Archer's thumb ring

Accession Number
Current Location
House of Life (first floor), Egypt and its Neighbours
Object Type
Implements and utensils, Warfare, hunting and fishing equipment, Archer's thumb ring
Stone/minerals (Granite)
Nubia, Meroe
Length: 50mm | Diameter (board end): 46mm | Diameter (narrow end): 31mm
Number of Elements

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Archer's thumb ring made of red granite, which was excavated by the Liverpool Institute of Archaeology, directed by John Garstang, at Meroe in 1910. Gifted to the Reverend William MacGregor, who supported the excavation, before being purchased by Wellcome at auction in 1922. Meroitic and post-Meroitic tombs are distinguished by their richness and the abundance of weapons, especially archery equipment. Archery played a significant role in ancient Nubia: Kushite warriors were reputed to excel as archers, so that ancient Egyptians called the region Ta-Seti, the "land of the bow." While bows, quivers and arrows were part of the traditional archery equipment produced, used, and buried in ancient Sudan, thumb rings also become an important element of this arsenal from the Meroitic era. The ring fits over the end of the thumb, leaving the nail exposed. It provides the archer with a firmer grip of the bowstring and protects the inside of the thumb against injuries which are usually caused by the string when the latter is drawn and released. Based on this iconography, it is clear that Meroitic archer’s rings held a special place as a divine and royal accessory. They exist in large quantities and vary in their material – wood or stone –, their form, and their quality of execution. Thumb rings are cylindrical and large and can take many different shapes (truncated cone, flared, concave, or convex), some styles are short, and some are long. The wider part of the ring goes towards the proximal end of the thumb, giving the index finger something to press against for grip, and leaving the narrow part of the ring on the distal end of the thumb to ensure a smooth release. The hole in the rings was made by drilling, some ring holes still retain the ribs left during the manufacture of the object. The central perforation was created first, then the object was shaped and polished. Study of Meroitic thumb rings demonstrates that they served at least three intertwined functions: practical for archery, decorative for prestige, ritual for ceremonies or burials. It is impossible to precisely date an archer’s ring: they were used for a long period without real change in their design. Moreover, while some were discovered near temples and palatial complexes, most archery accessories are discovered in funerary contexts, from Meroe Island to the most remote areas of the kingdom. They were found in royal and elite Meroitic graves, and then continue to be found in the tombs of elite individuals dating from the post-Meroitic period.

Other Identity
1170 (MacGregor number written on the object in black ink) | 315 (written on a circular white sticker)
Sotheby, Wilkinson, & Hodge: 26 Jun–06 Jul 1922, Lot 933H
Previous Owners
Rev. William MacGregor (1848–1937) | Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome (1853–1936)
Excavation Details

Excavated by the Liverpool Institute of Archaeology, directed by John Garstang, at Meroe in 1910.

Long-term loan, The Wellcome Trust (15 Feb 1971)
Last modified: 08 Aug 2021

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