Today I watched the first episode of what looks to be a very interesting two-part documentary called Ancient Egypt: Life and Death in the Valley of the Kings by Dr Joann Fletcher. If you live in the UK, you can watch it on the BBC here. This episode is called ‘Life.’
Hitherto, my contact with ancient Egypt has been with Pharoahs and mummies, with its monuments and suchlike as well as with, inevitably, the afterlife. Some items from daily life creep in, such as strange head-rests for whilst sleeping that I saw at the Royal Ontario Museum. One of the better Egyptian exhibits is the current permanent display at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford that traces Egyptian culture from pre-Pharaonic times to the Nubian pharaohs.
Fletcher takes you into the world of daily in the 18th Dynasty, the reign of Amenhotep III (1400s BC), to the village uncovered at Deir el-Medina. The Egyptian name of the village was, in fact, The Village. It was populated by the workers and artisans who constructed the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, about two miles away. Here we are brought face-to-face with Kha and his wife Meryt.
Thankfully, their mummies have never been unwrapped, so not literally face-to-face. Rather, we get to see paintings of them both, a statue of Kha, and the gilt grave-mask of Meryt. The tomb of this couple was found very well-stocked with everything the pair would have needed for the afterlife — which means everything from their own lives.
Kha was the chief architect for Amenhotep III. He designed and helped execute Amenhotep’s tomb. He was a well-to-do, free Egyptian who was fond of black eyeliner and who was so good at his job that the Pharaoh gave him a golden cubit relating his achievements as an architect.
One of the tombs Kha began work on was that of Akenaten, son of Amenhotep III. But that tomb was never finished because of Akenaten’s attempted religious reform and the building of the imperial city of Amarna.
Meryt was the ‘Lady of the House’ — an ancient Egyptian housewife. She would bake the bread and brew the beer made from the grain given to them as their payment (Egypt had no money as yet) and raise their three children.
I could go on. All sorts of details about daily life and the lives of Kha and Meryt. Fletcher read for us ancient Egyptian love poems from potsherds found at Deir el-Medina. We learned about courtship. We learned a bit about religion beyond the giant temples. We learned about food and payment and … life. Life in ancient Egypt.
Hopefully, oh friends in the UK, you’ll have a chance to view this documentary.