The raised arm figurines of predynastic Egypt : an analysis and interpretation
Hoglund, Karen Spradling
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The need for a comprehensive evaluation of the raised arm figurines of predynastic Egypt was recognized during the compilation of my corpus of reported predynastic figurines undertaken as a graduate research project. This larger collection revealed that the raised arm style was relatively unusual and of limited geographical distribution in Upper Egypt. Only the figurines from Ma'mariya were archaeologically documented; most examples of the raised arm group were purchased and of unknown provenance. The purchased figurines were of questionable authenticity, for several previously accepted examples were subsequently revealed as forgeries. Therefore the aesthetic and interpretive analysis derived from the Ma'mariya group, while unprovenanced examples were separately treated in an appendix. The Ma'mariya figurines had several dominating characteristics. A strong sense of upward motion was generated by the graceful curve of the arms and was rendered more powerfully by the figurines' overall abstraction and simplicity. In modelling the extended arms, an interrelationship between the choice of pliable material and figurine style was observed. With these aesthetic insights in mind, the reconstruction of the figurines' original function was addressed. The raised arm motif was not restricted to three-dimensional figurines but contemporaneously appeared in a two-dimensional form on various surfaces. These parallel artistic examples indicated the raised arm motif had a funerary significance. Three elements supported this contention: (1) the motif appeared most frequently in boating scenes on Naqada II Decorated Ware, which were discovered only in grave contexts; (2) it was also observed on a painted linen burial offering from C-ebelein that was interpreted as representing a funeral dance or ritual; and (3) in the tomb painting of Hierakonpolis the motif in a boating scene was understood to depict a mortuary rite. Past scholars proposed six major explanations for the significance of the raised arm figurines. After examining each proposal in the light of prehistoric Egyptian, later dynastic and cross-cultural comparisons of the raised arm motif, only the identification of the figurines as mourners was consistent with the available evidence. This methodological approach which attempts a comprehensive understanding of the raised arm figurines holds potential for similar application in other areas of predynastic art.