Faience amulets

Evan Smith
Evan Smith is a Materials Science and Engineering major in the Class of 2018.
Jordan Poston
Jordan is an Earth and Planetary Sciences major in the Class of 2019.
Margaret Swaney
Meg Swaney is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins University studying Egyptian Art and Archaeology. She also holds a master's degree in Museum Studies from New York University ('13), where her research focused on the ethics of displaying Egyptian mummies, as well as a bachelor's degree in Anthropology from the University of Chicago ('11).
Sanchita Balachandran
Sanchita Balachandran is the Associate Director of the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Near Eastern Studies. She teaches courses related to the identification and analysis of ancient manufacturing techniques of objects, as well as the history, ethics and practice of museum conservation.

ECM 1066; ca. 1295-1186 BCE; Faience; L 3.1 cm x W 2.4 cm x D 0.5 cm

Duck amulet, ECM 1066, Faience, New Kingdom, 19th Dynasty, ca. 1295-1186 BCE, L 3.1 cm x W 2.4 cm x D 0.5 cm


These three faience amulets were all likely found in foundation deposits from the mortuary temple of Queen Tawosret in Thebes, who ruled as an independent female monarch at the end of the 19th Dynasty (ca. 1188-1186 BCE). Such deposits were made prior to the consecration of a new building and contained the burial of votive objects, such as model tools, vessels containing different foodstuffs, and meat offerings. The headless ox amulet (ECM 1078), representing a trussed ox with its tail curling up around its rear haunch, represents one such food offering and is likely associated with the slaughter of cattle that accompanied the building foundation ceremonies. The head of an ox (ECM 1084), which faces to the right and lacks any trace of a neck, likely has similar associations. Likewise, the duck amulet (ECM 1066) portrays this bird laid out on its back with its wings splayed out on either side presented as an offering. Images had power in ancient Egypt, and in a votive context these faience amulets were thought to be just as effective as the food offerings they represent.

ECM 1078; ca. 1188-1186 BCE; Faience; L 2.8 cm x W 1.7 cm x D 0.7 cm

Headless ox amulet, ECM 1078, Faience, New Kingdom, 19th Dynasty, reign of Queen Tausret, ca. 1188-1186 BCE, L 2.8 cm x W 1.7 cm x D 0.7 cm

Technical Research

All three objects were examined by undergraduate students Jordan Poston and Evan Smith.  These amulets were fabricated by pressing damp Egyptian faience paste into one-sided molds; this is clear from the fact that there is only one decorated surface, and the backs of the objects show pressure from being pressed in place, or warpage as the faience paste dried and shrank. The overflow of faience paste on the edges of the duck amulet (top left) suggests that the excess was not removed and that the edges were not finished as they were in the two ox amulets below. All three amulets retain the glossy sheen of their copper-based colorants.

ECM 1084; ca. 1295-1186 BCE; Faience; L 2.3 cm x W 1.6 cm x D 0.4 cm

Ox head amulet, ECM 1084, Faience, New Kingdom, 19th Dynasty, ca. 1295-1186 BCE, L 2.3 cm x W 1.6 cm x D 0.4 cm