Models in Ancient Egypt
Wooden tomb models were deposited as grave goods in the tombs and burial shafts throughout ancient Egypt since its early history, most notably in the Middle Kingdom of Egypt.
They included a wide variety of wooden figurines and scenes, such as boats, granaries, baking and brewing scenes and butchery scenes. These served as ways to preserve the action depicted for eternity in honor of the deceased.
Model of a Soul House – Porch and Garden
This model of a garden and portico was discovered in a hidden chamber at the side of the passage leading into the rock cut tomb of the royal chief steward Meketre, who began his career under King Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II of 11th Dynasty and continued to serve successive kings into the early years of 12th Dynasty.
In the center of the garden is a pond surrounded by sycamore fig trees with red fruit growing from the trunks and branches. The pond is lined with copper and could have been filled with water. Facing the garden is the porch of a house. Two rows of columns support the roof made of palm trunks split into halves. The rear columns have capitals in the form of papyrus stalks bound together, the capitals of the front columns imitate bundles of lotus.
Rainfall is rare in Upper Egypt, but such an eventuality is provided for in three projecting spouts. At the back of the portico are two doors and a latticed window. These are depicted in more detail also on the outside of the model. The garden model is in essence a libation basin (the pool) with associated vegetation and architecture. There may be links with the so-called “soul houses,” clay models of houses with representations of offerings in the forecourts.
All the accessible rooms in the tomb of Meketre had been robbed and plundered already during Antiquity; but early in 1920 the Museum’s excavator, Herbert Winlock, wanted to obtain an accurate floor plan of the tomb’s layout for his map of the 11th Dynasty necropolis at Thebes and, therefore, had his workmen clean out the accumulated debris.
It was during this cleaning operation that the small hidden chamber was discovered, filled with twenty-four almost perfectly preserved models. Eventually, half of these went to the Egyptian Museum, Cairo (JE 46721), and the other half came to the Metropolitan Museum in the partition of finds.
Middle Kingdom, 12th Dynasty, ca. 1981-1975 BC. From the Tomb of Meketre (TT280), Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, West Thebes. Now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 20.3.13
Model Cattle stable from the tomb of Meketre
This model of a stable was found with twenty three other models of boats, gardens, and workshops in a hidden chamber at the side of the passage leading into the rock cut tomb of the royal chief steward Meketre, who began his career under King Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II of 11th Dynasty and continued to serve successive kings into the early years of Dynasty 12.
Cattle are being fattened for slaughter in this stable. Four oxen feed from a manger in the large stall; two others are being hand fed by the stablemen from a pile of fodder and a sack of grain in the room in front. One of the cattle is so fat he can no longer stand. By the door sits an overseer with a baton in his hand.
Middle Kingdom, 12th Dynasty, ca. 1981-1975 BC. From the Tomb of Meketre (TT280), Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, West Thebes. Now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 20.3.9
Wooden funerary model of a granary
Made of painted wood and grain, comprising a granary and five figures, from the tomb of the official Sebekhotep. The model building has a doorway painted red and yellow; a ladder leads between two levels (its original position is not certain).
The granary is filled with grain and juniper berries. Workmen on the lower level handle grain, one of them carrying a sack. A scribe sits on the upper level recording on a writing board the amounts of grain being stored or issued; a representation of his palette is painted onto the writing board beside his hand. Beside him sits a figure apparently directing the workmen below. There are hieratic jottings on the walls.
Middle Kingdom, ca. 2040-1782 BC. From Beni Hasan. Now in the British Museum. EA41573
4 men and 2 women take part in brewing beer and butchering oxen. One woman is with the brewing jar, one man by an oven, one woman is milling flour, one man carries two jugs suspended by rope from a wooden pole over his shoulders, and two men are butchering an oxen.
Middle Kingdom, ca. 2040-1782 BC. From Beni Hasan. Now in the British Museum. EA41576
A group of 4 people: man, woman, boy girl, doing preparation for making bread and beer. Man and girl are working on a millstone next to several jars of beer. Boy and woman are bringing in more food stuffs.
Old Kingdom, 6th Dynasty, ca. 2345-2181 BC. Now in the British Museum. EA55728
Wooden model of a farmer ploughing with oxen
Painted wooden model group: a peasant farmer wearing only a linen kilt, typical dress for a field worker, guides a team of two speckled oxen ploughing who draw a simple wooden plow which would have had a metal blade. He pushes down strongly on the handle and has sunk up to his ankles in the freshly turned moist soil.
