Apotropaic Wand Fragment
“One side of this ivory fragment wand carving depicts a figure of a crocodile with its tail curved below the head and body. The mouth, eyes, leg scales, and body ridges are carved in minute detail. With its eye open and jaws closed in alert pose it faces right toward the accompanying figures (now lost). On the other side, whose figures again face away from the end, traces at the break are all that remain from a torch hieroglyph that evokes rites of protection in darkness. Perhaps during the night hours; other examples have hieroglyphic inscriptions for “protection of day, protection of night.”
At the center of the fragment is a jackal’s head on a vertical columnar form, wearing a triple band and sacklike lappet at the neck. The lower end is not preserved; based on parallel examples, it could have been either a plain staff or a feline leg. On the curved end of this face is the image of a toad on basket.
Again, the carver rendered in exquisite detail the checkerboard weave of the basketry and the knobby dry skin of the animal. The circle behind and below the eye may depict the parotid gland, the source of the animal’s poison.
Apotropaic wands were Middle Kingdom objects decorated with figures that protected mother and child as well as the deceased. The animals on these wands represented both the hazardous and benevolent aspects of their nature, which Egyptian magic attempted to harness for the benefit of humans.
When he bought this fragment from a farmer in el-Qurna, on the West Bank of the Nile at modern Luxor, in the mid-1880s, the Berlin Egyptologist Adolf Erman declared it “the finest ivory working I have ever seen.” A judgment that may still hold today. Its rounded end and selection of motifs identify. It as one of the hippopotamus tusks worked with a series of figures for protection of child and mother. This one of the few carved in raised relief, with the background meticulously smoothed. To ensure that each figure stands out in purest isolation, as the series required; it is edged with raised border.”
Ancient Egypt Transformed: The Middle Kingdom, MetPublications
Middle Kingdom, 12th Dynasty, reign of Senusret II, ca. 1897-1878 BC. Hippopotamus ivory, from El-Assasif, West Thebes. Now in the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung. ÄM 9611