By Jennifer Munro

Thursday 20th July – Faience bead found at Tel Akko

The find of the day today was a tiny Faience bead.

Faience is a glassy substance often manufactured expertly by the ancient Egyptians. The process was first developed in Mesopotamia, first at Ur and later at Babylon, but faience production reached its height of quality and quantity in Egypt.

Some of the greatest faience-makers of antiquity were the Phoenicians of cities such as Tyre and Sidon who were so expert in making glass that it is thought they invented the process. The Egyptians created works of art which still intrigue and fascinate people in the present day.

We will consult with the experts to discover who this bead was made by.

Among the most famous of faience statuary is the blue hippopotamus popularly known as “William”, currently on exhibit and treated as a mascot at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan, NY, USA. William was one of a pair found in the shaft of the tomb of the steward Senbi II who served under either Senusret I (c. 1971-1926 BCE) or Senusret II (c. 1897-1878 BCE), both of the 12th Dynasty of the Middle Kingdom.

Poor people in Egypt, could seldom afford faience, while wealthier people often owned Shabti dolls made of the expensive substance.  The colors of the faience were thought to have special symbolism. Blue represented fertility, life, the Nile river on earth and in the after-life, green symbolized goodness and re-birth in the Field of Reeds, red was used for vitality and energy and also as protection from evil, black represented death and decay but also life and regeneration, and white symbolized purity. The colors one sees on the Shabti dolls, and in other faience, all have very specific meaning and combine to provide a protective energy for the object’s owner.

Our little bead is worn, and so it’s hard to tell what colour it might have been, but we do know that it must have been owned by someone of wealth and possibly power.