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For nearly 3,000 years, ancient Egypt thrived as the preeminent civilization in the Mediterranean world. Its legacy persists through a wealth of objects left behind—majestic monuments, written documents, artifacts and art. From that rich trove of information, archaeologists and scholars have identified items that were a part of ancient Egyptians’ everyday lives.

In a culture that emphasized the afterlife and the importance of maintaining the fragile order of the universe, even everyday objects could carry deep significance. 

“In ancient Egypt, magic was as much an integral part of a material object as its practical function,” explains Lorelei H. Corcoran, a professor of art history and director of the Institute of Egyptian Art & Archaeology at the University of Memphis. “The aesthetics of an object relied on the Egyptians’ keen observation of the natural world and the innate beauty of the forms, and patterns that exist within it.”

Additionally, the development of the Egyptian civilization enabled Egyptians to stay in one place, which gave them the opportunity to advance design and craftsmanship. “They developed very elaborate techniques of metalworking,” Corcoran says. “They created beautiful things, with an aesthetic of beauty that they got from nature.”

Objects also sometimes had subtle meanings incorporated into their design. The shape of a round or oval mirror and its handle, for example, also formed a hieroglyph, ankh, that meant both “mirror” and “life,” Corcoran notes. “So when you use the mirror,” she explains, “you're sort of mirroring your life.”

Here are 14 objects that were familiar parts of everyday life in ancient Egypt.

1. Chalice

The Lotiform Chalice, on exhibit in The Met museum in New York City, is decorated with horizontal registers with scenes of people, flora and animals.

The Lotiform Chalice, on exhibit in The Met museum in New York City, is decorated with horizontal registers with scenes of people, flora and animals.

The Egyptians made ceramic drinking vessels for their beverages, and sometimes turned them into works of art. The Lotiform Chalice, which is on exhibit in The Met museum in New York City, is decorated with with scenes of people, flora and animals. “It’s just the amazing explosion of the natural world on this vessel,” Corcoran says.

2. Standing Lamp

The Egyptians used oil lamps-basically, simple pottery or stone bowls—to light their homes. Some were placed on the floor, while others were put on stands that were modeled after temple columns. 

3. Headrest

An ivory and wood headrest on view in the "Treasures of Tutankhamen" at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

An ivory and wood headrest on view in the "Treasures of Tutankhamen" at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Instead of using pillows, ancient Egyptians used stone or wooden headrests. “It’s basically a curved piece that's attached to a stem and then a platform, and you lie down and then you lay your head on the curved piece,” Corcoran says. “It elevates your head, keeps it cool and keeps bugs away.” 

4. Razor

This razor, which had been carefully wrapped in strips of linen, was found in a basket in the tomb of Hatnefer, the mother of Senenmut.

This razor, which had been wrapped in strips of linen, was found in a basket in the tomb of Hatnefer, the mother of Senenmut.

The ancient Egyptians were very concerned about hygiene, and cut their hair short or shaved it to thwart lice. This razor, which has a blade attached to a wooden handle, was found in a basket in a woman’s tomb. It's housed in the Met’s collection of Egyptian artifacts.

5. Wig

This wig was found lying behind the head of Nauny's mummy in her inner coffin. It is made of braids of human hair fastened at the top with a cord. The braids were treated with beeswax and a layer of animal fat covers the entire wig.

This wig is made of braids of human hair fastened at the top with a cord. The braids were treated with beeswax and a layer of animal fat covers the entire wig.

Egyptians wore wigs both to protect their heads from the sun and as a way of showing social class or rank, according to Peck. They were made of human or animal hair and plant fiber filler over a netting base that might be made of linen. Women tended to wear wigs with simpler hairstyles than men, though they sometimes donned more elaborate ones for festival celebrations. 

6. Tweezers

Ancient Egyptian tweezers dating from about 1550–1458 B.C.

Ancient Egyptian tweezers dating to about 1550–1458 B.C.

An Egyptian’s set of items for personal grooming might also include a pair of copper alloy tweezers such as these, now in The Met’s collection.

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7. Sandals

These gold sandals belonged to the funerary accoutrements of an Egyptian queen of Thutmose III in the middle of Dynasty 18.

These gold sandals belonged to the funerary accoutrements of an Egyptian queen of Thutmose III in the middle of Dynasty 18.

