Ancient Egypt: Myths Debunked

I originally began this post by searching for the topic I wanted to write about for the last blog post: whether or not Egyptians were buried with food.  I was curious because during class our professor kept reiterating the fact that the pottery inside the tombs/graves/pyramids were unused, non-domestic pieces.  So what about the food?  Didn’t the dead also need nourishment with their pottery?

Some sites such as wikipedia confirmed that the Egyptians were in fact buried with food, but I stumbled upon a site that was attempting to debunk what they called Ancient Egypt’s top ten myths (http://listverse.com/2011/08/29/top-10-myths-about-ancient-egypt/).  After reading through the myths listed, I realized that a much better topic would be to take one or two of the myths and to find relevant current information on it that would relate to this week’s class discussions.

Some of these myths we have discussed in this class as well as in a previous class I took on Ancient Egypt such as the burial of slaves with the pharaohs.  In class, we briefly brought up the topic of how the tomb of the pharaoh Horus in the Abydos Necropolis had several graves in parallel lines behind next to it where other bodies and a lion lay.  It was mentioned then over the uncertainty of whether or not those were willing deaths but it was commonly thought that they were all sacrifices who had been strangled to better serve their king in the after life.

Another myth involved whether or not slaves built the pyramids which according to this site’s article they did not.  In a previous class I took with this same professor, our lessons agreed with the falseness of this myth.  According to the site, the builders of the pyramids were buried in tombs near the pyramids and were fed beef which was seen as a luxury food.  Being buried next to the pharaoh was seen as a high honor and neither of these two honors would ever have been bestowed upon a slave.

One myth I hadn’t thought of was the decoration of the pyramids and tombs.  When we say there were artifacts buried with the deceased in tombs, I still imagine that it was great riches.  If the pharaohs had their ships buried in boat graves near their tombs and pyramids then why wouldn’t they have great treasures buried with them as well?  No where in class have we ever discussed great treasures though, and while we might find inscribed walls to be treasure, to the untrained it is worthless.

5 thoughts on “Ancient Egypt: Myths Debunked

  1. fortonma

    I read the list of myths you referenced and found it to be very interesting. I found the one talking about Egyptians obsession with death being a myth to be an especially intriguing take. So often our modern culture has characterized ancient Egypt as a society obsessed with wrapped mummies and books of the dead. However the Egyptian perception of death was not the same as ours. The Egyptians valued life very much and did everything they could to ensure that death was as similar to life as possible.

    The other myth I found especially compelling was the one concerning the presence of extraterrestrials in Egyptian art. Thanks to shows like the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens, the general public is bombarded with baseless Ancient-Astronaut theories. Out of curiosity I went to the Ancient Aliens Facebook page to see how many people actually believed the garbage being broadcasted by a channel that is supposed to be devoted to education. To my shock and disgust, the show had 304,000 likes and a very devoted brainwashed fanbase. These weren’t all nut-job conspiracists though. I found engineers, teachers, and college graduates from across the country engaging in excited commentary on the claims proposed by show. The fact that so many people believe the work of these crackpot theorists, over the research of professional archaeologists, speaks to the condition of our present day society. I think disproving notions of ancient aliens and better educating the public should be a top priority of archaeologists and historians. Better public awareness of the work of archaeologists will promote growth for the field and increase respect for the world’s cultural heritage.

  2. Mel Walker

    This was a really interesting post, as was the list you linked to. The myth of slaves building the pyramids is one I had heard a lot before taking this class. I hadn’t realized that there was a lot of evidence contradicting it. We talked in class about how much skilled labor was used, especially considering the city near the Giza complex that housed skilled laborers year-round. That part of your post ties in well with the blog post about worker’s graffiti in the pyramids. The people who worked on the pyramids seemed to take pride in their accomplishments.

    The aliens myth is quite ridiculous! It surprised me that it was included in the list. I think many people have a hard time believing that such tremendous displays of architectural prowess and labor organization could be created by societies that are often considered “primitive.” It is amazing that structure this complex could be made without the advanced technology found today, but suggesting that it could not be accomplished without outside help is a poor assumption, especially when that help is proposed to have come from outer space.

