Shrine

Nubian
Meroitic Period
100–200


Object Place: Sudan, Gebel Barkal, Temple B 500

Dimensions

Height x diameter: 62.5 x 59.2 cm (24 5/8 x 23 5/16 in.)

Accession Number

21.3234

Medium or Technique

Stuccoed and painted sandstone

Not On View

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Architectural elements

Once thought to be a shrine imitating the form of a traditional African shelter, this hollow dome-like object of sandstone can now be identified as a model of Gebel Barkal, the “Pure Mountain” of Napata, which was the chief sanctuary and coronation center of Kush and the site of the oracle of Amun, said to select each new king following the death of his predecessor. The form of the object imitates the unique Napatan hieroglyphic symbol for Gebel Barkal, which appears several times in the stele of Nastasen (cat. 265). As a hieroglyph, the mountain is shown as a dome with a uraeus or cobra diadem rising from one side.
From the Egyptian New Kingdom onwards, Gebel Barkal was believed to be the residence of the southern (and primeval) form of the Theban god Amun, who was known as “Amun of Napata, dweller in the Pure Mountain.” Because of the 75-meter high pinnacle on the southern corner of Gebel Barkal, which in silhouette looks like a rearing uraeus, the mountain was not only identified as the dwelling place of Amun, but was also identified by the Kushites as the true source of kingship in the Nile Valley, from which derived the legitimacy of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty and their successors in the Sudan. In several ancient reliefs, the mountain is shown in cutaway section, with the god Amun enthroned within it, and with a giant uraeus rearing up before him from the mountain’s cliff. One can only speculate that the lost doorway of the model, probably of cast bronze, once had such a uraeus attached to its front.
The object is hollowed out on the inside, with a rectangular socket cut in the floor for the placement of a small seated statuette, now lost. Originally this statuette was hidden behind a door, made of a separate panel, which was sealed shut. Chips around the doorway reveal that this panel had been anciently pried open, probably by those who took the statue. The exterior surface is carved with three registers of relief. The lowest represents a stylized papyrus swamp, rendered as a series of parallel stems capped by alternating blossoms and buds. The upper border of this register forms the baseline for the doorway. On each side of the doorway are symmetrically carved rows of four figures facing it. Each row is led by a king in a short kilt, with arms upraised in adoration, followed by a winged goddess, followed in turn by a similar pair, except that the goddesses have alternating human and leonine heads. This register terminates at the rear with a double cartouche naming the royal donor, a Meroitic king with the Egyptian throne name Neb-maat-Re. The upper register forms a necklace-like ornament of six bands of beads, the lower being a series of drop-shaped pendants. A finial, now broken, once projected from the summit, perhaps in the forms of a ram’s head. The surface was originally gessoed and still bears traces of red ochre pigment.
T.K. (Sudan catalogue)

Sandstone Omphalos. Dome-shaped with rectangular opening to hollow interior. Above; zone of lozenges and drops: center; band of gods and kings: Below; zone of lotus flowers and buds. (of AMANKHANEWEL?, buried in Beg.N.XVIII). (Card)

Provenance

From Nubia (Sudan) Gebel Barkal, Great Temple of Amen, Hall (B 503). April, 1916: excavated by the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; 1921: assigned to the MFA by the government of the Sudan.

Credit Line

Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition