December 3, 2010

Drawn from photo I took of a Predynastic Female Figure at the Brooklyn Museum
Painted terracotta, 11 1/2 x 5 1/2 x 2 1/4 in. (29.2 x 14 x 5.7 cm)
Egyptian, Predynastic Period, Naqada IIa Period, ca. 3500-3400 B.C.E.

©Joan Ann Lansberry
The info card at the museum explains "This female figure, shown in a long white skirt, was found in a tomb. Does she represent a goddess, a priestess, or a mourner? Is she grieving, dancing, or manifesting her power? Why are her feet not shown, and why is her head reduced to a birdlike beak? This striking statuette, one of the most famous Predynastic works in the world, raises questions that we may never be able to answer." This is because it was created before the hieroglyphic writing had been created. But examining glyphs and other evidence allows us to make a surmise:

The slightly curved in arms may have been in imitation of the horns of a bull. Gordon and Schwabe show a photo of a Nilotic Nuer warrior-herdsman from the southern Sudan dancing thusly. The glyph for Ka, life force, is written with the upraised arms, "probably imitating the horns of a bull". (_The Quick and the Dead: Biomedical Theory in Ancient Egypt_, page 83)

Also, the word for 'bull' and the word for 'life force' were pronounced the same, the similarity is no doubt because the ancients regarded the bull as possessing a great deal of life force.

Hieroglyph for 'ka' (life force

Another possibility is perhaps she has the 'birdlike beak' because she is soaring with happiness and rejoicing:

Hieroglyph for 'rejoice'

"The positive and joyful side of the Egyptian personality is perhaps seen in the fact that the Egyptian language contained over ninety words for happiness, rejoicing, and exultation."(_Reading Egyptian Art_, Richard Wilkinson, page 27)

Also, perhaps the tapered bottom is similar to the way oil and wine vessels were tapered, so that they could be positioned in the sand. In the case of this small figure, it would allow it to be held easily in the hand, as well. Hence I've drawn her in the sand.


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