Statuette of a Hippo
This faience hippo statuette was found in Dra’ Abu el-Naga’ in western Thebes. The glossy blue glaze is the color of the Nile, where the animal lived, and the decoration shows various representations of fauna and flora that grew by the river.
The flowers, papyrus plants, and perching birds are depicted in black, linear forms. Such animal figurines were popular in tombs of the Middle Kingdom and the Second Intermediate Period. The hippopotamus was associated with the fertility of the Nile mud or silt.
The hippopotamus goddess Taweret was, moreover, a protector goddess of women and newly born children. Figurines of her were used as amulets to drive away danger.
An emblem of goddess, the hippopotamus conversely significant evil at other times. The animal appears in Nile hunting scenes on mastaba tomb walls of the Old Kingdom period as hunting was a pursuit of noble people. At the same time, the scene symbolized the victory of right and order over chaos and disorder.
The ancient Egyptians believed that the hippopotamus also had negative traits and could evoke chaotic forces because of the danger they pose to humans in the wild. So their legs were snapped off the statuettes before placing them in tombs, ensuring that the hippopotamus would not chase and eat the soul of the deceased.
Middle Kingdom, 11th Dynasty, ca. 2134-1991 BC. Made of Egyptian faience. Height 11.5 cm, length 21.5 cm. Excavation by Auguste Mariette (1860). Now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 21365