Flint in a stylised form of a crocodile, Ancient Egypt, Naqada II or Dynasty I, 3300 - 2900 BC. Flint. Length 7.5 cm. Bagot Arqueología - Ancient Art at Brafa Art Fair, Brussels, 21-29 january 2017.
An ochre-coloured flint in the form of a slightly stylised crocodile. The front surface has been sculpted by the method of flaking, while the reverse has been left smooth.
The crocodile was one of the animals most feared by the Egyptians, as it was one of the dangers of the Nile River. Despite his natural character as an aggressor, the inhabitants came to deify him, depicting him as benevolent. He was considered as the creator of the Nile, as its waters were formed out of the sweat of the creature. He was also worshipped as a god of fertility, vegetation and life. He was called Sobek and received the title of “Lord of the Waters”.
This animal has frequently been found represented in Ancient Egypt since its first appearances early on in the first dynasties. The main place of worship was at Shedet (Crocodilopolis, El-Faiyum) on Lake Moeris, and later at Thebes and Nubt (Ombos). Here can be found the famous Temple of Kom Ombo, whose construction started during the Ptolemaic VI Period.
As a curiosity, and in relation to this figurative flint, Crocodilopolis was the Greek name of the capital of the 21st nome, or administrative division, of Upper Egypt. It was a city near Lake Moeris in the present-day region of Al-Fayoum to the north of Hawara. It was the ancient city of Pre-Sobek, “House of Sobek”. Nearby can be found a building complex described by Herodotus called “the Laberinyth” near Hawara. Here in this region sacred crocodiles called Petsuchos were venerated and buried. These animals were particularly worshipped in the city as supposed living incarnations of the god Sobek. It is, then, plausible that this flint, along with others, came from this zone, where there existed a crocodile cult practically from Pre-Dynastic times.
This small sculpture – it would be an error to call it an object – can clearly be differentiated from flint items used exclusively to cut, scrape or perforate. Its existence encompasses elements of a wide cultural and religious background which transform the piece into a talisman. Some of the best examples of pieces like this one have been found in Hierakonpolis. These, however, have come from places of worship, settlements or cemeteries, but not directly from tombs. The Hierakonpolis ibex is a very famous piece fashioned so that the animal is in profile with great antlers and very long legs.
Almost all the cultural material existing in these formative periods has been found in burial sites. These all have great similarities as they consist of a hole in the ground where the deceased is placed in a foetal position and where the dryness of the desert mummifies the corpse and preserves it for eternity. Grave goods were placed around the body. These principally consisted of: jewellery; vases both in stone of many different types and terracotta, in which notable pieces have been found in animal forms; cosmetic palettes in animal and geometric forms and lastly, knives and other flint instruments.
Flint is an impure and compact variety of quartz-chalcedony. It is found in abundance in both Egypt and Sudan in the form of pebbles along the length of the Nile Valley, and as nodules or masses of smaller or greater size in sedimentary rock such as limestone which has been mined at least since the Neolithic period.
The colour of flint varies from dark grey, to light ochre or blonde. It was used in Egypt from the Palaeolithic to the Middle Kingdom. Its use competed with copper in weaponry. Flint was mostly used for arms and utensils such as arrow points, darts, lances, knives, chisels, burins, scrapers and sickle blades, although it was also used to make bracelets and vessels. Due to its magic properties texts mention its use in the making of certain amulets.
It is not necessary to point out the importance of this material in its pre-historic use. However the role it played in the mentality of the Ancient Egyptians as “the stone of preference of the Gods in their struggle against the demons of the Other World” is practically unknown. This ritual role of flint appears in two forms, one material and the other linguistic.
The care taken in the fashioning of flint objects suffered a sort of falling-off: while its use still continued until the Ptolemaic Period, its working became cruder, by simple percussion flaking which was quicker and easier. However, the religious connection continued, as proof of this we have the existence of the word used for flint in the Egyptian language which also means “knife”, and was used by the King of the Gods to defeat demons. It is a “stone used to beat and annihilate the enemies in the underworld”. This association can be found up until the Roman era in ritual texts. So that for more than two millennia, the King or the Gods annihilated the enemy with a “flint” thus adding the stone’s magic character to its efficacy as a cutting object.
Provenance: From the private collection of 1,200 pieces of an Egyptologist in Scandinavia, acquired over the past 40 years. Specifically, it was acquired at EEF Sales, previously the Astarte Gallery, London, in 1992.
Literature: - EATON-KRAUSS, M. et. al. Dawn of Egyptian Art. Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York. 2011.
- PETRIE, W. F. Tools and Weapons. British School of Archaeology in Egypt and Egyptian Research Account 30. London. 1917.
- PETRIE, W. F. Prehistoric Egypt Illustrated by over 1,000 Objects in University College, London. British School of Archaeology in Egypt and Egyptian Research Account 31. London. 1910.
- TEETER, E. Before the Pyramids. The Origins of Egyptian Civilization. Oriental Institute Museum Pub 33. The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago 2011.
Bagot Arqueología - Ancient Art - Classical and Egyptian Antiquities. Consell de Cent 278, 08007 Barcelona, Spain