brick making

Pottery making was well advanced by 3000 B.C. The earliest Egyptian pottery was unglazed red earthenware. Both Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt had the pottery wheel by that time. The potter's wheel is believed to have been invented in Mesopotamia around 3500 B.C. and may be tied to the invention of wheeled vehicles. See Mesopotamia.

The Egyptians developed fairly sophisticated chemistry through cosmetic-making, dying, glassmaking and gold and iron metallurgy. Glassmaking was known in ancient Egypt as far back as 2500 B.C. The bottle was invented sometime around 1500 B.C. by Egyptian artisans. Glass from Egypt

A wide variety of copper tools, fish hooks and needles were made. Chisels and knives lost their edge and shape quickly and had be reshaped with some regularity or simply thrown out. In the Old Kingdom (2700 to 2125 B.C.) there was only copper. Copper-making hearths have been found near the pyramids. Reliefs found nearby show Egyptians gathering around a fire smelting copper by blowing into long tubes with bulbous endings.

Sculptures made of copper, bronze and other metals were cast using the lost wax method which worked as follows: 1) A form was made of wax molded around a pieces of clay. 2) The form was enclosed in a clay mold with pins used to stabilize the form. 3) The mold was fired in a kiln. The mold hardened into a ceramic and the wax burns and melted leaving behind a cavity in the shape of the original form. 4) Metal was poured into the cavity of the mold. The metal sculpture was removed by breaking the clay when it was sufficiently cool.


Websites on Ancient Egypt: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt ; Discovering Egypt; BBC History: Egyptians ; Ancient History Encyclopedia on Egypt; Digital Egypt for Universities. Scholarly treatment with broad coverage and cross references (internal and external). Artifacts used extensively to illustrate topics. ; British Museum: Ancient Egypt; Egypt’s Golden Empire; Metropolitan Museum of Art ; Oriental Institute Ancient Egypt (Egypt and Sudan) Projects ; Egyptian Antiquities at the Louvre in Paris; KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt; Ancient Egypt Magazine; Egypt Exploration Society ; Amarna Project; Egyptian Study Society, Denver; The Ancient Egypt Site; Abzu: Guide to Resources for the Study of the Ancient Near East; Egyptology Resources

Urban-Village Manufacturing Centers in Amarna

On archaeological finds in Amarna, Anna Stevens of Cambridge University wrote: “Like most settlement sites, industry leaves a particularly strong signature in the archaeological record of Amarna in the form of manufacturing installations, tools, and by-products. The site has contributed significantly to the study of the technological and social aspects of such industries as glassmaking, faience production, metalwork, pottery production, textile manufacture, basketry, and bread-making, and has been one of the hubs of experimental archaeology in Egypt.” Most of the places can be classified as “small-scale domestic production, courtyard establishments or formal institutional workshops” [Source: Anna Stevens, Amarna Project, 2016, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 ]


Marsha Hill of The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Village-like complexes produced statuary; stone, faience, and glass vessels, jewelry, or inlays; metal items, and the like. Usually several industries operated in the same complex, serving the furnishing and embellishment of the royal buildings and other needs; by providing for these workers, the official heading the complex must have had rights to the things produced, which he then provided toward the court undertakings. By contrast, a gridded, officially planned settlement, created probably to house workers on the royal tombs and known as the Workman's Village, lay out in the desert plain between the city and the eastern cliffs. Houses themselves, from the simplest to the most elaborate, favored a plan with an oblique entry, a central room with a low hearth for reception or gathering, pillared when possible, and bedrooms and workrooms further back. Second stories may have existed, but sleeping might also take place on the roof. Cooking and food preparation seem to have been done in courtyards. [Source: Marsha Hill, Department of Egyptian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, November 2014, \^/]

“As a beehive of building and production, the city provides many insights into ancient industry and technology, from construction, to manufacture of glass and faience, to statuary and textile production, to bread making. One revelation is the ubiquity of gypsum as a working material. Gypsum can be used as a stone, but its main use at Amarna was as a powdered material, which with various admixtures can produce anything from a hardening plaster, to an adhesive, to a concrete. Gypsum had long been employed in Egypt as a mortar, a ground for painting, and for its adhesive qualities, but at Amarna it was used to create great long foundation levels, to build up platforms, and in a few instances to form large concrete blocks that functioned like stone. It was used as a mortar for talatat and glue for inlay. It may even have been used to create a whole large stela surface in the newly discovered boundary stela H. And it was used to adhere the elements of the composite statuary created at Amarna, and apparently to construct some balustrades from a three-dimensional mosaic of pieces. The combination of flourishing and inventive composite methods with the ubiquitous use of gypsum-based adherents has the appearance of an acceleration of technological change that constitutes a kind of breakthrough, whether or not it had any validity when Amarna and Amarna systems were abandoned. \^/

Papyrus Making

Sheets of papyrus were made by gluing the mats together. Scrolls were made my gluing sheets together. When dried out papyrus naturally curled up which is why most ancient literary works were in the form of scrolls. Scrolls were fairly durable but frequent rolling and unrolling caused the written words to wear off.

papyrus splitting

According to Minnesota State University, Mankato: “Papyrus making was not revived until around 1969. An Egyptian scientist named Dr. Hassan Ragab reintroduced the papyrus plant to Egypt and started a papyrus plantation near Cairo. He also had to research the method of production. Because the exact methods for making papyrus paper was such a secret, the ancient Egyptians left no written records as to the manufacturing process. Dr. Ragab finally figured out how it was done, and now papyrus making is back in Egypt after a very long absence. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato, +]

“The Method of Papyrus Paper Production: 1) The stalks of the papyrus plant are harvested. 2) Next the green skin of the stalk is removed and the inner pith is taken out and cut into long strips. The strips are then pounded and soaked in water for 3 days until pliable. 3) The strips are then cut to the length desired and laid horizontally on a cotton sheet overlapping about 1 millimeter. Other strips are laid vertically over the horizontal strips resulting in the criss-cross pattern in papyrus paper. Another cotton sheet is placed on top. 4) The sheet is put in a press and squeezed together, with the cotton sheets being replaced until all the moisture is removed. 5) Finally, all the strips are pressed together forming a single sheet of papyrus paper.” +\

Bridget Leach of the British Museum wrote: “Pliny’s account of making paper from papyrus is generally accepted although some details remain unclear. However, examination of the ancient material and experiments have established the basic principles of manufacture. The lower, and therefore wider, part of the stem is used as it contains the most pith. A length of between 20 and 30 centimeters is cut off and the outer rind peeled off. The pith is then sliced longitudinally to produce strips, which are laid side by side to form one layer; more strips are then placed on top at right angles to form a second layer. The whole is then beaten or pressed together to form a homogeneous sheet, which is then dried. Aided by the natural sap contained in the plant, the pressure applied during this procedure fuses the cellulose in each layer together physically and chemically, in a similar way to the formation of modern paper. [Source: Bridget Leach, British Museum, London, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2009, ]

“Individual sheets of papyrus were then joined together to form rolls using a starch-based paste . A study by Basile and Di Natale (1999) of the preparation of the papyrus surface for writing found coatings including egg, gum, and milk on several ancient samples. In the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods, state control was clearly a significant factor in papyrus production. It is difficult to imagine that this was substantially different in the preceding periods, but we lack documentation or evidence. Papyrus was certainly a valued material as the number of palimpsests from Dynastic Egypt shows. Papyrus (especially the study rind or epiderm) was also used to make rope, sandals, and other everyday objects.”

Ancient Egyptian Glass Factory

John Noble Wilford wrote in the New York Times, “In Egypt and the rest of the Middle East in the 13th century B.C., bronze was the heavy metal of power, and glass the rare commodity coveted by the powerful, who treasured glass jewelry, figurines and decorative vessels and exchanged them as prestige gifts on a par with semiprecious stones. But definitive evidence of the earliest glass production long eluded archaeologists. They had found scatterings of glassware throughout the Middle East as early as the 16th century B.C. and workshops where artisans fashioned glass into finished objects, but they had never found an ancient factory where they were convinced glass had been made from its raw materials. [Source:John Noble Wilford, New York Times, June 21, 2005 **]

"In 2005 two archaeologists reported finding such a factory in the ruins of an Egyptian industrial complex from the time of Rameses the Great. The well-known site, Qantir-Piramesses, in the eastern Nile delta, flourished in the 13th century B.C. as a northern capital of the pharaohs. Dr. Thilo Rehren of the Institute of Archaeology at University College London told the New York Times, "This is the first ever direct evidence for any glassmaking in the entire Late Bronze Age." **

"Other experts familiar with the research said the findings were important for reconstructing the ancient technology of glassmaking. But some questioned the claim that Qantir represented the first evidence of primary glass production, citing previous findings in Egypt at Amarna, which are dated a century earlier. Dr. Rehren and Dr. Edgar B. Pusch of the Pelizaeus Museum in Hildesheim, Germany, said they had excavated cylindrical crucibles and remains of glass raw materials in various stages of production. The site yielded samples of quartz grains, thought to be the main silica source of glassmaking in the Bronze Age. **

metal workers

"Archaeologists generally credit Mesopotamia as the original and primary source of glass, as early as the 16th century B.C.. But no factories have been uncovered there. More than a century ago, the British archaeologist Flinders Petrie discovered what he considered evidence of Bronze Age glass production at Amarna. The site is dated to the 14th-century reign of Akhenaten and therefore earlier than Qantir. But skeptics suspected that the Amarna glassworks was not a production plant, only a place where glass ingots were reworked into finished goods. And if it was a primary factory, why would records show Akhenaten requesting that glass be shipped to Egypt? **

Ancient Egyptian Glass Production

“One well-preserved crucible,” Wilford wrote, “contained a block of raw glass, and many other vessels held semifinished glass and some fragments that had been colored blue, red and purple. In the June 17, 2005 issue of the journal Science, the two archaeologists reported, "We could identify several hundred individual vessels used in glassmaking and coloring; more than 90 percent of these are crucibles, the rest being jars." [Source:John Noble Wilford, New York Times, June 21, 2005 **]

"The archaeologists concluded that this was a large-scale glassmaking operation. In the first step of production, a mixture of crushed quartz and plant ash was heated at a low temperature in ceramic vessels. Salt contaminants were then washed away from the semifinished glass. Next, the glass powder was mixed with coloring minerals and heated inside the crucibles. At the end, the containers would have been smashed to remove the glass ingots. Dr. Caroline M. Jackson, an archaeologist at the University of Sheffield in England, said the new finds "convincingly show that the Egyptians were making their own glass in large specialized facilities that were under royal control." **

"Writing in an accompanying journal article, Dr. Jackson noted that at Qantir, copper was used to color glass either red or blue, a relatively difficult process, and that glass ingots were the end product. This seemed to settle a dispute among scholars: whether the Egyptians at this time were able to produce and export glass, or only rework glass into luxury goods, like colorful beads and containers for perfumes. **

"Dr. Paul Nicholson, an archaeologist at Cardiff University in Wales, told the New York Times that new excavations at Amarna had yielded two large furnaces, "which I believe are for use in glass production." No such furnaces have so far been uncovered at Qantir, he noted. "It is likely that neither Amarna nor Qantir are actually the earliest in Egypt," Nicholson said but the Qantir evidence "is important and Thilo has reconstructed a possible technological sequence from it.” At least, archaeologists said, Amarna and now Qantir affirm that even if the technology probably began in Mesopotamia, the Egyptians seemed to acquire it in time and left direct evidence of how glass was made in the Late Bronze Age. **

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Egyptian-era loom

Garment Making in Ancient Egypt

Rachel Frisk of Minnesota State University, Mankato wrote: “From its start in prehistoric Egypt, women were predominately in charge of textile manufacturing and garment making. Garment making was a household chore, but woman also worked for aristocrats in spinning and weaving shops. Every garment from the decorative dresses of queens and the elaborate, pleated kilts of the pharaohs to the simpler kilts and aprons of the common people were handmade by woman. The process of making garments is extensive even for the simplest of garment.[Source: Rachel Frisk, Minnesota State University, Mankato, +]

“Linen is a fabric made from plant fibers. The plant fiber comes from flax plants that grow abundantly along the banks of the Nile. The flax plants are dried, combed, soaked, beaten, and dressed. The resulting fibers are then spun into thread. The thread is woven into linen fabric from which the garments are made. +\

“The tools involved in garment making include knives (or scissors) and needles, both of these needed to be molded, shaped or craved. In predynastic times, knives were made out of stone and the needles were made from bones. However, during the Old Kingdom, they were both made out of copper. Then, in the Middle Kingdom, bronze replaced the copper. Knives and needles were molded. Surprisingly, the eyes of needles were not bored. They were "scratched out with a hard, pointed instrument, probably a stone." With these tools and linen, garments were fashioned to suit the needs of the people based on climate and the social status.” +\

Dynastic Period Stone Tool Production

Thomas Hikade of the University of British Columbia wrote: “Larger, Old Kingdom assemblages of knapped stone tools were also discovered at Giza, and the importance of the flint sickle for the agrarian society of ancient Egypt is mirrored at sites such as Kom el-Hisn. From Ain Asil in the Dakhla oasis comes an assemblage from the second half of the third millennium B.C. that features a high amount of scrapers, indicating a special task such as hide processing. [Source: Thomas Hikade, University of British Columbia, Canada, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, ]

woman weaving from Beni Hassan tomb

“The use of flint tools continued throughout the second millennium B.C. as the raw material was cheap and plentiful and thus more affordable and accessible than metal. The tomb of the nomarch Amenemhet at Beni Hasan (BH2) of the 12th Dynasty has a scene showing the mass production of flint knives by men. In wall decoration, the shape of the knives of the Old Kingdom, the First Intermediate Period, and Middle Kingdom look very similar. They have a straight back and a convex cutting edge. However, in most cases the handles were more elaborate in the Old Kingdom.

“A fine lithic sequence from the Middle to the New Kingdoms can be studied at the sites of Tell el-Daba and Qantir in the eastern Nile Delta. Lithic assemblages are also known from the New Kingdom capital at Tell el-Amarna. Right down to the first millennium B.C., flint was used as a raw material for implements such as arrowheads. The finds in the royal tombs at el-Kurru are a good example of this. The specialized craftsmanship of flintknapping probably came to an end in the first millennium B.C..

Utilitarian Stones in Ancient Egypt

James Harrell of the University of Toledo wrote: “The utilitarian stones of ancient Egypt were those rocks employed for implements and other mundane articles. Most of these fall into three categories: 1) tools for harvesting, food preparation, and stone working; 2) weapons for hunting, war, and personal protection; and 3) grinding stones for cereals and other plant products, ore rocks for gold and other metals, and raw materials forpaint pigments and cosmetics. The three most common rock types used for these purposes were chert, dolerite, granite, metagraywacke, and silicified sandstone. A total of 21 ancient quarries are known for these stones. [Source: James Harrell, University of Toledo, OH, Environmental Sciences, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2012, ]

“The utilitarian stones of ancient Egypt were those rocks employed for implements and other mundane articles. Most of these fall into three categories: 1) tools for harvesting, food preparation, and stone working; 2) weapons for hunting, war, and personal protection; and 3) grinding stones for cereals and other plant products, ore rocks for gold and other metals, and raw materials for paint pigments and cosmetics. Rocks were also used for other ordinary purposes, especially for weights (e.g., loom and net weights, plumb bobs, boat anchors, and measuring weights for balances). Objects from the first two categories, when produced by knapping (i.e., percussion and pressure flaking), are collectively referred to as “lithics.”

“The most common utilitarian stones were chert (or flint), dolerite, granite, metagraywacke (or graywacke), and silicified sandstone (or quartzite), but others were sometimes used as well (especially limestone and vein quartz). A total of 21 ancient quarries are known for these stones...The stones exploited for tools and especially weapons were progressively supplanted by metals, initially copper in the late Predynastic Period, then the harder bronze beginning in the Middle Kingdom, and finally the still harder “iron” (actually low- grade steel) by the end of the Late Period. These metals, however, never completely replaced the stone tools and weapons, and crushing and grinding were almost always done with stones throughout antiquity.

Stone Tools in Ancient Egypt

making flint knives

James Harrell of the University of Toledo wrote: “Chert was the material of choice for most stone tools as early as the Palaeolithic and continuing through the Dynastic Period. This rock consists of microcrystalline quartz and occurs as nodules in limestone. The terms “chert” and “flint” are variously and inconsistently defined and, for the purposes of this article, are treated as synonymous. Ancient Egyptians referred to chert as ds kilometers (des kem) when it was dark brown or gray, ds HD (des hedj) and ds THn (des tjehen) when of lighter color, or sometimes simply as ds (des). Chert was one of the toughest stones available to the Egyptians and had an abrasion (or scratch) hardness superior to that of all the metals, including the best quality iron. It was easily shaped by knapping, but its principal advantage was its ability to provide tools with a sharp, durable edge. It was therefore widely employed for all types of cutting blades, especially knives and sickle teeth, as well as adzes, awls, axes, burins, drill bits, pick heads, and scrapers, among others. Although chert was used throughout the Dynastic Period, the variety of tools and quality of workmanship declined over time as the use of metals increased, with only chert knives and sickle blades remaining relatively common until the Late Period. [Source: James Harrell, University of Toledo, OH, Environmental Sciences, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2012, ]

“Chert is common wherever limestone occurs, which is in the Nile Valley walls and on the adjacent desert plateaus between Cairo in the north and Esna in the south. There were undoubtedly many ancient chert quarries but relatively few of these have been reported. From Palaeolithic to Predynastic times chert cobbles were extracted from pits dug into gravel deposits on the Nile River terraces of Middle Egypt, and at Ain Barda in the Eastern Desert’s Wadi Araba. Pits were also dug into chert-bearing weathering deposits on top of the limestone in the Refuf Pass area of Kharga Oasis during the Predynastic Period. It was, however, probably more commonly the case in these early periods that chert was not excavated but merely harvested from natural surface accumulations of already loose pieces of rock. Such sources are often referred to as “quarries” in the archaeological literature, but this is a misnomer, as no significant digging occurred. It was only during the Dynastic Period that chert nodules were quarried directly from the limestone bedrock.

“Dolerite is a black igneous rock that is compositionally similar to basalt but coarser grained. It was the favored material for pounders (also called mauls and hammerstones), which broke and crushed rock through blunt force. Pounders were used in quarrying hardstones, such as Aswan granite and many other ornamental stones, and also in mining gold and other metals. They were additionally employed for sculpting the same hardstones into architectural elements, statues, sarcophagi, stelae, vessels, and other objects. Pounders were largely replaced by iron tools (hammers, picks, chisels, and wedges) toward the end of the Late Period, but they continued to be used whenever metal tools were either unavailable or too costly. The smaller pounders were usually elongated pieces of stone with a narrowed waist where a wooden handle was affixed with leather strips. The larger pounders, commonly up to 30 centimeters across but sometimes larger, were unhafted and so hand- held. In their most familiar form, these are well-rounded, subspherical balls.

