One, Many or Any? An investigation of bovid figurines and associated practice in early Egyptian settlements and cemeteries
The enigmatic figurines of prehistoric cultures around the world have fascinated and perplexed scholars since they were first discovered. However, the interpretation of these objects, the significance of their subject matter and their function continue to be debated. While the subject matter of figurines can include humans, animals, food stuffs and geometric pieces, the scholarship has predominantly focussed on collating and discussing the corpus of anthropomorphic figurines. Unfortunately, this long-standing fascination has isolated the other categories of figurines from a substantial combined or stand-alone analysis.
This project is primarily concerned with the interpretation of a group of prehistoric Egyptian zoomorphic figurines which are collectively called ‘bovid figurines’. They have been excavated from a small number of Upper and Lower Egyptian cemeteries and settlements that date between the Fayum and Nile Delta Neolithic period to Naqada IID of the Predynastic period (c. 5,500–3,325 BCE). Currently, their function and significance of bovid figurines have been shrouded in ideas of ritual; however, this interpretation does not adequately account for the disparate archaeological contexts or markers within the figurines themselves. Therefore, this project has examined the corpus of bovid figurines according to their archaeological context, subject matter and form to consider the social context of the evidence. Through this multi-faceted approach, the evidence has been recontextualised into its cultural-historical context so as to posit the function and significance of the bovid figurines in prehistoric Egypt.