It was a great great opportunity to feel the history of mystic Egypt while you are in United States of America.
There are many museums seen by me in India and of course there are some great museums in India such as in Sanchi, Ujjain, Bhopal, Hyderabad, Badami and Halebeedu, Delhi etc. But this museum was unique in sense that it has covered the history, life, religion, culture and life style of Egyptians since 6000 BC.
The most remarkable thing about this museum is that photography is allowed in side unlike India. I felt this museum shows how much the local government encourages to spread knowledge and take knowledge out of America.
If we compare India none of the museums allow photography and which result no tourist is able to take and spread the ancient and medieval history of India. Thus museums in India turn out to be mere local store rather than global.
The museum is located at San Jose in California state on west coast of America.
Egyptian civilization started when nomads from deserts started to settle around river Nile in about 3400 BC or before. This civilization flourished around narrow strip of River Nile in current Egypt. These natives depended on fertile soil brought by Nile during floods and were also troubled when it perished their crops when floods came on wrong time or when water was too less. This lead them to think about the calendar and they constructed barriers and ponds. Also the imported tool “potter’s wheel” was very useful to them in their daily life which they used to make pots.
Gradually the small clusters of nomads turned into villages and then to towns and cities from 3400 BC onward.
In order to understand this Museum and its artifacts let us have a look into history.
In 3100 BC King Menes conquered upper Egypt and Lower Egypt and became the first pharaoh of Egypt.
Historians divided Egypt history in 3 kingdoms – old, middle and new.
Old kingdom – Period when the belief of life after death and pyramids originated. Pyramids age started here.
Middle Kingdom – Egypt traded with other lands and conquered Nubia.
New kingdom – Golden age when they conquered middle east and pharaohs built great temples.
Later due to wealth the Assyrians from Mesopotamia regions, Greece, Persians and Romans attacked and the Egyptian civilization ended gradually in 30 AD.
Egyptians used to conquer lands turned prisoners to slaves which they used in constructing pyramids and temples.
Remeses-II built two temples at Abu Simbel in 1290-1224 BC. The smaller temple is dedicated to his queen Neffertari.
The Predynastic Period (5500 BC – 3050 BC)
The first evidence of habitation in Egypt dates to 1.8 million years ago. Early modern humans traveled up through Egypt to Europe, Australia, India and other lands.
The Predynastic Egyptians lived in egalitarian communities as farmers and herders. As the climate dried out, part of natural cycle, more people moved to lush green Nile river valley.
As the people began to live closer, they began to organize their society and specialize in tasks in order to function efficiently . Eventually governments formed.
Early Dynastic Period (3050 BC – 2663 BC)
Eventually the nations of Upper (South) and Lower (North) Egypt united under the kings later called “pharaoh”. Early images of the kings were brutal ones commonly showing slaughtering slaves.
During this era the Egyptian history, there may have been some human sacrifices. When the king died, some of his family members or servants may have been killed and placed in or near his tomb. However, it is not certain that these were sacrifices and if it did happen it was probably rare.
In the third dynasty, King Zoser (Djoser) had his architects design massive stepped pyramids.
Old Kingdom (2663 BC – 2195 BC)
During old kingdom (also called Pyramid age) the power of Egyptian monarchy reached its zenith. The king was powerful enough to mobilize a significant percentage of population to move to Giza during the farming-off season and help to build pyramid.
These public works projects helped foster a sense of national identity among population who lived together up to thousands of miles away from each other.
Following the might of the old kingdom, the Egyptians were one people, united and proud. Although the nation sometimes divided in strife, it always reunited eventually.
Middle Kingdom (2066 BC- 1650 BC)
A warrior king named Mentuhotep II re-unified Egypt and founded the middle Kingdom.
The middle Kingdom is perhaps best known for its literary classics. The great classic literature included such writings as the “Story of Sinuhe” and the “Admonitions of Ipuwer” .
