The historical photographic archive of the Museo Egizio in Turin includes many pictures of archaeological finds photographed directly in the field or at the campsite in Egypt. Between 1903 and 1937, the Regio Museo di Antichità ed Egizio conducted a series of excavation campaigns in Egypt under the direction of Ernesto Schiaparelli (1903–1906, 1908–1914, 1920) and then of Giulio Farina (1930, 1935, 1937).1 From the very beginning, Schiaparelli and his collaborators took a large number of photographs on glass plates (later plates on celluloid), documenting the sites and their excavation, important finds, and particular moments of life in the field. After World War II, the plates lay forgotten somewhere in the museum’s storerooms. Part of them (the number is unknown) were broken or shattered due to negligence over the years. Many years later, in the Seventies, what remained was randomly stored in the general photographic archive of the museum, mixed in with other more recent glass and celluloid plates depicting the museum’s galleries or objects. Unfortunately, no supplementary information related to these plates has survived; the only way of dating plates made in the field is thus to determine which2-3 site they refer to by recognizing the depicted objects, or the location. For some plates, this is rather easy to do, but for others it is hard or even impossible.

Be that as it may, a remarkable photographic documentation still survives for most of the sites excavated by the Italian Archaeological Mission.2 The pictures often provide interesting information that is not found in the Mission’s surviving journals, reports and letters. Furthermore, historical photographs of objects allow us to compare their present condition with their condition at the time of discovery. They also allow us to identify excavated objects that were not sent to Italy, but left behind in the storerooms of the Cairo Museum, or were simply never collected from the field.

Old excavation photographs are thus valuable insofar as they allow us to study the second life of objects, from the moment of their discovery in the field to that of their display in showcases in a museum. The present article illustrates this with a specific case study from the photographic archive of the Museo Egizio in Turin: that of glass negative plates C0629, C06303 and C0631. These were made by spreading a silver bromide gel, dissolved in water, onto a 13×18 cm glass plate, most likely developed in a darkroom at the campsite. The three plates, which are quite well preserved, were recently digitized in the framework of the ongoing Archives Digitalization Project of the Museo Egizio.

The plates show two fragments of Egyptian models (Fig. 1 and Fig. 2). Neither of these objects is listed in Schiaparelli’s handwritten inventory, a numbered list of 17,386 items, encompassing all of the 11 sites excavated by the Italian Egyptologist from 1903 to 1920, as well as just short of 1900 he had purchased in Egypt prior to the launching of the Italian Archaeological Mission. Since the numbers in the Schiaparelli inventory are also used as the official museum inventory numbers, the absence of the two objects in this inventory made them hard to track down in the museum. Since they appeared in the photographs, however, they presumably came from the museum’s excavations in Egypt. I thus went through the Italian Mission’s written records to look for evidence confirming this.

Fragmentary model of a cabin, photographed at the campsite. Archivio Museo Egizio, C0630.

Fragmentary model of a cabin, photographed at the campsite. Archivio Museo Egizio, C0630.

Fragmentary model of a granary, photographed inside the tomb. Archivio Museo Egizio, C0631.

Fragmentary model of a granary, photographed inside the tomb. Archivio Museo Egizio, C0631.


In spite of the lack of information accompanying the photographs, I could indeed identify the two objects they depict in the Italian archaeologists’ notes. Specifically,4 they are mentioned in records of the 1914 excavation campaign at Gebelein.4 On this occasion, Ernesto Schiaparelli, the anthropologist Giovanni Marro and the priest Michele Pizzio discovered the tomb of Pen (the name they erroneously gave, in the beginning, to an individual actually named Iqer). The tomb was excavated in the northern part of the site, which was explored by Schiaparelli between 1910 and 1920.5 In Schiaparelli’s handwritten inventory, above the original inventory number of the coffin of Iqer, we read:

To the east of the mastaba,6 a large tomb was found, similar to the painted one.7 (…) In an external chamber opening onto the corridor, at another level, more skeletons – this time ancient8 – were found, with large vases. From the central atrium, which gave access to the main funerary chamber, we discovered the bones of a sacrifice, which we left to the Museum, and in the funerary chamber fragments of a very large coffin, like the larger one in Cairo, with further inner ones, consumed by white ants. We only saved a few fragments, the inside of the innermost coffin, two wooden amulets and little more, as well as several small varnished vases.9

This is only a handwritten note; Schiaparelli did not publish anything about this discovery. He just wrote that the northern area had tombs from the “Ancient Empire” (the Old Kingdom) to the Eleventh Dynasty (Fig. 3), and planned to publish more on this subject in the future.10 Unfortunately, his plan never came to fruition.

