What’s in a name?
27 October 2014
For many people RAMM’s Egyptian collection is defined by Shep en-Mut and her beautifully decorated coffin and cartonnage. But RAMM has another Egyptian character on display who is less well known and now it’s her turn for the limelight.
Chantress of Amun
On display in the Egyptian Tomb is a mummy board, a decorated mask which was placed over the mummified body inside the coffin. In June it was the subject of research by Dr Kara Cooney, Assistant Professor of Egyptian Art and Architecture at University of California, Los Angeles, and her three research assistants. They are travelling across Europe studying 21st Dynasty coffins, of which RAMM’s board is one example. The board depicts a woman with long dark hair reaching to her breasts, make-up, large earrings, and hands folded across her chest. This is an idealised image, probably representing her younger than the age at which she died. It is made from wood and plaster and decorated with brightly coloured pigments including ‘Egyptian blue’ and Orpiment, which in its raw state is toxic. Traces of hieroglyphic text tell us this woman was a Chantress of Amun from Thebes.
When RAMM’s Chantress died around 3,000 years ago Egypt was in a time of economic depression. Dr Cooney’s research is revealing that coffins were reused by reshaping and redecorating them for their new occupant. RAMM’s board retains some evidence that it has been re-used in this way. The shape and style of the eyes, the position of the forearms, and possible traces of decoration under the hands may indicate that this coffin has been recycled from an earlier occupant. The associated coffin is on display at Swansea Museum and has similar evidence of reuse.
Her new name
For nearly 200 years we have been calling this woman Au-Set-Shu-Mut – the name recorded in RAMM’s accessions register. But a new translation of her (badly damaged) hieroglyphic text reveals that she was actually called Iw-s-hesw-Mwt. It’s time now to update the museum records and the labels in the gallery and honour her as she wanted to be remembered.
For more information contact RAMM’s Assistant Curator of Antiquities, Jenny.Durrant@exeter.gov.uk.
Researching Exeter’s collections
Find out more about research opportunities at RAMM. RAMM’s collections contain over one million objects and academic research is actively encouraged.
Image: Iw-s-hesw-Mwt’s mummy board. She was formerly known as Au-Set-Shu-Mut