Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Ichneumon or Shrewmouse on a Coffin
Other Titles
Alternate Title: Figurine of Shrew-Mouse or Animal of Rodent Type
Work Type
mid 7th-late 1st century BCE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Africa, Egypt (Ancient)
Late Period to Ptolemaic
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Copper alloy
Cast, lost-wax process
2.6 x 3.9 x 1.8 cm (1 x 1 9/16 x 11/16 in.)
Technical Details

Technical Observations: The patina is green over reddish brown cupritic accretions. The surface has been extensively roughened by corrosion activity; no surface details are recognizable. The object is in good structural condition but is missing the back end of the container. Some white carbonate crystalline material, which may be related to burial material, and small earthen lumps are preserved inside the container.

The solid figurine was cast in one piece with the hollow rectangular box it stands on. The edges of the open end of the container are uneven; more evidence would be needed to establish exactly how the box was sealed.

Francesca G. Bewer (submitted 2001)

Dr. Harris Kennedy, Milton, MA (by 1932), gift; to the William Hayes Fogg Art Museum, 1932.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Dr. Harris Kennedy, Class of 1894
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
The ichneumon, a mongoose-like animal that inhabited the marshes of Egypt, was known in ancient Egypt for raiding birds’ nests and fighting with snakes. It joined the ranks of sacred animals in the second millennium BCE and was associated with the spirits of the netherworld. Like the cat, falcon, ibis, and other sacred animals, the ichneumon became the focus of cult activity in the later periods, especially the Ptolemaic (332-30 BCE). Inscriptions on bronze statues connect the weasel-like creature to the cults of Horus at Letopolis and Wadjet (Uto) at Buto, both in the Delta region, as well as to the god Atum (1). Despite its small scale, the Harvard ichneumon conveys the slinking motion of the animal through its long, pointed snout, arching back and extended tail, which is supported by a strut (2). The rectangular container on which it stands is open at the back end; it may have held a portion of the remains of an ichneumon, since it is too small to have held an entire animal (3).


1. G. Roeder, Ägyptische Bronzefiguren, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Mitteilungen aus der Ägyptischen Sammlung 6 (Berlin, 1956) 375; and J. Thum, Creatures Compartmentalised: Establishing a Typology for the Ancient Egyptian Bronze ‘Reliquaries’ in the British Museum, London (MPhil. thesis, University of Oxford, 2012) 45.

2. The piece may instead represent a shrewmouse, a related animal often confused with the ichneumon; see Thum 2012 (supra 1) 40-41 and 45-46, figs. 22 and 24. Compare ibid., 117-19, nos. C-17 to C-22.

3. Roeder 1956 (supra 1) 382. For a discussion of the uses and symbolism of copper alloy animals on containers or coffins, see Thum 2012 (supra 1).

Marian Feldman

Subjects and Contexts

Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

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