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Ancient Egypt: Everyday Life

Resources for the Ancient Egypt unit.

textSource: Jeremy Bezanger (2020)

The life of the Ancient Egyptians was one of abundance, thanks to the fertile soil and access to resources provided by the Nile. Though it was not without its hardships, the proximity to the Nile made Ancient Egypt a strong and wealthy empire, which meant a good life for most of its citizens. Read through the resources below to learn more about everyday life in Ancient Egypt.

Wooden model of a man ploughing with oxen

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. 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. 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.

Nubian cooking pot

This Nubian cooking pot was found on the floor of house D12.6 (room 5) in Amara West next to a mudbrick storage bin and other pots.

Surveying the fields for Nebamun, fragment of a scene from the tomb-chapel of Nebamun

Nebamun was the accountant in charge of grain at the great Temple of Amun at Karnak. This scene from his tomb-chapel shows officials inspecting fields. A farmer checks the boundary marker of the field. Nearby, two chariots for the party of officials wait under the shade of a sycomore-fig tree.

Other smaller fragments from this wall are now in the Egyptian Museum in Berlin, Germany and show the grain being harvested and processed.

The old farmer is shown balding, badly shaven, poorly dressed, and with a protruding navel. He is taking an oath saying:

‘As the Great God who is in the sky endures, the boundary-stone is exact!’

‘The Chief of the Measurers of the Granary’ (mostly lost) holds a rope decorated with the head of Amun’s sacred ram for measuring the god’s fields. After Nebamun died, the rope’s head was hacked out, but later, perhaps in Tutankhamun’s reign, someone clumsily restored it with mud-plaster and redrew it.

Harvest Scenes, replica of a wall painting from the tomb of Menna

Harvesting, threshing and winnowing scenes. Replica of a wall painting from the tomb of Menna, in Thebes. Painting by Nina M. Davies (1881-1965). Farmers are collecting cereal ears in baskets, cereals are being threshed, and then winnowed with special winnowing fans. During winnowing, the cereals are thrown in the air and the wind carries away the straw.

Bronze sickle

Bronze sickle, crescent-shaped with serrated inner edge, rectangular flat dowel at top end pierced by two circular holes, the blade narrows to a point.

Sickles were used for harvesting. The cut cereal ears were carried in baskets to be threshed. The cereal ears were spread on the ground and oxen trampled on the cereal to separate the grain from the straw stalk.

Fragment of a tomb painting

Fragment of a polychrome tomb painting representing funerary offerings and with four vertical registers of polychrome painted hieroglyphs surviving. This scene includes round and long loaves of bread as well as fruits in pots such as grapes and figs. It also shows other foods such as geese and a joint of meat.

Winnowing fan

Winnowing fans were used in pairs with one held in each hand. The fans helped to separate the cereal grain from the straw. After being harvested and then trampled by cattle, the cereal was ‘winnowed’ to separate the grain and the chaff. The cereal was thrown into the air using the fans and the wind carried away the light straw (chaff). 


Circular sieve formed from woven palm, with a raised edge. Emmer wheat ‘spikelets’ were taken out of storage and pounded in a mortar to release the grain. Afterwards, sieves were used to remove chaff and weeds. Finally, the grain was ground into flour for making bread.  

Bronze seated statuette of the architect Imhotep

Small bronze statuettes of deities were often placed in temples in ancient Egypt. They were frequently inscribed with the name of the person who dedicated the statuette, so that their devotion would continue for eternity. Imhotep was a vizier and architect to King Djoser in around 2700 BC. Imhotep is credited with building the first monumental structure in stone, the Step Pyramid at Saqqara. According to the historian Manetho, writing in the third century BC, Imhotep also wrote a book of 'instructions'. These texts offered advice on a variety of subjects. His tomb is assumed to be at Saqqara, but it has never been found. Although none of the writings of Imhotep survive today, he was much respected long after his death. He was seen as the archetypal man of learning and was particularly associated with writing and medicine. In the Late Period (661-332 BC) he was worshipped as a god, and became the son of Ptah, the local god of the Saqqara-Memphis region. Imhotep is usually represented in a seated position with an open papyrus across his knees. The papyrus shows that Imhotep was a learned man and his relationship to Ptah is indicated by the close fitting cap which he wears.

