Hieroglyphic fragment from the 1st Dynasty. From the Iziko Social History Egyptian collection.


Alabaster kohl jars & stick from the 1st Dynasty. From the Iziko Social History Egyptian collection.


Linen fragment from the 1st Dynasty. From the Iziko Social History Egyptian collection.


Alabaster jar from the 1st Dynasty. From the Iziko Social History Egyptian collection.


Ba Bird. From the Iziko Social History Egyptian collection.


Tauert figure from the Iziko Social History Egyptian collection.


Faience figure Ushabti. From the Iziko Social History Egyptian collection.

Ancient and Classical Cultures

The Ancient and Classical Cultures are well represented by artefacts from Egypt dating from the Predynastic to Graeco-Roman Periods. The Predynastic and Early Dynastic artefacts, mainly pottery, were excavated by Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1853–1942). Petrie was an English Egyptologist and a pioneer of systematic methodology in archaeology. He was also known as the Father of Egyptology.

Iziko possesses an Egyptian collection of approximately 500 objects which arrived in South Africa in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The collection mainly consists of pottery, but linen, cosmetic palettes, beads, alabaster vases, basketry, sections of a wooden bed, a reed coffin, a bone spoon, pebbles, iron ore, seashells, and bone bangles are also included.

The Egyptian collection also holds a small number of mummified animals. One of the mummified birds, which is on display in the Egyptian exhibition room at the Slave Lodge, recently made news. This ancient Egyptian raptor mummy has yielded a world first when researchers recently discovered the remains of at least two house mice and a small sparrow in its stomach. The discovery was made possible through digital 3D X-ray imaging done with a computed tomography scanner at the Stellenbosch University.

The results of the study, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, are also the first evidence to point to mass breeding of raptors as offerings to deities in ancient Egypt. Animal mummies were common in ancient Egypt and used in religious ceremonies, often as offerings. Millions of mummified animals have been found, most dating from around 600 BCE to 250 CE. Raptors were connected to the sun god Ra. This raptor mummy has now been positively identified as a European kestrel (Falco tinnunculus). It entered the museum’s collection in 1911 as a donation from S. Kavanagh.

The academic team who researched the raptor mummy comprised Dr. Salima Ikram of the American University in Cairo, Prof. Sakkie Cornelius of the Department of Ancient Studies at Stellenbosch University, Dr. Ruhan Slabbert, research associate at the Department of Ancient Studies, Stellenbosch University, and Dr Anton du Plessis of the CT scanner facility, Stellenbosch University.

More can be read about the discovery on International Business Times and Science Direct.

Forming part of the Ancient Near Eastern collection are cuneiform tablets that are mostly of Neo-Babylonian origin, with one being Sumerian. These are mainly from the Offord collection and have been translated by Peter Hulin. Babylonian and Akkadian cylinder seals from the De Pass collection are also represented.

From Greece is the valuable De Pass collection of Attic Red-figure vases and Attic Black-figure vases. Some of them are listed in Sir John Beazley’s books. John Boardman and Maurice Pope undertook published research on the vases (Greek Vases in Cape Town, South African Museum Guide no. 6, 1961).  

Rome is also well presented by various pieces obtained by donation or purchase. The collection includes glass, ceramic lamps, medical instruments and other pieces of ceramics.

The collection of Ancient and Classical Cultures remain very popular and regularly forms the subject of interest of local and international researchers. 


Esther Esmyol
Email: eesmyol@iziko.org.za
Telephone: +27 (0) 21 467 7205