Why we love researchers! New exciting information on an Egyptian stela fragment

A fragment of Egyptian carved stela in the Leeds Museums and Galleries archaeology collection (LEEDM.D.1960.81) has been on display in Leeds City Museum since it opened in 2008.  It is a wonderful object depicting kilted figures and hieroglyphs, but up until last week I could say very little about its origins or what the original inscribed stone was for.
But all that changed last week with one email.
The stela fragment in question, on display in Leeds City Museum
(c) Leeds Museums and Galleries
A researcher called Alexander Ilin-Tomich contacted me from the Institute of Oriental Studies in Moscow to ask if I could send him a picture of ‘an Egyptian Middle Kingdom stela’ in our collection, which has only been mentioned once in academic literature: in Malek Jaromir’s 2007 volume ‘Topographical bibliography of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic texts, reliefs, and paintings VIII: objects of provenance not known’.  I narrowed the options down and estimated that it must be this object LEEDM.D.1960.81.  Alexander confirmed it from the photograph,  and was then was able to tell me lots of information about this one fragment from his own research on Egyptian private memorial monuments.  We now know that: 
  • It is the lower left part of a memorial stela, so a stone for the deceased.  It was probably produced in Thebes, or perhaps Abydos, during late Dynasty 13 to Dynasty 16 (18th – 17th centuries BC).
  • The upper row of the fragment would have probably represented the owner of the stela. The chair leg that is still visible would have seated his wife.
  • The figures depicted at the bottom, making up the most of the surviving fragment, would be the owner’s dependents, colleagues or friends.  The two men on the right are military officials; the hieroglyphs beside them read “[commander] of the ruler’s crew Sebekhotep” and “commander of the ruler’s crew Antef”.
Alexander also sent me images of complete memorial stelae , which give an idea of the possible original layout of this object before it was broken.  This is all fantastic information which we would never have found out otherwise.
Image of an almost complete memorial stela in Moscow, provided by Alexander Ilin-Tomich
(c) The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts
This is why working with researchers is so vital to us in museums.  We provide the links between researchers and collections, and they share with us their knowledge and research results, which we then use to engage our audiences.  Now I can change the label in Leeds City Museum and interpret this object more fully, and update all of our records.  What was once an unidentified Egyptian stone fragment will now be brought to life.
Katherine Baxter
Curator of Archaeology
Leeds Museums and Galleries

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