Blog #5- Material Culture

One of the topics that caught my eye in this week’s readings was the change that occurred culturally during the late First Intermediate Period and the Middle Kingdom of the material culture in Egypt. This change was seen by the increase of divine imagery such as magical amulets and magical wands or “knives.”. Since the predynastic period, amulets have been a part of the material culture in ancient Egypt. However, there was a significant increase in their use in the Middle Kingdom. The designs of the amulets are inspired by many Egyptian myths and traditions including the most recognizable scarab amulet. This unique amulet is a replica of a scarab beetle that is associated with the solar cycle and is a symbol for the rebirth of the sun god. Since we know that the ancient Egyptians were very spiritual people, this symbol for renewing cosmic powers is relative to their beliefs in the afterlife and reincarnation.

I have seen pictures of scarab amulets before but I was not aware of the religious and cultural aspects they are connected to in Egypt. What really intrigued me about these amulets though was the fact that they are found to be associated with all levels of society and not just the pharaohs and the elite. Especially since during the Middle Kingdom, the scarab amulet was adapted for the use of an administrative seal with the base having inscribed names and titles of officials. The reading summarized these amulets perfectly saying, “Its use as an administrative tool brilliantly merged popular religious practice with the structured daily activities of the Middle Kingdom bureaucracy” (Wegner, 2010).

Another feature of the change in the material culture of ancient Egypt in the Middle Kingdom was the substantial amount of magical wands found mostly in the tombs. The wands made from ivory have divine beings illustrated on them and like the scarab amulet are involved in the myths associated with the solar cycle. It has been found that these wands are mostly used during childbirth and the early lives of newborns and appear to use magic to transfer protection from the sun god to these human experiences. This is very interesting as most people don’t think to learn about the different aspects of childbirth of ancient civilizations even though it is necessary to keep humanity thriving. The use of magical wands is fascinating and makes me wonder how they used one to ensure the protection of their young and the process involved as well.

Reference

Wegner, Josef (2010). Tradition and Innovation: The Middle Kingdom. In Willeke Wendrich (Ed.), Egyptian Archaeology (pp. 119-142) Oxford: Blackwell Publishing

2 thoughts on “Blog #5- Material Culture

  1. I also found the spread of material culture in the Middle Kingdom to be interesting. Since the spread of these amulets and wands incubuses the majority of the Egyptian population from the pharaoh down to the ordinary citizen, these objects became immensely important throughout their society. One of the most common amulets was the scarab amulet, which was associated with the rebirth of the sun god. As you mentioned death was a very important part of ancient Egyptian society because of this I think that these amulets could be seen as a symbol of the afterlife. Since the scarab amulet was meant to show the rebirth of the sun, this amulet might also represent the rebirth of the wearers in another life or the afterlife.

    You discuss the widespread use of a second type of divine imagery, the magical wands. I found these items interesting and wondered the ways in which they were used in ancient Egypt. These objects were used to help protect women during childbirth and also to help protect the populace from getting sick. Another item I found to be interesting was the birth brick. These were highly decorated objects used to assist in the birth process and linked to the goddess Hathor. Both of these items were believed to provide protection for the mother and child. Given the dangers of childbirth and the spiritual nature of the ancient Egyptians, it would make sense that they have many different kinds of goods and relics that are associated with protection of the birth process.

  2. Your post caught my eye this week; I too have always found amulets and emblems interesting but I didn’t really know their connotations. I knew the Egyptians were really big on the idea of the “afterlife”, and they wanted to protect their pharaohs and noblemen from evil spirits, so most of the time, the embalmers would wrap small amulets like the ankh (a symbol of eternal life) in the shroud as he/she was being mummified. That part of the mummification process has always intrigued me. In addition, you cannot go to a single ancient area in Egypt without seeing at least one emblem or symbol carved in a wall. In my opinion, the most common symbol depicted is the ankh, which was obviously very important to the Egyptians – they all wanted a good afterlife after death. It is interesting that it was not until the Middle Kingdom that we see a surge in the use and appearance of amulets: could this possibly have something to do with a larger importance being put on mummification by the pharaohs starting in the 11th dynasty? I am not sure what the cause of the surge of popularity was, but the Ancient Egyptians certainly knew their way around an amulet.

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