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From representation to reality: ancient Egyptian wax head cones from Amarna

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 December 2019

Anna Stevens*
Centre for Ancient Cultures, SOPHIS, Monash University, Wellington Road, Melbourne, Victoria3800, Australia McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, CambridgeCB2 3ER, UK
Corina E. Rogge
The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, P.O. Box 6826, Houston, TX77265-6826, USA
Jolanda E.M.F. Bos
Archaeology and Heritage Consultancy Blikveld & Bos, Patrijzenstraat 11, 2042 CL, Zandvoort, the Netherlands
Gretchen R. Dabbs
Department of Anthropology, Southern Illinois University, 1000 Faner Drive, Mail Code 4502, Carbondale, IL62901, USA
*Author for correspondence (Email:


Images of ancient Egyptians wearing distinctive, cone-shaped objects on their heads have, in the absence of physical examples, long elicited scholarly debate. Did people wear these cones, or were they a purely iconographic device? What was their function and meaning? Recent excavations at the Amarna cemeteries now provide the first material examples of head cones. Spectroscopic analyses indicate that their primary constituent is a biological wax, and not fat or incense, as sometimes speculated. The authors tentatively suggest that the Amarna cones were symbols meant to enhance the rebirth or personal fertility of the deceased in the afterlife.

Antiquity , Volume 93 , Issue 372 , December 2019 , pp. 1515 - 1533
Copyright © Antiquity Publications Ltd, 2019

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