Thursday, February 26, 2015
Our Treasures Abroad: Ancient Egyptian seal believed to show Ramesses the Great is discovered in a charity shop costing £12
You get excited over the discovery of a vintage coat or pretty vase in a charity shop. But one treasure hunter has come across an ancient Egyptian seal that could be more than 3,000 years old, among people’s discarded junk.
Archaeologist James Balme, who paid just £12 ($19) for the seal on a charity website, believes it bears the cartouche of Ramesses the Great, who ruled Egypt between 1,279 and 1,213BC. In Egyptian hieroglyphs, a cartouche is an oval with a horizontal line at one end, indicating that the text enclosed is a royal name. He came across the ancient artefact while trawling the website of a charity shop in Hertfordshire.
The carved stone has hieroglyphs carved into one side that can be used as a seal, and a scene on its reverse, showing a man sitting down with an eagle over his head and a scarab beetle at his feet.
Mr Balme, who also works as a television presenter, believes that it is the scene that makes the object so unusual – and he has sought the opinion of experts to work out just how rare his £12 ($19) find is.
The seal still has traces of red ochre as well as grains of sand embedded deep inside the carved lines of the object. The hieroglyphics on the flat face of the stone should be able to be translated in the coming weeks telling us more about the history of the stone,’ he told MailOnline.
‘As [it seems that] the cartouche is the royal seal of Ramesses II then it is plausible that the figure seated could be that of Ramesses himself. 'This is a real mystery at the moment but an exciting one nonetheless.’ Sometimes amulets were given in the form of a cartouche displaying the name of a king and placed in tombs, as a symbol of good luck.
Such items are often important to archaeologists for dating the tomb and its contents. They were also regularly worn by pharaohs and the oval surrounding their name was meant to protect them from evil spirits in life and in death. Egyptians believed that individuals who had their name recorded, would not disappear after death.
Mr Balme said: ‘The stone is in the form of an Egyptian funerary stele - a kind of tombstone. ‘The front of the stone depicts a pharaoh seated below the wings of Horus [whose] wings [are] offering protection as the pharaoh passes into the afterlife.
‘Alongside him is carved a cartouche of a scarab beetle and the transformation into the sun - a symbol of rebirth in the afterlife. ‘Could the seated pharaoh be that of Ramesses II?’ he asked. Based on the condition of the stone, Mr Balme thinks it shows signs of being buried in sand.
He has also found traces of red ochre, which was used by the ancient Egyptians as a form of paint. ‘The seal also has some slight traces of wax in the carved faces indicating that it may have been used to add a seal to documents,’ he said, adding that more analysis of the object is needed.
Mr Balme spotted the seal on a charity website, noting that it had not had much interest from other prospective buyers. Before purchasing it, he looked into its age and importance.
‘I researched the hieroglyphics as a starting point and found that they are the royal cartouche of King Ramesses II,' he said. While the seal was on display in the shop, it came to his attention on the charity's website, which sells ‘almost anything from clothes to jewellery’.