View of an otherwise unrecorded First Intermediate Period–Middle Kingdom tomb during the excavation at Gebelein, probably in 1914. Archivio Museo Egizio, E0612.

View of an otherwise unrecorded First Intermediate Period–Middle Kingdom tomb during the excavation at Gebelein, probably in 1914. Archivio Museo Egizio, E0612.

However, detailed and enlightening information can be found in a publication of Giovanni Marro, an anthropologist and skilled photographer who worked in Egypt as a collaborator of Schiaparelli’s, and wrote a memoir about his experience on excavations in Egypt some years later. Marro’s writings are important because they contain the only available information about some of the tombs excavated by the mission. In 1929 (15 years after the discovery), he wrote about the grave goods found in the tomb of Iqer:

And on the bottom of the inner coffin [we found] a wooden ladder, which the mummy must have been directly laid upon. Together with some baked clay vases, many wooden objects were still there: some broken, possibly [because they had been] trampled on, others apparently intact, and among these some wooden statuettes of the deceased, some boat models, a fine granary model: all colored objects, and retaining vividness of color. (…) Only a few pictures – shot with a magnesium flash – of these objects, taken under the threat of a large slab of the vault that was about to collapse, have left us a memory of this sight, a memory full of regret. An especially fine picture shows a boat cabin with the shields of five warriors hanging from it, perfectly remindful of medieval shields in their contour, but with a singularly varied decoration, revealing the fine aesthetic and decorative sense of that primitive artist or simple craftsman.11

Marro’s description of the cabin model is detailed enough for us to be sure that it is the same one shown in plates C0629–C0630. Unfortunately, since the anthropologist does not describe the granary model, we can only hypothesize that the “fine granary model” is the one shown on glass plate C0631, on the basis of the following considerations: 1) the numbering sequence, even though it was done in the Seventies, suggests that the three plates were made and stocked together, and this caused them to be numbered sequentially;12 2) the model in C0631, photographed inside the tomb by the Italian Mission, is not present in the collection of the Museo Egizio (only one colored wooden granary is recorded from Gebelein, found in 1911 by another collaborator of Schiaparelli’s, Virginio Rosa, inside the tomb of the nomarch Ini, S. 13270), and may thus have been among the grave goods which Marro and Schiaparelli left inside the tomb because of their critical condition. At the moment, this is the only testimony of its existence, and it matches with Marro’s following note:

Together with the fictile furniture and an inscription, we only saved the ladder, a fine fragment of a female offering bearer, plastered and painted, and the remarkable inner facing of the last coffin, which was attached to the box with wooden dowels.13

The two models are not in Marro’s above-quoted list of collected items. As I mentioned above, no further5 documentation is available for the granary model. As to the cabin model, I managed to track it down in the database of the Museo Egizio, under number S. 15776 (?),14 where it is described in the following terms: “Model of a vessel: fragments of the canopy on the deck, with shields made of bovine hide resting against it.”15 No further information is given. The small and fragile fragments of this object currently preserved in the museum storage clearly belong to the model shown in C0629–C0630. At the moment, only the left side of the cabin survives, with only four of the original five shields, for an overall length of 30 cm. Hopefully more fragments may turn up in the museum’s storage (Fig. 4). We can now estimate that the entire cabin was about 50 cm long and, hence, that the complete boat was presumably more than one meter long (Fig. 5). The colors are still vivid. Red, white and black are used for the shields, ochre for the cabin walls. Some remnants of the white part of the cabin survive on the bow-ward side.

The fragmentary model of the cabin today. Museo Egizio, S. 15776 (?). Photo by Nicola Dell’Aquila/Museo Egizio.

The fragmentary model of the cabin today. Museo Egizio, S. 15776 (?). Photo by Nicola Dell’Aquila/Museo Egizio.

The cabin fragments modeled onto the historical photo. Museo Egizio, Nicola Dell’Aquila and Alice Salvador.

