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Identification and Creation
Object Number
Coiled Snake on a Coffin
Work Type
sculpture, statuette
mid 7th-late 6th century BCE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Africa, Egypt (Ancient)
Late Period, Dynasty 26
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Leaded bronze
Cast, lost-wax process
3.7 x 3.2 x 6 cm (1 7/16 x 1 1/4 x 2 3/8 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: XRF data from Tracer
Alloy: Leaded Bronze
Alloying Elements: copper, tin, lead
Other Elements: iron, silver, antimony

K. Eremin, January 2014

Technical Observations: The patina is green in color with spots of red. The sarcophagus has a wall thickness of about 1 mm. The surface is well preserved.

The snake was modeled directly in wax and attached to the hollow model of the sarcophagus. The loops at the top were cast integrally with the rest of the object. The scales of the snake were cold worked in the bronze with an elongated punch. There are intact iron core pins at the center of the front and both sides of the sarcophagus. The opening at the back appears to have been made in the wax model and shows no signs of ever having had a patch to close it. Some core material has survived at the interior.

Henry Lie (submitted 2001)

Miss Elizabeth Gaskell Norton, Boston, MA and Miss Margaret Norton, Cambridge, MA (by 1920), gift; to the Fogg Art Museum, 1920.

Note: The Misses Norton were daughters of Charles Elliot Norton (1827-1908).
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of the Misses Norton
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
Snake figurines were often cast on top of small rectangular containers that are reminiscent of coffins for sacred snakes (1). They are, however, too small for an entire animal to be held, and no remains have been discovered in them. It is possible that only the head would have been enshrined. The snake figurine most commonly takes a figure-eight pose with its head resting opposite from its tail, as in 1920.44.287 (2). The head and body markings are rendered by incised lines. This example also has two opposing loops for suspension on the corners of the container. An inscription engraved in two registers on front of the container reads, “Atum give life to X-Osiris, son of Psamtik” (3). The name Psamtik occurs in Dynasty 26, placing this work among the earliest of the Egyptian bronzes in the collection. The god Atum, the creator god of Heliopolis, is associated with serpents (4), and the small bronze may have served an amuletic or votive (5). The protective function of these snake figurines is highlighted in the second Harvard piece, 1920.44.305, where the flared hood of the rearing snake figure signals its venomous nature. A diagonal strut supports the raised head. One suspension loop is preserved on the front right corner.


1. G. Roeder, Ägyptische Bronzefiguren, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin Mitteilungen aus der Ägyptischen Sammlung 6 (Berlin, 1956) 385-86. Compare an example published in J. F. Aubert and L. Aubert, eds., Bronzes et or Egyptiens (Paris, 2001) 390, pl. 48 bottom, dated to the Ptolemaic to Roman periods. See J. Thum, Creatures Compartmentalised: Establishing a Typology for the Ancient Egyptian Bronze ‘Reliquaries’ in the British Museum, London (MPhil. thesis, University of Oxford, 2012) for a recent overview of this type of artifact, its context, and its uses.

2. See Thum 2012 (supra 1) 37-38.

3. Inscription translated by J. Baines.

4. K. Myśliwiec, Studien zum Gott Atum 1: Die heiligen Tiere des Atum, Hildesheimer Ägyptologische Beiträge 5 (Hildesheim, 1978).

5. Thum 2012 (supra 1) 91-93.

Marian Feldman

Subjects and Contexts

Ancient Bronzes

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This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at