This Predynastic Period ceramic bowl (22cm indiameter) is frequently illustrated in postcards andpublications and is held in special affection by Manchester Museum staff and visitors. However, the charming appearance of the bowl and the seemingly benign character of the four hippopotami decorating its rim belie the fact that it represents a powerful magical object.
The bowl was unearthed as part of the Egypt Exploration Fund’s (EEF) 1909 excavation of the cemetery at el-Mahasna, some eight miles north of Abydos, conducted by Edward Ayrton and W. L. S. Loat. It was found broken into several different pieces in a grave (number H29), although it was later restored by conservators at Manchester Museum. Alongside the bowl were discovered a range of beads and other jewellery, as well as a number of hippo ivory tusks, one of which was shaped like a male figure. These tusks have been variously described as magic wands, pendants or penis sheaths. Perhaps this group of objects represents an unusually keen attempt to protect the deceased by means of magic.
The distinctive white cross-hatching decoration was termed ‘C-ware’ by archaeol