Grinding Stones and Milling in Ancient Egypt

James Harrell of the University of Toledo wrote: “Grinding stones (also known as “mill” or “quern” stones) were widely used in all periods of Egyptian history for processing cereals (mainly emmer wheat and barley) and other plant products (those for unguents, perfumes, and other oils, or juices). They were also employed for crushing gold, copper, and other metallic ore rocks prior to smelting. Essentially any hard rock can serve as a grinding stone but, in the case of those used for plant products, there was a strong preference for silicified sandstone during the Predynastic and Dynastic Periods and vesicular basalt in the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods . Coarse-grained granite from Aswan was additionally used in all periods. This chronological division is also exhibited in the grinding stones’ basic form. In Predynastic and Dynastic times, grinding stones consisted of a large stationary lower stone that was elongated and typically ovoid (often described as “boat-shaped”) with a flat (when new) to concave (when worn) upper surface. A smaller, hand-held upper stone (a “rider” or “rubber”) was pushed back and forth across the lower stone. The terms “mono” and “matate,” derived from Mesoamerican archaeology, are also sometimes applied to the upper and lower parts, respectively, of this so-called “saddle” hand-mill. [Source: James Harrell, University of Toledo, OH, Environmental Sciences, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2012, ]

flint knives

“Two Greek innovations in cereal grinding technology were introduced into Egypt during the Ptolemaic Period: the “hopper-rubber” and “rotary” hand-mills. Both continued in use during Roman times along with the more primitive saddle hand-mills. The hopper-rubber hand- mill, also known as a “Theban hand-mill” (a translation of its ancient Greek name), had a rectangular upper stone into which were cut a trapezoidal grain hopper with a basal slit, and two lateral slots on top. A wooden cross-piece set into the slots served as a handle to push and pull the upper stone across a flat, usually rectangular, lower stone. Holes were sometimes cut into the sides of the upper stone for the insertion of handles . The upper and lower grinding surfaces were commonly incised (“dressed”) with parallel grooves to enhance the grinding action. The hopper-rubber hand-mills found in the Nile Valley and Fayum were commonly made from coarse- grained Aswan granite, but at Eastern Desert sites other similarly hard, local rocks were also employed. The rotary hand-mill, usually made from vesicular basalt but also occasionally from coarse-grained granite and silicified sandstone, arrived in Egypt late in the Ptolemaic Period. This mill type had a stationary circular lower stone with a central conical spindle, and a matching circular upper stone with an axial hole that fit over the spindle. The upper stone was hand-cranked with a wooden handle, set in a hole cut into one side, while grain was fed into the central opening.

“Rotary motion in milling was not only more efficient than the reciprocating motion of the saddle and hopper-rubber hand-mills, but it also allowed for larger mills that harnessed greater power sources. In Egypt during the Roman Period, this led to the first industrial- scale processing of cereals and other agricultural products as exemplified by the “horizontal rotary” and “edge-roller” mills. The former mill type consisted of a matched pair of large circular grinding stones, typically of coarse-grained Aswan granite. The lower stone was stationary while the upper (“runner”) stone turned around a wooden or metal spindle with a lever attached to either the runner or the spindle if the latter was socketed into a square axial hole in the runner. Grain was fed into the upper axial hole while the runner was rotated, via the lever, by either human or animal power. The edge-roller mill, in contrast, consisted of a circular stone (either large or small, and sometimes a pair of such stones) that rolled upright on its outer edge around a circular stone trough. A wooden lever passed horizontally through the axial hole of the upright stone and attached to a vertical spindle piercing the stationary trough, and this lever was then turned in the same manner as that of the horizontal rotary mill. Whereas all the aforementioned reciprocating and rotary mills ground materials by shearing them, the edge- roller mill merely crushed them, and because of this was especially popular for pressing olives and grapes. The absence of rigorous grinding also meant that softer stones, such as limestone, could be used for edge-roller mills.

“The granite and silicified sandstone used for grinding stones are the same rocks that were also employed as ornamental stones and no doubt came from the same quarries. The vesicular basalt preferred for rotary hand-mills does not occur in Egypt, but there are many potential sources in both the southern Red Sea and Eastern Mediterranean regions. Limited geochemical analyses suggest that at least some of the rock came from volcanic islands in the southern Aegean Sea . The extra expense incurred by basalt’s importation was not a deterrent to its use because it had a highly desirable feature: abundant, large vesicles (originally gas-filled cavities in the lava precursor of this volcanic rock). The edges of these vesicles act like cutting blades and are continuously sharpened as the stones wear down. To a lesser degree, the same process operates with silicified sandstone, which has smaller open pore spaces between its sand grains. The same cutting action can be achieved in Aswan granite or any other hard rock when the grinding surfaces are cut with parallel grooves, the edges of which function as cutting blades.