The cabin fragments modeled onto the historical photo. Museo Egizio, Nicola Dell’Aquila and Alice Salvador.

Glass Plates C0629-C0630: Description

The other side of the cabin model, photographed at the campsite. Archivio Museo Egizio, C0629.

The other side of the cabin model, photographed at the campsite. Archivio Museo Egizio, C0629.

The cabin model is interesting because of the depiction of 5+5 shields on either side (Fig. 1, Fig. 6), depicted as being made of animal hide. Each shield has different decorations and colors, but there is no evidence that these indicate differences in rank or title, or membership of specific military corps.

Since we do not have any information about the other parts of the boat model, we can only look for parallels among other boat cabins. The shape is remindful of that of the cabins of the boat models for the use of the deceased in the afterlife,16 particularly from the Eleventh Dynasty and the Middle Kingdom. The closest parallels are from TT280 at Deir el-Bahari, the tomb of Meketre, chancellor of kings Montuhotep II, Montuhotep III and Amenemhat I. The cabins of boats “N” and “O” have a painted structure with two shields on either side.17 Although the patterns on the shields are different and their top is more rounded, there are strong similarities, notably in the dark-colored supporting elements, the white walls, and the presence of a small porch.18 The tapered shape is similar, too. Thus, our boat possibly belonged to Reisner’s Type II.19 On the basis of a recent study featuring a sort of census of Egyptian models,20 it appears that not many boat models with cabins are attested so far, and even less with paintings of shields.

The British Museum holds a boat model (BM EA 66220) with similar features to ours. Its cabin retains traces of three shields. It was dated to the First Intermediate Period and its provenance is unknown.21 However, the date of this artifact is not based on reliable6-7 evidence, since both the crew and the canopy seem to have been simply placed on the boat, but almost certainly do not originally belong to it. I therefore will not use it as a parallel. The Cairo Museum houses some boat models with a covering simulating animal hides, but in this case they are simple rectangular coverings, without any depiction of shields.22 Another model, however, has 1+1 shields painted on the cabin. It is dated to the Eleventh Dynasty and comes from the tomb of Kaykhenenet at Meir.23 The Rijksmuseum in Leiden has an interesting model with 3+3 shields on the cabin (with no visible details of animal hide), dated to the middle of Eleventh Dynasty. It belongs to the Anastasi collection and possibly comes from Thebes. Because it has a porch and because of the tapered shape of the cabin, this is an even closer parallel to our model than the boats of Meketre.24 Finally, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York holds a boat model (amongst others from the same tomb) from the pit burial of Senbi (possibly identifiable as the like-named nomarch – Hry tp aA n spAt – from the time of Amenemhat I) at Meir, having 2+2 shields painted on the cabin.25

This iconographic feature is also found on supports other than models, notably in tomb paintings from the First Intermediate Period. In the Museo Egizio, a wall painting from the tomb of Iti and Neferu26 shows a boat (S. 14354/07) with three shields on its cabin, very similar in shape to those on our model. In this case, we can assume that the painting depicts an everyday-life scene, showcasing the occupations of the deceased, as do other scenes in this tomb. On the boat we see some jars on the deck, some sailors at work, and three monkeys (Fig. 7).27

Wall painting from the tomb of Iti and Neferu at Gebelein, 1911 excavation. Museo Egizio, S. 14354/07. Photo by Nicola Dell’Aquila and Federico Taverni/Museo Egizio.

Wall painting from the tomb of Iti and Neferu at Gebelein, 1911 excavation. Museo Egizio, S. 14354/07. Photo by Nicola Dell’Aquila and Federico Taverni/Museo Egizio.

