Late-Period Egyptian Bronze Falcon
Horus, Egyptian god of the sun. A huge hieroglyph of the falcon god Horus outside the entrance to the Temple of Horus, Edfu, Egypt.
(Photo © iStock.com/markgoddard.)
An elaborately decorated coffin for an Egyptian mummy.
(Photo © iStock.com/Caveman_Lee.)
This bronze falcon was created during ancient Egypt's Late Period, which began in 664 B.C. and ended in 304 B.C. One of the most intriguing features of this statue is its center. It is hollow for a very special reason: it originally housed a falcon mummy — that is, a falcon whose body had been preserved through the process of embalming and wrapping.
As the appraiserAn expert who assesses the value, quality, and authenticity of works of art or other objects. points out in the Roadshow video, the falcon "is not just an image of a bird. It was sacred to the god Horus" (ancient Egyptian god of the sun, usually represented as a man with the head of a falcon). Egyptians viewed certain animals — including cats, cows, crocodiles, baboons, bulls, and falcons — as beings that were inhabited by the spirit of a god. When these animals died, the Egyptians often preserved their bodies by mummifying them. The Egyptians believed that mummification would protect the animals' souls in the afterlife.
The linkage of a god to a specific animal reflected traits that both shared. The god Horus, whose name means "He who is on high," represented heavenly power; the falcon, which flies above the earth, provided a parallel to Horus within the animal world.
As the appraiser notes, the sculpture is beautifully cast, with exquisite details in its feathers and eyes. He also draws viewers' attention to the hieroglyphic markings on the base of the sculpture. Despite the falcon's broken tail, its value is still quite high.
A Closer Look
- After watching the ROADSHOW video on the bronze falcon, what can you deduce about life in ancient Egypt? (Some conclusions might be that animals held a sacred place in Egyptian culture; Egyptians believed that after death there was renewal and eternal life; Egyptians had sophisticated tools and a writing system.) Then come up with three questions you would like to ask the sculptor who created the falcon. (Questions for the sculptor might include: Were you paid to make this? How long did it take? How was the mummy made? Where was the sculpture buried?)
- How old is the falcon? From what material was the statue constructed? How might the material from which it was made have contributed to its longevity?
- Why was the statue hollow? What was the purpose of the statue? For which Egyptian god was the statue created? What does this piece tell us about the role of animals within the belief system of ancient Egyptians?
- What are hieroglyphics? What did they indicate on the base of the statue?
- How did the owner acquire this piece? What is an inheritanceSomething received from a predecessor, such as a parent or grandparent, often through a will or other legal means.?
- How did the falcon break? Why does the break not affect the falcon's value? What kinds of damage do you think would decrease the value of an artifact?
Activities and Investigations
- Using resources on the Web or at your library, find out more about one of the following topics: funeral objects in ancient Egypt; the role of animals in ancient Egyptian religion and culture; the god Horus; the process of creating mummies. Share your findings with classmates.
- Choose a death artifact from another culture to investigate and report on to the class — for example, a Greek funeral urn or an African ancestor mask. What does the object you selected reveal about this culture's views on death?
- Write a one-page piece of fiction or nonfiction describing an item you have inherited, one you would like to inherit, or an item you would like to leave as a legacy to a friend or family member.
For Further Exploration
The Virtual Egyptian Museum
This online museum presents a collection of Egyptian antiquities.
Includes information on mummies from around the world, project ideas for students, and links to museums that feature mummies in their collections.
A project of The Cairo Museum to preserve and share information on its collection of animal mummies, with sections on pets, sacred animals, votive offerings, and more.
Ancient Egyptian Art
by Susie Hodge (Reed Educational and Professional Publishing, 1998)
Explores Egyptian art from painting and symbols to statues and buildings.
The Art of Ancient Egypt
by Gay Robins (Harvard University Press, 1997)
Discusses the significance of many pieces of ancient Egyptian art and considers how the pieces relate to Egyptian belief and life.
Searching for Ancient Egypt: Art, Architecture, and Artifacts
David P. Silverman, Editor (Cornell University Press, 1997)
Presents a vast collection of Egyptian art treasures.
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