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Ritual Knife

Egyptian, Classical, Ancient Near Eastern Art

On View: Pre-Dynastic, Egyptian Galleries, 3rd Floor
The ivory handle of this superbly crafted knife includes a thumb rest for a right-handed user. Carved rows of minuscule animals—including elephants, lions, a giraffe, and sheep—cover both surfaces of the handle. An artisan polished the flint blade on one side and delicately flaked the other to make a cutting edge.
MEDIUM Flint, elephant ivory
  • Place Excavated: Abu Zaidan, Egypt
  • DATES ca. 3300–3100 B.C.E.
    PERIOD Predynastic Period, Naqada III Period
    DIMENSIONS 2 1/16 x 9 3/16 in. (5.3 x 23.4 cm)  (show scale)
    ACCESSION NUMBER 09.889.118
    CREDIT LINE Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund
    PROVENANCE Abu Zeidan, Egypt, Tomb No. 32; December 1907-January 1908, excavated by Henri de Morgan of Francescas, France and New York, NY; 1909, purchased from Henri de Morgan by the Brooklyn Museum.
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    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Fine large knife of light pinkish grey-brown chert. One face polished, the other flaked all over, with parallel transversal ridges radiating from curving median zig-zag ridge, all very low. Butt trimmed for hafting by lateral cutting and by flaking on polished face. Very fine bifacial retouch on back edge, very fine unifacial retouch and biting serration on cutting edge. The back edge is straight, very slightly recurving to tip, the cutting edge very slightly curving finally curving in a hemicycle to back edge. Butt bluntly pointed. The butt is hidden in a handle of carved ivory. On one face, near inner end, there is an oblong knob, perforated longitudinally with a string-hole. Both faces are covered with relief of animals arranged in rows without groundlines. One of the most important documents of prehistoric art. Condition: The blade has a chip in the cutting edge for ritual destruction, and is broken in two at the point (now mended). The handle has been restored from numerous fragments and fixed in place. It is in fragile condition and parts of the relief are missing.
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is on view in Pre-Dynastic, Egyptian Galleries, 3rd Floor
    CAPTION Ritual Knife, ca. 3300–3100 B.C.E. Flint, elephant ivory, 2 1/16 x 9 3/16 in. (5.3 x 23.4 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 09.889.118. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 09.889.118_view4_SL1.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, 09.889.118_view4_SL1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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