I've been asked by a friend to provide information on Ancient Egypt for an elementary school class. Since I can't be there in person, I decided to write some little blurbs on topics that elementary kids might be interested in and provide lots of nice colour pictures to go with them. (Because *I* like big coloured pictures).
Pets in Ancient Egypt
The Egyptians kept many animals as pets, but their favourites were the same as ours. The
Egyptians loved their cats and dogs. Egyptian dogs looked a lot like greyhounds. They had long noses and skinny bodies, but unlike Greyhounds, they had short little tails that curled up over their backs. The Ancient Egyptians gave their dogs names that are very similar to our dog names. One man had a dog named Abutiw (ah-boo-tee-you), which may mean "One Who Barks"
or "Barky". Abutiw would bark at people who approached the pharaoh. The pharaoh thought that this was funny, so he gave the Abutiw the title "King's Bodyguard", which was usually reserved
for people. When the dog died, the king ordered tomb built for him and provided the money to have him mummified! The king wanted Barky to bark at Pharaoh's enemies in the afterlife! The picture is of a man named Khui (koo-ee) and his dog, Iupu (ee-yoo-poo).
Cats were common pets, too, and the Egyptians were among the first people to have cats as pets.
We now think that Egyptian cats were the descendants of several types of African wildcats that still live in Egypt today. (One of these wildcats is in the picture at left) Egyptians generally didn't name their cats. They called their cats Pa-miw if a boy or Ta-miwt if a girl: Mr. Cat and Miss Cat. The one exception to this is one man who had a cat named Nedjem...or "Sweetie". He had a picture of his cat carved in the wall of his tomb so that Nedjem could be in the afterlife with him. Notice that the word for cat sounds a lot like the sound that cats make:"Miw".
The Egyptians may not have named their cats but they did name humans after cats! A very common girls' name in later Egyptian history was "Ta-Miwt!"
One prince loved his pet cat so much that he had a special sarcophagus made for her when she died. The sarcophagus has a picture of his cat, Ta-Miwt looking her very best with a scarf tied around her neck, and sitting in front of a plate of offerings, just like a person would. On the ends of the sarcophagus were pictures of the goddesses Isis and Neb-het (Nephthys) along with a prayer asking that the goddesses protect Ta-Miwt in the afterlife.
Note that the Egyptians didn't really worship cats as gods. They had several goddesses who had
catlike qualities and were associated with cats. Cats were sacred symbols of those goddesses, kind of like doves are symbols of peace or the Holy Ghost in Christianity. We don't worship doves, but we have a respect for them in our culture because they represent peace. The most famous cat goddess is Bastet. Bastet was the goddess of joy, fun, and music, but also a goddess of motherhood. She represented everything nice about the mother goddess, Mut. Cats were also sacred to Mafdet, Pakhet, and Sekhmet, who are all goddesses of the desert and also of sickness. They represent the cruel and unforgiving side of nature. Pakhet's name means "She who scratches."
The Egyptians kept monkeys as pets, and also horses. One princess was even buried with a baby gazelle...apparently her pet!
Egyptian Religion and Death
The Egyptian civilization lasted nearly 3,000 years. That's twice as long as the Romans lasted, and 4 times as long as the classic Mayan empire existed. The Kings who built the pyramids would have been just as ancient to King Tut as King Arthur is to us!
Over this time, Egyptian religion maintained the same gods and goddesses, but their roles changed over time. Egyptian religion was very complicated because it helped to keep the country united. The king had to make gods of southern Egypt and gods of Northern Egypt equally happy. At the center of the Ancient Egyptian gods was the great-grandson of the sun god, Horus. He had gods that were from both the north of Egypt and the South of Egypt in his family.
Horus was represented as a falcon or sometimes a man with the head of a falcon. The king was his spirit on earth. This is how the king stayed in charge of the nobles and priests; when you
come down to it you do not argue with a god!
When the king died, he would travel through the underworld, meeting gods and goddesses who would help him, and various demons and trickster spirits who would try to confuse him and make him lose his way. Finally, he would climb a great ladder into the sky to join his great-grandfather Ra in a boat, and together they would sail the sun accross the sky in the daytime, and through the underworld at night. Some people think of pyramids as a staircase that the king's spirit could climb in order to get to the sun-boat. In the time of the pyramids, when normal people and nobles died, they would just be citizens in the King's afterlife.
As time went on, the king lost a little bit of power, and ordinary people decided that instead of just being subjects of the king in the afterlife, they too could journey through the underworld and up into the sky to join Ra in the sun-boat.
