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Objects from the Kharga Oasis

August 14, 2012–August 4, 2013

Ceramics from the Kharga Oasis

During the late Roman and early Byzantine periods (late 3rd–early 5th century), potters of Egypt's Great Oasis were prolific, producing tableware, vessels, figurines, and lamps. Ceramics excavated by the Metropolitan Museum are representative of pottery found at sites across the Kharga and Dakhla oases. The delicate bowl with floral motifs is an example of Kharga Red Slip Ware, which first appeared in the late third century. Kharga Red Slip Ware combines the forms and techniques of African Red Slip Ware (a type of widely exported fine tableware manufactured in Roman North Africa from the first to the seventh century) with painted and, less frequently, incised decoration. The jug with cruces gammatae and with grapevines are typical of a local ceramic tradition that goes back to the Old Kingdom (ca. 2649–2150 B.C.). Bottles and jugs with yellow slip (a liquid suspension of clay and water), such as the jug with grapevines, are thought to have been produced in northern Kharga and were probably used to transport and store wine. Like the Metropolitan's example, many of the vessels have a thick, blackish residue on the interior, analysis of which has identified Pinacea (pine family) resin, a substance used to seal porous clay jars for the long-term storage of wine. The presence of resin and the decorative motif of grapevines suggest that the Metropolitan's jug served the same function.

The figurines and lamp on view are characteristic of those produced in the Great Oasis. Particularly interesting are the two fragments of female figurines, which are similar to examples found in burials throughout Kharga and Dakhla. Though clearly in the tradition of the female figurines produced across the Greco-Roman world, the character of the figurines (pierced and slashed decoration, pronounced facial features, and distinctive headdresses) suggests that they may have been associated with a local cult.

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