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Museum piece #7 – N390

N390 Late Period limestone sculpture of the Apis bull (Photograph: property of the author).

Object N390 in the Louvre Museum, Paris, is a Late Period limestone sculpture of the sacred Apis bull, that was discovered at the Serapeum in Saqqara. The Apis bull was believed to be a manifestation of the god, Ptah (below), whose cult centre was at Memphis.

The ancient Egyptian god, Ptah (WIkimedia Commons: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ptah_standing.svg).

There was only one sacred Apis bull at any one time, and upon its death, the search began for the next. A bull was selected if it possessed very specific markings: a triangular mark on its forehead, a mark in the shape of a bird of prey in flight on its shoulders, and a crescent moon on its flank. The bull also had to have split hairs in its tail, a black and white coat, and a scarab shape under its tongue.

The Apis bull was kept in a sacred sanctuary, along with its mother, and was ‘pampered’. Upon its death, it was mummified, and enjoyed all of the human burial rites, including canopic jars for its mummified organs, a stone sarcophagus, and even votive stelae. The sarcophagus was then placed within the subterranean necropolis of the Apis bulls, the Serapeum. Over sixty tombs of animals were discovered at the Serapeum.

The Serapeum, and the limestone sculpture, was discovered in the 1850s by the famous French Egyptologist, Auguste Mariette. The sculpture was completely painted when it was discovered, but now only a few areas of black paint remain on the legs. The sculpture was located in a chapel that lead to the processional way of the Serapeum.

The sun disk between the bull’s horns reflects the solar aspect of the Ptah. The Apis bull was also closely associated with the pharaoh, symbolising the king’s strength, courage, and virility.

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