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Egypt: The Ancient Egyptians as Model Builders


The Ancient Egyptians as Model Builders
by Scott Freeman




The ancient Egyptians created all sorts of models. They could be small representations of objects such as tools, vessels, weapons or boats and other religious paraphernalia, food items meant to be a substitute for offerings, architectural elements including columns, monumental gateways or entire buildings, people including servants and even entire armies. We also find some models that were intended as nothing other than toys for children, though most models were funerary in nature. Sometimes these models would be included in foundation deposits, in tombs, and most anywhere else depending on the type of model.


Carpenter Model from a tomb at Deir el-Bersheh (Middle Kingdom)


Carpenter Model from a tomb at Deir el-Bersheh (Middle Kingdom)


We have only discovered models in the tombs of Egyptian royalty and nobles along with high priests and the religious elite. Rarely have models been found in pit tombs, a type of tomb more closely associated with common Egyptians, with the exception of pottery miniatures of agricultural implements and tools. However, they have been unearthed almost all over Egypt, though the damp conditions of the Nile Delta have prevented such discoveries much north of Abusir. However, they have been discovered as far south as Aswan, and even in the desert Oasis, so we know that their use was widespread.


The Importance of Structural and Other Models to Egyptologists


The importance of models to the study of Egyptology should be noted. They give us a fascinating glimpse of everyday life along the Nile, along with an overview of many activities such as manufacturing and agricultural processes that might otherwise be lost. The Royalty and religion of ancient Egypt is often well defined in comparison with normal, everyday activities such as farming or for example, weaving material. Many of the models provide details of these activities that at the very least provide a greater depth of understanding.



Model of weavers from the Middle Kingdom


Model of weavers from the Middle Kingdom



In addition, while temples, tombs and pyramids were built to last through eternity, houses, granaries, workshops and other structures were not, and in many cases, models provide our only examples of these structures. The same is also true of items such as boats and many tools



Offering Bearers and Boats




Probably, the two most prominent types of models are offering bearers and boats. Offering bearers are some of the tallest figures, as well as dating from some of Egypt's earliest periods. They tend to be female, though male offering bearers are also encountered. The females usually carry food items, while the male variety tend to carry religious items. Early offering bearers are simple pottery figures, but later, they were often made with considerable artistic skill, rivaling the statues of the tomb owner himself. This is probably indicative of the importance that the Egyptians placed on this particular variety of models, believing their afterlife was dependent on these symbolic workers.



A female offering bearer


A female offering bearer


Most often, offering bearers were modeled as a single figure, but at times they could be paired, or even take the form of a single or double file of mixed sex bearers. The largest such procession, consisting of twenty offering bearers, was found in the tomb of Karenen at Saqqara.




Boat model



Boat models were believed to provide transport for the deceased on the Nile. Because the models vary over time, they not only give us an idea of the types of boats the Egyptians used, but are also useful as dating tools. Boats also represent one of the largest surviving collections of models, because they seem to have been very common, and are found throughout Egyptian history. They may typically be placed in seven categories, consisting of:

  • Square-cut crafts with two rudders (Old Kingdom)
  • Crafts with a curling stern and one rudder (Middle Kingdom)
  • Papyrus rafts/skiffs (Predynastic onward)
  • Papyriform wooden boats (Old to Middle Kingdom)
  • Papyriform Wooden boats with raised finials (Early Dynastic onward)
  • Solar Barks (12th Dynasty)
  • Divine Barks (New Kingdom onward)
  • Five subtypes of boats have been identified from the New Kingdom tomb of Tutankhamun, categorized by their perceived use. These include boats for:

    Transport
    Fishing
    Leisure
    Funerary or symbolic pilgrimages
    Specialized religious boats used to traverse the heavens and underworld


    Boat model




    At least two boats were usually placed in tombs, consisting of one rigged for sailing south with the prevailing winds (usually placed facing south), and one rigged for rowing north with the Nile current. As many as fifty boats have been found, and many times more than two. However, they are usually pairs of boats, each rigged for southern and northern transport.


    The Evolution of Models and their Eventual Decline


    During the Predynastic and Early Dynastic period from about 3500 through 2632 BC, models are rare. Within burials, they are assumed to have the same purpose as models of later periods which were used to assure that the deceased would be taken care of during the afterlife. Pottery items comprise items such as boats houses and beds. Some of these function as pottery jars modeled to imitate dome granaries, while we also find ivory or bone boats, along with those made of pottery. All of the boats from the predynastic period are hollow, canoe forms, some with raised finials and closely resembling those depicted on pottery and in tombs.


    It should be noted that during this early period, servants were at times buried along with their masters, while in later periods, models of servants were used in their stead.


    In fact, during the Old Kingdom from the 4th to the 6th Dynasty, we begin to find these stone statuettes of servants in the mastaba tombs of the elite at Giza. By the 5th and 6th Dynasties, these types of models became common at Saqqara and Giza. They usually take the form of small, single figures engaged in various activities such as preparing food or beverages, or some similar service such as butchering or hauling vessels. However, other model figures of people during this period are found engaged in a number of other tasks such as manufacturing items and some represent wet-nurses and musicians such as harpists



    Model of a workshop



    Model of a workshop


    Typically, a single tomb might include only two or three models of servants during the early dynasties, but some several tombs at Giza contained as many as sixteen such figures. During the reign of Pepi II, models became fairly popular among the elite, though those made of stone became smaller and less artistic. However, wood was used both for single figures or even several figures carved together. At the tomb of Nyankh-Pepi-Kem at Meir, seventeen scenes of millers, bakers, oven attendants, beer mashers, jar cleaners, duck roasters, offering bearers and others were discovered, along with eight boats. Some of the wood models incorporated jars or quern stones into their structure.




