Amarna Snake Head

Sorting through some old photographs yesterday, I came upon this one.  I took this in 2007 during the second year of my degree.  It was the first object which I ever researched and was the catalyst to my profound love of investigating the "life-cycle" of Egyptian antiquities!

The object above is a red stone (likely sandstone) snake head from Amarna (Egypt Centre, Swansea accession number W1159), with traces of original Amarna blue paint still visible on the head, neck and in the eye sockets.  It most likely was part of a frieze which would have adorned a building (Aldred 1973, 155; Freed, Markowitz & D'Auria 1999, 226) and could have formed part of an uraeus in which the stylised form of a rearing cobra was a symbol of kingship, deity or divine authority as seen in the Wilbour Plaque below.  There are also examples of other stone objects found during excavation at Amarna which appear to be associated with uraeus architectural decoration giving further credence to this stone head as having been part of a frieze.
Uraei atop a building in Saqqara which illustrate similarities with how the Amarna frieze may have looked
Image via National Geographic

Frieze of uraei adorning a building at Saqqara
Image via Saqqara, Egypt

The Wilbour Plaque in the Brooklyn Museum - On the left is the head of a king, most likely a
 representation of Akhenaten, who wears a khat headdress with a royal uraeus. Opposite him is the head of a queen wearing the ovoid cap crown often worn by Nefertiti, also with a uraeus.   

A slip from the object's previous location - the Wellcome Institute - notes: EES 1931-32.  John Devitt Stringfellow Pendlebury was the Director of the excavation for that season and his results were published in 1951.

Written on the base of the object  is "TA. 31.32. Temple Pylon 1 North 452."  Pendlebury (1951, 98) lists an uraeus which was found from the Pylon 1 of the North Gate of the Small Aten Temple, close to the King's House and the Royal Palace.  In August 1932, 34 items were given to the Wellcome Institute from this specific excavation.  The list includes a 'sandstone uraeus head' with the serial number '452'.   Despite Pendlebury numbering the snake head as 453 in his publication, both snake heads are of the same size - 7.2 cm high and 7.5 cm in length - and both came into the Wellcome Collection making it very likely that the snake heads are one and the same.

Image via Amarna Project

The snake head was donated to the Egypt Centre in 1978 from the British Museum and it is currently displayed in the Egypt Centre's House of Life.


Amarna Project via

Egypt Centre Modes Catalogue

Pendlebury, J.D.S. (1951).  The City of Akhenaten 111: The Central City and the Official Quarters Vols 1 & 2.  London: Egypt Exploration Society.

Thank you to Wendy Goodridge and Dr Carolyn Graves-Brown, both of the Egypt Centre, for their help towards the writing of this post.


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