Our Top 5 Nubian Objects in the Royal Ontario Museum

The history of the Royal Ontario Museum’s Ancient Nubia collection goes back to the early days of the museum, when ROM co-founder Charles T. Currelly purchased a collection of ceramic vessels in the early 20th century, that included some C-Group and Meroitic pottery. In 1992, the museum was the first in North America to open a Nubian gallery, which it remodelled extensively in 2011 to emphasise the strengths of the museum’s work at Meroë in modern Sudan led by ROM curator Krzysztof Grzymski. This week, the Nile Scribes picked our top 5 objects on display in the ROM’s Nubian Gallery to share with our readers.

(1) Shawabti of Senkamanisken

Object No. 926.15.1 – from Nuri (Pyramid 3)

This lovely figurine of King Senkamanisken comes to us from his tomb (Pyramid 3) at Nuri in modern day Sudan. On his headdress, he wears two uraei (cobras), which was the quintessential characteristic of Kushite royal in art and iconography – in Egyptian examples, the king wears only one such uraeus on his forehead. Shawabti figurines like this one were intended to perform work on behalf of the deceased owner in the afterlife, should the need arise. The figurine was excavated in 1917 and came to the ROM as a gift from the Sudanese Government in 1926.

(2) Neck and Rim of a Calciform Beaker

Object No. 995.181.163 – from near Dongola (site ROM 34B)

This fragmented beaker was found during ROM surveys carried out between the third and fourth cataracts near Dongola. While the area saw most activity during later periods (especially the Christian period), the survey revealed some prehistoric objects. Among them are these fragments, which have been restored as the neck and rim of a beaker with several incised patterns and date to around 3,200 BC. Calciform beakers had wide mouths, narrow necks, and elongated, teardrop-shaped bases and are sometimes associated with the Tasa culture.

(3) Faience Cylinder

Object No. 921.4.1 – from Meroë (building M 200-221)

Three large hollow cylinders were discovered at the city of Meroë in modern-day Sudan by archaeologist John Garstang in the early twentieth century. The ROM’s faience cylinder has four ‘panels’ of animals: three rams, who likely represented the Nubian forms of Amun, and a lion, who may represent the Nubian god Apedemak. The cylinders’ function is still debated, but it has been suggested that they served as bases for columns or poles, or were else associated with sacred wells. The cylinder was given to the ROM by the University of Liverpool.

(4) Front Panel of Decorated Box

Object No. 973.24.1054.2 – from Gebel Adda

This wooden box with inlaid ivory panels comes from the site of Gebel Adda, near the Sudanese-Egyptian border. The object was donated to the museum as a gift of the National Geographic Society, which sponsored the site’s excavation. Scenes on the panels depict several mythological figures. While it is dated to ca. AD 300-400, several ancient Egyptian elements are present: the papyriform columns at the bottom as well as two human-headed sphinxes adorned with the Red Crown. A similar wooden box is located in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

(5) Meroitic Stela 

Object No. 973.24.888 – from Gebel Adda

This sandstone stela also comes from ROM excavations at Gebel Adda and dates to ca. AD 200-300. Its inscription is written in Meroitic, an African script that emerged in Nubia during the second century BC, although the spoken form may extend as far back as the beginning of the first millennium BC. While scholars are able to ‘read’ the phonetic values of the script and its twenty-three signs, Meroitic remains one of the undeciphered languages of the ancient world. Over a thousand Meroitic inscriptions are known, but of them, only a limited number of words are understood.

Have you visited the Royal Ontario Museum? What are your favourite objects in the collection?

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