hosh Isa in the Beheira Governorate (fig. 1), was identified as a Ramesside site in 1903 by Daressy who
reported two neighbouring mounds, one of which had a group of limestone blocks inscribed with large
hieroglyphic characters that he assumed were part of a gate. Habachi later visited these mounds in 1941,
when he relocated the group of blocks. However these had lost their inscribed faces by this time, as they


W. M. F. Petrie, Naukratis Part I. 18845 (MEEF 3; London, 1886), 945.

For Kom el-Hisn see C. J. Kirby, Preliminary Report on the survey of Kom el-Hisn, 1996 JEA 84 (1998), 367. For Kom
Firin see N. A. Spencer, Kom Firin I: The Ramesside Temple and the Site Survey (BMRP 170; London, 2008). For earlier work in
the area see L. Habachi, The Military Posts of Ramesses II on the coastal road and the western part of the Delta, BIFAO 80
(1980), 1330 and W. Coulson, The Naukratis Survey, in E van den Brink (ed.) The Archaeology of the Nile Delta (Amsterdam,
1988), 25963.





520

M. G. Daressy, Rapport sur Kom el-Abqain, ASAE 5 (1904), 12930.

L. Habachi, Khatana-Qantr Importance, ASAE 52 (1954), 443562.

Chariots, Cobras and Canaanites from Tell Abqain

Fig. 3. Plan of Tell Abqain.

had at some previous point been sawn off and removed to the Graeco-Roman Museum at Alexandria.
Habachi did find another group of large blocks close by with their inscribed faces intact, and was also
able to trace part of a mudbrick wall that was intersected by the gateway. In 1996 a team from Liverpool
University began work at the site of Tell Abqain. This article will give a brief overview of recent work, including a discussion of a number of small finds which, although unassuming in themselves, offer glimpses
of life in a Nineteenth Dynasty town.
Today the northwest mound is much smaller than its neighbour and is largely covered by a modern
cemetery. The main mound or tell has a pitted and undulating surface covered in tall grass. Outcrops of
mud brick walling can be seen in the faces of the tell, particularly where sebbakh digging has produced
relatively steep faces where the partial stratigraphy of the site is visible. This is especially true in an enormous cutting which effectively defines the western side of the tell.
The perimeter walls noted by Habachi extend around the settlement mound, and there are traces of
larger mudbrick structures at the southeast and northeast angles, which suggests that originally there were
bastions or towers on these corners. It has not yet been determined if there is a similar structure at the
north west corner as might be expected, as this section lies under the modern road and is more heavily
denuded. The area and the northern wall will be further examined in future seasons.
Accession number JE 21009.

For reports see S. Thomas, Tell Abqain: a fortified settlement in the Western Delta. Preliminary report of the 1997 season,
MDAIK 56 (2000), 3716.


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Fig. 4. Section TA/T2, on the western edge of the tell, after cleaning and recording.

The walls are approximately 200180 m long, creating an internal area of 36,000 m2. The base of the
perimeter walls are 4.6 m thick, which can be compared with the fortress at Zawiyet Umm el-Rakham
where the external walls are 4.9 m thick and include deep, corridor-like gateways, and the 5 m thick walls
at Kom Firin.10 At all three sites the external faces of the walls appear to have been covered with a layer of
white plaster. However, unlike at Zawiyet Umm el-Rakham where the mudbrick walls sit on stone and
rubble foundations, at Abqain the perimeter walls are constructed from large mudbrick stretchers laid
horizontally and vertically in rows on a bed of clean sand.
For some reason the fortifications at Abqain are asymmetrical in outline. There may have been existing architectural features predating the Ramesside defences that were taken into account when the walls
were constructed. It is also possible that a watercourse (either a tributary of the Nile or an artificially
constructed canal) ran near the site and that the walls were built to run along the edge of this, and further
magnetometric survey is planned in this area.
Excavations inside the walls have revealed a number of features. The southern gateway fronts a mud
brick corridor originally paved with limestone slabs that extends 6 m north into the town. There are a
number of slightly later buildings in this area, including one where a fine limestone lintel with sunk-relief
inscriptions featuring titulary of Ramesses II, including his Horus name strong bull, beloved of Maat,
was inverted and reused as a threshold block.11
The western side of the tell is defined by a substantial trench or cutting which runs approximately
north south. Investigation of the base of the trench indicated that the negative space represents the original western wall of the town. The local workmen informed us that a small sugar-cane train used to run
along the northern edge of the town, and that this part of the perimeter wall was taken by sebbakhin approximately seventy years ago, apart from one small section of wall which was left to act as a bridge onto
the mound. Vertical sections of the eastern face were cleaned and recorded, including that which extends
between the present south end of the ditch and the path or bridge which leads to the tell.
These sections revealed many features. At the southern end, the ditch cuts through the original southern perimeter wall of the town. The rest of the sections show various walls from different small buildings
abutting the interior face of the wall inside the town. Some of these represent later occupation as they are
N. Spencer, <http://www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk/aes/excavations/firin6.htm>.