Most private burials tool place in cliff tombs with columns. A rectangular columned offering chamber greeted the visitors. The tomb’s owner was buried in a shaft in the floor of this chamber, and images on the walls displayed materials and scenes of daily life. Images of offerings were not only displayed on tomb walls but also on coffins.
The New Kingdom (1550 BC – 1064 BC)
The middle kingdom ended with the peaceful invasion by the Hyksos, a people who came from northeast of Egypt. During the following second intermediate period, the Theban area in Upper Egypt (South) remained largely independent of the Hyksos.
Eventually a family of Theban warriors drove the Hyksos out of Egypt entirely. These warriors were founders of the Eighteenth dynasty at the start of New kingdom, famous for such kings as Amenhotep III, Akhenaten, Tutenkhanum and Remeses as well as queens Hatshepsut, Tiyi, Nefertiti and Nefertari. It was the age of Egyption Empire.
The Egyptians of new Kingdom were buried in T-Shaped tombs with elaborate chapels for offering to the deceased. At first coffins were simple with minimum decoration, imitating a wrapped, masked mummy. Later coffins were more elaborate and decorated inside and outside.
During this time the science of preservation reached its technological peak. Those who could afford the highly expensive and sophisticated mummification process expected their bodies to last forever.
Pyramids and Mummies
Pyramids – There have been a lot of programs on Pyramids and theories are put forward as to how these huge pyramids were constructed 4500 years back. Pyramids are huge tombs of Pharaohs.
There are many pyramids in Egypt but Giza is the only pyramid which is one of the seven wonders of ancient world. Its height is 147 meters – 490 feet that is equivalent to almost 32 storey building.
It is constructed by boulders and some of them were 15,000 kg each. It is amazing and even now people speculate how the such huge boulders would be used. 2.5 millions of blocks were used to make Pyramid of Giza. In base of pyramid the temples were made to give offering to king’s spirits.
Mummy – Egyptians believed that spirit is associated with dead body as long as it is kept preserved. So the idea of mummy came in ancient Egypt 4500 years back. The case in which mummy was kept had the print of the dead person so that spirit can recognize and enter the right box.
These mummies were kept with invaluable ornaments and so many were robbed but only the mummy of 17 year old Tutankhamum was still untouched and was discovered in 1933.
Before embalming they used to remove all internal parts of body (except heart) into a jar and pack the body with salt, spices and sand and then rub outer skin with oil, wine and resin. Finally wrap it with linen bandages all over body in many layers.
This mummy excellently preserved did not have any wrappings or decorations.
His finger nails were dyed with henna, but hair were natural color. The high quality of his mummification indicates that he was from upper class. Embalming of this type required great expense. In 2004 researchers from National Geography channel came to investigate this mummy.
There were several reasons for Animal’s mummification by Egyptians. Some were placed in tombs to provide a permanent food for spirits. This practice was more common in Middle kingdom. Fish, cat, buffalo, crocodile, cuts of meat were mummified.
Sometimes beloved animals were mummified by owners. By far the most popular reason of mummifying was to honour the Gods. Many Gods were representing animals. Crocodile for example represented by God Sobek, cat related to Bastet.
The people of Egypt used to protect their family and home from evils. God Bes was the protector of children and helpless people and soldiers. The images of Bes were worn in amulets and painted on walls.
Taweret, the hippopotamus goddess, was protector of pregnant women. When woman was pregnant she was considered under protection of Taweret rather than Hathor’s who was protector of love and sexuality. Mother will return to protection of Hathor after naming ceremony of child.
Goddess cat, God crocodile were also thought to be protector of family and save from diseases. The generation was expected to give proper honor by burying the deceased parents to save them beyond grave.
Women used to bear children and household works and took part in spiritual functions.
Hapi, The God of Nile Inundation
Hapi, an androgynous deity, was not God of Nile but he was God of Nile flood which replenished its river bank with fertile soil which helped people in their agriculture.
Hapi was represented by papyrus plant, representing lower Egypt (North) and the lotus flower signifying upper Egypt (South).
