Focus on the Object
This clay hippo dates to the Naqada IIb time period (about 3500BC) and
was found in a grave at Hu (Upper Egypt).
in Ancient Egypt
Hippopotami were found all over Egypt in Predynastic times and
were extensively hunted with harpoons for their meat and ivory
tusks. Female hippos accompanying their calves could
react instantly to any threat - even crocodiles, which they could
bite in half! An angry hippo must have been a formidable sight!
Although they were respected in the Predynastic Period, we do
not know if hippos had any divine associations at that time. Only
later do we meet Taweret (The Great One)
and other local hippo-goddesses, who were believed to have powers
associated with fertility and childbirth. Male hippos, by contrast,
were associated with the god Seth and his destructive and negative
This hippo was hand-modelled in clay (probably basic Nile silt)
with chaff added to temper the clay and to make it more workable.
The hippo would have been placed over an open fire and the chaff
would have been burned out - hence the cavities you can see on the
surface of the hippo.
This hippo was placed at the west end of a grave at Hu. We are not
certain of the significance of this, but the practice does tally with
a later belief that the dead person would join the sun in its daily
journey - finding new life in the daily rising to the east, and sinking
in the west to travel through the Underworld at night. The care taken
to provide the dead with goods suggests that there was already concern
in this early period to provide them with sustenance and clothing
in the next life. This hippo pot could have been beneficial in several
ways - as a very prestigious item of pottery, as a model of a source
of food, or perhaps as an animal already attributed with the powers
to help procreation and the safe bearing of children.