On the Menu in Ancient Egypt: Meat

Grilling, boiling and drying are just some of the preparation methods used for the many types of meat on offer

Relief Depicting Meryneith Inspecting His Stables and Ships Unloading Merchandise, from his tomb at SaqqaraThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

We know a lot about animal husbandry from different types of archaeological evidence, including plant remains that show what animals were fed and how they were kept. 

Additionally, many tomb scenes depict animals being cared for or even being fattened in preparation for slaughter. 

This block depicts a stable yard, where oxen are tethered to a stone and are being fed. It seems they have been there for a while, because the oxen are already quite plump. The stable yard is shown in front of a harbour, where cargo boats deliver both sheaves and mounds of grain.    

Tomb Chapel of Raemkai: West WallThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

Meat was prepared in different ways in ancient Egypt, including boiling or roasting, grilling, salting, and drying. 

Here you can see butchered cattle with the ribcage exposed (in fact, this is an unusual scene with its rib cage detail!). The text above is almost like a caption to explain the scene. It says, ‘butchering’.

A man then takes different cuts of meat—he holds ribs in his right hand—for further processing.

Finally, a man is seen cooking the meat in deep pots. The caption above the man says, ‘cooking meat’.

Half of a Case for Storing Meat (ca. 1550–1479 B.C.)The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Meat was preserved in ancient Egypt in a variety of ways such as salting and drying. This shoulder was part of food offerings left for the deceased in their tomb. It was wrapped in linen and placed in a box (which is now missing its lid). Such offerings were very common in tombs, and the boxes were often labelled with their contents. Different cuts of meat were presented as offerings, such as the left foreleg of the animal, which had special value to the ancient Egyptians.

Piglet figurineThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

In addition to beef and cattle, pigs were also consumed. They seem to have been more common for the less affluent. The wealthy most probably would have been eating cattle. The pictorial evidence for these is scarce, but their bones have been recovered from many archaeological settlements. Pig breeding was important, and there is evidence of large estates for pig rearing.

Tomb Chapel of Raemkai: East WallThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

In addition to farm animals, ancient Egyptians also hunted wild game. Wild boars would have been caught using nets or by aiming rocks. Like beef, they would have been boiled, roasted, or grilled. 

Hares (or rabbits) were often seen held by their ears on tomb walls, which may suggest that they were also eaten. Hartebeest, addax, oryx, ibex, gazelle, hippopotamus, and crocodile were some of the unusual wild animals consumed. This is attested by the presence of cut marks on excavated bones.

Here, a man is seen carrying a gazelle on his shoulders, which is to be presented to his employer.

For more of what the ancient Egyptians ate, check out these stories on fish and poultry.

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