Ostracon of Amun-Re as a ram

This is a pottery ostracon, measuring 14.4×10.3 cm with an ink sketch showing the prow of the sacred boat of the god Amun-Re. It is decorated with a ram’s head and a royal cobra (uraeus). The line of hieroglyphs over the head of the ram reads, “Amun-Re, the Light of Day.” And the column of hieroglyphs in front of the ram, reads, “Beloved of Amun-Re, Lord of the Sky, Great God.”

The ostracon dates to the Egyptian New Kingdom (ca. 1550-1070 BC). The ostracon donated to the Manchester Museum no. 9658 in 1938 by George Spiegelberg. It is hypothesized that this artifact is from village of Deir el-Medina in West Thebes, built to house the workers involved in the construction of tombs in and around the Valley of the Kings. Hundreds of similar sketches on ostraca have been discovered there.

Ostracon showing Amun-Re as a ram
Ostracon showing Amun-Re as a ram. Photo: Paul Cliff

Deir el-Medina was home to a variety of deities, local forms – differentiated by the addition of various epithets – of the gods worshiped in major state temples. Amun-Re was worshiped on the opposite side of the river to the village. At the great temple of Karnak, and is well attested in other contexts in the form of a ram.

In ancient Egypt the ram was revered for its procreative abilities and as a symbol of virility. Its cult has been attested since the beginning of Egyptian civilization. The ram was associated with different deities: Khnum in Elephantine, Amun in Thebes, Heryshaf in Herakleopolis and Banebdjedet in Mendes. Moreover, it was one of the four animal representations of the sun together with the hawk, the lion and the bull.

Limestone flakes or pottery shards, called ostraca, provided a cheap, smooth surface for writing. Many thousands of ostraca survive carrying written inscriptions and rough sketches.