Well Staffed for Eternity

Tomb service in ancient Egypt

Model of a Procession of Offering Bearers (-1985/-1795)RAWI Publishing

Ensuring Eternal Comfort

Ancient Egyptians placed models of servants in their tombs to ensure that the deceased would have ample provisions in the afterlife. The servants were shown undertaking a variety of tasks, including grinding grain, mixing dough, baking bread, making pots and vessels needed for food provisions, preparing or cooking duck/geese, brewing beer, and more. In the Old Kingdom (ca. 2649–2150 BCE)  the figures were quite simple. In the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2030–1660 BCE), the models became elaborate composite scenes  showing entire workshops.  

Painted Limestone Models (-2649/-2150)RAWI Publishing

Old Kingdom tomb models (ca. 2649–2150 BCE) were quite simple, usually made of stone with only a little colouring. Here you see the figures performing different tasks: a man butchering a duck or goose, another brewing beer, one grinding grains, and one seated in front of a fire watching over the baking bread.  

Model of a Man Grinding Grain (-2649/-2150)RAWI Publishing

A typical Old Kingdom (ca. 2649–2150 BCE) model made of stone showing a servant kneeling and grinding grain. Usually these models were coloured (at least the hair, like this one!). The presence of this model would have magically provided flour and bread for the tomb owner for eternity. No life, or afterlife, would have been complete without that most basic staple of the ancient (and modern) Egyptians.  

Slaughterhouse Model (-1985/-1795)RAWI Publishing

Middle Kingdom  (ca. 2030–1660 BCE) models were more elaborate, with multiple figures in action. This model shows a butcher's workshop in great detail. Several men stand round two tied animals that have just been slaughtered. Different cuts of meat are seen hanging, including joints (meat on a whole bone; can you spot it?), ribs, and other less discernible cuts. The use of wood rather than stone like earlier models allowed for the creation of these little scenes. Colour also brings them to vivid life.  

Wooden Model of a Man Fanning Duck (-2055/-1795)RAWI Publishing

Afterlife Treats

In order to ensure a supply of delicious roast duck in the afterlife, one would of course need a model of a man fanning a roasting duck in their tomb. This is another typical example of the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2030–1660 BCE) scenes that symbolically provide food for the afterlife. Statues like this are beneficial to archaeologists, because they provide clues to cooking and food preparation techniques. These Middle Kingdom scenes with their attention to detail and vivid colours have been very useful to experts studying food in ancient Egypt.  

For more of what the ancient Egyptians ate, find out how archaeologists unearthed clues about the diets of the past.

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