Nebamun’s geese, a fragment of a scene from the tomb-chapel of Nebamun

This scene is part of a wall showing Nebamun inspecting flocks of geese and herds of cattle. He watches as farmers drive the animals towards him; his scribes (secretaries) write down the number of animals for his records. Hieroglyphs describe the scene and record what the farmers say as they squabble in the queue.

This scribe holds a palette (pen-box) under his arm and presents a roll of papyrus to Nebamun. He is well dressed and has small rolls of fat on his stomach, indicating his superior position in life. Beside him are chests for his records and a bag containing his writing equipment.

Farmers bow down and make gestures of respect towards Nebamun. The man behind them holds a stick and tells them:

‘Sit down and don’t speak!’.

The farmers’ geese are painted as a huge and lively gaggle, some pecking the ground and some flapping their wings.

Scribal palette with paintbrush

Wooden scribal palette, with two wells containing red and black pigment. The slot for pens is grooved to allow insertion of the cover, only part of which remains. This cover bears a line of right-facing hieroglyphs in raised relief: 'the perfect god, lord of the Two Lands, Nebpehtire, s[on of Ra, Ahmose]'.
A wooden mixing-stick and four rush pens were acquired with this palette; two of the pens have traces of red and black pigment on the end, the other two pens have red pigment on one end and black pigment on the other.
A hieratic note on the underside of the palette reads 'third month of summer ...'


Solid-cast copper alloy aegis with two heads: Shu with a plumed headdress and Tefnut(leonine) wearing a uraeus and sun-disc; broad collar below extending into a counterpoise engraved with a representation of a seated goddess and a fish.


Cornelian pesesh-kef amulet; gold terminal in form of human head.


Fan-handle, with modern ostrich feathers attached. A plain wooden handle is topped with a finely carved terminal. This bears a carved depiction of the face of Hathor, with cow ears. The top of the terminal is pierced with holes to take the feathers.


White and mauve glazed composition ear-plug: mould-made with rosette on head with red centre-point.

Cosmetic jar

A pottery cosmetic-jar: in the form of a woman playing a lute, with her body twisted slightly to the left. She wears a long dress, and a bangle on her right wrist. The object does not stand on its own, so would have been impractical as a vessel.

After moulding, the face, fingers, and toes were enhanced with a tool. A red slip covers the surface, which is vertically burnished. Black paint was applied, as usual, to the hair and eyes, and to outline the fingers and the toenails. On the woman's tunic dress, the short sleeves, keyhole neckline with its little tie strings, the stitching of the side seams and the fringe of the hem are all indicated in black paint. The lute is also realistically detailed, from the tassels for fixing the two strings, to the frets, holes in the sound box, and plectrum. A checkerboard pattern on the back of the sound box represents the tortoiseshell of which such objects were made. This jar tells us a lot about the type of fashion and cosmetics worn by Ancient Egyptians.

The handle, spout and base were moulded separately and then applied. The potter has taken great care to obliterate all tooling marks.


Gold finger-ring: the bezel is incised with rather poorly formed hieroglyphs naming a Ptolemaic king, probably Ptolemy III. The bezel is mounted on a stirrup-shaped hoop.


Gold finger-ring: with green jasper scarab ornamented with the good luck symbols of snakes and cartouches as bezel.


Limestone stelophorous statue of an unnamed man: the deceased is represented kneeling on a pedestal and holding before him a stela. He wears a long braided wig, a short beard and a long skirt reaching to the ankles. The top of the stela is shaped in the form of an offering-table, some of the offerings being carved on the top of the support connecting the stele with the figure. In the arch are incised two 'wedjat'-eyes flanking a 'shen' sign, a cup and three lines of water. Below, incised in eight horizontal lines of Middle Egyptian, is a hymn to the sun-god (one of those now designated Spell 15 of the funerary Book of the Dead). The name of the owner has been erased, but otherwise both figure and stela are well preserved. Traces of red paint still remain on the body.


This is a good example of some of the fashion worn by Ancient Egyptians.