    I think the majority of the myths listed stem from a dramatization of the past. Imagining Pharaohs sacrificing loyal servants or hieroglyphs as elaborates spells makes for an exciting story. While the reality is just as interesting, it’s not nearly as dramatic. It’s tempting to view history with an Indiana Jones-style twist, which makes these myths easy to spread and become ingrained.

  3. austin49

    Really interesting post! I feel like most people get their “knowledge” of Ancient Egypt from movies like Indiana Jones and The Mummy, so it’s no real surprise that most people are disconnected from what we really do know about it in favor of fictional and embellished representations. It’s nice to know that at least there are sites like this that try to educate people a little bit.
    The first item on the list caught my attention immediately. I, like most of you, grew up somewhat familiar with the myth of Cleopatra’s beauty, only to find upon entering college that it was a lie. Or was it?
    I am an English major, so naturally I’ve read Shakespeare’s famous portrayal of Cleopatra, and I’ve also spent quite a bit of time in discussion with other lit nerds on the subject. Shakespeare never said she was beautiful in and of herself– it was her power, her extravagance, her queenly above-thee attitude and her exotic-ness that made her beautiful, by his account anyway. He also portrayed her as selfish and completely childish, but that’s beside the point. He stresses aspects of her personality, behavior, and station as being qualities which attract men to her–never her face or body by itself.
    One of my history classes discussed Cleopatra in a similar thread. Rather than stressing her other “attractive” qualities, as Shakespeare did, my professor made a point of calling into question our conception of beauty. He showed us pictures of women from different cultures around the world– women with facial scarring or tattoos, women with faces covered in piercings, women with chains and rings all over different parts of their faces. None of those women looked anything like, say, Scarlett Johansson. The point is that different cultures all picture beauty a little bit differently. My professor also pointed out that the image of Cleopatra on the coin has a rather large nose– a feature that was apparently quite popular and denoted aristocratic blood (thus, for you book nerds out there, the “Roman” or “aquiline” nose, which is still rather popular in men if the books are anything to go by).

  4. Reginald Jackson

    To start off dude I totally know how you feel when it comes to finding topics for your blogs. I always usually think of a really good one in class and then forgetting about it later. I also think that it’s really unique that you picked “Myths about Egypt” as your blog topic. I feel that it’s better that you write about something that’s interesting to you and make it relevant instead of picking something relevant and not interesting at all.
    I really like the myths that you chose because these are all things that I sometimes wonder about. I took especial interest in the myth about Egyptian slaves building the pyramids. In my mind if they were building the pyramids and getting fed luxuries like beef, they must have been like some sort of higher class workers. I would like to imagine that these higher classes of workers had their own sort of middle class society where they were treated with certain amount of authority. What is really cool is that they were buried by the pharaoh. Obliviously that is a really high honor only bestowed upon really important individuals. So I think that there may have been like an almost hidden society that did all of the architectural work like the sphinx, the pyramids, and hieroglyphs.
    I went to the website just to take a quick look and see if there were any other cool myths that would about Egypt and other stuff. I found one myth to be very amusing about Cleopatra and how she was much more charismatic and clever than being really beautiful like she is always portrayed as being.

  5. Ciera Uyeunten

    I thought that this post was extremely interesting because it is all common ideas or concepts that we all, or at least for me, think of when we think of Egypt. It also doesn’t help that Egypt is often a common location where movies take place and depict these ‘myths,’ making us as its audience believe its true or at least somewhat true. After looking at the site, all of the myths were actually extremely interesting to me because some of them I honestly had no idea were myths. I’m not sure where I got the information from, whether it was from the movies or by word of mouth but for all of this time I actually believed them to be true, not false. The myth that you brought up in your post about the pyramids not being built by slaves makes a really good point. I have not ever thought about how the people who built the pyramids were buried next to them and being buried near the pharaoh was such a high honor that it could not have been slaves who built them because this type of honor would not ever be bestowed on a slave. Also, out of all the myths, I think that the most unbelievable one was the eighth one, the belief that Egyptians were in contact with aliens. Like really? To me that is a completely ridiculous thought. I mean yes, it is unreal how someone could orchestrate groups of people to build such an enormous structure but it is not like it cannot be done. But all in all, this was a very interesting post and I’m glad I know the truth now.

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