Some people started to beleive that instead of sailing in the sun boat, they would be farmers in the fields of Osiris, who was the King of the underworld. Since the afterlife is no fun if you have to work, they had little figures made to do farm work for them. Some egyptians were buried with a figure, or Shabti, for every day of the year!
People who could afford it started building themselves lavish tombs and were buried with
models of things that they would like to have in the afterlife and belongings that they'd like to take with them. We know a lot about how people were fed and where they got their clothing from these models which show entire shops filled with people and tiny goods. To the left is a model of a butcher's shop that's about the size of a fruit-crate. You can see the butchers slaughtering the cows. One man walks through the door. Is that a duck in his hands?
Cuts of meat hang from the ceiling in the back with hides that would then be made into leather.
Go to the link below to see this picture.
The ordinary Egyptians have left us lots of evidence that they cared more about the gods of everyday life than the gods that helped the king rule politically. The god Bes was a dwarf with a beard. He and the goddess Taweret, a hippopotamus, and later the goddess Bastet protected mothers and children from sickness and snakebites. Bastet and Hathor were goddesses of drinking and merrymaking...of music and art. Thoth and Seshat were deities of writing and building. Making an offering to the goddess Sakhmet could prevent you from getting the plague or starving if you were sent out into the desert to mine or explore.
Hint: if you ever have to make Sakhmet* happy, she likes beer a lot. In Egyptian mythology, the sun-god Ra decided that he thought humanity was evil. He ordered Sakhmet to destroy all humans. Sakhmet went crazy--she's a cat, She likes to hunt -- and killed so many people that Ra
regretted ordering that everyone be killed. He told Sakhmet to stop now, but she refused. She
was enjoying hunting humans! Not knowing what to do to make Sakhmet stop, Ra consulted with the other gods and they came up with a plan. Together with the surviving humans, they made gallons and gallons of beer and mixed it with red ochre, a mineral that ladies used to make their lips red. It looked like blood. They put the beer in a place where Sakhmet could find it. When Sakhmet came to the city to destroy it and its inhabitants, she found troughs and troughs of red liquid. Thinking that it was blood, she started to lap and drink it..and drink...and drink....and drink..........and drink until she got so sleepy and drunk from the beer that she fell over.
When she woke up, she had forgotten why she was killing people, and Ra managed to persuade her to stop.
Humanity was saved!
Added to the gods that we've talked about already were special gods and goddesses that were only worshiped in particular cities.
The Egyptians believed in magic and sorcery--that a sorcerer who disliked someone could make a crocodile out of wax and bring that crocodile to life to eat his enemies. A hairclip shaped like a fish could protect a child from drowning. In the age of the pyramids, people were even worried that the animals depicted in hieroglyphs could come to life. Sometimes, artists who carved hieroglyphs would cut a line through them to "kill" them and keep them from becoming real.
Before the pyramids were built, the Egyptians buried most people in the ground or in small flat tombs called "mastabas" which means "bench" in Arabic, which is the language the Egyptians speak today. They reminded modern Egyptians of benches. A normal person would be buried
with some jars of beer and some small pottery dishes for food in the afterlife and placed unwrapped in the ground. Eventually, someone figured out that if you place a body in the dry sands of Egypt, sometimes it will dry up and survive. At first the Egyptians didn't know why certain bodies survived, but their religion taught that in order for a person to enter the underworld, that person's spirit, called a "ba" must come back and reunite with the body. The picture on the left is a what the Egyptians thought the Ba of Queen Nefertari looked like. The Egyptians wondered how a person's spirit could recognize their body if that person's body was a skeleton? It became
important for them to figure out a way to replicate what the sand did naturally. They started wrapping bodies in river reeds or cloth, and placing them in rock tombs only to discover that the bodies would start to decompose.
So, the Egyptians tried doing the same thing that the sand did. They dried out the body to preserve it. The art of mummification survived up until around year zero and then, as people started to convert to Christianity, they started to see mummification as a barbaric thing of the past. Gradually, the practice died out around 500 CE. The practice survived for nearly 2000 years, and this is roughly how they did it.
Making a Mummy
When a person died, they would be taken to the embalmer's tent, where their relatives could pick out a mummy-case for them. A scribe would write the person's name on the mummy-case amidst the prayers and wishes for a good afterlife. The mummy cases to the right belong to the wife of the chief artist in the valley of the kings. Her name was Iineferty.
