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Metropolitan Museum Acquires Important Group of Egyptian Vessels and Ornaments Excavated in 1913-14 at Haraga

(October 8, 2014)—Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, announced today that the Museum has acquired an important group of vessels and jewelry ornaments excavated in Egypt in 1913-14 at the site of Haraga, near the entrance to the Fayum region. 

The objects include four alabaster vessels; a small stone cosmetic spoon with its handle in the shape of an ankh, the hieroglyph meaning life; seven cowrie-shell beads and 14 shell pendants in silver, inlaid with patterned shell imported from the Red Sea; and 11 silver elements inlaid with semi-precious stones, including depictions of hieroglyphs, plants, and animals, that constituted parts of several pieces of elite jewelry. Some of the elements once belonged to a pectoral, which is a large and symbolically laden pendant. As this pectoral was for private use, it is one of only three of these known anywhere that dates to the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2051-1650 B.C.), and the only one in silver, which was a precious metal in ancient Egypt.

Mr. Campbell said: “We are delighted to have acquired such a significant group of objects of outstanding quality to enhance further the Met’s rich holdings of Middle Kingdom art, the finest outside Egypt. This acquisition allows works from a single tomb with known archaeological history to remain together in a public institution, where they can be readily accessible to scholars and the public.”
“The objects are not only lovely, but they are quite important to the study of ancient Egyptian culture,” added Diana Craig Patch, the Museum’s Lila Acheson Wallace Curator in Charge of the Department of Egyptian Art. “They come from a peak period in ancient Egyptian personal arts, and are a rare reflection on the type of interaction taking place between the king and the high-status inhabitants of a town outside the capital. Many of these objects are quite rare or unique, and we are looking forward to studying them before putting them on view in the context of the Met’s extensive galleries for Egyptian art.”

The Haraga Tomb Group

In 1913-14, the British School of Archaeology in Egypt (BSAE) sponsored an excavation at the site of Haraga directed by Egyptologist Reginald Engelbach. The ancient remains at Haraga comprised several cemeteries with important burials of people from different social levels living between 1850 and 1750 B.C. during the Middle Kingdom. The people using these cemeteries most likely resided in a nearby town close to the entrance of the Fayum, a region about 60 miles south of Cairo.

Tomb 124, which had been looted in antiquity, was discovered during the excavations. The surviving grave goods included the objects in the Metropolitan Museum’s current acquisition.

At season’s end, following the system of partage or division practiced at the time, the Egyptian Antiquities Service gave Engelbach half of the finds, which the BSAE dispersed to the various institutions that had funded the excavation. The spirit of this agreement was to share the archaeological finds with the institutions that had sponsored the fieldwork so people outside Egypt would have the opportunity to see ancient Egyptian objects in their own countries. The jewelry and stone vessels from Tomb 124 were given to the St. Louis Society, a chapter of the Archaeological Institute of America. The pieces were on display for many years at the St. Louis Art Museum and then stored. For financial reasons, the St. Louis Society chose to sell these objects at auction, which most likely would have resulted in their dispersal. The Metropolitan Museum’s offer to purchase the objects as a group before the October 2 auction at Bonhams in London was accepted, and the objects were withdrawn from the auction. 

The Met’s Egyptian Collection

The Department of Egyptian Art at the Metropolitan Museum was established in 1906. At that time, an intensive program of excavations in Egypt also began, bringing—under the then-practiced, generous system of partitioning finds granted by the Egyptian Antiquities Service—many pieces of great artistic, historical, and cultural importance into the collection. Because of its work in Egypt, the Museum is especially rich in objects with archaeological context, especially from the Middle Kingdom, the early New Kingdom, and the early first millennium. Over time, some major private collections were added by purchase and as gifts, with the result that the Metropolitan Museum owns today one of the most important collections of Egyptian art in the world. Most of its approximately 30,000 objects are displayed chronologically in 31 main and seven study galleries, covering the time range from before 4000 B.C. to A.D. 400.

Included in the Met’s Egyptian holdings is one of the finest collections of Middle Kingdom art outside Egypt. At its foundation is the context brought to some sixty percent of the collection through the Egyptian Expedition that began in 1907 at Lisht and continues today at Dahshur and Thebes; partage from Egypt Exploration Society excavations at Thebes and Abydos; and the purchase of the renowned Sithathoryunet material from Lahun. The Museum’s collection includes important jewelry from Lahun, Lisht, and Abydos, and the newly acquired group of jewelry elements will enhance this material both visually and intellectually.

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October 8, 2014

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