10

Thomas, MDAIK 56, 3745 and pl. 43b.

11

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Chariots, Cobras and Canaanites from Tell Abqain

Fig. 5. Plan of the Well Area, in the southeast corner of the site.

built on top of earlier walls below. Different floor levels are also visible and sherd material indicates that
the lowest, and presumably earliest, rooms or small houses are contemporary with the perimeter walls
and date from the Ramesside period.
Wells at Tell Abqain
Although there are probably a series of wells at most settlement sites, surprisingly few are known from
the archaeological record. Inside the southeast corner of the perimeter walls at Abqain, Habachi found
and investigated two wells between 19414, one of which was reported to me as having some inscriptions.12 Working in July he was only able to dig down 2 metres due to the comparatively high water table.
Habachi, ASAE 52, 485 and pl. xxiv.

12

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Susanna Thomas

Fig. 6. View into Well 3.

Fig. 7. Detail of the vertical cartouches inside Well 3.

This was sufficient to show that the northern of the two wells was decorated with a series of Ramesses II
cartouches, while the southern well had unfortunately lost its corresponding courses.
The Liverpool mission was able to relocate and further investigate these wells, aided by an elderly resident in one of the small villages around the site who remembered where Habachis excavation had taken
place. Two more wells to the north and west of Habachis original northern well (W1) were revealed,
along with inscribed blocks from at least one other well. The best preserved of these is Well 3 (W3), which
seems to be complete. It consists of 14 courses of large, curved limestone blocks sitting on a single, large
block at the bottom of the well, which is 3.95 m deep. The area to the south of W3 showed evidence of
occupation with mud brick walls surrounding three ovens. These are at a higher level than the wells currently visible and it is possible that further wells will be located here through magnetometry.
All three wells are decorated with two horizontal rows of inscriptions that appear to have been carved
in situ. The higher row consists of alternating vertical cartouches Usermaatre Setepenre and Ramessu
Meryamun. These cartouches are topped with double plumes and sit above nwb signs. The lower row
consists of alternating horizontal cartouches prefaced with the titles King of Upper and Lower Egypt,
Son of Re and Lord of Appearances and are all followed by given life like Re.13
Almost no other functioning wells are known from the Ramesside period. Two have been found at
Zawiyet Umm el-Rakham, one in the walled settlement/food production area in the south east corner
of the fortress and one inscribed with Ramesses II cartouches, near the main temple against the western
perimeter wall.14 One other well with horizontal inscriptions was re-excavated in 2001 near Piramesse in
the Eastern Delta.15

S. Thomas, Wells of Tell Abqain, Ancient Egypt 2/6 (2002), 228.

13

Snape, ASAE 78, 178.

14

L. Giddy, Notes and News Ancient Well, EA 18 (2001), 10.

15

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Chariots, Cobras and Canaanites from Tell Abqain


Part of a Door Jamb referring to Anath
This architectural element was also found
buried in a vertical position against the outer
face of Well 2 (WA/B8). It is not clear why
the jamb was there, though it may have been
used at some point to shore up the side of the
well. The fragment comes from the left hand
side of a doorway, and is inscribed on the
front face only. The side-return face originally
forming the door-frame has been smoothed
while the other two faces are roughly worked,
almost certainly indicating that they were set
into a mud brick wall. Both the top and the
bottom of the jamb are now lost and only a
part of the original text remains on the middle section that is just under 1m high. The
vertical inscription in sunk relief runs down
between two inscribed lines or bands. Comparison with similar jambs from other sites
suggests that the doorway was originally inscribed with various names, titles and epithets
of Ramesses II. The remaining text reads;

Fig. 8. WA/B8, the Anath Jamb.

