When it comes to the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology’s collections, not all artifacts are created equal. Some call out to us intellectually, others emotionally.
BY TINA SMITH, Volunteer docent and member of Kelsey Board of Members. Smith is a long-time docent who has been active in nearly every activity at the museum. She holds three degrees: a BA in biology from Mount Holyoke College, an MS in biology from Brown University, and an MS in natural resources planning and conservation from the University of Michigan.
Favorite Artifact: False door panel of Qar, also known as Pepy-nefer. Limestone, paint. 6th Dynasty (2407–2260 BC). Egypt. KM 1981.4.1.
Why: “It’s great fun to work with when I give gallery tours. For example, I point out the man’s picture and use it to talk about ancient Egyptian art. I ask the children to pose like the “photo ID.” I have them try to look at me while at the same time keeping their heads in profile as in the ancient Egyptian way of drawing people. Much stretching, wiggling, and contortions ensue as the children attempt Egyptian poses. It’s an attention-getter, and I can then tell them about the ancient Egyptian rules of drawing the human body using a grid to divide the body into three portions, a system devised during the 5th Dynasty (about 2500 BC).
This leads me to explain who Osiris was and how he became god of the Underworld, the process of mummification, and how ancient Egyptians buried their dead in tomb shafts with false doors to trick tomb raiders. And how the sun had barely set on the funeral proceedings before they arrived to steal the grave goods, despite all the precautions taken to hide the burial chamber.
And then there are all those wonderful hieroglyphs that enable me to discuss writing, the significance of the Rosetta Stone, and the realization that ancient Egyptian was a syllabic language and that no one has ever heard it spoken.
One can use that false door panel to talk about so much!
About Artifact: The false door panel of Qar is from his tomb at Saqqara in northern Egypt, which was equipped with several false doors, each a focal point for offerings to his ka. This panel, which formed the left jamb of one of these doors, depicts Qar holding a staff and scepter of authority, markers of his governmental role as chief magistrate. Qar’s nickname — Pepy-Nefer — incorporates the name of the reigning king, Pepy I, and reinforces the notion of royal favor attached to the location of his tomb in the court cemetery of his time.
But it simultaneously communicates another message: such nicknames in the 6th Dynasty were part of a larger royal initiative to highlight the king’s positive qualities through the inscriptions of his officials: Pepy-Nefer means “King Pepy is good.”
Translation: Right vertical line: “The lector Priest who is in the heart of his lord, the true senior warden of Nekhen, the revered Qar.” Left vertical line: “For the House of the Eternity of the Revered Qar, whose nickname is Pepy-Nefer.”
Background: In addition to building elaborate tombs in prestigious cemeteries, elite officials of the Old Kingdom expressed status and identity in their tombs by emphasizing ties to the king and through the extensive use of hieroglyphic text in the decorative schemes of their chapels. Access to this sacred script was extremely limited at this time, and its use signaled both privilege and literacy, a highly regarded personal achievement.
Find It: On the first floor of the William E. Upjohn Exhibit Wing, find the Djehutymose coffin. On the left-hand side of the wall called “Place, Proximity, and Literacy in Old Kingdom” (directly across from the coffin) you’ll find the false door of Qar.
Learn More: Society and Death in Ancient Egypt: Landscapes of the Middle Kingdom, by Janet Richards, Kelsey Curator of Dynastic Egypt Collections. Published in 2005 by Cambridge University Press, the book is available in hardcover or paperback through Amazon.com.