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Faience tile from the Step Pyramid of Djoser

-2650

British Museum

British Museum
London, United Kingdom

King Djoser was buried at Saqqara in what is known today as the Step Pyramid. Built during the Third Dynasty (2686–2613 BC), it is Egypt’s first pyramid tomb and the earliest stone building of its size in the world. It was also the first royal tomb with decoration on some of its subterranean rooms. Deep under the pyramid, in the maze of rooms surrounding the burial chamber, was one long corridor with recesses or ‘false doors’ decorated in raised relief showing the king engaged in various rituals. Framing these recesses and lining the walls between them were thousands of blue-green tiles arranged in imitation of reed matting. The rooms and tiled areas were repeated in the Southern Tomb, underground chambers in the southern part of the Step Pyramid complex that were built as the eternal home for the king’s spirit or soul. To decorate the chambers in these two tombs, more than 36,000 tiles were used.

These tiles are made of a material called Egyptian faience. This is composed of crushed quartz mixed with small amounts of lime and natron or plant ash. This mixture when moistened could be formed into shape like pottery, and then heated to harden. By adding copper salts to the mix the blue-green glaze naturally occurred during the firing.

The tiles from the Step Pyramid were made in moulds. On the back are projections with holes for stringing the tiles together before they were pressed into the plaster on the walls. Some have markings or hieroglyphs on the back which may indicate production batches or be instructions for placement on the wall.

The tiles were not simply decorative, but were full of symbolism for the king’s afterlife. Imitating reed matting, they recreated the ‘field of reed’, the afterlife paradise where the king would spend eternity. The blue green colour also had symbolic value signifying new growth and regeneration. The colour was also connected with water, evoking the primeval waters from which the world was created and from which the king would emerge reborn.

Details

  • Title: Faience tile from the Step Pyramid of Djoser
  • Date Created: -2650
  • Physical Dimensions: Length: 6.00cm; Width: 3.60cm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: pierced; incised
  • Registration number: 1966,0212.112
  • Place: Excavated/Findspot Step Pyramid
  • Period/culture: 3rd Dynasty
  • Material: glazed composition
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Purchased from Spencer-Churchill, Edward George

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