This model was originally placed in a tomb. Models showing various stages in the production of food were placed in wealthy burials of the Middle Kingdom (about 2040-1750 BC) to guarantee that the deceased would have food for eternity. The first stage of the process was ploughing. In Egypt this took place when the flood waters of the inundation receded, leaving a thick layer of fertile silt over the whole of the flood plain.
Middle Kingdom, ca. 1985-1795 BC. Now in the British Museum. EA52947
Boats, either fishing or funerary barques
Wooden model of sailing-boat
The hull is rather narrow, with moderate sheer; bow lower and more narrow than stern, which has notch for steering-oar; exterior devoid of paint. Deck flush and not cambered, so that raised gunwales are absent; painted white with deck-plan and outer edges in red. The painted centre-strip runs the full length of the vessel; the fore-deck is marked only by a normal painted thwart, but the after-deck is marked by an exceptionally broad painted band. There are seven white rectangles on each side; the midships pair are separated by the usual mast-space. The point of the fore-deck is painted black.
In the after part of the vessel is an open-sided cabin, consisting of a rounded top supported on either side by four posts, the latter strengthened each side with a single cross-piece tied to them about half-way up. The rounded roof is yellow edged with black to represent leather strips which have white markings edged with black to indicate the lashings which hold them in place; the roof of the cabin is also decorated on each side with two paintings of round-topped shields, alternately white with black markings and black with white markings.
The cabin is open to the stern. Immediately abaft the cabin stands a steering-post which has been trimmed roughly to an octagonal section but has no groove on top. To it was lashed the butt of the steering-oar, which was also lashed to the notch on the stern; the present lashings are modern. The tiller was broken off, only the stump remaining. In the bows stands the pilot with right arm extended and left hanging down.
Between mast and cabin stand three sailors hauling on the rigging, while forward of the mast are two other members of the crew facing aft and heaving on quant-poles as if to push the boat off a sandbank; they are leaning forward with almost straight bodies, one arm and shoulder pressing on the quants while their disengaged arms are supposed to be pressing on the deck to obtain greater leverage; actually the hands do not quite touch the deck.
The human figures on board have red bodies, white skirts, and short black wigs; it is noticeable that both the men working the rigging and those pushing on the quants have their legs well separated so as to get a good purchase on the deck. The helmsman sits in the stern, left arm at 45 degree with the body, right arm straight in front to grasp the tiller, which is missing; the stump is sticking out of the hole in the shaft of the steering-oar.
In the cabin squats the figure of the owner of the boat; he has his right arm forward at an angle of about 45 degrees and his left arm slightly forward. Behind him are two round-topped travelling trunks placed one on top of the other and painted red and yellow. All the standing sailors except the pilot, as well as the owner, still have the remains of the original fabric skirts. No facial features carved except noses; eyes are painted on. Arms are pegged to shoulders and cut off straight at ends; hands are not shaped.
Middle Kingdom, 12th Dynasty, ca. 1976-1793 BC. Now in the British Museum. EA41574
Wooden model of a funeral barge
The hull, which is carved from a single block of sycamore wood, has a good beam in proportion to length. The bow and stern have the bent ornamental finials common in this class of boat. The deck has high gunwales which gradually merge into the solid bow, but which stop abruptly against the stern-piece.
The deck is divided into nine pairs of white spaces by the thwarts and centre strip, indicated by bands of red edged with black; this centre strip may represent a hogging-beam. The main body of hull painted green, with thin black lines marking off bow and stern, which are light blue. The finials, painted yellow, are also marked off by a thin black line.
The gunwales are red, thwarts and centre strip also red. Five black marks on each gunwale probably represent leather loops to take oars when rowing; vertical black marks of uncertain purpose all along inside of gunwales. Just abaft of black line between hull and bows are oculi on an oblong yellow ground outlined in black; oculi white with outlines, pupils and markings in black, in the form of a wadjet eye. There is no mast or rigging; this type of craft did not manoeuvre under sail.
There are two steering-posts aft, with steering-oars in position; the larboard tiller may be a modern restoration. The steering-posts are capped with falcon-heads looking forward; they are elaborately painted, sacred wigs blue, faces yellow with black markings. Posts are painted with a filigree pattern in green, red, and blue on a white base.
