Experts said they have been able to shed new light on the origins of a perfume box believed to be around 3,400 years old thanks to the recovery of two lost pieces.
Intricate decoration on one of the fragments has confirmed the suspected royal associations of the box after more than a century of conjecture about its provenance.
It is thought to have been made for the grand-daughter of Pharaoh Amenhotep II, who ruled from about 1427-1401 BC, during Egypt’s 18th dynasty.
An art dealer acting for a private collector approached the National Museum of Scotland over a potential purchase of the fragments after the museum published a blog post about the box.
Bearing the image of Bes, a creature believed to be both a symbol of good luck and help ward off evil spirits, the box is also said to bear a remarkable resemblance to those found in Tutankhamun’s tomb.
The museum’s ancient Egypt expert, Dr Margaret Maitland, described the fearsome figure on the box – a dwarf with lion-like features – as a protective god and household guardian.
Hailed by Dr Maitland as “one of the finest examples of decorative woodwork to survive from ancient Egypt”, the cedar, ebony, ivory and gold box is thought to have been buried with a group of ten princesses.
Around 600 items were donated to the then National Museum of Antiquities by Alexander Henry Rhind, who became renowned as a “young hero” of Victorian archaeology. But the box was only discovered by the curator of the museum, Joseph Anderson long after the Wick-born Egyptologist’s death, at the age of just 29 – it was broken in several pieces and lying in a box of other materials.
Later curators believe that the box was excavated from a tomb where Rhind in 1857 discovered the mummies of Amenhotep II’s grand-daughters, in modern Luxor.
The surviving pieces of the box were reconstructed in 1895 and some of its decoration was restored in the 1950s – although the pattern on the newly-discovered fragments has revealed errors were made.
The National Museum of Scotland recently acquired the pieces for £20,000 after an approach from a London art dealer acting on behalf of a private collector. It will go on public display in March as part of an ancient Egypt exhibition.
Dr Maitland said: “Palace objects from ancient Egypt are extremely rare, so it’s very exciting to be able to confirm this one’s royal connections. The type of object and the decoration on it means it must have been used by someone who lived in the palace and would have been able to see the king on a daily basis.
“Egyptian art is always imbued with so much meaning and symbolism. To have the whole foundation of the box be based on the design of the royal palace for an object that would probably have been used there by a princess makes so much sense and brings so much additional meaning to a box that is already quite extraordinary.
“It is amazing to be able to reunite these fragments with an absolute masterpiece of Egyptian craftsmanship.”