According to William H. Peck’s 2013 book The Material World of Ancient Egypt, the Egyptians wore footwear fashioned from the hides of cattle, goats and gazelle, or woven from plant material such as papyrus and grasses. The non-leather sandals were similar to modern flip-flops, with a strap across the instep secured by a cord between the toes, according to Peck. Members of the royal elite wore more elaborate sandals, such as these gold sandals that belonged to a queen of the pharaoh Thutmose III.

8. Jewelry

Amethyst and gold lion bracelets and anklets on view at The Met.

Amethyst and gold lion bracelets and anklets, as displayed at The Met.

The Egyptians loved colorful jewelry, often in the shape of gods, sacred animals, and other designs. The jewelry may have been intended as amulets that would magically protect the wearer against disease, accidents, and other bad events, Peck writes. These amethyst and gold bracelets and anklets feature lions and lions' claws.

9. Socks

Sock in coloured wools and divided at the great toe, produced using a single needle technique: Egypt, Middle Egypt, Akhmim,Coptic, c. AD300-600

A sock in colored wools and divided at the great toe.

Although we’re accustomed to thinking of Egypt as a hot place, temperatures drop in the early morning and the evening, and ancient Egyptians’ feet apparently got cold. This pair of striped wool socks was designed to be worn with sandals, according to Dr. Margaret Maitland, Principal Curator, Ancient Mediterranean at National Museums Scotland, which houses an extensive collection of Egyptian objects.

10. Mirror

Copper alloy mirror, polished on one side (in modern times): Ancient Egyptian, late New Kingdom, c. 1550-1069 BC

A copper alloy mirror, polished on one side (in modern times): Ancient Egyptian, dating to late New Kingdom, c. 1550-1069 B.C.

The Egyptians apparently were concerned about their appearance—both men and women wore makeup, for example—and they looked into a mirror such as this one in the National Museums Scotland’s collection. 

“The shiny copper alloy of this one could be polished up to give a clear surface to allow you to see yourself clearly,” Dr. Daniel Potter, an assistant curator, explains.  "One of the Egyptian terms for a mirror translates to ‘See Face,' a perfect description! We take mirrors for granted today but there are wonderful examples of wooden cases for mirrors to protect them, showing how prized they were.”

11. Ancestor Bust

Ancestral bust in white limestone in the form of a conoidal base surmounted by the head of a man wearing a tripartite wig: Ancient Egyptian, possibly from Deir el-Medina, Thebes, Upper Egypt, 18th - 19th Dynasty, c. 1550 -1069 B.C.

Ancestral bust in white limestone, possibly from Deir el-Medina, Thebes, Upper Egypt, 18th-19th Dynasty, c. 1550-1069 B.C.

This small limestone figurine would have been kept on a shelf set into the wall of an Egyptian home. Since Egyptians didn’t have cameras to take pictures, the busts helped them to remember relatives who had passed away, Maitland says.

12. Mallet

Wooden mallet with a cylindrical handle and a conoidal head, heavily used and worn: Ancient Egyptian, Upper Egypt, Thebes, probably New Kingdom, c.1550 - 1069 BC

A wooden mallet with a cylindrical handle and a conoidal head, heavily used and worn, c. 1550- 1069 B.C.

This wooden tool, with a cylindrical handle and conoidal head, is an example of the implements used by Egyptians. “This mallet was so intensively used that it left deep impressions in the wood on all four sides, from where the worker must have struck thousands of blows,” Maitland explains. “Good-quality wood was relatively scarce in Egypt, so it's perhaps not surprising that this mallet continued to be used for so long.”

13. Scratch Pad

Ancient Egyptians used limestone flakes as their scratch pads.

Ancient Egyptians used limestone flakes as scratch pads.

Just as we sometimes doodle on scrap paper, the ancient Egyptians used limestone flakes, which were more readily available than pieces of papyrus, as their scratch pads. “Here's a great doodle showing a man or boy chasing a monkey up a palm tree,” Potter explains. “The figure in the middle stands the way the King was shown on temple walls when defeating an enemy, so the doodler might have been making a bit of a joke.”

14. Board Game

A Senet board game with game pieces.

A Senet board with game pieces.

Many centuries before Monopoly and Risk, playing board games was a popular Egyptian pastime, according to Peck. One popular game, Senet, was designed to be played by two people, who threw sticks to determine how many squares they could move their pieces. The passage of pieces across a board also served as a metaphor for the journey in the afterlife, and was depicted on tomb walls.

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