nb xaw (Ra-ms-sw mry-Imn)[mry]16 anTt


Lord of appearances, Ramesses beloved of Amun, [beloved of ] Anath
Though this represents a common form of text from a gateway, and indeed there are many examples
of similar jambs throughout the town at Zawiyet Umm el-Rakham, it is less usual to find Ramesses beloved of the Semitic goddess Anath.
Anath, who was primarily associated with war, was one of a number of similar martial deities introduced into Egypt from Syria-Palestine from the late Middle Kingdom onwards.17 By Dynasty 19 she was
accepted within the Egyptian pantheon both as a wife of Seth18 and as a daughter of Re.19 Described,
along with Astarte, by Kitchen as lascivious goddesses of love and war,20 Anath seems to have been
particularly favoured by Ramesses II, who named a son Meher-Anath and a daughter Bint-Anath after
her,21 as well as a horse, dogs and a sword. Gods and goddesses of Semitic origin are thought to have been
popular during the Ramesside period especially in Lower Egypt, yet there are few known references to
Anath in the Delta apart from this example at Tell Abqain and some remains found at Tanis. This latter
group almost certainly originated from a temple dedicated to Anath at Piramesse, though there is some
The top of a mr sign is just visible on the bottom right corner of the inscription.

16

For Anath in Egypt see R. Stadelmann, Syrisch-Palstinensische Gottheiten in gypten (Pd 5; Leiden, 1967), 8896; also
Helck who suggested that the cult of Anath was popularised by Seti I, W. Helck, Zum Auftreten fremder Gtter in gypten,
Oriens Antiquus 5 (1966), 8.
17

A. Roccati. Une lgende gyptienne dAnat, RdE 24 (1972), 1549.

18

P. Chester Betty I, 34; A. H.Gardiner, Late Egyptian Stories (BAe 1; Brussels, 1932), 40.

19

Kitchen, Pharaoh Triumphant, 161.

20

Child-of-Anath and Daughter-of-Anath.

21

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Susanna Thomas
debate as to the exact nature of the temples in that city. Uphill suggests that the main temple at Piramesse
was similar to that at Karnak, with the cults of various gods included in one complex, or perhaps even a
syncretic Amun-Re-Horakhty-Atum cult being celebrated,22 whereas Kitchen thinks that different temples to different gods were located throughout the city, with the temple of Seth to the south in old Avaris,
Amun to the west, Ptah to the north and Re to the east, and satellite temples to Anath and Astarte close
to the Re temple.23
The references mentioning Anath found at Tanis were found on two pair statues of the goddess with
Ramesses II,24 an obelisk, and two more door jambs. The first statue in red granite shows the king and
Anath standing side by side. On both sides of the dorsal pillar, as might be expected in this context,
Ramesses is described as the beloved of Anath, and on the rear as beloved of Anath, Lady of Heaven.25
The second, seated, statue is in grey granite. The text is damaged in places but Anath, Lady of Heaven
is visible on the left edge of the group.26 The obelisk was originally one of a pair and, though its primary
location remains unclear, the pyramidion of the obelisk suggests that it was dedicated to Heliopolitan
deities.27 The shaft texts consist of names, titles and epithets of Ramesses II, and on the south face he is
described as Suckling of Anath.28
The two door jamb parts were found in the sacred lake at Tanis, and both originate from one or more
monumental doors or gateways. The first is the base of a substantial left-handed door jamb with much
of the inscription now missing but the name of Ramesses still visible along with the epithet beloved of
Anath, Daughter of Re.29 The second more complete left jamb, which Montet estimated to stand between 162170cm high, includes he has made his monument for [his] mother Anath of Ramesses II,30
leading Kitchen to suggest that these would have come from the same building, presumably a lesser
temple of Anath.31
An interesting aspect of these references is the variation in the way her name was written. As Lepsius
first noticed in the tomb of Ramesses IIs daughter Bint-Anath, the name of the goddess was spelt in a
number of different ways.32 From Tanis there are examples of anti, ant, anTi, and aTt, with anTt from the
jamb at Abqain. There is a possible explanation for this inconsistency: Ward noted in his discussion of
foreign names at Deir el-Medina that Egyptian scribes in recording a foreign word or name tended to
write down what they heardthe transmission of those names into Egyptian depended on how they
sounded to Egyptian hearers,33 and Ramesside scribes working furiously to produce all the new inscribed
material at building projects in both Upper and Lower Egypt may well have been unfamiliar with the
goddess Anath.
E. Uphill, The Temples of Per Ramesses (Warminster, 1984), 207.