“The same chronological dichotomy of reciprocating and rotary grinding stones for plant products applies to the reduction of ore rock from mines. The stones used, however, were just the locally available hard rocks and so vary from one site to another. A well- documented evolution in grinding stone technology exists for the gold mines in Egypt’s Eastern Desert and Sudan’s Nubian Desert. Prior to the New Kingdom, ore rock was reduced through direct crushing by pounders on stone anvils. It was during the New Kingdom that the familiar reciprocating grinding stone ensemble was introduced. The lower stone originally had a flat surface and then developed an oval depression with use. This, with the accompanying upper (rubber) stone, has been referred to as an “oval” or “dished” hand-mill. The next big innovation occurred in the Ptolemaic Period, when the so-called “saddle quern” was used. This had an originally downward-curving lower stone (which became more deeply concave with use) and a massive, subtriangular upper stone with two lug handles. This unique form of hand- mill was also employed to a limited extent for grain during the Ptolemaic Period. The final development, in the Roman Period, was the rotary hand-mill that was larger but otherwise similar in form to those of vesicular basalt used for grinding cereals. Regardless of the method of grinding, the ore rock was pre-crushed to about pea- size on either a stone anvil or in a stone mortar.

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“Other types of grinding (and crushing) stones employed in ancient Egypt from the Predynastic Period onward were the mortar and pestle, along with their primitive counterparts, and the pounder (often of white vein quartz) and anvil (of any hard rock), as well as the so-called “palette,” which was used principally during the late Predynastic and

Dynastic Periods. Whereas a wide variety of materials were ground with mortars and pestles, palettes were apparently only used for the preparation of cosmetic eye shadow or kohl, usually powdered green malachite or dark gray galena. The palettes are sometimes elaborately decorated with relief carvings, such as those on the famous Narmer Palette of the 1st Dynasty from Hierakonpolis, now in Cairo’s Egyptian Museum. In this case se, and in many other examples, the palette seems more of a votive or ceremonial object than a working grinding stone. Many of the more ordinary palettes have zoomorphic outlines , but other shapes also occur. Essentially all palettes were fashioned from grayish-green metagraywacke (commonly misidentified as “slate” or “schist”), one of the principal ornamental stones of ancient Egypt.

Leatherworking in Ancient Egypt

André J. Veldmeijer of the Netherlands Flemish Institute in Cairo wrote: “Leather was used throughout Egypt’s history, although its importance varied. It had many applications, ranging from the functional (footwear and wrist-protectors, for example) to the decorative (such as chariot leather). Although leather items were manufactured using simple technology, leatherworking reached a high level of craftsmanship in the New Kingdom. Among the most important leather-decoration techniques employed in Pharaonic Egypt, and one especially favored for chariot leather, was the use of strips of leather of various colors sewn together in partial overlap. In post-Pharaonic times there was a distinct increase in the variety of leather-decoration techniques. Vegetable tanning was most likely introduced by the Romans; the Egyptians employed other methods of making skin durable, such as oil curing.” [Source: André J. Veldmeijer, Netherlands Flemish Institute Cairo, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2008, ]

“The term “leather” refers to skins that have been tanned or tawed—that is, converted into white leather by mineral tanning, as with alum and salt—rather than cured. In Egypt it appears that skins were not tanned or tawed in the Pharaonic Period; however, thus far we lack detailed, systematic chemical analyses from which to make a conclusive determination. Skins and leather were used throughout Egyptian history, but their importance and quality varied. According to Van Driel- Murray, skins were widely used in the Badarian and Amratian (Naqada I) periods but were largely superseded by cloth in the Gerzean (Naqada II).

“In the Old and Middle kingdoms the use of leather declined in favor of the use of fiber and textiles; skins seem to have been of secondary importance to meat and the production of glue. The Nubian “pan-grave” cultures, however, introduced decorated leather garments, including the loincloth, and containers and pouches of high quality, not dissimilar to those of Predynastic traditions and comparable to leatherwork recovered from other Nubian sites, such as Kerma. During the New Kingdom leather was much more widely used. New weapons technology—such as the introduction of the chariot by Asiatic peoples—was partially responsible for this. Contact with foreign cultures might also have been the reason for the introduction of the leather shoe. It is difficult to say whether the use of leather continued to the same extent into the Third Intermediate Period. The situation in the Late and Ptolemaic periods is as enigmatic. Better attested is leather from the Roman Period, during which the use of vegetable-tanned leather became widespread and in which innovations in technology are apparent.

