An Early Egyptian Door-Socket

By: B. G.

Originally Published in 1934

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ONE of the most interesting objects in the Egyptian Section is the very early stone door-socket [Plates VI and VII] which, as a result of the recent complete rearrangement of the Hall of Statuary in chronological order, now stands at the entrance of that Hall, being the most ancient object in it. It may be recalled that an Egyptian door did not turn, like modern ones, on hinges, but on pivots which projected from the upper and lower edges at one side, and engaged in holes in the lintel and the floor respectively; around these pivots the door swung when opened or closed. When the floor was of stone, a hole cut therein might serve for the lower pivot; but when the floor was, as often, of mud brick, a special stone socket had to be placed to take the weight and wear of the door and pivot.

A stone temple door socket in the shape of a prisoner lying on his stomach with his arms bound behind him, 3/4 view
Plate VI — A First Dynasty Door-Socket of Stone, from Hierakonpolis
Museum Object Number: E3959
Image Number: 31055b

Such a stone is the one now described; it was discovered in 1898 by Mr. J. E. Quibell, while excavating for the Egyptian Research Account (a British organisation created by Sir Flinders Petrie) at the temple of the very ancient city in Upper Egypt, sacred to the falcon-god Horus, which was called Hierakonpolis (‘falcon-city’) by the Greeks-the Nekhen of the ancient Egyptians, the Kom el-Ahmar (‘red mound’) of the present day. The socket was found in its original position, with part of the brickwork door-jamb still standing on it, at the entrance of the oldest part of the temple, dating from the beginning of the First Dynasty – about 3200 B. C. according to the most recent estimate. It may be mentioned in passing that from the same ‘Archaic Temple’ came a number of very remarkable ivory figures exhibited in the Archaic Room of the Egyptian Section.

A stone temple door socket in the shape of a prisoner lying on his stomach with his arms bound behind him, front and side views
Plate VII — A First Dynasty Door-Socket of Stone, from Hierakonpolis
Museum Object Number: E3959
Image Number: 31058, 31059

The door-socket is of a hard, dark grey stone, which is, as Mr. A. W. Postel informs me, a fine-grained sandstone; it is seventy-seven centimeters long. The upper surface is flat, but has a slight cylindrical curvature; in the middle of this surface is a conical hole, about six centimeters deep, and about fifteen centimeters across at the top, which received the lower pivot. The edges and under surface of the stone, which were embedded in the brickwork of the pavement, are quite rough. The general form of the object is that of a human figure, stooping or kneeling, with horizontal back into which the door-pivot bores, and having the arms fastened together behind the back. Of the body, only the back and arms are represented, the latter rather roughly and slightly indicated by a shallow lowering of the back, apparently effected by a pointed pounder of some harder stone. The elbows do not meet, being separated by the pivot-hole. The head-and it is this which gives the object its importance-is very finely worked. The face is not of the Egyptian type, which is natural, for the intention is obviously to represent a foreign captive supporting the door. This is an expression of a not uncommon idea; it reminds us of the figures of foreign captives painted on the footstools of Tutankhamun, and on the upper surfaces of sandals, that enemies of the realm might be symbolically trodden under foot whenever these objects were use ; and Sir Flinders Petrie instances the corbels, in the form of foreigners’ heads bearing weights, in the palace of Ramesses III at Thebes. The face is one of the most remarkable ones in the round that we have from the earliest period of Egyptian art; apart from the excellence of its execution it is of special interest because the technique employed, with great economy of modelling, is very different from that of most other Egyptian sculpture. The treatment of the eyes is specially noteworthy. The top of the head is flattened to allow the door to pass over it, and the face, although posed as if straining upwards, was thus below the floor-level. In some way it must have been left visible when the stone was set with the upper surface flush with the ground.

This object, which has the Catalogue Number E. 3959, has been described by Petrie and Quibell in Hierakonpolis (Egyptian Research Account), volume I, page 6 with Plate III, and volume II, pages 34, 36; also by Schäfer and Andrae, Kunst des alten Orients, pages 170, 574.

B. G.

Cite This Article

G., B.. "An Early Egyptian Door-Socket." Museum Bulletin V, no. 1 (January, 1934): 9-13. Accessed April 20, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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