22

RITANC V, 300, also Kitchen, Pharaoh Triumphant, 1201. See also the text In Praise of the Delta Residence Papyrus
Anastasi II, I.I-2.5 trans. R. Caminos, Late Egyptian Miscellanies (BEStud 1; Oxford, 1954), 378.
23

Cairo JE 6336 and Louvre AF 2576. I am most grateful to Keiko Tazawa for drawing these to my attention.

24

Louvre AF 2576. See P. Montet, Les Nouvelles Fouilles de Tanis (Paris, 1933), 1256, pls. 702. Texts in KRI, II, 445, RITA,
II, 2723
25

Cairo JE 6336. See Montet, Nouvelles Fouilles, 1079, pls 545. Texts in KRI II, 4456; RITA II, 273.

26

W. M. F. Petrie, Tanis I (MEEF 2: London, 1885), pl. VII: 44.

27

KRI II, 408; RITA II, 234.

28

P. Montet, Le lac sacr Tanis (Paris, 1966), 389. pl 3; KRI II 4589; RITA II, 283.

29

Montet, Le lac sacr, 38 pls 3 and 42; KRI II 459; RITA II, 283.

30

RITANC V, 315.

31

32
In Lepsius tomb 4 Grab der Konigin, now QV71, he noted Varianten des Namens der Konigin including antw and anti.
See LD III, 227.

W. A. Ward, Foreigners living in the Village in L. H. Lesko (ed.), Pharaohs Workers (Ithaca, 1994), 66.

33

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Chariots, Cobras and Canaanites from Tell Abqain


There was a quantity of other artifacts found in and around the wells and ovens. The great majority
of these are ceramic sherds from large storage jars, bowls, dishes and plates - not unexpected in an area
of food preparation and production. Almost all the pottery found in the wells no doubt comes from pots
used to obtain water; funnel-neck jars, round and flat-based beer jars, meat jars, high-neck amphorae
with handles (sometimes known as Egyptian wine jars), pilgrim flasks, small bowls and a number of
ceramic bungs. This repertoire can be directly compared with pottery found at Piramesse and Zawiyet
Umm el-Rakham.34
A Miscellany of Small Finds
Other ceramic objects from the wells area include a jar- stamp, part of a spinning bowl, part of a bird,
the head of an animal and fragments of cobra figures.

Fig. 9. WA/7, Jar-Stamp; WA/46, ceramic animal head; W3/6-12/12, part of a bird; WB/30, WA/50, WB/29, cobra fragments.

The jar stamp (WA/7) was found near the mouth of Well 1. It is 10.5 cm long, 4.5 cm wide and made
of coarse red-ware with straight sides and rounded ends. The lug handle on the back is broken off with
only a stump and a mark remaining, and the bottom left quarter of the front face is also missing. The
face is inscribed with signs surrounded by an elongated oval frame, all of which are deeply incised with
rounded profiles that produce clear, raised relief when the wetted stamp is pressed into a yielding surface.
The motif appears to be a disc, horns and a nfr-sign surrounded by the oval frame.
Despite the large numbers of inscribed jar sealings known, surprisingly few actual jar-stamps from
this period have been identified from the archaeological record. Portions of three similar pottery stamps
were found at Buhen, and one from Petries excavations at Gurob.35 The size of the Abqain stamp suggests
that it was used to mark the clay sealings covering storage vessels.
Different products are known to have been transported in ceramic containers that were sealed and
marked with inscribed stamps, including wine, beer, meat, small fowl and fats.36 The majority of known jar
34
For classifications see D. A. Aston, Die Keramik des Grabungsplatzes Q I. Forschungen in der Ramses-Stadt; Die Grabungen
des Pelizaeus-Museums Hildesheim in Quantir-Pi-Ramesse. I, Corpus of Fabrics, Wares and Shapes (Mainz, 1988).
35
H. S. Smith, The Fortress at Buhen II. The Inscriptions (EES EM 49; London, 1976), 166, 170 and pl. xlix; W. M. F. Petrie Kahun, Gurob and Hawara (London, 1890), 38, pl. XVIII. See also L. Giddy, Kom Rabia. The New Kingdom and Post New Kingdom
Objects (EES EM 64; London, 1999), 2978 for discussion of these and a few stone and wooden parallels. For slightly earlier examples of stamped wine jar seals see also W. C. Hayes, Inscriptions from the Palace of Amenhotep III JNES 10 (1951), figs 246.

