Wine for the Aten

Despite its novel appearance, the Great Aten Temple remained firmly within theEgyptian tradition of placing offerings of food and drink (and incense) at the centreof temple activities. Their variety and the care taken with their administration wasrecorded on at least one stela erected within the main temple precinct. Onefragment (in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) records wine categorisedby type of container (Figure1). The principal container was the pottery amphora(Figure2). This has left its traces in the form of potsherds and fragments from thickmud sealings which can bear the remains of impresse designs.

During the excavations at the Great AtenTemple, numerous mud jar-sealings havebeen recovered from the spoil heaps fromearlier excavations at the front of thetemple, from backfilled trenches of thoseexcavations and from the levelling-rubble,one of the few in situlayers at the site,thrown in during the later building phasesto even up the ground which has a slightslope down from north to south and fromeast to west.The sealings were mostly made of Nilemud, stamped to indicate the contents ofthe vessel and to which institution itbelonged (Figure 3). The great majoritywere for wine, and in these cases theywere useful to prevent wine from beingdrunk or getting spilled during transport.They also made the jars airtight so as toprevent the contents from going bad.Some sealings tell you where the wine wasmade. During Akhenaten’s reign, most of the vineyards recorded on the sealingswere located at the ‘Western River’ (in thenorth-west Delta, along the lower reachesof the Canopic branch of the Nile). ‘Wineof [the house of ?] (queen) Tiy’ wasamongst the sealings found in the templeenclosure in 1932. Another institutionalsource was ‘The House of the Aten inHeliopolis’, although in this case thestamp was applied to the handle of theamphora before it was fired (Figure 4).Place of origin is also revealed in otherways. The western oases (perhaps morespecifically the Dakhla Oasis) can beidentified from the composition of the clayof sherds from a distinctive type ofamphora. Another source of informationare the hieratic labels which were writtenon the shoulders of some amphorae. Afragment of one discovered in 2017(object no. 43177) names Maketaten’sestate as origin of the vessel and itscontents and gives the name of the chiefof the vineyard, Pennay (Figure 5).

Concerning the location of the sealings,we have to differentiate between twogeneral contexts. From 2012 to 2015 weconcentrated on clearing the surface ofthe temple area. After the removal ofmodern village rubbish and spoil heapsleft behind from previous excavations(those of Petrie and Pendlebury), weemptied the backfill of a number oftrenches that had been dug through thelevelling-rubble by Pendlebury, in this wayrevealing underlying features belonging tothe first building phases. Subsequently wehave concentrated on excavating areas oflevelling-rubble which are free of featuresof interest on the surface that need to bepreserved. These are primarily the sets ofgypsum-lined basins which are nowprotected by a covering of sand.Most of the sealings are or were originallycylindrical, the bottom (c. 0.12 m) slightlywider than the top (c. 0.11 m), and haveeither been vertically broken in half, or the upper part of the sealing had beenchopped off horizontally. A few still showtraces of criss-crossing, coarse grass thatcovered the mouths of the jars to preventthe still wet mud of the sealing fromfalling in (Figure 6). Fragments of thelower part of the sealings often showneck/shoulder/rim impressions of thejar. The latter help in estimating the sizeof the vessel.The regularity and smoothness of thesurface of the sealings suggest the use ofa mould to model the mud either before itwas put over the opening of the vessel orwhen it was just attached to it. Then it wasstamped and went on its journey to thenew capital to please the king, queen, priestsand the Aten. Most of the sealings showseveral stamps: always one, sometimestwo, on top, and at least one, sometimesup to three, on the sides. Tomb picturesin one of the Theban tombs (TT261)(Figure 7) show the stamping process anda stamp sitting in a small bowl (probablyfilled with water, to moisten the stamp)on top of an already sealed amphora.

The condition of the sealings varies alot; some are eroded or faint, but thebetter preserved ones show stampimpressions dedicating the wine tothe Aten or the House of the Aten, andsome promise nfr nfrwine of the bestquality. When the sealings werebroken off, the lower part wouldscatter into several pieces, andgenerally they easily fragment. Thefriability of the broken surfaces oftenmeans that it is impossible to be sureof joins between two originallyadjacent fragments. We have so farmade no attempt to join fragments butit is more than likely that there wouldbe matches. Since one intact sealingmight bear several impressions, asimple count of the number of eachtype found in the excavations runs therisk of overestimating the originalnumber of sealing.

MiriamBertram – Amarna Project

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