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.

Model of a farmer ploughing with oxen

The loose soil required only a simple plough drawn by two cattle to create a furrow. Scenes in tombs and on papyrus show that the crop was often sown in front of the cattle, so that they would trample it into the soil.

The main crops were wheat and barley for making bread and beer, and flax, for linen, rope and matting.

Cattle were the main draught animals of ancient Egypt. It is unlikely that beef was an everyday foodstuff as cattle were expensive to keep, and more useful as a draught animal.

Wooden model of a peasant farmer ploughing with oxen
Wooden model of a peasant farmer ploughing with oxen

Beef was, however, represented as one of the main components of food offerings for the deceased. Models showing the slaughter of cattle for this purpose were placed in tombs, and represented on offering tables in wall paintings.

— T.G.H. James, Egyptian painting and drawing (London, The British Museum Press, 1985)

— M. Stead, Egyptian life (London, The British Museum Press, 1986)

Middle Kingdom, ca. 1985-1795 BC. Now in the British Museum. EA52947