Six astonishing Egyptian treasures at Norwich Castle
PUBLISHED: 19:00 31 October 2019
Picture: Norwich Castle Museum/Martin Shepherd
The mystery of a mummified cat with an extra-long neck and how to ensure an afterlife of no work and plenty of beer – revealing the secrets of Norwich Castle’s Egyptian collection
The ancient Egyptian treasures in Norwich Castle have thrilled generations of visitors. Researcher and curator Faye Kalloniatis has worked with the Egyptian collection for almost 20 years, and has just launched the first full catalogue of its 500 fabulous objects.
Six of her favourites are:
Cartonnage of the priest Ankh-hor
This exquisitely painted mummy case holds the body of a priest. The colourful hieroglyphics reveal his duties included opening the door to the shrine in an inner sanctuary of the temple of Karnak, near Luxor, and clearing the way for a statue of a god when it was carried in processions. Another scene shows his heart being weighed in the after-life and found to be free of sin and lighter than feather. The mummy was donated to the Castle Museum by King George V, who once kept it at Sandringham. It was thought that it had been sealed since Ankh-hor died around 750BC, but when it was x-rayed Faye was astonished to find metal pins and clips inside, revealing it had probably been unwrapped and re-wrapped in Victorian times.
Intef died more than 4,000 years ago, but can still be seen, playing a board game with his friend Meri, on the side of a richly decorated clay model granary. Just round the corner his son records how much grain is being stored away to make and bread and beer for him through the afterlife. "This is a really rare piece," said Faye. It was bought by mustard magnate Jeremiah James Colman during a family tour of Egypt in the 1890s and donated to the museum, with hundreds more Egyptian objects, by his daughters in 1921.
Cats and crocodiles were sacred to Egyptians, and were sometimes bred especially to mummify them - and sell them to visitors who would leave them at the shrines of favourite gods. Norwich Castle has a mummy of a baby crocodile, and of a cat with a particularly long neck. When the cat was x-rayed Faye discovered its head had been accidentally snapped off, probably during the mummification process, and repaired with a stick.
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As she researched and catalogued hundreds of objects Faye has translated their hieroglyphic - perhaps the first person to read some of the messages in more than 3,000 years. Across one of the Castle's shabtis, or miniature servants created to work for the dead in the afterlife, she found: "When you are called you will say 'Here I am.'"
Ear lobe plug
More than 3,000yrs before the 21st century trend for earlobe flesh plugs the Egyptians wore them. For centuries the discs, with grooves to allow them to be inserted in their earlobes, were believed to be reels for thread. "Archaeologists refused to believe they were earrings because they thought no-one would have holes in their ears that big," said Faye. "Now we know they would!"
A necklace of shells
"When you see jewellery like this, 99pc of any necklaces are modern re-stringings, but this is special because it's actually the original thread from around 1600BC," said Faye. She had the shells analysed too and found they are from the Red Sea.
These six star Egyptian objects are all on show as part of a new Egyptian display at Norwich Castle. The Egyptian gallery has been temporarily moved for work on the Castle Keep.
The lavishly illustrated hardback book, The Egyptian Collection at Norwich Castle Museum by Faye Kalloniatis, is published by Oxbow Books for £45.