Wooden models

Wooden models


My favourite objects in Egyptian museums are not so much the mummies as the wonderful wooden models. In the Middle Kingdom, it was fashionable to be buried with models of your favourite scenes. Many of them were boats, both for travelling up and down the Nile and special funerary boats in which you passed from life to death. But best of all are the models of everyday scenes, baking, brewing and carpentry, and you took  models of these, often with bare-breasted servant girls to accompany you in your tomb, so that you would be well fed and well looked after in the next world.


Girls wearing sheath dresses from ancient Egypt


Two ladies, both tall and thin, wearing fashionable sheath dresses revealing their breasts. They are both wearing heavy wigs coming down to their breasts. The Egyptians clearly liked their women tall and thin

The smaller one on the left dates to the early 18th dynasty, about 1500 BC. The larger one on the right is earlier, dating to the 12th dynasty about 1985 to 1795 BC. It comes from tomb 35 at Asyut.


Servant gfirl with deep plunging neckline from ancient Egypt

A lady with a basket on her head – presumably a servant girl. But she has a sexy dress with a deep décolletage showing an ample cleavage.

She again has a wig.but this one only comes down to her shoulders. Double click on the photo to see the details: she is wearing a double necklace, forming a wide collar round her neck, while the two straps come down to below her breasts revealing a deep plunge cleavage.

12th Dynasty about 1950 BC. EA 29595



Servant girl with one breast bared from ancient Egypt











Another servant girl with a basket on her head, this time containing four loaves.

She has a very sexy dress cut away to reveal one breast and indeed most of the other breast. But she has a midi-wig, coming down over her shoulders, and a lattice-like square necklace decorating her neck between the wig.

This statuette is made from a native timber, probably tamarisk.
BM Tall lady in green DSC09798

Two more ladies carrying baskets on their heads, one in green, the other in white.

The green dress is very interesting, it is carefully painted so that it appears to be transparent, so we can see her legs through the dress.

The dress is held up by two green straps, but just run on the inside of her breasts, so that her nipples are clearly visible.


Naked Nubian girl from ancient Egypt



Here is a lady who is totally naked, though carrying a heavy box on her head.

This is in fact a very small ornament, only a couple of inches high, which probably sat on a ladies dressing table: the box contained make-up.

She doesn’t wear the usual heavy wig but has her hair tied in pigtails. The unusual hairstyle of this figure suggests that she may represent a foreigner. The hole pierced through this girl’s free hand was probably intended to hold the handle of an applicator.

Containers for eyepaint (kohl) and cosmetic oils were often lavishly designed using expensive materials such as glass or semi precious stones

EA 32767, 18th Dynasty


Many of the  finest of these wooden models are boats, designed to carry the dead to their burial place.


This is one of the prize possessions of the British Museum, a boat which not only has a large sail but also in team of rowers with a large oar at the back of the boat for steering.


Here is a similar scene, this time in the Ashmolean Museum showing the sail being raised, though there is also a small team of rowers and at the back, a small shelter with the master and his wife sitting outside.

Most of the boats were not sailing boats, but rowing boats as in this model, with a single passenger at the west end and a lookout man standing in a tub at the front.


This model in the Ashmolean Museum shows a ceremony taking place under the canopy in the centre.


Here is the funeral boat in the British Museum with the corpse laid out under a canopy. Note the decorations on the paddle end of the steering oar.


Not all the models were boats.This model in the Ashmolean Museum shows a servant girl kneading bread.

Here is another girl kneading bread. The objects in front of her are not bombs, but the containers in which bread was baked. Behind her is a man cultivating the fields with a hoe.


You need to take food with you to the next world, or rather a well stocked kitchen in which food can be prepared.To the left is baking and brewing while a dead cow to the right is about to be cut up.

Another scene of butchery with two cows. Note the man to the left, and about to cut up the cow with a large knife


Carpentry in progress with the floor covered with wood chips.



The best collection of these wooden models was found by Herbert Winlock in the tomb of Meketre near Thebes and are now in the Cairo Museum. Here are three of the best taken from ‘Egypt: Splendours of an Ancient Civilization’  by Alberto Siliotti.

This is the finest of the carvings and the one that is most illuminating of Egyptian life. At the back a master sits under a canopy with three scribes to his right who are recording the herd of cows which are being driven before him.This scene shows the basis of Egyptian economy.



Weaving in progress with two sheets being woven on two looms.



A carpenter’s shop. At the centre a beam is being sawn in half with a very long saw. To the right three seated men are working on a beam with adzes.


Granary in action in ancient Egypt


Here we see a granary in action. The sacks of grain are brought in through the door top left, past the double row of scribes, measuring on the right, recording on the left. Then through a door into the main granary, up the steep steps to the upper platform, where they are poured into the main granary. (Double click to see the details).

It seems the scribes outnumber the actual workers.

This model also from Maketre’s tomb is in the Metropolitan Museum in New York who received it as part of their division of the finds (and provided the photo).



Back to The Middle Kingdom


18th December 2017