This statue in this figure is cast of quartzite statue from 22nd dynasty (872 BC-837 BC). It is shown with facial features of Pharaoh Osorkon II.
1. Bes wands : As protector of children. It was considered to be powerful magical. Newborns were dedicated with figures of Bes.
3. Bes Amulet : Bes was believed to protect all helpless, prisioners, soldiers.
4. Face of Bes : God Bes was used in base of larger objects such as furniture, beds and other household items to protect home.
5. Taweret Medicine Bottle :
If new mother was not producing enough milk , the milk will be poured in these bottle’s head so that it would run out of holes in the bottle’s breast. This was thought to help mother to produce more milk
If new mother was not producing enough milk , the milk will be poured in these bottle’s head so that it would run out of holes in the bottle’s breast. This was thought to help mother to produce more milk.
6. Bes Jars : Bes was thought as protector of children. Milk was fed to the infants and children in these bottles in hope that it will turn into medicine. If child was still ill then physician was contacted.
7. Cippus Of Horus : Bes watches over the child Horus as he shows mastery over dangerous animals. If an Egyptian desired protection from these animals, he would pour water over this stele and then collect and drink it, creting an invisible shield for himself.
8. Bes Amulets : Amulets were pieces of jwelry worn for magical protection. Bes was fierce God, and in theory he was so frightening that he could scare away bad luck. He often carries a sword and wears a feathered headdress.
9. Childbirth Amulet : Taweret was fierce protress of pregnant women. Expectig mothers would wear these amulets in hope of easy pregnancy, healthy baby and plenty of milk. The other amulet shows a mother nursing her child.
10. Hathor Seal Amulet : Hathor was cow-faced goddess of beauty. Women wore her Amules hoping she would bless them with good marriage and the attractiveness to ensure that many children would come from the union.
11. Protective image of Bestat : Bestat was cat Goddess and was also lover of dance and music.
12. This figure is image of a nude woman and carries tattoos.
13. Women with accentuated fertility traits, such as large hips and bresats, were formed of clay or ivory to magically improve fertility. Figures of this type, dating to at least 6000 years ago,have been found in Egypt.
14. Sobek Images : The green crocodile statue, which is actually a lamo, was made approximately 2000 years ago during a period when Romans ruled Egypt
Note : The crocodile was the bane for Egyptian mothers. Almost everyone in ancient Egypt lived by river and when mothers went to river side crocodile would snatch their babies. This very rightfully terrified the mothers. Images such as these were given to temples or kept in home to honor Sobek, the crocodile God to spare their family. The crocodile lamp you see had intention that flame would keep their family eternally safe from crocodile God or drowning into Nile river.
In ancient Egypt proper burial was considered to be essential for eternal life of deceased. Most people began their burial preparations as soon as they had means to do so, especially since a sizable tomb could take 15 to 20 years to complete.
All sort of tomb offering were placed in burial chamber. Drawings
of food (sometimes actual mummified food) prevented the deceased from going hungry. Board games kept him entertained and furniture gave his spirit a place to rest. Even models of deceased and his servants also were kept to do chores for him after death.
Set of canopic jars : To hold the viscera of dead in the tomb. The lung, intestine, liver (except heart) were placed in these jars. The heart was left in body itself to be judged by God.
The lids were represented by four sons of God by painting or design their images.
Mummification was the most important aspect of journey afterlife. The body was taken to the “Good House”, called pr-nefer, for this procedure.
After the body was cleaned and eviscerated, it was buried in desert salt called natron for 35 days, and then lengthy anointing and wrapping process. began.
During the process, the entire family mourned. Women cut their hair short and men let their beard grow. Clothes were allowed to become dirty, and members of the deceased’s family poured dirt over their own head.
Proper mourning led to the moment when body was given back to the family for internment in the tomb.