Two tombs of nomarchs of the Oryx nome at Beni Hasan, BH02 of Ameny (reign of Senusret I) and BH03 of Khnumhotep II (reigns of Amenemhat II and Senusret II), both have wall paintings in their main chamber. On the north side of the east wall, in BH02, and the north side of the west wall, in BH03, a funerary scene is depicted, in which boats with shields are towing the funerary boat with the coffin of the deceased under a canopy.28

Cabins, therefore, seem to be a feature of sailboats. The presence of shields on the cabin, like the inclusion of figurines of soldiers in the burial assemblage of noblemen, may allude to a military role. This may reflect the particular situation of the end of the First Intermediate Period, when every nomarch was entitled to recruit his own army,29 and even after reunification the Middle Kingdom pharaohs initially had to fight both inside and outside Egypt’s national borders.308 The military shields on the cabin may also be understood as a means for a nobleman to display his strength during travel and to stress his power in the afterlife, or, on another level, as a means to protect his tomb.31 A connection between rank and decoration may be observed by considering the deceased’s titles. The above-mentioned parallels for our boat models all seem to be associated with individuals having important military duties. This is true of the army chief (jmj-rA mSa) Iti – the co-owner, with Neferu, of the painted tomb at Gebelein32 –, of the royal chief steward and chancellor (jmj-rA xtmt, jmj-rA pr wr)33 Meketre (late Eleventh–early Twelfth Dynasty), and of the nomarchs (Hry-tp aA n spAt) of Beni Hasan and Meir (first half of the Twelfth Dynasty). It is thus quite possible that the owner of the tomb where the boat model in C0629–C0630 was found, Iqer, also had military responsibilities, although he bears no titles in the Coffin Texts on his coffin.

Table 1

Geographical and chronological chart of models of boats or paintings of boats having cabins decorated with shields.

Gebelein West Thebes Meir Beni Hasan
First Intermediate Period Wall paintings from the painted tomb of Iti and Neferu (3)34
Mid Eleventh Dynasty Model from Anastasi collection in Leiden, AH 63 (3+3) Model from tomb of Kaykhenenet (1+1)
Late Eleventh–early Twelfth Dynasty Cabin in photos C0629–C0630 (5+5)? Models in tomb of Meketre (2+2)
First half of the Twelfth Dynasty Cabin in photos C0629–C0630 (5+5)? Model from tomb of Senbi (2+2) Wall painting from Tomb 2 of Ameny (2)
Mid Twelfth Dynasty Wall painting from Tomb 3 of Khnumhotep II (2)

As far as I know, the cabin in the photograph is that with the largest known number of shields: the other boat models listed here have no more than 3+3 shields on the cabin. The similarity of our cabin with those of the travel boats from the tomb of Meketre and that of the boat in the wall paintings of the tomb of Iti and Neferu at Gebelein suggests that this cabin was made for a boat model with the same purpose and features, and most likely from the same period.

As an alternative to cabins, some boat models have canopies. Sometimes these canopies are also graced with painted shields.35 Other boat models carry three-dimensional representations of shields. Boat models with canopies graced with shields or three-dimensional representations thereof number at least 25, scattered in museums across the world. They seemed to have served as pilgrimage boats, allowing the deceased to ideally travel to pilgrimage destinations such as Abydos.

At Beni Hasan, a canopy was found inside Tomb 575 of Khetia (Eleventh Dynasty).36 Tomb 723 of Sebek-Hetepa (late Eleventh Dynasty) yielded a boat with black-and-white spotted shields.37 A model having 1+1 shields on the top of the canopy possibly come from Tomb 700.38

Three canopies from Sedment, excavated by W. M. F. Petrie and G. Brunton,39 are all decorated with 2+2 shields. One was found in the burial of Mertetes (Tomb 2112), possibly dated to the Heracleopolitan Dynasty;40 another, from Tomb 2107, is now at the Victoria Museum for Egyptian Antiquities in Uppsala;41 a third was found in Tomb 2105.42

At El-Bersheh, four models with detached canopies (all having 2+2 shields) were found in the tomb of Djehutynakht (Eleventh Dynasty, tomb 10A).43 Another similar model, dated to the mid-Eleventh Dynasty, has 3+3 shields on the top of the canopy.44 Another model, of Nehri, having 2+2 shields on the top of the canopy, is dated to the early Twelfth Dynasty.45 Barely visible shields can be made out on the canopy of a boat dated to the Eleventh Dynasty.46 A last model, found in 1898, had 5+5 small red and black shields on the top.47

At Deir el-Bahari, the tomb of Meketre also yielded some models having canopies with shields depicted on the top.48 Moreover, in Pit 28 of Treasurer Buau, in the temple of Montuhotep, a boat with a canopy graced with stylized animal hide shields was found.49

