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Ritual Knife

Egyptian, Classical, Ancient Near Eastern Art

On View: Egypt Reborn: Art for Eternity, Pre-Dynastic, Egyptian Galleries, 3rd Floor
This is the best-preserved and most detailed example of a type of late Predynastic knife with rows of animals on both sides of the handle. There are 227 animals of 19 species covering this handle, and even the sides of its thumb rest (which is placed to be held by a right-handed person). The purpose of such knives and the significance of their decoration are not known. Most known examples seem to have belonged to men of the highest rank, but this example has the added mystery of having been found in an otherwise modest grave.
MEDIUM Flint, elephant ivory
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)
CREDIT LINE Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund
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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
IMAGE overall, 09.889.118_view1_bw_SL1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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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.
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