Yellow limestone figure of a male official named Kasa, the feet now partially lost.

Kasa wears a double wig, featuring long tresses over the top of the head with an undersection of small curls behind the elongated ears. A slim horizontal band of tighter curls is visible along the forehead, and on the reverse at the ends of the wig. His youthful facial features include wide set eyes, faint slightly curved eyebrows, a broad nose, and thick lips. He also has a short beard extending from the chin. He wears a thin tunic with short capped sleeves extending onto the upper arm, under which the bulging chest and torso are clearly modelled. His long kilt is belted at the waist across the front of the body, though there is no clear delineation of the material across the back. The centre of the kilt features a pleated panel which extends outwards and down towards the ankles. His hands are placed in front of him with the palms held flat against either side of the panel. The curviness of the body is emphasised via the fleshy chest, swollen stomach and buttocks. On the reverse, a slim bordered column of inscription is incised down the back of the clothing providing his name and titles, with the lower portion now missing.

Part of the right side upper arm and tunic sleeve is missing, and the ends of the feet are also lost. The figure has been repaired at ankle level in modern times. A long white line is visible across the stone surface reaching from a small chip to the left side of the nose down to the end of the beard. A white line, possibly an abrasion, also appears across the chest of the figure from the neck down to the belly. There are various further chips to the stone surface particularly at the ends of the clothing, and there is discolouration around the neck and chest area.


Limestone fragmentary head of a female figure, broken at the neck and the back of the head now lost.

The figure wears a heavy tripartite style wig with a notable centre parting and detailed striations across the individual tresses of the hair, the ends now lost. The left side has broken off in a roughly diagonal line from the chin, while a longer portion of the wig is intact on the right side. Her eyes are narrow and her thin eyebrows are modelled in raised relief, while her nose is extremely broad. A clear cupid’s bow is visible above her top lip. She has a clear smile, and her lower lip is sharply incised. On the reverse much of the head and wig is now lost.

The nose has been damaged, with the tip now lost. There are also small chips on both sides of the face underneath the eyes.


This is a good example of the types of wigs worn by Ancient Egyptians.

Mirror with Handle in the Form of a Hathor Emblem

The handle of this mirror was originally made of wood (now restored) covered with gold foil. The woman's face with cow's ears represents the goddess Bat and is also an emblem of the goddess Hathor. The use of gold and silver, rather than wood and bronze, identifies this as the possession of a member of the elite, in this case one of three foreign wives of Thutmose III. The king's cartouche is inscribed above the face.

Gold Necklace of the Child Myt

Myt’s mummy was wrapped in several layers of sheets, and five necklaces (22.3.320–.324) were found between the layers around her head. The precious material and fine quality of her jewelry indicate that she must have been of high status, even though she was just a little girl five years old. It has been speculated that she was a daughter of Mentuhotep II, but there is no direct evidence for that.

Broad collar

By the New Kingdom, broad collar necklaces were the most frequently worn pieces of jewelry among the royalty and elite in ancient Egypt. This necklace belonged to one of three foreign wives of Thutmose III. The king's name is inscribed on the backs of the falcon-headed terminals indicating that it was a gift from him to his wife.

Female musicians

Music, singing, and dancing were part of celebrating in ancient Egypt. Here, a harpist leads a group of female musicians. To the right is a lute player, who is naked except for her jewelry. She is dancing, and her tilted head indicates that she is possibly singing as well. Behind her, a young girl also wearing only jewelry is dancing and might be singing. The fourth female figure plays a double pipe and turns her head toward a lyre player. According to an inscription, this detail of a larger banquet was probably part of the Beautiful Festival of the Valley.

Kohl Tube and Applicator

This small kohl tube is made of bright blue Egyptian faience with gold mounts around the base and rim. A stick of hematite serves both as the closure for the tube and an applicator for the powdery cosmetic that would have been stored inside. Both the quality of the piece, and the use of gold indicate that it belonoged to a person of importance. This is confirmed by the the inscription on the side of the vessel which reads: Greatest of the Five, Djehutymose. The title "greatest of the five" was held by the high priest of Thoth at Hermopolis.