From Abusir, the tomb of the regulator of the phyle and chief of the estate of the pyramid of Nyuserre, Harshefhotep I (late Eleventh Dynasty), contained 2 boats, both with 1+1 black and white shields on the canopies.50

Finally, from Saqqara, tomb 2757 of Anpuemhat and Usermut (late Eleventh Dynasty) yielded a model with 2+2 shields depicted on the top. 51

3D models of shields sometimes appear on boats, arranged next to the canopy – as in the case of two boats from Tomb 186 of Nefwa (Eleventh Dynasty; a third boat, JE 37564b, has armed men)52 and one from the tomb 585 of Khnumnakht at Beni Hasan (late Eleventh – early Twelfth Dynasty)53, – or in the middle of the boat, as in the case of a specimen from Tomb 3 of Nehri and another from the first shaft of Amenemhat, both in el-Bersheh (early Twelfth Dynasty).54 Other armed men equipped with shields were found on a boat from the tomb of Karenen at Saqqara (Teti necropolis, early Twelfth Dynasty)55.

Table 2

Geographical and chronological chart of depictions of shields on boats. In red, cabins with shields; in blue, canopies with shields; in green, 3D shield models on boats.

Ninth-TenthDynasty FIP (generic) EleventhDynasty TwelfthDynasty
Abusir Tomb of Harshefhotep I
Saqqara Tomb of Anpuemhat and Usermut Tomb of Karenen
Sedment Tomb 2105 Tomb 2107 Tomb 2112 of Mertetes
Beni Hasan Tomb of Khetia Tomb of Sebekhetepa Tomb 700 Tomb of Nefwa Tomb of Khnumnakht Tomb painting of Ameny Tomb painting of Khnumhotep I
Deir el-Bersha Tomb of Djehutynakht: Harvard Semitic Museum 1902.16.3 Leiden F1939/1.2 Cairo JE 4952 Tomb of Nehri Tomb of Nehri
Meir Tomb of Kaykhenenet Tomb of Senbi
Thebes Leiden AH 63 Tomb of Meketre Tomb of Meketre Tomb of Buau
Gebelein Tomb painting of Iti and Neferu Tomb of Iqer (?)
Unknown provenance BM EA 66220 (?)

As we can see, at the moment it seems that the use of depicting shields on boat models was relatively short-lived, being related to the role of dignitaries who lived in rather turbulent times. Some of these dignitaries had clearly military duties, and this may explain the presence of this decorative motif on the models found in their burials.9

The typology of shields used in ancient Egypt changes over times. The ten shields depicted on the cabin in the photographic plates are of an Eleventh Dynasty–Middle Kingdom type with a flat lower edge and arched top,56 known as “apex shields”.57 These shields are typically made of animal hide. The type very likely arrived in Egypt at the beginning of the First Intermediate Period, since no specimens are known before, when local Upper Egyptian rulers hired Nubian (“Group C”) soldiers for their own armies, mostly as bowmen, especially at Gebelein.58 Moreover, the use of depicting shields on the cabins or canopies of boat models seems to be restricted to a narrower time range, extending from the middle of the First Intermediate Period to the first half of the Twelfth Dynasty, in tombs of high-ranking military officials.59 Further investigations may confirm or extend this time range. Shields made of animal hide continued to be used as defensive weapons, although they change in shape (a more rounded top) and do not seem to occur as models anymore. Two shields found inside the tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62) are made of antelope hide and another two of cheetah skin, and an interesting painting in TT40 (tomb of Huy) shows Nubians offering shields, some of them made of animal hide.60 This could mean that such shields continued to exist in later times, alongside new types, in southern regions such as at Kush.

So far, the ten shields painted on the cabin make our model a unicum, possibly belonging to an otherwise unattested local style. This model was part of the burial assemblage of a dignitary who lived between the end of the Eleventh and the beginning of the Twelfth Dynasty, as is the case for most of the other examples we have looked at (Table 1 and 2). It is particularly similar to the models of Meketre, possibly dating from after the death of Montuhotep II,61 and to the ship depicted in the tomb of Iti and Neferu at Gebelein.