Honoring the Ancestors
Once the mollified body was returned to family, the process of funeral began. The family received the body in its fully wrapped state and carried it in its coffin up to the tombs. The women wailed and poured dirt on themselves along the way, often accompanied with professional mourners.
The opening of mouth ceremony was performed at the entrance of tomb. A model of an adze, a woodworking tool, was touched to the mouth of mummy, and the spell ended with the words “ You are young again. You shall live again, you are young again for ever!”. Once this was done, the spirit of deceased was freed to begin its afterlife journey.
Family will visit the tomb daily as they feared angry soul could harm family.
Ba (bird with human head) represented soul of the deceased and was kept in tomb. It was thought that it will often fly and visit the relatives.
1. Offering Stele
Simple offering stelae of this type were used in homees and villages during a ritual custom honoring one’s ancestotors. Also they were kept in temples.
2. Offering Altar : Altars possessed a form of magic. The items carved on them were meant to be “activated” by pouring water over them from special jars, called hs jars. Here you can see hs jars carved directly from altar.
3. Amuletic paintings on the shirt were meant to protect wearer. While the cloth was made from flax plant.
Weaving and basketry
The most popular fabric in ancient Egypt was linen cloth which was produced from flax plant. Usually women used to weave the cloth and was considered as a very important household work. In fact it was like currency and was used for barter system too.
The lined fibrers were pulled from flax plant, soaked and dried and then fibres were combed to make thin threads one-tenth of human hair. Most linen was white as it was difficult to dye. Basketry was used to make sandles, water tight baskets, fishing material and rope to be used at Nile.
5. Heart Scarabs : These simple heart scarabs were placed on the chests of mummies to magically take the place of the heart if it failed to appear for judgement. Many are inscribed, exhorting the heart toi be silent about the past sins.
6. Hare Amulets : The hare was sign of virility in ancient Egypt.Hare
amulets were worn by people in hop of creating fertility through magic.
9. A priest of House of Life owned this in coffin.
Towns were very crowded and built tightly together. However the homes faced inward for privacy. Weaving and other works were done on roof. Women were responsible for the home, both in management and decoration. Heirlooms were passed down through families, Some fine pottery shows of having been used for generations. In end these were retired to tomb of family member.
1. Cosmetics Containers
2. Egyptian Alabaster Vase : Fine wares such as this vase passed through families as treasured heirlooms. This simple vase has sides less than half an inch thick, and an excellent example of art of stone worker.
3. Lotus shaped Cup : Lotus was symbol of creation and the rising sun for Egyptions and was treasured decoration for home and household furnishings. This cup is made of falence, the Egyptions favourite type of ceramic.
4. Toy boat : Made for children.
Men and women both would decorate their face with eyeliner, lip color in order to enter in good grace of God Hathor. Hathor was Goddess of physical beauty, fertility, and love. Perfumes and ointments were used as moisturizer. Henna, was used to die nails.lips, cheeks. Eye shadow used powdered malachite.
15. Core-formed Glass Vessels : Opaque glass, formed over a sand core which was later removed, first appeared in Egypt during New Kingdom.
17. Combs, hairpins and hair extensions : No beauty treatment was sufficient without these. These examples came from tomb but they were also used in everyday life.
16. Core-formed Glass Amphora : These vessels were used to hold perfumes. Called amphora for its shape, it is most likely early form of glass making. The jar’s colors were applied by melting colored glass rods onto jar and dragging stick through them.
18. Tweezer and razor sets : The Egyptians were fastidicious about hair on body and strove to eliminate it.
To the ancient Egyptians, jewelry was not simply decoration. Amulets were strung together tp create powerful magical protection. Even the decoration beads between the amulets were often stylized lotus flowers or other symbol of power.
The stones chosen for jewelry could have meaning too. Because carnetian was associated with Isis, this stone was often used in images of Goddess. Gold represented Sun, or the Goddess of Hathor, who was called “The Golden One”.
Jewelry was created by special craftsmen. People who were born dwarf were thought to be specuially good at making jewelry and were often apprenticed to mastaer jewelry.
