Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Walk Like an Egyptian...

A trip to the Karpeles Museum is always a treat because they have some of the most interesting manuscripts and artifacts that help explain the workings of history.

They recently had an Egyptian exhibit and while it was not King Tut it served to explain all the different hieroglyphics as well as the thinking of the ancient Egyptians. As usual click each photo for a better view.

Magic played an important role in the life of ancient Egyptians, and these small statues, Ushabti, were placed in the tombs of the dead. They were intended to be servants in the next life that would magically come to life and do any chores the deceased might call upon them to do, like planting crops in the fields. Because the Egyptians imagined that life would be rural in the next life as it was in the present the little statues took on the appearance of field workers. They were mummiformed but their hands were allowed free from the bandages so they could do the work.

Since Ushabtis were provided to do the work of the dead, it was desirable to have many of them. It was assumed because the number of Ushabti found in tombs was often 365 that the intent was to have one for each day of the year. However, one tomb had over one thousand! I guess that guy didn't want to take any chances...

This next statue I found interesting on several levels, it is Anubis the god of the dead. Anubis is depicted as a man with the head of a jackal,and his head is always shown black representing his position as god of the dead. His job was to watch over the mummification process and conduct souls through the underworld. As part of the judging in the underworld he placed the heart of the dead on the scales of justice and fed the souls of the wicked to the wild animals of the underworld.

To the left is a relief carving of the famous Pharaoh Amenhotep I, the son of Ahmose and Queen Nefretiri. He is shown wearing a nemes headdress which was a royal head covering made of stiff cloth pleated with different colors. In front is the ureaus, or the cobra symbol, which was the emblem of lower Egypt (the northern half of Egypt).

Another interesting character was Tohr the god of writing, wisdom, and the moon. The curved beak of Tohr was suppose remind the Egyptians of the crescent moon and his representation as the lunar deity of wisdom. Tohr could bear away the dead on his wings over the obstacles of the other world. As the inventor of writing he was believed to have written the book of the dead., and is commonly represented as holding a palette and a reed pen as a symbol of his status as the god of writing and learning.

Sekhment, on the other hand, was the lion headed goddess of war and destruction. She was supposed to have been created by the fire in the eye of Re, the sun god. Re created her as a weapon of vengeance to destroy men for their wicked ways and disobedience to him.

And finally Horus who represented many deities but in an earthly context referenced the current Pharaoh. In this stone carving he is depicted as wearing the double crown of upper and lower Egypt. It was believed that the all seeing Eye of Horus roamed the skies of ancient Egypt looking for the return of his father Osiris from the other world or the dead.

And two final shots that give you a full view of the statues.

I have seen many pictures of these statues over the years and wondered what some of the hieroglyphics meant, but after this visit they have a lot more meaning. Think you can name a few after our tour?


  1. Your photos and histories are always interesting!

  2. Ana,
    Thank you. You have given away my secret! I was a history major in college and my curiosity about people and places springs from that. It is a double pleasure that others find it interesting as well!