Human Remains; Mummified Hand with Four Rings

M11438

On display

Mummified left hand of a young adult with four finger-rings of gold and lapis lazuli. The hand is wrapped in very fine linen, coated in resin with traces of gilding on the surface. On the first finger is a ring of gold wire with a bezel consisting of a lapis lazuli obelisk which is capped with gold and has a base of gold wire scroll and granulated gold work decoration. The obelisk is pierced through its shaft for carrying the wire ring. On the second finger is a ring with similar bezel. On the third finger is a gold wire ring with small lapis lazuli scarab of exquisite workmanship (naturalistic style). On the fourth finger is a thin gold ring with flattened lozenge-shaped bezel. All four rings are perfectly preserved. The obelisk-shaped rings are highly unusual with very few known parallels. X-rays taken in November 1966 by PHK Gray indicate the hand was severed at the wrist just above the carpal bones and was described as “almost certainly female”. The hand was discovered in Thebes and collected by the Reverend Henry Stobart on his tour of Egypt during the winter of 1854-55. In 1857 Stobart offered his collection to the British Museum but, becoming impatient at the Trustees' delay in deciding, he sold it to Mr Joseph Mayer of Liverpool. After entering Mayer’s ‘Egyptian Museum’ at 7 Colquitt Street his curator Mr Clarke wrote an exhibition label that read: “The hand of a Royal Priestess of Temple at On. Found at Thebes”. However, some years later the hand was thought to be from Memphis. On the 4 February 1858, the hand and the ‘Ramesses Girdle’ (M11156) were exhibited to members of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire’s ‘Archaeological Section’, chaired by Peter R. M’Quie. They were published in ‘Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire’ volume 10 (1857 – 1857) pp. 343-4, with both being described as “found at Memphis”, an error unfortunately repeated for over a century. Charles Gatty (the curator of the Mayer Collection at the Liverpool Free Public Museum) started cataloguing the collection in 1874. At the end of his record card he writes: “The hand is labelled, 'The hand of a Royal Priestess of Temple at On. Found at Thebes'. This label must be incorrect for the hand was found at Memphis". Eric Peet’s 1933 article in ‘The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology’ about the provenance of the hand and the Ramesses Girdle should have put an end to the confusion but regrettably the hand has been published by successive curators as being from Saqqara. Former Keeper of the Department of Egyptian Antiquities at the British Museum, Harry James, commented on photographs of the rings on 28 February 1967 in a letter addressed to Dorothy Slow, who was then Keeper of Archaeology at Liverpool Museum: "The obelisk rings are very unusual and I must admit that I can remember seeing nothing quite of this kind. A search in the collection revealed that we have several small obelisks, all of which are pierced in the way in which yours are. Two are quite small and are made of lapis-lazuli; they lack any gold embellishments but are certainly similar to yours in other respects. …Mrs Wilkinson, our jewellery expert, has examined your photographs and is sure that the decoration on the gold bases cannot be earlier than the Roman Period. Such a date would certainly be consonant with that of the other two rings”.