Reflections in Time: investigating the social role of Mirrors in Ancient Egypt through metallurgical analysis
University of Liverpool
Dr. Matthew Ponting
Dr. Glenn Godenho
Ancient Egyptian mirrors were made to produce desirable reflections of their owners; this fact inevitably leads to research questions concerned with how ancient Egyptian people viewed themselves, which individuals had access to mirrors, and how this impacted on sense of self. Though they were functional everyday objects they are religiously linked to numerous gods and their associated attributes. The literature discussing Egyptian mirrors draws on field and/or anthropological evidence to address these questions or treats them as art focusing on their visible physical attributes and the presence of carrying cases for example in order to draw conclusions considering ownership.
The metal disk of the mirror has received little attention, and exploration of the function and colour of the disks themselves is lacking as comments are often limited to ‘made of bronze’ or ‘polished to almost gold’. Although recent papers have begun building a compositional database of Egyptian metal artefacts, these have been limited to strictly utilitarian objects (i.e. bowl, razor, chisel) without the symbolic loading of mirrors. Metallurgical analyses, therefore, provide the only means with which to determine the technical choices made during the manufacturing process, which may be influenced by the desired final product or material costs and availability.
This thesis focuses on the analyses of Egyptian mirrors originating in UK collections, their dates spanning the Pharaonic period from various locations throughout Egypt. A novel minimally destructive sampling and analytical method utilising SEM-EDX was applied to reconstruct their original colour and manufacturing techniques and explore changes in composition and what insights such changes may provide regarding technical skill, production cost, functionality, and their social significance.