Steering-posts fit into square holes, falcon-heads in one piece with posts. The transverse bar is fixed with three pegs. Pegs on capitals of pillars fit into holes in canopy, feet of pillars into holes in deck. Altar glued to deck and jars glued to altar. The steering-oars with blade and loom in one piece were decorated with falcon-heads fixed to butt by pegs, colours as heads on posts; the larboard falcon-head is missing.
Looms of oars are mainly green, with white ends separated from the green Amidships is a canopy over a mummy of a woman lying on a bier with lion-legs which is not fixed to the deck. Canopy slopes down from front to back in a gentle curve in the usual Egyptian manner; painted white with broad yellow border inside and out, front edge with vertical alternate stripes of blue, green, red, blue.
Canopy supported by lotus-bud columns painted with bands of yellow, green, blue, and red separated by narrower bands of white; black lines border the colour bands. Mummy white with blue wig, yellow face, eyes outlined in black. Bier yellow with broad black stripes, on both sides of the body and on the legs, imitating interlaced leather thongs.
Forward of the bier is a table for offerings, painted white, on stout legs. The top is divided lengthwise with three partitions, a broad raised piece between two runnels. There are three round depressions for jars, two of which are ‘in situ’; one is green and the other red. Both jars have a black band above the shoulder of the jar and conical black caps representing mud stoppers. There is a helmsman sitting aft between the steering-oars; red body, white skirt coming just below the knees.
At head and foot of the mummy are female mourners wearing long white dresses covering them just below the breast to half-way down the shin, and fastened with a white strap over left shoulder and across chest and back; flesh painted yellow, eyes in black and white. The woman at the mummy’s feet has her right arm slanting forward; left arm is missing. The woman at the head has her (broken) right arm extended horizontally and left bent upward with palm on head.
On the three figures the scalps are represented as pink, with black spots, to indicate that the hair has been shaved or cropped very short. All three figures made entirely in one piece-usually the arms are pegged and glued in place. Women’s feet in shallow holes in deck; helmsman glued to stern-piece. The bier with mummy is not fastened to the deck.
Middle Kingdom, 12th Dynasty, ca. 1976-1793 BC. Now in the British Museum. EA9524
Military and soldiers
Model of Nubian Archers
These wooden model of 40 Nubian archers are grouped together on the same pedestal and arranged in 10 rows of four. Each archer is holding in one hand a bow and in the other a bunch of arrows.
They are wearing red kilts with green designs and a flap of cloth in the center decorated with green geometrical designs. They wear black curly wigs, white headbands, anklets, and necklaces. The whites of their eyes give life to the black bodies. The archers are all shown barefoot, with their left legs stretched forward so that they appear to be marching in unison with long strides.
They were found in the Tomb of Mesehti at Asyut around 2000 BC, during the 11th Dynasty. Now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 30969; CG 275
Model of ancient Egyptian soldiers
This group model of ancient Egyptian soldiers was found in the tomb of Mesehti, a local governor of Asyut at the end of the First Intermediate Period and the beginning of the Middle Kingdom.
The group consists of forty soldiers arranged in ten lines. They are colored reddish brown, their strong tan indicating their continuous and elaborate open-air training. They have a tidy hair cut which covers their ears and a very short kilt to facilitate movement, and they carry lances and shields.
Middle Kingdom, 11th Dynasty, around 2000 BC. Wood, from Asyut. Now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. JE 30986
People carrying offerings and daily life
Middle Kingdom, 12th Dynasty, ca. 1976-1793 BC. From Deir el-Bersha. Now in the British Museum, EA30716
Model of a procession of offering bearers
This funerary procession was discovered in a hidden chamber at the side of the passage leading into the rock cut tomb of the royal chief steward Meketre, who began his career under King Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II of Dynasty 11 and continued to serve successive kings into the early years of Dynasty 12.
Two men and two women, probably Meketre’s sons and daughters, walk in step on a narrow base. Its yellow color places the scene in the desert on the way to the tomb. The first man carries a large libation vase and an incense burner for use in an offering ritual; the second balances a pile of linen on his head. One linen sheet is dyed red.
Linen was an indispensable part of every Egyptian burial: the mummified body was wrapped in it, and folded linen sheets filled the coffin above the mummy. Both women have baskets–the first containing beer bottles and conical loaves of bread, the second containing square loaves–and both women hold geese or ducks by their wings. Together the group is equipped with all the essentials for a proper burial and funeral ritual.
Middle Kingdom, 12th Dynasty, ca. 1981-1975 BC. From the Tomb of Meketre (TT280), Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, West Thebes. Now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 20.3.8