This ivory artifact, discovered inside a tomb of a young girl called Hapy, shows three pygmies in a dancing stance. Each one of them is standing on a round base with anklets on their legs.
As this is a child’s toy, a system of strings threaded through holes and around a pulley makes the figures dance. Depicted with a certain degree of realism, the bodies are shown deformed, the legs are bowed, and the faces express exertion. They are wearing different types of necklaces.
Pygmies, small in stature but naturally proportioned, lived in Central Africa, and ancient Egyptians contacted them through intermediaries on the Upper Nile. Egyptians believed the pygmies possessed divine qualities and called their performances “dances of the gods.” A young Egyptian woman named Hapy was given an automaton consisting of a board with pygmy figures that could be turned by pulling strings fastened around their bases. This piece may represent their leader. (The Met. 34.1.130)
Pygmies and dwarfs were seen as honored and placed in the royal court or working with gold. There are a lot of depictions of them in Ancient Egyptian art. We think that the reason for their immediate high rank comes from the mythology that was the based on rebirth in the afterlife – they saw little people as a symbol – always young and youthful as they appear childlike. There were powerful dwarf gods also!
Middle Kingdom, 12th Dynasty, ca. 1991-1802 BC. Carved Ivory, from Al List. Now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 63858