Faience has been called the ‘first high tech ceramic’ (Vandiver and Kingery 1987, 9) and the New Kingdom is often seen as the zenith of faience production (Nicholson and Peltenburg 2000, 182). Egypt Centre has a number of faience items of the New Kingdom, and specifically a group from Amarna. This site is central to the understanding of faience and also of glass production for the New Kingdom (Nicholson and Peltenburg 2000, 183).
Faience is made up of silica, natron/plant ash and lime, usually coloured blue by the addition of cobalt. Petrie’s excavations suggested crushed quartz pebbles were used as a source of silica. Sources of lime perhaps came from impurities within sand. Nicholson and Peltenburg (2000, 197), for example, state that the sand at Amarna contains 18.86 per cent lime. Natron perhaps came from wadis or plant ash could have been used to make the soda and the cobalt used to give the blue colouring from alum deposits of the Kharga and Dakhla Oases in the Western Desert.
Many faience objects were made in moulds, usually of pottery. Hundreds of these were found at the royal site of Amarna.
The Egyptian name for faience was tjehnet which means shiny or scintillating, like the moon and stars. The epithet tjehnet was bestowed on many gods and kings. Faience was also associated with the goddess Hathor who held titles ‘Mistress of Turquoise’ and ‘Mistress of Faience’. She was associated with light, rebirth and fertility. It seems that faience was not just used as a poor substitute for lapis lazuli but was deliberately chosen for its religious connotations. Many of the faience objects in the House of Life thus have religious connotations.
Several items in this case are models of larger items. For example the votive situla and the tablet with votive vessels thereon. The 3cm high faience vase has little depth so it would have been difficult for it to have served as a container. Such items must have served a religious purpose. Similarly the swimming girl spoon. Swimming girl spoons are often made of wood and found in temples or in tombs, suggesting a religious function.
Faience objects are also on display elsewhere in the museum. A large collection of faience shabtis can be seen in the downstairs gallery. Amulets are often made out of faience, as are other items of jewellery.
Items made from faience in the Egypt Centre include:
Nicholson, P.T. 2007. Brilliant Things for Akhenaten. The Production of glass, vitreous materials and pottery at Amarna site 045.1. London: Egypt Exploration Society.
Nicholson, P.T. and Peltenburg, E. 2000. Egyptian faience. In Nicholson, P.T. and Shaw, I. Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 177-194.
Vandiver, P. and Kingery, W.D. 1987. Egyptian Faience: the first high-tech ceramic. In Kingery, W.D. ed., Ceramics and Civilisation 3, Columbus OH: American Ceramic Society, 19-34.