C. A. Hope, Excavations at Malkata and the Birket Habu. Jar Sealings and Amphorae (Warminster, 1977), 24. See B. G.
Wood, Egyptian Amphorae of the New Kingdom and Ramesside Periods, Biblical Archaeologist 50:2 (1987), 76 for further refs.
36

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Susanna Thomas
sealings come from wine jars, and the temptation in this case is to attribute the seal to the long-established
viticulture traditions of the Delta.37 Egyptian wine was often graded with nefers (good, double good, and
triple good) and a further suggestion might be that wine produced nearby and stamped at Abqain may
have come from the vineyards and estates producing good wine of the Western River in particular.
The spinning bowl was found near and to the north east of the mouth of Well 138 and appears to have
been a two-handled model made from the local fabric. Spinning bowls are known from the Middle Kingdom onwards and have been found at many New Kingdom settlement sites.39 They are open bowls made
from pottery or occasionally stone which contain between one and four internal handles.40 Turning
flax into yarn suitable for weaving was a complicated process, with one of a number of stages involving
splicing and spinning wetted fibres together and such bowls were used simultaneously, to guide the roves
through a liquid and to provide a certain amount of tension.41 There is some evidence from Old Kingdom tomb scenes that male spinners produced cord for fishing nets; however thread for spinning seems
to have been almost always prepared by women.42 Indeed, with the exception of specialist centres such as
the royal workshops at Gurob, most spinning and weaving appears to have been part of a low-level cottage industry with much material produced in the home.
The bird and the head of an animal are harder to identify both in form and function. The bird was
found near the bottom inside Well 3.43 It was made by hand and has great variations in body thickness
with finger marks evident on the interior where it has been pressed into shape. The outside has been
smoothed and shaved with rudimentary wings made separately and then squashed onto the body before
firing. Only the body is preserved, and it may form part of a vessel of some sort where the potter has
worked like a sculptor to reproduce the imitated object in three dimensions.44 Alternatively the bird may
represent some ritual or magic object, or a childs toy. The hollow body could perhaps have been used as a
rattle,45 or simply a model animal to play with, which at some point was either broken and thrown away
or dropped by mistake down the well.
The animal head was found near Well 1.46 It is made of dense, heavy clay material with a dark grey
core. The head has a pronounced snout, chubby cheeks, with a flat, rear facing right ear, and left ear
broken off. The head sits above a thick neck sloping slightly backwards. There is a slight indentation mark for the left eye and the snout has a small hole in the middle formed pre-firing. The surface has been thoroughly smoothed and although quite crudely made it is an appealing object. Exactly
which animal is represented here has been a matter of much debate, perhaps a bear, a dog or a camel.

Note for example that Most of the vineyards represented in Tutankhamuns cellar were along the Western River L. H.
Lesko, Egyptian Wine Production During the New Kingdom in P. E. McGovern, S. J. Fleming, A. H. Katz (eds), The Origins
and Ancient History of Wine (Philadelphia, 1997), 223.
37

TA/WA/24.

38

See S. A. Allen Spinning Bowls: Representation and Reality, in J. Phillips (ed.), Ancient Egypt, the Aegean, and the Near
East. Studies in honor of Martha Rhoads Bell (San Antonio, 1997), 19, for other examples.
39

B. Kemp and G. Vogelsang-Eastwood, The Ancient Textile Industry at Amarna (EES EM 68; London, 2001), 7080 and
2915.
40

Kemp and Vogelsang-Eastwood, The Ancient Textile Industry at Amarna, 295.

41

Allen, in Phillips (ed.), Studies Bell, 22.

42

TA/W3/612/12.

43

J. Bourriau, Umm el-Gaab. Pottery from the Nile Valley before the Arab Conquest (Cambridge, 1991), 30.

44

H. Hickmann Die altgyptische Rassel, ZAS 79, (1954) 11625. However even if the bird was a rattle it does not mean
that it was necessarily a toy. For example, as Kozloff points out, objects that made rattling noises were sacred to Hathor, A. Kozloff and B.Bryan (eds), Egypts Dazzling Sun: Amenhotep III and His World (Cleveland, 1992), 432.
45

TA/WA/46.

