Wednesday 31 July 2013 by Dianne Rutherford. No comments
Collection, Military Heraldry and Technology, Antiquities, Souvenirs, First World War

RELAWM09776 Sphinx/Scarab from Egypt

A little while back I blogged about an ancient cuneiform tablet collected by a member of the AIF in Mesopotamia and whether it was genuine or not. Recently, while looking at souvenirs collected by soldiers training in Egypt I came across a wonderful Egyptian scarab. This scarab has the head of sphinx and heiroglyphs on its base. While it initially appeared to be stone from parts that had chipped away it turned out it is made from clay with a grey glaze, making it look like stone.

 This item was collected by Arthur Charles Gunter while training in Egypt in late 1914-early 1915.  When he acquired it, Gunter was told it had been dug up from near the pyramids, only several miles from the Australian training camp at Mena. He related this information to Memorial staff when he donated it a decade or two later. Gunter enlisted in the AIF in August 1914 when he was 44 years old. After training in Egypt he landed at Gallipoli in April 1915, where he served until October, when he was wounded in the spine. Gunter was sent to England for medical treatment and recovery.

Selling replicas as genuine antiquities has been a big business in Egypt for hundreds of years so when I first saw this my feeling was that, unless Gunter dug it up himself (which seemed unlikely based on what he told staff ), it was probably made just before or during the First World War, not thousands of years before. The number of soldiers travelling through or training in Egypt would have been an absolute boon for the souvenir sellers, including those selling 'genuine' antiquities. 

When I started researching it, I found a number of online references to these types of  'sphinx - scarabs' and there seemed to be some confusion about whether these are genuine antiquities or not.  I consulted an expert at the British Museum who confirmed that this item was not an antiquity but a more modern object inspired by ancient Egyptian items. The cartouche on its base is meant to represent Sety [Seti] I. However, the inscriptions above and below are garbled and have no meaning. Apparently the cartouche of Ramses II is another popular one for this type of item. Although it is not an antiquity it certainly is an antique as it is nearly 100 years old and a nice example of the types of souvenirs available to soldiers in Egypt.

Egyptian souvenir Sphinx scarab paperweight c 1915 Egyptian souvenir Sphinx scarab paperweight c 1915 REL/15229

About a month after establishing the sphinx - scarab was not ancient, I came across something described as a 'souvenir Sphinx paperweight' (REL/15229 above) in the collection which is very similar to the 'antiquity' I had been looking at. The style of it and the inscriptions on the base are a little different from the other one but it is also a sphinx-scarab. Interestingly, there does not seem to have been any confusion for the soldier who collected this item, 1285 Sergeant David Roberts, that this object was an antiquity. He seems to have known it was just an Egyptian souvenir.