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TWO UNUSUAL STONE VESSELS IN CAIRO MUSEUM

The Cairo Museum is a treasure house containing many unusual artifacts. Very often, many of these objects are ignored as visitors flock to see, quite understandably and rightly, the more exotic of the displays, particularly those belonging to Tutankhamen - the enigmatic and young Eighteenth Dynasty pharaoh. But if you have a little extra time for viewing in the Museum, there are two very unusual stone vessels to attract your attention. The first one is in cabinet 13, on the right-hand side of the entrance foyer. This stone has a dark yellowish hue and is banded with different shades of white and yellow. Calcite is a translucent stone. If an electric light, or a candle, is placed inside a calcite vessel in a darkened room, you will be rewarded by the stone's exterior glowing with an exquisite luminosity.

Serrated saws perform poorly on calcite. Ancient hieroglyphs and reliefs were cut with flint or chert chisels and punches; an examination of the marks made with test flint tools on calcite samples show similarities with hieroglyphs incised into ancient objects. Test cutting with copper and bronze chisels showed an unacceptable loss of metal from their edges. The cabinet information gives Saqqara as the vessel's provenance and dates it to the First or Second Dynasty. The vessel is circular, about 30cm in diameter, comprising of three, separated circular compartments.

Their purpose is unknown, but they could have been intended for containing different liquids or fragmented materials. Two concentric circular ridges, about 2mm wide at the top, 5mm at the bottom, divide the compartments, the outer compartment being about 3.5cm wide, the inner two being about 2.5cm wide. On their inner sides, the ridges curve downward and inward to the compartments' flat bottoms; the outer sides of the ridges are vertical. Near to bottom of the inner ridge, on its curved inside wall, are four concentric grooves, or striations, about 0.25mm wide and deep. The two slightly deeper bottom grooves travel completely around the vessel’s circumference, the upper two part-way around the circumference. It is likely that many concentric striations existed after the initial hollowing procedures, most of them being completely smoothed away. There is a lip around the vessel’s outer circumference, measuring about 4mm in width. The inner, circular dished section, about 10cm in diameter, has a circular hole about 2.5cm in diameter, its depth about 4mm, in the centre. A circular groove, about 2mm in width and 6cm in diameter, surrounds this hole, but is eccentric to it. The inner dished section is undercut. Discussion of the techniques for making the vessel...

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