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“In Egypt leather was most commonly made from the skins of cow, sheep, goat, and gazelle, although those of more exotic species such as lion, panther, cheetah, antelope, leopard, camel, hippopotamus, crocodile, and possibly elephant have been identified. Leather was used in a wide variety of items, ranging from clothing, footwear, and cordage, to furniture and (parts of) musical instruments.

Processing of Skins Into Leather in Ancient Egypt

André J. Veldmeijer of the Netherlands Flemish Institute in Cairo wrote: “The processing of skins into leather is virtually universal and is well documented. Scenes from the tomb of Rekhmira provide especially useful information. According to Forbes’s analysis of leather processing, after a skin was flayed, underlying fat and hair were removed by rubbing urine, ash, or a mixture of flour and salt into the haired surface. Next, the skin was cured, arresting the degenerative process.[Source: André J. Veldmeijer, Netherlands Flemish Institute Cairo, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2008, ]

“Curing in oil seems to have been the preferred method in Pharaonic Egypt, although mineral curing was probably practised, particularly in the Predynastic Period. After having been soaked in oil, the skin was staked to make it supple and the remaining oil was worked into the skin. Finally, the skin would be dried. Although vegetable tanning is the only means of producing chemically stable leather, current scholarly opinion maintains that tanning was unknown in Egypt before the Greco-Roman Period. An explanation for this may be that the Romans, who had experienced a comparatively wetter environment that required them to adopt the use of vegetable-tanned leather, brought the technique to Egypt, where the arid climate had not rendered tanning a necessity. However, Nubian leatherwork, including leatherwork of the Nubian C-Group at Hierakonpolis, differs from Egyptian leatherwork in many respects, one of which seems to be its processing methods, which possibly included vegetable tanning. Indeed the results of a field test for vegetable tanning were convincingly positive. Problems with the test have been noted, however; its further analysis, currently in progress, is needed. Furthermore, the question as to why vegetable tanning may have been employed in Nubia remains to be answered.”

Leather Manufacturing and Tools in Ancient Egypt

André J. Veldmeijer of the Netherlands Flemish Institute in Cairo wrote: “Leather-manufacturing techniques were basic: leather goods were sewn with simple, but varied, seams, using flax, sinew, or narrow leather thongs. Rawhide (unprocessed skin) was generally used for lashing, as it shrinks upon wetting and thus tightens the components of the object being fastened. Rawhide was therefore employed to fasten ax blades onto their shafts and to form the “joints” of furniture. Because of its hardness and durability, it was sometimes used to provide the soles of footwear. Despite the simplicity of manufacturing techniques, some Egyptian leatherwork reached a high level of craftsmanship. [Source: André J. Veldmeijer, Netherlands Flemish Institute Cairo, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2008, ]

“Before the New Kingdom, mineral dyes were used to color leather. The complete palette of colors used is hard to establish, as some shades are more susceptible to discoloration than others—such as blue, apparently, given its few surviving examples. Abundantly used were bright red and green, often in combination. Shoes very similar to the one depicted have been found in Deir el Medina and date to the New Kingdom.


“White may have been obtained by manipulation of the skin surface, already pale due to processing, with pastes of chalk mixed with fats. Vegetable dyes, such as madder (red), indigo (blue), and pomegranate (yellow and black), with alum as a mordant, appeared after the 18th Dynasty. Gilding came into use as late as the Coptic Period. Several other techniques of leather-decoration were also used: decoration with beads is known from as early as the Predynastic Period; cutting (incision) was featured from the Old Kingdom onward; and stamping and multicolor appliqué are known starting from the New Kingdom.

“Leatherworking tools included large pots for dipping, the trestled beams used for staking, and the low stools and platforms upon which much of the processing was carried out. Needles of bone and probably copper were used for stitching leather from the earliest times. Leather may have been pricked prior to stitching in order to facilitate penetration with a needle; awls of bone (later of metal) and marlin spikes would have been used for this purpose.

“Most leather cutting was performed using curved knives with either broad or narrow blades. Pounders for smoothing, depilation, and working in oils and fats would also have been widely used. Slickers—that is, blades with triangular anti-clogging holes—may have been used for any of the above-mentioned purposes and would have been preceded by the flint scraper. Tools for incised decoration would have been necessary: there are many examples of pointed tools that could have served this purpose. Stamps would probably have been cast from metal or carved from stone, or possibly wood, although no such examples have been identified as yet. It is archaeologically difficult to confirm the presence of tanning pits. A possible leather workshop from the Greco-Roman Period was excavated at Akoris.”

