Stumbling Upon Mentuhotep, Overseer of the Granaries

“Huh. That looks familiar”

A offering by the king of a thousand in bread, beer, cattle, and fowl for the ka of the Overseer of the Granary of the God’s Offerings(?) Mentuhotep.

I often think this about seeing artifacts in older publications–like I might have seen them before in a small museum, unlabeled, or labeled “unprovenanced.”  For example, I was pretty convinced that one of the coffins in Eva Liptay’s book on Third Intermediate Period Coffins in Prague was almost identical to the Stanford one. I was thinking that maybe they were part of a set.  On looking carefully, I noticed that they were really different….so when I get that deja-vu feeling, I usually dismiss it as my mind playing tricks on me.

Not today! I’ve got this one nailed!

I was surfing JSTOR for 21st Dynasty female titles and ranks as part of the project that has been sucking down all my free cycles lately (and why I haven’t updated this blog since October), and I came accross an article entitled “The Cemeteries of Abydos: Work of the Season 1925-26” by H. Frankfort. I downloaded the PDF and was flipping through it to the Third Intermediate Period artifacts, when in the Middle Kingdom….wait…back up. I’ve seen that statue before. Page 239. Plate XXII, No 3.

I think I saw it in the San Diego Museum of Man, and I look through the corresponding folder on my computer and bring up the following picture next to Plate XXII. It’s the same artifact down to the diagonal break in the shins! So, how did this statue of Mentuhotep end up in San Diego, and what was the context of its discovery?

Frankfort says that all of the stela in the article were found just loose in the sand or even reused as paving stones in other tombs. Our statue was found together with a stela, belonging to the same man: Overseer of the Granaries, Mentuhotep, who was born of a woman named Wia. Both the stela and the statue are now in San Diego, and they have been since their excavation in 1925.

An offering given by the king of one thousand in bread, beer, cattle and fowl for the Ka of the Overseer of the Granary, Mentuhotep, born of Wia(?)

Artistically, Frankfort notes tat the statue is remeniscent of the early “sah” type shabtis which show the deceased wrapped in a shroud. He notes that it’s hard to date the statue with any specificity, but he compares the height of the releif of the stela to one J 20014 in Cairo, which can be dated to the end of the Old Kingdom. He thinks the dating is important because this could be used in an analysis of the development of shabti figures, this being one of the earlier examples of a statue in the form of a standing person in a shroud with their feet bound. (Frankfort, p240) I am vaguely aware, however that a lot of trees have been killed in arguments over how to stylistically date things to the 1st Intermediate Period and Middle Kingdom, so it’s very possible that this date is easier to pinpoint now based on the style of the statue and stela. Re-dating these artifacts is a study I hope someone takes on in the future.

How did these objects end up in San Diego? After all, Frankfort lists the other objects as going to Manchester and London.  The excavations at Abydos between 1925 and 1928 were sponsored by the EES, who publish the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology in which the report was run. It turns out, one of the greatest American contributors to the EES in the first thirty years of the 20th century was Ellen Scripps. Scripps was a self-made woman who, along with her brothers founded and ran the Scripps newspaper company. Ellen became very wealthy off of her share in the company and built herself a mansion in La Jolla, CA.   She had been interested in Egypt since her youth, and eventually traveled there in 1881. She was appalled by the rampant looting she saw. She was forward thinking enough to see the need for controlled scientific excavations and so when she was approached by the US branch of the EES, she bought a subscription. The EES would grant subscription holders a share in the finds of their excavation after the finest objects were taken by Cairo, and Miss Scripps chose to have her share go to what was then the San Diego Museum and is now the San Diego Museum of Man.

This is not only how the museum came into the possession of the Mentuhotep artifacts from Abydos, but also how they obtained a large number of blocks and statues from Amarna.   Miss Scripps, an ailing 92-year old continued to send desperately needed money to the EES as the world economy collapsed.  She died in 1932 at 95 years old. Through her donations, the Museum of Man accumulated one of the greatest collections of artifacts from Amarna–and certainly the largest in the Western US.

It is a rare, fun occasion when I find a piece from a museum in the West that is published and documented. It provides a great opportunity to explore local history and Egyptology, and perhaps to ensure that these connections are more widely known.

For reference, the ascension numbers of the Stela and the Statue respectively are # 14931 and #14932.


Frankfort, H. The  Cemeteries of Abydos: Work of the Season 1925-26 in The Journal of -Egyptian Archaeology, Vol  14  No 3/4 (Oct 1928). Egypt Exploration Society. Online, available as of 19/01/2013.

Kammerling, Bruce. How Ellen Scripps Brought Ancient Egypt to San Diego Ed. Richard W. Crawford. The Journal of San Diego History. San Diego Historical Society Quarterly. Spring 1992, Vol 38, No 2. Online. Available as of  19/01/2013.





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