46

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Chariots, Cobras and Canaanites from Tell Abqain


Without a specific religious or magical context, or any supporting textual evidence, it is practically
impossible to determine whether small models or imitations of ordinary objects such as these were either created or used as ritual objects or as playthings. Even in a mortuary setting it is extremely hard to
ascertain if such objects are meant as companions or protectors. At Abqain where these pieces have been
found in a domestic context it is not possible to define their purpose. All that can be said is that they are
almost certainly of the living rather than the dead.47 The cobras (see below) seem more firmly tied to an
amuletic role, but one must be wary of imposing modern ideas as to suitable objects for toys.
One cobra head was found immediately next to Well 1 in an area that may have been disturbed by Habachis workmen.48 The other two fragments, a head and a base, come from the ovens area south of Well
3.49 Parallels with statuettes found at other sites suggest that the cobra figures at Abqain were designed
to be freestanding, rather than as part of cobra bowl.50 Their presence implies that there was a domestic
cult of a protective snake goddess at the site, perhaps Reneneutet, or Wadjet from her cult centre at Buto.
The figurines may also have had magical texts recited over them and then been placed in the corner of
rooms at night where people slept to ward off sickness, demons and spirits of the dead.51 Similar figures
have been found at Memphis,52 Piramesse, Zawiyet Umm el-Rakham and Kom Firin,53 and there are
also many fragments of cobra figurines from the late Ramesside farmhouse recently excavated at Sais.54
Comparable snake figurines have also been found in and around other military installations along Egypts
Mediterranean border and into the Levant.55
From the Ramesside levels in the western cutting on the other side of the site there are other indications of connections with states around the eastern Mediterranean, where two interesting sherds were immediately apparent in the sections; a Mycenaean fineware sherd with biscuit coloured body and horizontal glossy orange stripes, which is most likely from the base of a small juglet or stirrup jar,56 and part of a
Canaanite amphora, with a sherd representing the top of the body, the shoulder and the beginning of the
neck.57 Although there is much available evidence for international trade during the Eighteenth Dynasty,
only in recent years has it been recognized that many trading links continued into the Nineteenth and
Twentieth Dynasties. Along with material from mortuary contexts, there are examples of ceramics from
Greece, the Aegean and Syria-Palestine in settlement sites including Memphis, Piramesse and Zawiyet
Umm el-Rakham.58 Mycenaean fineware stirrup jars are thought to have contained limited amounts of

47
See S. Quirke, Figures of Clay: Toys or Ritual Objects?, in S. Quirke (ed.), Lahun Studies (Reigate, 1998), 14151, for
discussion of clay figurines from Lahun, Buhen and Uronati. Quirke concluded that firm identification of childhood toys may
only be reached through study of child burials, and from the sites in question: the figures seem to me more likely to have been
used by Egyptian adults to defend themselves, than by Egyptian children to amuse themselves.

TA/WA/50.

48

TA/WB/29, TA/WB/30.

49

I am grateful to Kasia Szpakowska for the identification.

50

51
see R. K. Ritner, O. Gardiner 363: A Spell Against Night Terrors, JARCE 27 (1990), 2541 for discussion of a spell to be
recited over [ura]ei made of pure clay.

Giddy, Kom Rabia, 1328 pls 14 and 789.

52

Spencer, Kom Firin, 5.

53

P. Wilson, Sais Report (2006) <http://www.dur.ac.uk/penelope.wilson/3k2006.html>.

54
55

For other examples see Giddy, Kom Rabia, 1719.

56

TA/T2/1.

TA/T3/1.

57

S. Thomas, Imports at Zawiyet Umm el-Rakham, in Z. Hawass (ed.), Egyptology at the Dawn of the Twenty-first Century:
Proceedings of the Eighth International Congress of Egyptologists, 1, Archaeology (2003), 5229 and refs.
58

529

Susanna Thomas

Fig. 10. T3/1, sherd of a (reconstructed) Canaanite amphora; T2/1, Mycenaean fineware base; WA/24, spinning bowl fragment.

