First, an apology is due. Not for the nerves frayed by suspense from waiting for yesterday’s mystery to be resolved, but rather, if in yesterday’s blog I gave the impression that interpreting an inscription is a straightforward, linear process, I misled you. .
Diana’s field photo again, to remind you . . .
. . .and Diana’s field drawing
Instead, every step brings new questions and possibilities that requires one to revisit previous assumptions and interpretations. As I mentioned yesterday, at first glance, the first sign seemed to be a quite convincing writing of the sound “a” and the second that of an “r.” When I consulted ancient Egyptian dictionaries, however, they offered very few words starting with this combination that would fit this context. A text on shrewmice (arar) would have been greatly appreciated, but seemed unlikely here. This failed attempt at finding a suitable meaning sent me back to the fragment and to a reinterpretation of the first sign as an “s,” as discussed in Part I. Together, the two signs begin a word quite commonly found in Malqata: srmt, “ale;” one of the most common offerings sent to the celebration of Amenhotep III’s Sed-festival.
A similar assumption relates to the relationships between the signs. Seeing the three signs together on one piece of pottery, it is hard not to assume they belong together. Stranded on this small and broken sherd, they almost beg to be read together, either following each other from top to bottom or perhaps even forming one word. Hieratic, however, is mostly written in this period—with the exception of religious texts and a few other genres—in rows and not in columns. The gap dividing the first two signs from the third suggests that the first two are to be read together, while the third is part of its own word. This would mean that more than just one space separates the two signs from the third. A whole line of text ran to the left of the two signs, all of which is now lost, like the rest of the second line of text which followed the third sign.
The third sign itself appears to be partially broken. Its general shape calls to mind a number of signs. Many of these hieratic signs relate to bird hieroglyphs and elaborate on a basic shape.
Bird signs from Möller’s Hieratische Paläographie (volume II)
Unlike the slight curve at the bottom of many of these signs, our third sign ends with a straight descending line, which continues until the break. Most writers pull their reed-pen at the end of signs, creating these small curves, but the writer of this ostracon seems to have done something quite different here. He was probably writing two signs together without raising his pen — like the ligatures, that is two joined letters — found in Möller’s book:
Ligatures from Möller’s Hieratische Paläographie (volume II)
Unfortunately, none of these offers a happy match. The first, the third, and the fourth ligatures don’t have the upper curve, and the second has almost too many curves. In some examples, its upper part even forms the shape of half a circle. With the lower part of our sign broken, we are left in a difficult position.
The answer comes again from The Met’s jar labels. Looking for possible comparisons to our ligatured sign, I came across a sign in the following jar label:
Jar label from Malqata (Rogers Fund 1917, 17.10.1516)
Detail from MMA 17.10.1516
With its upper curve and its descending line, this sign resembles our ligature. The sign is in fact a combination of two signs “m” and “r” (, and ) that write the ancient Egyptian title jm.j-r’ “Overseer,” and the ligature in our pottery fragmentary seems to indicate a similar combination of sounds.
A closer look at our pottery fragment and this jar label (17.10.1516) reveals more than one point of resemblance. Both open with the signs “s” and “r,” writing the word for ale, and both begin their second line with the ligatured signs of “m” and “r.” A second and even a third example from the corpus of jar labels at The Met seem to show a similar inscription:
Jar label from Malqata (Rogers Fund 1917, 17.10.418)
With these similarities in mind, it is possible to suggest that our pottery fragment once bore a similar inscription, which would have read:
“Ale [(for) offerings] …(by) the Overseer…”
Now, Overseer is hardly a rare title in ancient Egypt and even in Malqata it is well attested in conjunction with various names. Only one Overseer that we know of, however, sent ale to the royal celebrations: an Overseer of a Garrison by the name of Ineni, to whom the abovementioned jar labels belong. Our pottery fragment might very well be a piece of a fourth contribution by Ineni of ale to his king’s festival. This is a particularly exciting identification.
Our inscription would then read:
sr[m.t dbH.w]…jm.j-r’-[jwaa jnnj].
“Ale [(for) offerings] …the Overseer [of the Garrison, Ineni]”
Not much is known about Ineni, except for his evident appreciation of ale. The inscription might suggest, however, one final scrap of information: a date. As William C. Hayes notes in his article dedicated to the jar labels of Malqata, (see Journal of Near Eastern Studies 10, no. 2, 1951, pp. 82-112) more than eighty percent of the jars of ale are associated with Amenhotep III’s first Sed-festival, which he celebrated in the thirtieth year of his reign. None of the jars containing this beverage is associated with the second or third time he celebrated this ritual. If indeed this fragmentary ostracon is to be read as suggested above, then the ostracon recovered two days ago from ancient fill in the Industrial Site, is, in fact not an ostracon but a jar label! Written on the vessel’s exterior, this fragment of inscription indicates it once contained ale, sent by the Overseer of the Garrison, Ineni, in regnal year 30 to his king, Amenhotep III, for the celebration of his first Sed-festival at Malqata.