In ancient Egypt, men as well as women used cosmetics and wore jewelry.

Ring with Cat and Kittens

This ring depicts a cat and its kittens perched above a bound bundle of flowering papyrus designed to represent a marsh. In all likelihood, these elements symbolize the myth of the "Faraway Goddess," a story in which a feline plays a prominent role as a deity that must be coaxed back to the Nile Valley after she flees into the Nubian desert. Her desertion disrupts the ancient Egyptian world of "maat" and she must be brought back by a variety of personages so that Egypt returns to stability and order and prosperity. Elaborately carved faience rings typically date to this period when craftsmen had total mastery of the medium faience; this one is a superb example. Such rings were most likely created to celebrate various festivals held in honor of the deities depicted on the rings.

Game Box for Playing Senet and Twenty Squares

The upper and lower surfaces of this box are each configured for a different board game. The side visible in this photograph has twenty squares for a game that was introduced into Egypt from the Ancient Near East. The other side has thirty squares for the Egyptian game known as Senet. These were both games in which two players raced each other for position, using knucklebones or throw sticks as dice to determine each play. For this game box, eight of the original gaming pieces and two bones are preserved. The pieces would have been stored in a drawer that could be closed with an ivory bolt.

Only the ivory sections of the box, the ivory bolt, and the copper alloy bands used to hold the bolt in place were preserved when the box was discovered. It has been restored using modern wood.


Arched harps of this type were already in use during the Old Kingdom and remained the foremost string instruments until the end of the Middle Kingdom. From the New Kingdom onward, Egyptian arched harps co-existed with a great variety of harps in different shapes and sizes. Unlike modern European versions, ancient Egyptian harps have no forepillar to strengthen and support the neck. Skin, now missing, covered the open top of the soundbox. Older forms of arched harps like this had four or five strings; during the later New Kingdom musicians experimented with newer forms that accommodated many strings. Harp players accompanied a singer; harps, flute players and singers formed the most common type of musical ensemble that performed during festivals and banquets, funerals, and temple rituals.

Tomb Chapel of Raemkai: North Wall

In a tomb chamber like this one, which is entered from the north side of the east wall, the east and north walls are closest to the entrance and thus to life on earth. The following scenes are presented on the north wall: outdoor life with herds, fish preparation, baking and brewing, and offering bearers directed toward the niche in the lower part of the wall.

The Life of the Herd
The feet of men and animals are still visible in the uppermost preserved register. Scattered bushy plants indicate that this scene takes place on the steppe. Enough remains to reconstruct a bull copulating with a cow on the right, while on the left the birth of a calf is assisted by a kneeling herdsman. To his right, an overseer leans on a staff (although in an unusual detail, the staff itself is missing). The ancient Egyptians were extremely successful cattle breeders, and the frequent depictions of herds in tombs testify to their strong belief in nature's ability to continually renew itself.

The bakery activities on the right are represented somewhat out of sequence, probably because of lack of space. The narrative starts with the two female millers (inscriptions: grinding) in the third preserved row. They are kneeling and bend forward, the typical pose of ancient Egyptian millers, who ground grain on hard millstones. Above them are two other women who refine the flour before turning it over to the bakers. The inscription above the woman on the right says "cleaning," and she appears to be tossing the plate in her hands so that the flour is flung into the air, an activity that may help remove the last remaining husks. Her companion to the left sifts the flour (inscription: sieving). The two bakers at the far left of this register knead dough on a low table. The loaves are then baked in the oval molds that the man below them heats on a small fire. He stokes the flames with two sticks.

The brewery scene begins in the bottom right register, with a woman heating conical bread molds. She shields her face from the heat of the flames. Behind her, a man bends over a large vat in which he prepares the dough that is then transferred into the heated molds, a row of which is standing ready above. Finally, the brewer seen left of center presses the baked loaves through a sieve into another vat. Facing him is a squatting man, who prepares the jars that will eventually hold the fermented beer.

The Preparation of Fish
On the left side of the second preserved register from the top, a man with the slight hump of an elderly laborer sits on a woven mat under a papyrus bush. He is gutting and cleaning a great number of fish, brought to him by two men who carry a huge basket on a pole over their shoulders.

