The Collapse of Faience Figurine Production at the End of the Middle Kingdom: Reading the History of an Epoch between Postmodernism and Grand Narrative

in Journal of Egyptian History
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The aim of the article is to trace the history of faience figurines in late Middle Kingdom Egypt, following a metanarrative level of synthesis. Moving from one of the most visible changes in the course of history, the turn from Modernism to Postmodernism, the article defines a key to read the path of faience figurine production from their appearance in the late Middle Kingdom to their disuse at the end of the Second Intermediate Period: changes in the pattern of society correspond to the production of a different material culture and to the abandonment of previous perceptions. Faience figurines represent a diagnostic category of objects defining a specific epoch. Their value as historical signatures is here used to supply a different interpretation for the history of the Second Intermediate Period Egypt, integrating microhistories with bigger pictures, as a combination of Postmodernism and Grand Narratives approaches.



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Smith, Wretched Kush, 30–55.


Berman, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, 131–71; Best, Kellner, The Postmodern Turn, 17–88, 126–27.


Sedgwick, Nietzsche’s Economy, 27–66.


Klein, Yves Klein. Corps, Couleur, Immatériel, 202–07.


Bauman, Postmodernity and its Discontents, 99–100.


Davis, After Poststructuralism, 56.


Best and Kellner, The Postmodern Turn, 130–38.


Jameson, Postmodernism or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, xii.


Grajetzki, Burial Customs, 54–55.


Grajetzki, “Box Coffins,” 42.


Grajetzki, The Middle Kingdom of Ancient Egypt, 51–61; Willems, “The First Intermediate Period and the Middle Kingdom,” 95–99.


Richards, Society and death, 6–7.


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Mariette, Les papyrus Egyptien, 6–7; Berlev, “Замечания к папирусу Булак 18.”


See Ryholt, The Political Situation, 265–81; Polz, Der Beginn des Neuen Reiches, 5–114. New recent bibliography in Miniaci, “Through change and tradition.”


Quirke, “The Residence in Relations”; Bourriau, “Change of Body Position,” 11–20; Miniaci, “Rishi coffins and the bright destiny.”


Pinch, Votive Offering, 198–234.


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Mariette, Les papyrus égyptiens, 6–7.


Pinch, “Redefining Funerary Objects,” 445. Dunand, Fouilles de Byblos, 1933–1938, pls. 94–108.


Arnold, “Settlement Remains at Lisht-North,” 13, 19.


Arnold, “Settlement Remains at Lisht-North,” 17.


Mace, “The Egyptian Expedition 1920–1921,” 17.


Quirke, “Figures of clay: toys or ritual objects,” 141.


Wegner, “A decorated Birth-Brick,” 471–75.


Bourriau, “Patterns of change,” 14; Miniaci and Quirke, “Reconceiving the tomb in the late Middle Kingdom,” 358–359.


Pinch, “Redefining Funerary Objects,” 445.


See Miniaci, “The necropolis of Dra Abu el-Naga,” 19; Miniaci, “The archaeological exploration of Dra Abu el-Naga,” 50–51.


Carnarvon, Carter, Five Years’ Explorations at Thebes, 54.


Kemp and Merrillees, Minoan Pottery, 109.


Kemp and Merrillees, Minoan Pottery, 112.


Kemp and Merrillees, Minoan Pottery, 162–63.


Kemp and Merrillees, Minoan Pottery, 112, 118–19.


See Willems, “The Embalmer Embalmed,” 365–67.


Grajetzki, The coffin of Zemathor, 92–94.


De Morgan, Fouilles à Dahchour, 111–15.


See discussion in Grajetzki, The coffin of Zemathor, 26, 33–37.


Vassalli, I monumenti istorici egizi, 131. The reference is to the tomb of Hornakht in whose coffin the throw-stick of prince Tuau (read Tjuiu) was found. Miniaci, Rishi coffins, 58 and Cat. rT01VA.


Tiradritti, “Luigi Vassalli,” 343–54.


Grajetzki, Burial customs, 63.


Miniaci, Rishi Coffins, 84–102.


Carnarvon and Carter, Five Years’ Explorations at Thebes, 51–2. See Miniaci, RishiCoffins, 90.


Bertens, The Idea of the Postmodern, 246.


Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition, 27–37.


Bertens, The Idea of the Postmodern, 245.


Bauman, Intimations of Postmodernity, 188. Issues of gender, race, ethnicity, class, which in the previous time played a small role, gradually found a place in the debate on post-modernism and eventually came to constitute one of its major themes, Bertens, The Idea of the Postmodern, 74.


Sherratt, “Reviving the grand narrative,” 10–11.


Priestland, “Eric Hobsbawn was right,” 24.


Sherratt, “Reviving the grand narrative,” 2.


Shennan, Genes, Memes and Human History, 35–65.


See for instance Miniaci, Rishi Coffins, 102.


  • Different centres of power in the late Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period arranged in a spatial/chronological layout, showing their political and cultural extent.
    View in gallery
  • Faience figurine representing a hippopotamus, UC45074—Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology.

    photo © gianluca miniaci
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  • Faience figurine representing a dwarf, UC18745 from tomb 55 of Harageh—Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology.

    photo © gianluca miniaci
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  • Selection of faience figurines from the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology.

    photo © gianluca miniaci
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  • Faience figurine representing a pigeon, UC27975—Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology.

    photo © gianluca miniaci
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  • Map of Egypt showing the key cemetery sites of the late Middle Kingdom preserving faience figurines marked with “x”. Edited by the author.
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  • Plan of the tomb complex no. 758 at Lisht belonging to the vizier Senusret. From Arnold, Middle Kingdom Tomb Architecture, pl. 149.
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  • Hypothetical reconstruction of faience figurine production during the late Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period, combined with the historical table presented in Fig. 1.
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