expensive perfumed oil,59 and many Canaanite amphorae imported into Egypt contained wine or Pistacia
resin from Syro-Palestine. However the final contents of Canaanite amphorae in particular were often a
completely different product as they seem to have functioned like a tupperware box, in that they were
used and reused many times to transport a wide variety of food and drink and also objects such as glass
beads or other ceramic vessels.60
There is one other small object found in
Well 1 which offers more information than
might first appear. It is a small calcite stone
knob 4.5 cm high and 5.5 cm wide.61 Similar knobs have been found at Memphis, Piramesse and at Beth Shan where they were
described as having at once so exotic and
so plebeian an application.62 Comparison
with evidence, mainly from objects in Tutankhamuns tomb, indicates that this knob
is a yoke-saddle finial, and it was an essential part of the mechanism that guided the
reins that connected horses to chariots. The
finials were connected to the wooden yoke- Fig. 11. (left) W1/2-5/7, yoke-saddle finial; (top right) reconstruction
saddles by bronze nails that went through
showing finials in position on yoke and yoke-saddles (after C. N.
Reeves, The Complete Tutankhamun (London, 1990), 173); (bottom
the top of the finial and into the saddle.
right) finial in use, as illustrated in the tomb of Mahu at Amarna (after
These saddles were then lashed to the front
W. H. Peck, Drawings from Ancient Egypt (London, 1978), pl. 92).
59
Bourriau, Umm el-Gaab, 1245. There are very similar pieces from the enclosed residential/industrial area at Zawiyet
Umm el-Rakham.
60
The most famous examples being those found on the Ulu Burun shipwreck. G. F. Bass, A Bronze Age Shipwreck at Ulu
Burun (Kas): 1984 Campaign, AJA 90 (1986), 278. See also A. Leonard, Canaanite Jars and the Late Bronze Age Wine Trade,
in P. E. McGovern, S. J. Fleming, A. H. Katz (eds), The Origins and Ancient History of Wine (Philadelphia, 1997), 2513.

TA/W1/25/7.

61

F. James, Stone knobs and chariot tracks, Expedition 16.3 (1974), 33.

62

530

Chariots, Cobras and Canaanites from Tell Abqain


of yokes and sat across horses shoulders. Harness straps then passed through the holes in the fork ends of
the saddles.63 The finials are one of the few chariot elements made of stone and it is assumed that this is
due to the strength and tension required to link the harnesses to chariots. Although it is of course possible
that the chariot from which this finial came was used for hunting game, this is the first artifact from the
site that suggests a military purpose.
There is undoubtedly much more work to be done at the site of Tell Abqain, and some of the ideas
suggested here may be amended as a result of further discoveries. Comparison with other Libyan and
western Delta fortress town sites along with mnnw or fortress towns in Nubia, for example, suggests that
there will be the remains of at least one substantial temple within the town. Nonetheless, each object
discussed above does in its own way begin to build up the picture of a settlement with military aspects at
least, with evidence of chariots, cobra cults popular in Nineteenth Dynasty forts, the war goddess Anath
and indeed the structure itself with large, imposing perimeter walls. Indications are that there were differing economic and social groups living together. Although the exact nature of the military presence at
Tell Abqain is unclear, there would almost certainly have been a troop commander and other officers,
perhaps accompanied by their wives and families and with access to fine wine and imported delicacies,
along with cavalry and foot soldiers and perhaps Medjay scouts to monitor the surrounding areas.64 There
was also no doubt a significant civilian population dealing with everyday activities such as farming, crop
production and other domestic industry. Situated on the edge of the Western Delta facing out towards
the rising threat of immigration or invasion, and with the name of their pharaoh inscribed on many surfaces throughout the town, the people of Tell Abqain were perhaps comforted by constant reminders of
their pharaoh Ramesses II and the gods intention to protect them.
Acknowledgements
I hope this contribution, a miscellany of things which are seldom, if ever, published, forms an appropriate tribute to Professor Kitchen, whose wide interests in every aspect of Egypts Ramesside culture has
for so long been an inspiration to all working in the same fascinating area. I wish to thank the Supreme
Council of Antiquities in Cairo and Alexandria, and in particular Mr Rabia Amin Abu el-Kasim and Mr
Ahmed Adel Fattah Yousseff in Beheira for greatly facilitating the work of the mission, and also the kind
services of Mrs. Rawya Ismail in the Cairo office of the EES. I would also like to thank team members
Drs Ashley Cooke and Fiona Simpson for their hard work, Julian Heath for his drawings and the Wainwright Fund for their financial support for this project.

M. A. Littauer and J. H. Crouwel, Chariots and Related Equipment from the Tomb of Tutankhamun (TTS 8; Oxford, 1985),
812 and pls XXXIIIV.
63

For discussions of mnnw fortress towns, see E. F. Morris, The Architecture of Imperialism. Military Bases and the Evolution
of Foreign Policy in Egypts New Kingdom (Pd 22; Leiden, 2005), 80914, 8245.
64

531