Granary model – Glass Plate C0631

The second object shown in glass plate C0631 is a granary model apparently consisting of a single row of three vaulted silos (the third is very damaged, see Fig. 2) with an opening on one side, rendered by rectangular lines drawn on the front of each silo. It is remindful of the granaries painted in tomb decoration, where the apertures are regularly depicted on the front instead of on the top. As I observed previously, the consecutive numbering of this glass plate and the other two mentioned above suggests that the three plates were made, used and, consequently, stocked together. Our model appears to be seriously damaged, so we cannot tell whether the visible silos adjoined a rectangular enclosure or a second row of silos. It possibly resembled a clay granary model sold in Luxor at the end of the nineteenth century.62 Since the object is nowhere to be found in the Museo Egizio and we lack any further information about it, we must assume that, unlike the boat model, it was left in the tomb. It may have been among the wooden grave goods that crumbled to pieces as soon as10 Schiaparelli and Marro tried to gather them.

It is an unusual model, since during the First Intermediate Period and Middle Kingdom granary models occur in different types and materials, including wooden flat-roofed square granaries and clay granaries, some similar to the wooden ones, as well as others having silos with domes and holes on the top or on the front; these last sometimes are located inside a pillared hall.63 The model in the photograph shows a mixture of styles. In her unpublished PhD thesis, Angela Tooley argues that models of this type, which date from the Old to the Middle Kingdom, are rarely made of wood.64 Indeed, very few wooden specimens are known. One is from el-Mo’alla:65 the two pieces of the model are very small, with a square opening on the front side. Two other models have been found in the Naga ed-Deir necropolis: one in tomb N3795, dated to the First Intermediate Period, the other in tomb N241, dated to the end of the Old Kingdom.66 Clay silos, instead, are more frequent. The Museo Egizio holds three clay storeroom models, dating back to the late Old Kingdom or the First Intermediate Period (Fig. 8, Fig. 9).67

Baked-clay model of a granary, from Asyut, 1910 excavation. Museo Egizio, S. 10745. Photo by Museo Egizio.

Baked-clay model of a granary, from Asyut, 1910 excavation. Museo Egizio, S. 10745. Photo by Museo Egizio.

Clay models of granaries, from Gebelein, 1910 and 1914 excavations. Museo Egizio, S. 11960, S. 15802.

Clay models of granaries, from Gebelein, 1910 and 1914 excavations. Museo Egizio, S. 11960, S. 15802. Photo by Nicola Dell’Aquila and Federico Taverni/Museo Egizio.

Granaries of this kind are commonly depicted in tomb paintings of this period and of the Middle Kingdom. Nevertheless, the light colors used for our model (likely white or light yellow) are unusual, since in paintings granaries are usually of dark colors. At Gebelein, such granaries are depicted on the coffin of Iqer itself (Fig. 10), in the tomb of Iti and Neferu (Fig. 11), and on the coffin of Henuy.68 In other southern necropoleis, examples are known at Aswan, in the tomb of Sarenput (reign of Senwosret I),69 at el-Mo’alla, in the tombs of Ankhtify (Ninth Dynasty)70 and Sobekhotep (First Intermediate Period),71 at Thebes, on the sarcophagi of queen Ashit72, princess Kawit73 and general Intef74 (TT386, reign of Montuhotep II before the reunification), and on a wall painting from TT60 of Antefoker and Senet (reign of Senwosret I)75. Further examples are to be seen in the painted decoration of the tombs of Ameny,76 Kheti77 and Baket III78 at Beni Hasan or on11 several coffins discovered at Asyut and Deir el-Bersha. An early example, different in colors but similar in shape, can be recognized in a tomb painting of the nomarch Pepyankh-herib, lord of Meir in the time of Pepi II.79

Coffin of Iqer, from Gebelein, 1914 excavation. Museo Egizio, S. 15744. Photo by Nicola Dell’Aquila and Federico Taverni/Museo Egizio.

Coffin of Iqer, from Gebelein, 1914 excavation. Museo Egizio, S. 15744. Photo by Nicola Dell’Aquila and Federico Taverni/Museo Egizio.

