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Big and Little Terracotta Hippos


It's not all that well known, but hippopotamus - known by the animal cognoscenti as Hippopotamus amphibius - are among the most dangerous animals in the world. They cause more human deaths in Africa than any other animal - except humans themselves, of course.

Tradition is that the first king of (a united) Ancient Egypt, Narmer (known to history as Menes), was killed by a hippopotamus. But he might not only have been the one. Over the years people have looked at the mummy of King Tutankhamun and with each new study, we get a different cause of death. You name it, natural physical frailness, being cracked on the head, either accidentally or on purpose, a chariot accident which knocked off his kneecap, malaria, and, yes, the hippopotamus. The trouble is the archeologists who excavated his tomb not only had to use blow torches to get the nested coffins separated, but to get Tut out of the innermost coffin, they chopped the poor fellow up. So the handling of the mummy in the 20th and 21st centuries may have done more harm to Tut than any hippopotamus.

Although in the 19th century, there were reports hippopotamus reached the Nile delta, today they have disappeared from Egypt itself. You have to go into the southern Sudan to find them, and they are scattered in small pockets throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

This is a pretty straightforward terracotta sculpture with an "oxide" patina. That is, you make the clay models and let the dry in air. You fire it in a kiln (or better have someone who knows what they're doing fire it for you) and the paint on a dilute slurry of iron oxide - essentially rust. Fire it again, then voila!