Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Design Amulet with a Hippopotamus (? ) Head on the Back Pierced for Stringing, and a Left-facing Monkey as the Device

First Intermediate Period
Dynasty 8
ca. 2150–2100 B.C.
From Egypt
Glazed steatite
diam. 1.45 cm (9/16 in)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1926
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 103
Design amulets from the late Old Kingdom and First Intermediate Period, also called button seals or figure seals according to their form, were at least in some instances used as seals. They seem overwhelmingly, however, to show devices (base decoration) and combinations of figural backs and base decoration that are clearly amuletic in nature; moreover, at least at Qau, they came mainly from the burials of women and children. Examples are preserved from tombs where they were buried with the dead, sometimes incorporated in strings of beads and amulets.

A recent study has cast considerable light on the motifs and their amuletic significance. Hippopotamus heads were probably the most popular and earliest of the figural forms to appear on the backs of the design amulets.Age-old symbolic figures, they are regeneration symbols in the Middle Kingdom, and probably already here. The monkey on be base, often an attendant on the course of the sun's travels, likewise has a place here as a regenerative figure.
Timins Collection by 1907. Acquired by for his collection by Lord Carnarvon before 1923. Carnarvon Collection purchased by the Museum from Lady Carnarvon, 1926.

Hayes, William C. 1953. Scepter of Egypt I: A Background for the Study of the Egyptian Antiquities in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Part I: From the Earliest Times to the End of the Middle Kingdom. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 142, fig. 84, 85.

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