The embalmers would then make a cut in the person's stomach and remove all of their organs, but they would save the liver, the intestines, the stomach and the lungs, and mummify those
seperately. They didn't know what the organs were used for, but they knew that they were important and that a person might need them in the next world. After mummifying the organs, they would wrap them and put them in special jars so that the person could get them back when their spirit reunited with their body. After removing the organs, the embalmers would remove
the brain by inserting a hook into the nose and pulling the brain out with the hook. They would throw the brain away, because they didn't think it did anything...the Egyptians believed that you
thought and felt with your heart.
They would be very careful to keep the heart, which they also mummified seperately. The embalmers would then wash the body and perfume it with spices and oils. Then, they would fill the inside of the body with a salt called natron which they wrapped into small cloth packets. They would bury the body in natron and allow it to dry out for several months.
When the body was through drying, the embalmers would remove all of the natron packets and return the heart to the body. They would sew up the incision through which the organs were removed and put a wax or gold plate over the suture to protect the body. Then, they would try to repair any damage that had occurred during the drying and make the person look as nice as they could for the afterlife. One man was fitted for a metal toe because he had lost his in life. Pharaoh Rameses II's nose lost some of its shape when he was drying out, so the embalmers
gave him a very aristocratic nose by stuffing his nose with peppercorns. A queen had her cheeks made plumper with linnen inserted beneath her skin, and an old woman had long black hair extensions woven into her gray hair.
A priest would pour black pitch over the body because it was believed to help preserve the body and because black was also the colour of fertile planting soil--good luck for rebirth into the afterlife. The embalmers would wrap the body in layers and layers of linen that was probably gathered by the mummy's relatives--bedsheets, old clothing, hand-me-downs--all were used to wrap the body. Priests would insert protective amulets into the wrappings and smear pitch over them. Finally, the mummy was covered with a clean sheet and placed in its coffin. The organs were wrapped in linen and placed in special jars that had pictures of either the dead person or protective gods on top. A priest would then perform spells and rituals over the coffin to enable the mummy to come back to life in the afterlife and to be able to speak and eat the offerings that were given to it. The picture below is of a canopic jar belonging to a noblewoman.
The mummy, the canopic jars with the organs inside, and some of the person's belongings were
then placed in a tomb, sometimes with other mummies. The coffin was painted with gods and goddesses that the person might meet in the afterlife as well as prayers and good wishes and spells that the person may need to make a safe journey to Osiris' fields. Some coffins even had a map of the underworld painted on the inside! The dead person's relatives would accompany them to the tomb and have a great feast outside of the tomb in honor of the dead person--and to say goodbye. They would wear necklaces and headbands made of flower petals sewn onto paper, and when the feast was finished, they would leave the remains of the feast and their flower-necklaces at the tomb. A priest would sweep out any foot-tracks that were in the tomb and the tomb would be sealed, hopefully forever.
If you want to see some natron filled embalming packets, some linen, a bed on which the mummy was placed for ceremonies, and some coffins that were never used in a burial, check out this site on the recently discovered tomb KV63 in the Valley of the Kings.
The Ancient Egyptian language was written in hieroglyphs: letters that look like pictures. The pictures don't always mean what they depict. For example, a glyph that shows a picture of a mouth sometimes means "mouth", and sometimes means "r". Some Egyptian letters represent sounds instead of single alphabet letters: for example, a picture of a fish represents the sound "in".
The Egyptians combined these pictures to make words. They were more concerned about making their writing look pretty than good spelling! They also didn't write vowels! They assumed that if you knew the Egyptian language you would be able to figure out what the word was by the words around it. This makes it very hard to tell the difference between some words. For example, if we were to write like the Egyptians, we would spell both "cat" and "cut" like "ct". How could we tell the difference? Well, we could look at the surrounding sentence, we could make a guess. My ct's name is Fluffy. Well, most people don't name a "cut" so we can assume that here, "ct" is "cat". The Egyptian scribes came up with another really clever way to tell the difference between words that were spelled alike. They put a picture at the end of the word to remind you of its meaning.
In our case, after the word "Ct", we could put a picture of a cat to indicate that this "Ct" spells "cat". After the other "ct", we could put a picture of a pair of scissors so that people could tell that *this* "ct" meant "cut".
Here are some hieroglyphs and words in Ancient Egyptian. You should know that the Egyptians today don't speak Ancient Egyptian anymore. They speak Arabic. They also don't write in hieroglyphs. Hieroglyphs were used for about 3,000 years though, and there are many words in our language that are loan words from Ancient Egyptian. For example, the name Susan is from the Ancient Egyptian name Seshen, which meant "lotus flower".
See if you can write a sentence in Ancient Egyptian with the words below!