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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 Egypt’s 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 Nile’s valley also contains other resources such as rocks, minerals, and metals.
After geography, we studied Egypt’s 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 Egypt’s universe. Atum’s 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 Egypt’s 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 Egypt’s 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. Egypt’s 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. Egypt’s peasantry consisted of farmers, hunters, fishermen, servants, and unskilled artisans. This was Egypt’s 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 wate...
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