    Model of a workshop



    Of course, we also find offering bearers and boats during the early dynasties. Wooden boat models are first seen in the Old Kingdom, becoming common by the end of the 6th Dynasty. They are usually carved from a single piece of wood, with masts, spars, rudders, oars and cabins made separately and attached with pegs.Probably the most important group of 6th Dynasty boats came from the tombs of Kaemsenu and the pyramid of Queen Neith, both at Saqqara and that of Nyankh-Pepi-kem. They consist of Square cut boats, papyrus rafts and papyriform wooden craft. The boats found in the tomb of Nyankh-Pepi-kem differ from the others in having model sailors.



    Structural models during these early dynasties include representations of granaries, sometimes comprising rows of tall, conical silos and that may be made of stone, or more often, pottery. Boats were a constant subject of modeling, and during this period they were usually made of wood.



    A model carpentry shop


    A model carpentry shop


    During the First Intermediate Period from about 2206 until 2040, most models are made of wood, but for the first time, single pieces may include a small group of figures engaged in specific processes on the same base, including milling and baking, or brewing and bottling.


    Structurally, we begin to see models of square granaries, usually with peaked corners and internal courtyards in front of a row of flat-roofed silos.


    However, most of the wooden models that have survived come from Egypt's Middle Kingdom from the 11th through the 12th Dynasties (2134-1786 BC). This was a time of prosperity for the provincial nobles, and we see a large, diverse number of models that were unearthed in provincial cemeteries. Even a typical elite burial would most often include at least two boats, a granary, a pair of offering bearers, a bread and beer preparation scene and a butchering model. It is possible that the largest collection came from the tomb of Djehutinakht at Bersheh, where some 55 model boats and no less than twelve offering bearers were discovered. In all, there were 33 scenes, some of which were duplicated. However, a number of other tombs provided large caches of such models.


    Offering bearers in a procession from the Bersheh tomb


    Offering bearers in a procession from the Bersheh tomb


    Middle Kingdom models may usually be classified as agricultural including animal husbandry, food preparation, industrial processes, offering bearers and boats. Many times such models were found within specific regions, reflecting local occupations. For example, agricultural representations could include men hoeing the soil, plowing with cattle, raising calves and herding, but these mostly come from Middle Egyptian regions such as Asyut, Bersheh, Meir and Beni Hasan. On the other hand, models of industrial processes such as spinning and weaving, woodworking and metalworking most frequently come from the more northern region of Saqqara.


    Of course, we find a number of different boat models from the Middle Kingdom, including kitchen tenders for the preparation of meals on long journeys in the form craft with curling sterns and one rudder, papyrus skiffs for fishing and hunting, deep water craft with curling sterns and from the tomb of Meketre, a papyriform wooden ritual craft with paddles and sails. Usually, these ritual craft were towed to their destinations. We even find the model of a solar boat from Lisht dating to the 12th Dynasty and rather than a crew, carrying the standards and emblems of solar deities.




    Cattle scene from the tomb of Meketre


    Cattle scene from the tomb of Meketre



    Models can hardly be discussed without mentioning the models from the tomb of Meketre, number 281 at Thebes. He was a chancellor to Montuhotep I (or II), who reunited Egypt in the 11th Dynasty. These models are unique in their size, quality of craftsmanship and attention to detail, and were probably built in a northern workshop. They appear to mostly date from the reign of Amenemhet I, however. They include nine scenes, each contained in a walled room, two offering bearers and thirteen boats. Two incredible scenes portray walled gardens containing model sycamore fig trees surrounding a copper-lined pond, overlooked by a colonnade and windows. So detailed are these, that the roofs have copper rain spouts. Other models include the inspection of a heard of cattle by Meketre and his officials, a spinning and weaving shed and a carpentry shop. The detail of these models is so defined that it allows the identification of tasks in less well crafted models.



    Boats from the tomb of Meketre


    Left and below right: Boats from the tomb of Meketre


    The decline of the regional royalty is reflected by the decline in such models, especially by the reign of Senusret II. At the same time, the materials from which models were made became more diverse. For example, from the Fayoum region we find models not only made of wood, but also of various stone and faience.



    Boats from the tomb of Meketre



    The Second Intermediate Period from 1786-931 BC largely saw the demise of models, though figures of mourners and other items continued to show up into Egypt's Late Period. Of course, we do find a number of boats, the most famous of which are probably those of Tutankhamun. However, we also find a unique par of early New Kingdom boats from the burial of Queen Ahhotep, the mother of Ahmose at Dra Abu Naga on the West Bank at Thebes (modern Luxor). One is made of gold, while the other is silver, and both appear to by divine barks. One was sitting on a model wheeled carriage used for transporting boats around sections of the Nile that could not be navigated


    However, with the decline in various models, we see the rise of the shawabi figures. They were inscribed with chapter six of the Book of the Dead, and took over many of the functions of models. In essence, they became more generalized workers for the dead, capable of performing a number of duties.


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    References:

    Ancient Gods Speak, The: A Guide to Egyptian Religion Redford, Donald B. 2002 Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-515401-0
    Life of the Ancient Egyptians Strouhal, Eugen 1992 University of Oklahoma Press ISBN 0-8061-2475-x
    Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, The Shaw, Ian 2000 Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-815034-2

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