This 10 cm X 30 cm X 15.3 cm clay sculpture of four cows was discovered in Abydos, Egypt roughly around the year 3500 BCE. This object was excavated from a grave of possibly a very rich, elite person. It was normal for objects like these to be buried along side people in ancient Egypt.
Mining of the clay in ancient Egypt was a tough task. The mines were relatively small, dimly lighted, and could only be gone into for about 9 months out of the year for fear of the mine collapsing. Miners used iron spikes and pick axes for mining.Edit
The clay was brought in from the mines and softened in water and beat into smaller pieces by hammers. After it is softened, the potter beings to knead the clay until it is about the size he wants it to be. After the clay has been kneaded and shaped into its final shape, it goes into a drying room until other clay models are being constructed. In this model of cattle, the front and hind legs of each animal are combined to ensure stability. After a night in the drying room, the potter once again makes sure the figure is precisely how he wants it. Firing the clay is the next step in the process. Large quantities of sorghum are used as fuel, around 70 bales. Firing takes about 4 hours to complete and reaches temperatures around 10000C. The kiln was then left for two days to completely cool down before the clay was removed.
This model of clay was found in a grave. Egyptians believe in sending the deceased off with materials to the afterlife and these cows could have been a source of food.
Local Historical ContextEditEdit
This clay model of cattle of created by Ancient Egyptians. The Egyptians were known for their complicated hieroglyphs and highly celebrated and decorated burials of the dead. Great emphasis was put on preserving the dead for the afterlife and keeping them well supplied.
Around 3500 BCE, people were starting to settle the Nile valley. Civilization was just becoming established in Egypt, and life mostly consisted of some agriculture and animal domestication. In the Predynastic period of Egypt’s history, most people were farming, so to be a potter was a highly skilled and a highly sanctioned career. Potters made and decorated very fine pottery to be put into graves along with the dead. Objects like the clay cattle were given as gifts to the deceased. Gifts like these were also a symbol of royalty, which showed the significance of the grave this object was obtained from.
This object represents not just cattle, but it also represents the significance Egyptians and people that have followed their lead’s importance on the burial of the dead. People today still put much emphasis and importance on funerals. People buy expensive coffins and nice tombstones and have a ceremony to talk about the deceased person. Flowers in today’s modern funerals are somewhat parallel to the clay model. The clay model is a symbol of gratitude and food for the dead in their after life, and flowers today are a symbol of gratitude also.
Armentrout, David, and Patricia Armentrout. 2001. "ANCIENT EGYPTIAN SOCIETY." Treasures from Egypt 39. Book Collection: Nonfiction, EBSCOhost.
Nicholson, Paul, and Helen Patterson. 1985. "Pottery Making in Upper Egypt: An Ethnoarchaeological Study." World Archaeology 17, no. 2: 222-239. JSTOR Arts & Sciences II, EBSCOhost.
Stevenson, Alice. 2009. "SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS IN PREDYNASTIC BURIALS." Journal of Egyptian Archaeology no. 95: 175-192. Art & Architecture Complete, EBSCOhost.
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British Museum, “Egyptian clay model of cattle,” http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/aes/p/painted_group_of_cattle.aspx
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