Cordage Production in Ancient Egypt

cabinet making

André J. Veldmeijer of the Netherlands Flemish Institute in Cairo wrote: “The term “cordage” refers to rope and string, and to the products made from these, such as netting. Its presence among some of the oldest artifacts found on archaeological sites testifies to its usefulness through the ages. In ancient Egypt, the production of cordage was relatively simple, for it could be made by hand without special implements. However, the manufacture of thick rope required the efforts of more than one person and/or the use of special tools. Various materials were used to make cordage, depending on the availability of the necessary plants and also on the intended function of the cordage. [Source: André J. Veldmeijer, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2009, ]

“The term “cordage” refers to rope and string, and to the products made from these, such as netting. Cordage, basketry, and textiles are closely related. Indeed some objects can be regarded as both basketry and cordage. For example, bed matting is made of spun or plied strings (“linear cordage”) that are woven, weaving being considered a basketry technique. In the present discussion, focusing on the cordage of ancient Egypt, the relevant terms have been defined in such a way as to avoid overlapping as much as possible. Definitions and terminology follow those presented in the author’s work. The terms “twist” and “composition” can, accordingly, be explained as follows: The “twist” is the orientation of yarns, plies, and cables, visualized by reference to the letters ‘z’ or ‘s’ (yarns), ‘Z’ or ‘S’ (plies), ‘[Z]’ or ‘[S]’ (cable), ‘{Z}’ or ‘{S}’ (double cable). The central stroke of the letter marks the orientation of the twist. “Composition” refers to the orientation and number of the subsequent levels of the piece. A number following the ‘Z’ or ‘S’ shows the number of yarns or plies used. For instance, zS2[Z3] means that two z- twisted yarns (2) are plied in the S-direction. Then three (3) of these plies are cabled in the [Z]-direction. The composition of non-plied cordage (yarns) cannot be visualized because yarns are the first level of production. Therefore, when yarns are referred to, only the twist is mentioned.

Two or three phases in the production of cordage can be identified, depending on whether the end product was linear cordage or an object made from linear cordage, such as netting. These phases are depicted in varying degrees of detail in several tombs. First, before cordage could be made, the required plants had to be grown and their usable components harvested. The plants most commonly used for making cordage constitute the primary focus here— namely halfa grasses, reeds, and palm—as opposed to sedges, cotton, and rawhide/leather. Papyrus, a sedge, seems to have been used mostly for the manufacture of thick rope, although thick ropes found in caves at the ancient port of Mersa/Wadi Gawasis were made not of papyrus but reed. Fine string made from the epiderm of the papyrus culm has occasionally been found at Pharaonic-Period sites, as represented by an amphora sling from Amarna, for example. The epiderm may have been a by-product of papyrus production. Some cultivated plants, such as flax, were employed, but others grew wild and needed only to be harvested, grass being an example.

“The preparation of plants for rendering into cordage depended on the material: grass required more preparation than palm, the procedure involving, according to Greiss, soaking and beating. Ethno- archaeological observations made by Wendrich, however, differ in that grass was dried for three to five days and wetted just before use. The preparation of date-palm leaves, according to Wendrich, involved thorough drying before the side leaflets were removed; the leaf-sheath fiber could be used after soaking briefly. Dom palm leaves were dried for a minimum of two weeks, after which the leaves were split. The preparation of flax for textile production was much more elaborate and involved various stages, including retting and beating, or bruising. It is noteworthy that this process might have been less intense had its purpose been the manufacture of cordage, as many archaeological examples prove. Less commonly used in cordage manufacture were animal products, namely goat hair, which may have involved washing before spinning and plying.

“The second phase comprised the production of linear cordage. Short lengths of grass or palm linear cordage could easily be made by rolling two bundles between the hands. Wendrich describes in detail how a string with alternating twist is made in two simple movements. It is noteworthy that the composition of string varied widely; string featuring alternating twists prevails (the alternating direction of the spinning and plying strengthens the piece, making it less prone to falling apart), although non- alternating twists do occur. The strength of the spinning and plying influences the strength of the cordage and is itself dependent on various factors, among which is the material. The production of longer and thicker pieces of linear cordage, such as those discovered at Mersa/Wadi Gawasis, involved various persons, as can be seen in tomb representations, and may therefore have been a (semi-) specialized craft. Depicted in the tomb of Khaemwaset, for example, is a scene in which a person twists fibers into a yarn by means of a tool with a weight. A second person plies two pieces of yarn, while a (third) person in the center regulates the tension of the plying. Texts mention ropes as long as 1000 cubits, the rough equivalent of 500 meters. In the later New Kingdom we know that the price of rope was about 1 deben of silver—that is, the worth of about 2 cattle—for 100 cubits.

rope making

“The spinning of flax thread for the production of textiles is well known and described in detail by various authors. Vogelsang-Eastwood suggests that first the flax fibers were loosely twisted and then spun into the final thread in a second stage. Usually, flax fibers were wetted before being spun, after which the thread could be plied, used in the manufacture of textiles, or, less commonly, made into a net, most of the flax netting having been made of plied string. A third phase of manufacture can be identified if the linear cordage was used to render an object.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt ; Tour Egypt, Minnesota State University, Mankato,; Mark Millmore,; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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