Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Curious Case of the Cthulhu Stele

Charles was kind enough to drop me a note about this interesting Egyptian artifact currently up for auction online.  There's nothing all that unusual about the description:

Egyptian, New Kingdom to Late Dynastic, Dynasties 20 to 26, ca. 6th century BCE to 332 BCE. A rare stone stele fragment, the composition organized into registers as was customary, containing figural bas relief carvings as well as some heiroglyphic inscription. There is also a glyphic rendering on the right cross section of the piece. Steles were generally erected for funerary or commemorative purposes or to define borders and land boundaries.

Offering a bit of context for this example, the text over the figure on the lower left with a raised hand translates, "The lector priest Ipiherheb." The text over the offering table reads, "A boon which the King grants, (consisting of) a thousand loaves of bread, a thousand jugs of beer, a thousand cuts of oxen, a thousand cuts of fowl, a thousand …" The next word can be either "alabaster" or "clothing", depending on what came next, but that part is missing.

A magnificent and rare example! Custom, museum-quality stand. Size: for the piece itself, 10-1/2" (26.7 cm) x 8-1/2" (21.6 cm); on stand 9-3/4" (24.8 cm) H.

Provenance: Ex-private east coast collection, ex-private Professor Earl Ertman collection, OH, acquired 1970's. Earl L. Ertman retired in 1998 with over 30 years of full-time and several additional years of part-time teaching at the University of Akron. Besides teaching and excavating, he served as the Director of the School of Art for over 10 years. He has authored over 50 articles on Egyptian and ancient art.
But take a look at the curious figure in the lower middle of the fragment...

Are...are those multiple eyes?  And a head filled with waving tentacles?

Sweet fancy Moses, yes it is.  How could no one have noticed this?  An Egyptian priest making an offering to the Great Old One himself?  So much for Nephren-Ka being fictional.

I'm sure there's a perfectly logical explanation for the Cthulhu-like figure, but I love when actual artifacts can be tied into the Mythos.


CoastConFan said...

It is a lot of fun, isn’t it. Actually I think that is the back of the stele, the main stars are on the front, although broken off. I had to look a bit to identify some of the objects on the offering table. Since this is a very late, the execution is rather poor and the style is also sloppy. But I do see some of the objects: most of it appears to be the meat offering with a whole fish, what appears to be sheets of dried fish and a leg and portion of an ox, the stack lying on its side at the bottom might be more cuts of meat stacked up. Given how quickly meat would spoil in the hot Egyptian environment, it might be dried.

Then again it’s just an abstract cartoon image of the offering, typical in formal religious iconography of Egypt. Actually if it were an offering to a Mythos power and the deity in question was pictured, it would be shown as a figure larger than any other in the image, but we have to use what is found, I suppose. Still this makes a great prop device for a game. Cudos to the person who found this gem.

The football shaped object is interesting though as it doesn’t appear to be a standard container of beer or wine. Nor do I know that the tied bundle below the ”football” might be representing. But yes, for a CoC scenario it would make a nice bit of prop fun. You might employ Photoshop and flip the photos to black and white, play with the contrast a bit and it would look like a century old photo from a book or newspaper. If you then posterize it in Photoshop, it would look like a line drawing, which could be manipulated to connect the dots. There are endless possibilities to make this a CoC prop.

The $3k is a pretty good price, but given the present political environment with Egyptian artifacts and the possibility of having it forcibly repatriated, I don’t think it will make much over the opening bid. Then again I could be wrong and somebody could go berserk and break the bank.

In the mood of this stele you might look up the Dendra Light

affliction said...

I can't wait to hear from CoastConFan about this artifact and context. He always provides great references and insight on place, culture and working raw materials.

Raven said...

@ Props : Actually, I'm amazed you didn't try to wave it all away as pareidolia....

Propnomicon said...

@ CoastConFan

Wonderful insights, as always.

@ Raven

Never let reason and logic get in the way of a good story. Heh.

Anonymous said...

The "tentacles" are bundles of onions, possibly with some flattened fowl below (ducks or geese), but it is so poorly carved that it is hard to say. Under that is a haunch of beef, typically cut off the animal while live as the meat continued to twitch for awhile, indicating "life" and thus resurrection; there are depictions of calves bleeding out while their mothers moo in an agitated manner. The meat was often then mummified itself and placed in the tomb. The pointy, knife-like things at the bottom are loaves of bread. The three items above the man's hand are likely veggies and fruit, though the one with the "head" might be a duck. Normally there would be wings, so I would tend to argue it is a mellon (also often vaguely depicted with this shape), but I cannot be sure.

While this is described as a stela,and has the sort of iconography found on funerary stelae, it has clearly been sawn off something. It could be that the "collector" of this (and I don't mean Ertman, the former owner) might have sawn it in half to have "two" stelae to sell, but I wonder if in fact it is not from a tomb wall, at a door jamb (hence the text on the side, which is a bit unusual for a stela).

Anonymous said...

exactly one year ago I found the auction of the stele, and now I found another interesting one:

It's described as a "Buddha's hand", but how many fingers has an hand? and how a finger can flex like that?

It remembers me something with many tentacles and many eyes...