Clothing was kept simple but often was accentuated by fine jewelry. Women would wear entire bead-net dresses over their simple clothings.
Art and Artisans
Artisans were special class in Egypt’s feudal system. Painters, carpenters, sculptors and architects were direct employees of king. They were not bound to any land. They were directed by king and had to go to places where the tombs or furniture were to be constructed.
The most famous artists lived in town called Set Ma’at , known today as Deir el-Medina.
Food and Cookery
Farms in Egypt provided barley and onion which were central part of food. Beer rich in vitamin B-12 was made of barley. Cattle, ducks, geese and even hyenas were raised as source of wheat. Fish provided most of protein in diet. Until 18th dynasty (16th century BC) the chickens were unknown as food. Note that 18th dynasty was the first dynasty of ancient Egypt New kingdom.
Although no books on recipes have survived or available, it is through their shopping lists and medicinal purchases, we can guess the ancient Egyptian’s food ingredients. Ducks were stuffed with dates, pistachios, coated with honey and then roasted. Sweet cakes were made using ground flour, goose fat, honey. Palm wine provided a change from ubiquitous barley beer.
Weaving and basketry
The most popular fabric in ancient Egypt was linen cloth which was produced from flax plant. Usually women used to weave the cloth and was considered as a very important household work.
In fact it was like currency and was used for barter system too.
The lined fibrers were pulled from flax plant, soaked and dried and then fibres were combed to make thin threads one-tenth of human hair. Most linen was white as it was difficult to dye.
Basketry was used to make sandles, water tight baskets, fishing material and rope to be used at Nile.
Papyrus and writing
Personal letters, marriage contracts and funeral tableaus. As few as 2% of Egyptian population knew
Reading and writing. Except the town Set Ma’at, known today as Deir el-Medina had literacy rate of 40% as here mostly families of special class Artisans in Egypt’s feudal system. Painters, carpenters, sculptors and architects lived here who had created huge tombs, temples.
The coffin of Tutankhanum
The innermost coffin of Tutankhanum (Nine year old when he became king and 17 year old when he died)is one of the most splendid and rare examples of royal burial regalia. Made of precious colored glass, jewels and was most ornate of all the tombs found so far and was discovered in 1972 by Egyptologist Howard Carter and team.
King Tutankhanum’s mummy was placed in 3 nested coffins, which in turn was lowered into large stone sarcophagus in his tomb.
The 2 emblems held in his hand are symbols of kingships showing his domination over Lower Egypt (North) and Upper Egypt (South). Tutankhanum’s False beard was added as a sign of royal power. It is curved in end to indicate that this young pharaoh has become God afterlife.
Early 18th dynasty coffin
Early 18th century is first dynasty of ancient Egypt New kingdom. This coffin is of a priest named Disure in this dynasty. The sides of coffin are painted to show golden straps, although yellow paint takes the place of actual gift. The goddess Isis is painted at the base of coffin to protect Disure’s feet.
Coffin of a common man
Pottery in Ancient Egypt
Music in Temples
Ancient Egyptians considered music to be essential for proper functioning of the temples. Women filled this role, serving as musicians and songstress. While the women who sang did not bear the title of priestess, they were just important for any religious ceremonies.
The instruments displayed here were played in morning and evening when priests opened the temple doors. This moment of human-to-god contact was considered to be critical to worship and at the same time dangerous to priests. So music was played to soothe the God.
This museum is a great collection of artifacts, mummies, coffins, sculpture, statues, depiction of daily life, pottery, temple architecture, visual and audio demos. The photography is allowed inside and therefore you are free to take memories and knowledge about Egypt when you leave this museum.
I must thank USA archaeology department to open such treasure of wealth and knowledge about ancient Egypt culture.
The boards have described the artifacts and history so clearly that we get clarify our what, why and when.
Egypt Museum at San Jose, USA for photos and text. Photography was allowed inside.