During rituals the offering of incense formed part of the “purifications” and was often associated with libations of water. The custom of burning incense – turpentine resin in most cases, or frankincense, myrrh or styrax – was also sometimes motivated by practical considerations, as the shrine in which the statue of the god resided within the temple was closed, without the possibility of an exchange of air, making it necessary to purify the environment.
This type of censer, “Horus’ arm”, is made up of a long handle in the form of a papyrus stem – symbol of prosperity and rebirth – ending with the falcon’s head of the god Horus at one end. On the “arm” there is a small figure of the pharaoh, kneeling – ideally in front of the deity to whom the offering was destined – and resting his hands on a small receptacle, in the form of a cartouche, in which the spare incense was placed. The incense powder was burned in a small dish placed on the open hand at the end of “Horus’ arm”. The small palette used to place the incense in the drawer has also been conserved.
This specimen bears a brief inscription in demotic, partly illegible due to wear, positioned between the falcon’s head and the central incense tray. The name Imhotep recurs twice, and can be identified with the architect Imhotep who designed the pyramid of Djeser in Saqqarah. The presence of this name, according to scholars, may link the object to a precise geographical context, Saqqarah, or more generally the area of Memphis, where the cult of Imhotep was particularly widespread in the Greek-Roman Age.