ARCE Lecture: Middle Kingdom Clappers, Dancers, Birth Magic, and the Reinvention of Ritual

Ellen F. Morris

Barnard College

This talk focuses upon a particularly enigmatic artifact category. Hand-shaped clappers fashioned out of hippo tusk are occasionally found in tombs of Middle Kingdom date. While later equivalents are often decorated with the head of the goddess Hathor on their sleeve or with an inscription naming their owner, Middle Kingdom clappers are unadorned. This talk argues that the archaeological and iconological contexts of these artifacts reveal a great deal. On the basis of studies of archival material from Asasif and Lisht at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and on excavation records from other other sites, three points emerge. First, the findspots of clappers and the artifacts with which they were discovered suggest their employment in Hathoric rituals oriented toward the strengthening of the sun-god and the reviving of the souls posthumously identified with this god. Second, clappers are also strongly associated with birth magic and especially with the entities that protected the sun-god and all those about to be born or reborn. Finally, it is argued that, like many Middle Kingdom grave goods, clappers had been ‘rediscovered’ and religiously re-envisioned by sacral authorities who encountered Protodynastic and Early Dynastic votive material during temple renovations and perhaps also during work at the pilgrimage site of Umm el-Qa’ab.

Ellen Morris is an Assistant Professor of Ancient Studies at Barnard College. She is the author of The Architecture of Imperialism: Military Bases and the Evolution of Foreign Policy in Egypt’s New Kingdom, as well as numerous articles dealing with topics as diverse as the relations between sexuality, performance, and power in ancient Egypt; divine kingship; the dynamics of political fragmentation; state formation; human sacrifice; and various aspects of the relations between ancient Egypt and its neighbors. She has excavated at Amheida in Dakhleh Oasis as well as at Abydos and Mendes, and has held a Jane and Morgan Whitney Art History Fellowship in the Department of Egyptian Art at the Metropolitan Museum.

Admission to lecture closes 10 minutes after scheduled start time.  

Reception to follow. 

Please check for event updates.

Registration is required at