Is it possible to narrow down the date of the cabin in C0629–C0630 and the granary in C0631 by considering the rest of Iqer’s burial assemblage? We know12 very little about Iqer, except for the archaeologists’ descriptions mentioned above. So far, the only dating elements in the assemblage are the astronomic calendar and the Coffin Text spells on his coffin,80 found by the Missione Archeologica Italiana and now partly held by the Museo Egizio (in a very ruined state, as previously noted).81 In addition to the coffin (S. 15744/01),82 Iqer’s burial assemblage includes a ladder-shaped support for the mummy (S. 15744/02), a model spear and a model boomerang (both inventoried under S. 15744/03).83 The tomb is still far from having an accepted specific date. Some scholars date the coffin to the second half of the Twelfth Dynasty,84 others prefer to date it between the late Eleventh Dynasty and the early Twelfth Dynasty.85 The two models, and especially the boat cabin, can help us dispel this uncertainty: their affinity with Meketre’s models and the paintings from the tomb of Iti is an argument in favor of the earlier date for the coffin, and for Iqer himself. A date in the second half of the Twelfth Dynasty could only be upheld if we admitted that the models are instances of the lingering of an old style in the provincial site of Gebelein, as Leospo and other scholars have argued13 regarding the coffin.86 However, I find this second hypothesis too conjectural to be viable.

An early Middle Kingdom workshop style?

The same contrast between light and dark colors observable on our two models is also displayed by the storeroom model from the tomb of Henuy, excavated at Gebelein in the northern area in 1899 by a German mission and dated to the Twelfth Dynasty.87 Tooley later questioned this date, suggesting an earlier one.88 There seems to be a certain similarity in the use of colors; in particular, the dark color – usually brown – is used for highlighting structural elements. In the boat model, it is used for the wooden framework of the cabin. In granary models, such as the Steindorff model and the examples in the Museo Egizio (Plate C0631 and the painted examples from the tomb of Iti and on the coffin of Iqer), brown is used to highlight the wooden structural elements of apertures (silo mouths, storeroom doors). All these artifacts apparently date to the end of First Intermediate Period or beginning of the Middle Kingdom, and possibly originate from the same local workshop.

Wall painting from the tomb of Iti and Neferu, Gebelein, 1911 excavation. Museo Egizio, S. 14354/15. Photo by Nicola Dell’Aquila and Federico Taverni/Museo Egizio.

Wall painting from the tomb of Iti and Neferu, Gebelein, 1911 excavation. Museo Egizio, S. 14354/15. Photo by Nicola Dell’Aquila and Federico Taverni/Museo Egizio.

Angela M.J. Tooley has recognized a sort of Gebelein Style for models from the first half of the First Intermediate Period,89 with particular reference to the intact tomb of the nomarch Ini, found in 1911 by Virginio Rosa, a collaborator of Schiaparelli’s.90 However, Ini lived before Iqer’s time. The only boat cabin at Gebelein comparable with the cabin in plates C0629-C0630 is thus that of the ship in the tomb of Iti and Neferu, repeatedly referred to above. This tomb is still far from being well dated; it is nevertheless certainly later than the time of the nomarch Ini, who lived in the First Intermediate Period. We can say the same for the granary: the only silos comparable with those shown in the plate are those depicted in the tomb of Iti and on the coffin of Iqer from the same burial as the model. In a recent work, G. Eschenbrenner-Diemer has singled out four chronological phases in wooden model manufacturing.91 The site of Gebelein is mentioned for phase II, with regard to Ini’s models (dated, as mentioned, to the First Intermediate Period). At the moment, thanks to these photos, we can assume the existence of a later provincial workshop at Gebelein, to be included in her phase IIb or III,92 at the beginning of the Twelfth Dynasty, possibly influenced by the Theban region.

Since our cabin is also very similar to the cabins of the boats found in Meketre’s tomb, it is possible to suggest an influence from the capital, before the royal court moved north. Gebelein is about 30 km south from Thebes, and could easily have received an influence from there or even hosted a Theban craftsman. It is significant, in this regard, that some scholars believe that in Iqer’s time, spanning the late First Intermediate Period and the early Middle Kingdom, the region of Gebelein had already been conquered by Theban rulers. The storeroom model in the photo is rather damaged, with only one row of silos and traces of a wall (of an enclosure?) behind the silos: this could be a regional variant, especially considering the lack of silos among the models of Meketre. In this case, wall paintings cannot help, since they usually show silos painted in dark colors such as black. We cannot say whether our fragment was part of a bigger model similar to the square ones; in any case, silos with domes are quite a singular feature for a wooden model, which so far stands as a unicum in the Gebelein area.


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