Living the Good Life in the Afterlife:

Wooden Tomb Models and ServantStatuesfrom the Site of Naga ed Dêr in Egypt

Ms. Karin Kroenke, PhD candidate in Egyptian Archaeologyat UC Berkeley presented a lecture entitled, Living the Good Life inthe Afterlife: Wooden Tomb Models and Servant Statues from the Site ofNaga ed Der in Egypt, at the Northern California Chapter’s August meeting.

Karin opened her lecture by noting that Egyptian funerarystatues and models have always been very popular, and are particularlyappealing because they resemble children’s toys. In reality, servant statuesacted as substitute servants to provide goods and services to the tombowner in the afterlife. Likewise, model boats assured a means of travelin the afterlife.

Large numbers of models date to Dynasties 7-12 and havebeen found throughout Egypt. The Hearst collection contains some 450 fragments,and 16 complete models. All are from 35 tombs plus surface finds at Nagaed Der. They were discovered between 1901 and 1904, during excavationsat Naga ed Der by George Reisner. Reisner, however, never published anyof the First Intermediate Period material from Naga ed Der; therefore,the only source materials available are his field notes and photographs.

The Naga ed Der site includes 15 ancient cemet-eries extendingapproximately 6 kilometers along the Nile. The material which Ms. Kroenkediscussed came from ten tombs located in three cemeteries:  Cemetery9000 North [tomb number 9091]; Cemetery 3500 [tombs  numbered 3737,3795, 4003 and 4172; Cemetery 100 [tombs numbered 43, 96, 89, 202 and 291].Though all of the tombs were identified at the time of excavation, onlythree can be positively located today. Four were shaft tombs, which hadno superstructure, and 6 were rock cut tombs. Photos of two of the tombswere found among Reisner’s photos [tombs 202 and 3737]. Only two of thetombs were decorated [tombs 89 and 3737]. Based on iconographical and othermaterial, the tombs have been dated to the First Intermediate Period. Innearly every case the models were in the burial chamber and should havebeen placed to the left of sarcophagus.  In reality, most were placedwherever there was space to put them - on one side or the other, at thehead, foot, or on top of the sarcophagus. Some were found in secondarycontexts, such as in the forecourt of the tomb. Ms. Kroenke suggested thatperhaps they were dropped there by tomb robbers.

The owners of the ten tombs with which these models areconnected, were all of the titled class, and held positions of authority. For example, tomb #43 was that of the Royal Acquaintance, Chechy, and #3737was the tomb of Overseer of Priest, Mayor and Hereditary Prince, Meru.

All of the servant statues and boat models in the HearstCollection are made of wood. Various types of wood, usually of poor grade,were used to make these models. Acacia, sycamore fig and others are knownto have been used for model making. The models are made in small pieces,then doweled together, and gesso was used to cover the joins before painting.Often the feet were also made of gesso, but most have been lost over time.Karin noted that those servant statues which had gesso feet, had large“clown” feet, based on the imprint left on the stand by the now missinggesso. Servant statues were positioned in one of three postures: standingupright, leaning forward or squatting on their knees.

In 1998 some of the pigments from the Hearst models weretested to determine content. They were found to include such minerals asiron oxide, red and yellow ochre, charcoal, gypsum, malachite, and fritt.The pigments were combined with plant gums as a binding agent.

Seventeen models were discussed in detail; fifteen fromthe Hearst collection, one from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and one forthe Boston Museum of Art. Ms. Kroenke categorized them by function:

Travel By Boat: Most models are in the papyrusraft form and were used in a religious contexts, such as the funerary voyageto Abydos and/or Busirus. The typical model had 3 sets of rowers, a pilot,and a helmsman, as well as a lector priest and the widow of the deceased,all accompanying the coffin which is typically under an awning. Those modelswith a long straight bow shaped like a papyrus umbal and a shorter, straightstern, are typical of the First Intermediate Period. Early Middle Kingdomorigin is indicated when the shape of the stern changes to a bent papyrusumbal. Additionally, some models have more oarsmen or paddlers, and someare very large.

Servants preparing or processing food: Model groupsof servants preparing bread and beer are very common. In fact the preparationof these two staples of the ancient Egyptian diet represented the creationof all kinds of food. Bread making scenes relate to beer making as Egyptianbeer was a byproduct of bread, being made from partially baked barley bread.The bread and beer making models in the Hearst collection are from theearly First Intermediate Period, probably Dynasty 6.

A model of a servant roasting ducks or geese was foundin tomb 202. The servant squats before a brazier with the duck on a spit,which he hold over the hot coals with one hand while wielding a fan tokeep the charcoal hot with the other.

A granary model made of wood contains five conical silos,each with an opening at the top through which the grain can be poured,and a “hatch” on the side for removing grain. The model probably had a6th and perhaps a 7th silo when it was originally made.  The presenceof such a granary in the tomb ensured the deceased would have a continualsupply of grain for making the bread and beer which would sustain him inthe afterlife.

Servants who carried supplies for the deceased:The Hearst collection contains two models of this type. Such models areoften paired, are larger, and better made than other servant statues. Maleporters carry water jars, or other loads for the deceased. Female servantscarry caskets on their heads, and jars in the hand not being used to supportthe casket.

Manufacturing scenes: Brick making is a frequentactivity.  The presence of such a model in the tomb allowed for maintenanceof the deceased’s home, and building of new structures for his comfortin the afterlife.

Entertainment: Female dancers, though rare aresometimes of wood as is the statue from tomb 9091 which is now in the CairoMuseum. More often they are made from ivory and are of high quality. Basedon the garments, hair style and what the model may be carrying, it is possibleto identify the dances, for example, as a participant in a dance in honorof Hathor or some other deity. Such dancers may have had a dual purposeto not only entertain, but perhaps to help the deceased in some way.

  • Nancy Corbin
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