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New on the Timeline: What Silver Meant in Ancient Egypt

Pac Pobric
October 19, 2018

Bowl with flutes from shoulder to rosette at base

Bowl with flutes from shoulder to rosette at base and with inscribed weight. Late Period–Ptolemaic Period (4th century B.C.). From Egypt, Lower Egypt. Silver, H. 4 1/8 x Diam. 4 3/4 in. at mouth, 5 1/8 in. at body (10.5 x 12 and 13 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, 1918 (18.2.14)

In ancient Egypt, silver was used for myriad purposes. It could be transformed into mirrors, necklaces, amulets, or vessels, or even into standing figures or amulets—like the one of Nefertum, a mythological figure associated with the lotus flower, that is part of The Met collection.

In the Tomb of Wah, an ancient site in Egypt uncovered by Museum scholars in 1920, a large cache of silver objects were found, including a necklace and scarabs that helped identify the owner of this tomb as a civil servant or bureaucrat with great connections. As Deborah Schorsch, a conservator in the Department of Objects Conservation writes in a new Timeline of Art History essay on silver in ancient Egypt: "How a private individual at this time, even one as well connected as Wah, had access to so much of this rare metal remains a puzzle."

Remarkably, Wah's silver did not degrade, nor did the linen cords along which his necklaces were hung. But often, as Schorsch notes, silver is susceptible to corrosion, and "it generally appears less frequently in the Egyptian archaeological record than gold or cupreous metals."

The entirety of Schorsch's essay, along with more than one thousand others spanning the full range of the Museum's collection, is available on our Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.

Pac Pobric

Pac Pobric is an editor in the Digital Department.