Women at a banquet

This detail of a banquet scene shows a female guest offering another guest a yellow mandrake fruit, which the ancient Egyptians associated with love and sexuality. The fruit has a pleasing smell when ripe, while the mandrake plant itself has hallucinogenic and aphrodisiac effects but is toxic. Several lotus flowers are also depicted. Each headband features a lotus bud, and two guests hold a lotus flower; one is open (though partially destroyed), and another is closed. The lotus flower, which also has a pleasing scent, was a symbol for regeneration and rebirth because its petals open and close every day. Additionally, the Nymphaea species of lotus has narcotic properties and may have been used to achieve an altered state.

Model of a Slaughter House

This model of a meat processing installation was found with twenty three other models of boats, gardens, and workshops in a hidden chamber at the side of the passage leading into the rock cut tomb of the royal chief steward Meketre, who began his career under King Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II of Dynasty 11 and continued to serve successive kings into the early years of Dynasty 12.

Two oxen are being slaughtered in the large hall. Their legs have been trussed together and two men are cutting their throats. Opposite these men, two others hold bowls to catch the blood which will be made into pudding by the men in the corner fanning fires under kettles. An overseer and a clerk, holding batons, superintend the slaughtering and the plucking of a goose. On the balcony above hang joints of meat. The cords holding joints of meat have been restored.

Model of a Granary with Scribes

This model of a granary was discovered in a hidden chamber at the side of the passage leading into the rock cut tomb of the royal chief steward Meketre, who began his career under King Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II of Dynasty 11 and continued to serve successive kings into the early years of Dynasty 12.

The four corners of this model granary are peaked in a manner that is sometimes still found in southern Egypt today presumably to offer additional protection against thieves and rodents. The interior is divided into two main sections: the granary proper, where grain was stored, and an accounting area. Keeping track of grain supplies was crucial in an agricultural society, and it is noteworthy that the six men carrying sacks of grain here are outnumbered by nine men taking care of measuring and accounting. Of the four scribes two are using papyrus scrolls, two write on wooden writing boards.

All the accessible rooms in the tomb of Meketre had been robbed and plundered already during Antiquity; but early in 1920 the Museum's excavator, Herbert Winlock, wanted to obtain an accurate floor plan of the tomb's layout for his map of the Eleventh Dynasty necropolis at Thebes and, therefore, had his workmen clean out the accumulated debris. It was during this cleaning operation that the small hidden chamber was discovered, filled with twenty-four almost perfectly preserved models. Eventually, half of these went to the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, and the other half came to the Metropolitan Museum in the partition of finds.

Model of a Porch and Garden

This model of a garden and portico was discovered in a hidden chamber at the side of the passage leading into the rock cut tomb of the royal chief steward Meketre, who began his career under King Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II of Dynasty 11 and continued to serve successive kings into the early years of Dynasty 12.

In the center of the garden is a pond surrounded by sycamore fig trees with red fruit growing from the trunks and branches. The pond is lined with copper and could have been filled with water. Facing the garden is the porch of a house. Two rows of columns support the roof made of palm trunks split into halves. The rear columns have capitals in the form of papyrus stalks bound together, the capitals of the front columns imitate bundles of lotus. Rainfall is rare in Upper Egypt, but such an eventuality is provided for in three projecting spouts. At the back of the portico are two doors and a latticed window. These are depicted in more detail also on the outside of the model. The garden model is in essence a libation basin (the pool) with associated vegetation and architecture. There may be links with the so-called "soul houses," clay models of houses with representations of offerings in the forecourts.

Model Cattle stable from the tomb of Meketre

This model of a stable was found with twenty three other models of boats, gardens, and workshops in a hidden chamber at the side of the passage leading into the rock cut tomb of the royal chief steward Meketre, who began his career under King Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II of Dynasty 11 and continued to serve successive kings into the early years of Dynasty 12.

Cattle are being fattened for slaughter in this stable. Four oxen feed from a manger in the large stall; two others are being hand fed by the stablemen from a pile of fodder and a sack of grain in the room in front. One of the cattle is so fat he can no longer stand. By the door sits an overseer with a baton in his hand.