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Work Pair of clappers
Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Objects from everyday life
Pair of clappers
© Musée du Louvre/C. Décamps
Objects from everyday life
These objects are curved like boomerangs; each end is decorated with the head of the goddess Hathor and a slender hand. These musical instruments are known as clappers, and they were used in pairs. The sound produced by striking these two elements together replaced hand clapping as a way of creating a rhythm for music and accompanying dances.
Hathor, goddess of music
The most beautiful known examples of clappers are carved from hippopotami canine teeth, as are these. The relative curve of the object is determined by the natural shape of the tooth. Other, simpler clappers in wood exist. The inside surface of this pair of clappers is flat. Both have a hole at the wider end for attaching a cord. The head of the goddess Hathor decorates the other end; viewed from the front, she is recognizable by her small cow ears; she is wearing a flat cap that extends into a main with extremely long, slender fingers and well-defined fingernails.
A dual function
The decoration suggests a relationship between the clappers and the cult of Hathor, the goddess of joy, love, and music. Some clappers show clear signs of wear, a proof of repetitive use. However, as is the case for many Egyptian objects, the distinction between everyday objects and ritual objects, which were heavily charged with symbols and magic, is not always easy to determine. For Egyptians, these instruments were probably far more than mere musical instruments.
An extremely old musical instrument
Given the lack of any archeological context, we must be cautious in dating these instruments. These clappers, shaped like curved rods, seem to be the first musical instruments to have been depicted on vases, as early in the predynastic period. Clappers with hands appeared in the Middle Kingdom, yet it seems that the most beautiful of these objects can be dated to the New Kingdom, particularly those representing a head of Hathor. Music and dance played an important role in ancient Egypt, as illustrated by the decoration of tombs and temples from the Old Kingdom on. Large numbers of the most diverse musical instruments - harps, lyres, flutes, tambourines, clappers, and sistrums - were discovered in burial vaults, but unfortunately, we do not know the sounds and rhythms they made, as the Egyptians did not have any system of musical notation.
Pair of clappers
New Kingdom, 1550-1295 BC
L.: 35.4 cm; W.: 7.4 cmL.: 30.2 cm; W.: 7.4 cm
Hands and head of the goddess Hathor
N 1479, N 1480
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See the related mini-site The Gates of Heaven: Visions of the World in Ancient Egypt