This exquisite piece of inlay from a shrine shows Thoth, god of writing and all things intellectual, as an ibis walking atop a standard. Its beak is supported by a feather—the symbol of Maat, goddess of justice and closely associated with Thoth. The artist beautifully captured the halting stride of the bird, which seems to be considering its every step.
This figure is one of a group of finely executed polychrome hieroglyphic inlays (18.2.8-.9 and 26.7.991-.1004, .1006-.1007) in the museum's collection; with the exception of the royal figure (26.7.1006), which is said to be from Memphis and 26.7.1007 which arrived separately in the Carnarvon collection, the inlays are all said to be from a single find at Ashmunein, ancient Hermopolis. The presence in the group of Thoth (26.7.992) and figures that could well represent the seated mummiform Hermopolite solar and creator god Shepsi offers some confirmation of this provenance.
Examination of the figures as a group suggests that they formed part of a large inscription detailing a king's names (including the Horus of Gold name, 26.7.996) followed by epithets naming Thoth and Shepsi. The presence among the figures of Anhur, Re, and goddesses who could well be Hathor, along with larger Horus falcons, suggests elements of the name(s) of 30th Dynasty pharaohs, with Nectanebo II's names precisely suited. There is some variability in color and manufacture among the pieces, so repairs or additions to the inlaid inscriptions over time are possible.
The great winged falcon (26.7.991) might have presided over the larger scene, which might have occupied the side of a large wooden shrine, for example.
Marsha Hill 2010
Formerly Carnarvon Collection, purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art from Almina, Countess of Carnarvon, 1926. Previously purchased by Lord Carnarvon from Nicholas Tano, Cairo, 1918.