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Snake Busters: Pilot Experiments in making and breaking ritual figurines / Kasia Szpakowska, Richard Johnston

Mummies, Magic and Medicine, Pages: 459 - 473

Swansea University Author: Richard Johnston

Abstract

Clay figurines of rearing cobras have been found in Late Bronze Age settlements in Ancient Egypt and the Levant. Their fabric, manufacture, style, breakage patterns, and context provide clues to their original use as votives, divine avatars, components of spells, or apotropaic devices to ward away d...

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Published in: Mummies, Magic and Medicine
ISBN: 978-1-7849-9243-9
Published: Manchester University Press 2016
URI: https://cronfa.swan.ac.uk/Record/cronfa21236
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Abstract: Clay figurines of rearing cobras have been found in Late Bronze Age settlements in Ancient Egypt and the Levant. Their fabric, manufacture, style, breakage patterns, and context provide clues to their original use as votives, divine avatars, components of spells, or apotropaic devices to ward away demons. A series of experiental and experimental events were held to explore if they could add value to our understanding of the figurines. This paper focuses on two of these: a workshop on making figurines and fracture experiments performed on replica figurines.Because most of the figurines have been found fragmented, it could be suggested that this was the result of ritual as opposed to accidental breakage. However, no experiments have ever been carried out on figurines such as these to establish whether the cause of the breakage can be ascertained with any degree of certainty. This project aimed to replicate different destruction methods to reveal any recognizable fracture patterns. A professional potter produced the replicas by hand while controlled tests were performed by engineers and machinery at the Materials Research Centre at Swansea University. Modern technology such as high speed cameras were used to record the process and laser scanners were employed to see if in the future, the tests could be reproduced without the need for physical breakage.
Item Description: 2017: This work applies materials science methodologies to modern experimental archaeology, investigating the fracture of ancient Egyptian figurines. This is significant because previous research on these ancient artifacts has relied on a supposition that straight fractures infer ritual or intentional breakage. This is the first study to apply the scientific method to this question, providing new insights into an important part of the self-identity and ethnicity of ancient Egyptians.
Keywords: Experimental archaeology, Figurines, Breakage patterns, Ritual Archaeology of religion, Snake, Ceramic technology,
College: College of Engineering
Start Page: 459
End Page: 473