Crystal Heaven Anthropology Research Paper 9 December 98 The Egyptian Hall at the Carnegie Museum is an excellent way to study ancient Egyptian culture. I was surprised to see all of the interesting facts I could gather about the culture I once knew very little about. The research project for my anthropology class taught me a lot about the history of Egypt, and now I know more about the culture than I ever thought I would. The first topic about Egypt we were to study was its geography. The Nile River is an important part in Egypts geography.
The Nile is probably the most important resource the Egyptian people have. It provides water for many things: growing crops, fish and birds, and materials for bricks and pottery. It also serves as a means of transportation between different settlements. The Nile River is unique because every summer, it overflows its banks and floods the surrounding area with water and rich slit. Africa is characterized by an usually rainless environment, but this yearly inundation generally allows Egypt to raise enough food for itself.
Aside from providing much needed water, the Niles valley also contains other resources such as rocks, minerals, and metals. After geography, we studied Egypts mythology. Every culture has creation myths; Egypt has several. The first and best known occurs in the city of Heliopolis. There, Atum, a part of the sun god Re, appeared out of a watery void (Nun) on a hill.
He created himself out of air (Shu) and moisture (Tefnet). Atum also established the order of Egypts universe. Atums offspring gave birth to the earth (Geb) and the sky (Nut). They, in turn, gave rise to other Egyptian deities such as Osiris, Isis, Seth, and Nephthys. Another story about Egypts creation occurs in the city of Hermopolis.
There, eight paired divinities defined the void before creation. In this version, Re was creator because without the sun, life could not exist. Re supposedly cried, and the tears he shed became humankind. I also studied Egypts social strata. At the top of the social line was the royalty.
This includes the pharaoh, his immediate family, and other noblemen. The king, or pharaoh was the most important individual in Egyptian society, and his main task was to maintain order within the universe. The king was divine; he was in contact with god, and acted as a mediator between the gods and the people. Noblemen were literate men who provided centralized control for the government. Nobility also held positions as religious leaders and military officers.
Egypts middle class was made up of minor officials, scribes, priests, and skilled craftsmen. The craftsmen belonged to large workshops sponsored by the state, temple, or a nobleman, and they always worked under government control. Egypts peasantry consisted of farmers, hunters, fishermen, servants, and unskilled artisans. This was Egypts most extensive social class. At the bottom of the social ladder were the slaves.
Craftsmen in Egypt utilized different materials such as stone, metal, and faience. They used stone to build monumental buildings and to construct small vessels. Egyptians carved jars, vases, pots, bowls, and palettes. The different types of stone the used were limestone, calcite, hematite, anhydrite, steatite, slate, and sandstone. The made intricate vessels like shouldered jars and lidded pots out of these materials. An interesting piece at the museum that I particularly enjoyed was the monkey holding a kohl tube.
In addition to stone, the ancient Egyptian craftsmen used metals. The use of metals did not begin until the Predynastic period (4500-3100 B.C.), when only native metals were used. By about 3100 B.C., copper ores, gold, quartz, and turquoise were utilized. In 2025 B.C., the Egyptians found bronze, and in 664 B.C. they used iron.
Another widely used material was faience, a man-made substance made from ground quartz (sand) and natron (hydrated sodium carbonate). It is bound together with water to form a paste. The paste is then shaped, molded, or thrown like pottery and fired in a kiln. Faience is used for beads, amulets, figurines, and vessels. Another interesting piece in Egypts history is that of its dwellings and settlements. Houses were typically made out of mud brick and consisted of a central living area, shrine, kitchen, cellar, and bedrooms.
Windows were high on the walls and had grills to keep out the birds. Larger rooms needed wood or stone columns to support the ceiling, and the roofs were covered with layers of sticks and stalks over palm tree rafters. Generally, ancient Egyptian homes had the same floor plan, but size, number of rooms, and decorations varied with a familys wealth and status. Most houses belonged to some type of settlement, whether it be planned or unplanned. Unplanned settlements were the most common. They were communities that developed naturally, according to the needs of its inhabitants. The land shows no signs of order; the houses and streets are irregular and natural looking.
Planned settlements, on the other hand, were specifically designed and laid out for a certain purpose. They include royal cities, workmens villages, fortresses, and towns for religious people. Planned settlements were built at the Pharaohs command to serve the needs of the people. Literacy in Egypt was a cherished gift; it bestowed status upon all that possessed it. Mostly noblemen and scribes were literate. These Egyptians wrote texts, stories, instructions, hymns, poetry, and biographies.
Also, remains of letters, business and legal records, math, medicine, and astronomy notes have been found. Much of these were written on papyrus, while other were written on linen, limestone, ceramic, bronze, faience, and wood. The role of women in ancient Egypt was primarily to care for the children. Something I found interesting about Egyptian life was the fact that marriages were arranged for the purpose of producing offspring to carry on the family name, but divorces were permitted. I was also surprised to see that both a male and a female could initiate divorce.
The last aspect of ancient Egyptian culture I studied was its burial traditions. Predynastic burial traditions were much different than the elaborate ones we usually associate with Egypt. Between 4500 and 3100 B.C. , Egyptians buried their dead in pits in the sand of a low desert area. The body was put in the fetal position, on its left side, with its face towards the west.
The family of the deceased placed objects such as food vessels, jewelry, and cosmetic utensils in the pit with the body. By early Dynastic times, and beginning with the wealthy, larger, more elaborate structures were placed over graves. Some animals were also mummified in tombs. These certain animals were sacred to particular gods. A few important animals were the falcon, ibis, cow, bull, ram, lion, and jackal.
A representative number of the species lived with priests, and when they died, their bodies were mummified and preserved for a pleasant afterlife. The ancient Egyptian tradition of mummification came from the peoples strong desire for eternal survival in the afterlife. Mummification was done to make a permanent house for the bodys spirit. The Egyptians even had a god of embalming- Anubis. In the tomb of a mummified person, you would find many treasures belonging to them when they lived. Canopic jars were placed in the tomb with other worldly possessions.
These jars contained the mummys internal organs and offered them eternal protection. Along with these, many shabits figures can be found in ancient tombs. These figures were carved in the shape of farmers performing different daily tasks, and symbolized that death did not excuse Egyptians from work. The shabits purpose was to perform life deeds after death, or farm the eternal fields. All in all, the Egyptian Hall at the Carnegie Museum offered a lot of interesting facts, and it was a great way to study a past culture.