Period: New Kingdom
Dynasty: Dynasty 18, late
Date: ca. 1390–1295 B.C.
Geography: From Egypt
Dimensions: L. (diagonally) 82 cm (32 5/16 in); l. of sound box 36 cm (14 3/16 in)
Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1943
Accession Number: 43.2.1
Egyptian arched harps from Dynasty 4 onward coexisted with a great variety of harps in different shapes and sizes. Two harp types were most common—the arched harp with a curved neck, like this one, and the angled harp with a neck sharply perpendicular to the body. Unlike most European versions, ancient Egyptian harps have no forepillars to strengthen and support the neck. Older forms of arched harps had four or five strings, this harp has twelve strings. Skin once covered the open, slightly waisted sound box. Rope tuning rings under each string gave a buzzing sound to the soft-sounding tone produced. Topping the arched frame of the harp is a carved human head.
This type of portable, boat-shaped arched harp was a favorite during the New Kingdom and is shown in the hands of processional female musicians performing alone or in ensembles with singers, wind instruments, sistrums, and rattles. Prior to the Middle Kingdom, depictions of harpists feature men as the chief musicians. Harps and other instruments were used for praise singing and entertainment at ritual, court, and military events. Today, arched harps derived from these ancient Egyptian forms are still used in parts of Africa and Asia.