Wooden tomb model

Wooden tomb models were an Egyptian funerary custom throughout the Middle Kingdom in which wooden figurines and sets were constructed to be placed as grave goods in the tombs of Egyptian royalty. These wooden models represented the work of servants, farmers, other skilled craftsman, armies, and religious rituals.[1] The different types of models served as symbols and were believed to perform various functions for the deceased.[2]

Model showing Meketre overseeing the counting of his cattle


During the Protodynastic and Early Dynastic period (3200–2686 BC) the funerary sacrifice of servants was practiced to provide for the deceased royal retainers to accompany him into the afterlife.[3] At Abydos and Saqqara (3100–2890 BC), the tombs of 1st-Dynasty rulers suggest this practice with shared-roof subsidiary burials surrounding the tombs.[4] The practice of human sacrifice was later superseded by the wooden model representations of servants instead.[5]

Egyptian royalty likely felt a pressing need for servants in the afterlife, having been waited on hand and foot by them during their entire lifetime. This seems to have led to the diverse variety of models found in tombs to perform various functions.[6] Originally royal tombs were provided only one model servant, but as time went on the number of wooden models increased, some containing 365, one for every day of the year.[7] Additional scenery, animals, and objects also began to be provided.[8] As the practice of wooden models moved into the New Kingdom, numbers continued to increase. More than 700 figurines are said to have populated the tomb of Sety I (1294–1279 BC).[9]

Variety of modelsEdit

As the practice of funerary models increased in popularity, especially during the Middle Kingdom, so did the variety of the models and their functions. In addition to models of servants, models of bakeries, farms, granaries, factories, military, and religious worship complete with workers, tools, weapons, and animals were made. Each model had a different purpose in the belief of the Egyptians and was provided to perform its specific function in the afterlife. Model houses were included to ensure existence in the afterlife. Farmers, artisans, and craftsmen models were said to increase the material wealth of the individual. If the tomb's resident needed to perform a specific task in the afterlife, a wooden model would be included to perform that task for him. Funerary boat models reflected the mythological beliefs of the Egyptians, that they would help to further the deceased's progression in the underworld.[10] The best known wooden models come from the tomb of the chancellor Meketre, over half of which are funerary boats.[11]

Model granariesEdit

Ancient Egypt was an agrarian society that depended greatly upon agriculture, producing various fruits and cereals. These crops were dried for keeping and needed to be stored. Thus, granaries were a fundamental part of life in Egypt.[12] As a result, ancient Egyptians deemed storage for such goods to be necessary for their continuance into the afterlife. To meet these ends, model granaries, made primarily of wood and paint, were placed in tombs and required to sustain the afterlife activities of the dead.[13] These, like the model ships and funerary barges, would often contain other models and figurines that reflected their use in real life.

Model shipsEdit

In life, the Nile river was very important as it allowed for agriculture, trade, and general livelihood. In death, it held much religious significance, acting as the path to the afterlife.[14] In this way, model ships and funeral barges aided the passing of the dead and were believed to help ensure safe passage.[15] Equipping the dead for the afterlife was a central pillar of ancient Egyptian funerary practices. Hence, in an effort to guarantee the safe transferral of provisions to the afterlife, model ships would often be found filled with models of fruits, vegetables, workers and anything else the deceased may require.[13] Model ships weren't just limited to generic cargo roles. In fact, there were differing model ships designated to differing roles such as cooking, travelling, sporting and in warfare.[15][16] Noteworthy examples of model ships and funerary barges include the fifty-five model boats buried in nomarch Djehutynakht’s tomb, those found in the tomb of chancellor Meketre, and a full size ship buried at the foot of Khufu’s Pyramidall serving the same purpose of providing safe passage.

Later usageEdit

During the New Kingdom and into the Late Period (747–332 BC), the wooden models were developed into what are known as shabti or ushabti. Shabtis, similarly, were funerary models provided in the tombs of Egyptian royalty to spare the tomb owner from labor in the next life. Shabtis were inscribed with chapter 6 of the Book of the Dead providing them with instructions that enabled them to perform their labors. "Overseer" models were also provided to ensure the shabti performed their labors. Shabtis were composed of wood, clay, wax, stone, bronze, faience, or glass. The practice died out during the Ptolemaic period (332–30 BC).[17]


  1. ^ Kathryn A. Bard, Steven Blake Shubert, Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt, pp.266f, Routledge, 1999
  2. ^ Bard & Shubert 1999, pp.266f.
  3. ^ Ian Shaw & Paul Nicholson, The British Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, p.134, 1995, British Museum Press
  4. ^ Shaw & Nicholson 1995, p.134
  5. ^ Shaw & Nicholson 1995, p.134
  6. ^ "Ancient Egypt: Funerary Objects", Kibbutz Reshafim, n.p., [cited 9 Dec. 2014]. Online: http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/funerary_practices/funerary_objects.htm
  7. ^ Shaw & Nicholson 1995, p.266
  8. ^ Kibbutz Reshafim, n.p.
  9. ^ Shaw & Nicholson 1995, p.266
  10. ^ Kibbutz Reshafim, n.p.
  11. ^ The British Museum, "Wooden model of a granary with figures", The British Museum, n.p., [cited 9 Dec. 2014]. Online: https://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/aes/w/wooden_model_of_a_granary_with.aspx
  12. ^ Kalloniatis, Faye; Munro, Irmtraut; Taylor, John H.; Wenzel, Gabriele; Horn, Maarten; Müller-Roth, Marcus; Rooijakkers, Tineke; Shirai, Noriyuki; Thomas, Sian (2019). The Egyptian Collection at Norwich Castle Museum: Catalogue and Essays. Oxbow Books. ISBN 978-1-78925-196-8.
  13. ^ a b Kalloniatis, Faye; Munro, Irmtraut; Taylor, John H.; Wenzel, Gabriele; Horn, Maarten; Müller-Roth, Marcus; Rooijakkers, Tineke; Shirai, Noriyuki; Thomas, Sian (2019). The Egyptian Collection at Norwich Castle Museum: Catalogue and Essays. Oxbow Books. ISBN 978-1-78925-196-8.
  14. ^ "Grade 5 - Term 3: An ancient African society: Egypt | South African History Online". www.sahistory.org.za. Retrieved 2020-12-08.
  15. ^ a b "Setting Sail for the Afterlife". Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. 2016-06-07. Retrieved 2020-12-08.
  16. ^ Spanel, Donald B. (1985). "Ancient Egyptian Boat Models of the Herakleopolitan Period and Eleventh Dynasty". Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur. 12: 243–253. ISSN 0340-2215.
  17. ^ Shaw & Nicholson 1995, p.267

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