Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Hippopotamus amulet

Predynastic, Naqada I–early Naqada II
ca. 3700–3450 B.C.
From Egypt
Limestone (pink)
L: 7.4 x H: 4.4 x W: 2.2 cm (2 15/16 x 1 3/4 x 7/8 in.)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1923
Accession Number:
Not on view
Egyptologists understand this figurine to be an amulet, which was designed to be suspended by a cord passing through the holes above its back. This type of hippo figurine is distinctive for three reasons: they were made from pink limestone, created in pairs, and depicted as pregnant females. This last observation is evident by from the swollen belly that nearly touches the ground; most hippo statuettes do not display this feature.

The precise meaning of these amulets is unclear, but two possibilities come to mind. One straightforward interpretation is that these amulets functioned as fertility symbols either for the deceased’s rebirth in the next life or the continued existence of the world. Alternatively, we may be seeing an early version of a hippo goddess, a deity that protects pregnant women, especially during childbirth. Ipy, Reret, and Taweret are later versions of such deities in which the iconography of a hippo played an important role.

Diana Craig Patch 11/17
Formerly collection of the Rev. Randolph Humphrey Berens (d. 1922). Berens Collection sold at Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, London [June-July 1923]; purchased at this sale by Howard Carter and sold to the Museum, 1923.

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. 20.

Patch, Diana Craig 2011. "From Land to Landscape." In Dawn of Egyptian Art, edited by Diana Craig Patch. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 39, no. 27.

Allen, Susan J. 2011. "Works in the Exhibition." In Dawn of Egyptian Art, edited by Diana Craig Patch. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 246, no. 27.

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