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The mines were found abounding in copper, it was loaded by tens of thousands into the galleys. It was sent to Egypt, and arrived safely. It was carried and made into a heap under the palace windows, hundreds of thousands of bars of copper, the colour of gold. I allowed all the people to see them
Record of a trading expedition
made by Ramses III, 20th Dynasty

uch that has been learnt about Ancient Egypt comes from the tombs. Wall paintings show people at work and leisure as do many small wooden statues and models. Many everyday items are placed in the tombs for the person to use in the afterlife. Abandoned settlements also provide some evidence. These have been excavated and details of the daily life of ordinary people have been discovered.

A typical house, built of mud-brick, had three main rooms, with a yard, which acted as a kitchen, and two cellars for storage. Niches in the walls held religious objects. Finer houses had two floors and reception rooms while some even had bathrooms and toilets. Some houses, enclosed in walls, had trees and a fish pond in the garden.

Furniture consisted of beds, small tables, stools and wooden storage chests for utensils and jewellry. Decorating the walls might be mats and textiles. Along with baskets and rope, these could be weaved using reed, flax, papyrus, palm fibre and grass. Like many African peoples the Egyptians used headrests, made of stone, ivory or wood, instead of pillows for sleeping on.

Wall painting
Jewellers & carpenters at work

Written documents have been discovered which deal with the progress of work on the pyramids. There is even a record of a strike for late payment of wages. We also know that absenteeism was common. This was caused by drink, religious holidays and the building of houses, amongst other things. Wages were paid in wheat, fish, vegetables, cosmetic oils, wood for fuel, pottery and clothing. Tools, made from copper, would have included axes, saws, chisels and drills.

Surviving legal documents show details of crimes and judgements upon the criminals. A type of police force existed, distinct from the army, that used trained dogs.
Egyptian pottery
Forced labour was amongst the punishments handed out.

The Egyptians also made exceptional jewellery and glassware. A high degree of skill was used in engraving and inlaying jewellery. Gold could be beaten into leaf as fine as 0.005mm. Faience ware, usually of blue-green or turquoise glass, was produced in vast quantities, often from moulds.

Model of a man ploughing

The majority of the population worked the land and could be conscripted for irrigation schemes or royal building projects. Foreign prisoners of war and criminals were used in gangs for heavier work like stone quarrying. Flax and cereals were grown in great quantities. Large herds of cattle were reared and cows dragged the plough and provided milk. Other livestock included sheep, pigs and donkeys.

The family was at the heart of Egyptian society and early marriage and parenthood was encouraged. Marriage tended to be within the same social group and family unions between uncle and niece or cousins were common. There was no religious ceremony, marriage was a private legal agreement. In the event of a divorce the rights of the wife were equal to those of the man.

Servants making bread

The staple food was always bread and by the time of The New Kingdom there were over 40 different varieties. Meat, although not eaten frequently because it did not keep well in the hot climate, included beef, goat, mutton, pork, goose and pigeon. Farming provided vegetables like leeks, onions, garlic and cucumbers. Fruits such as figs, dates and grapes were also available. Beer was the most popular drink and they also made wine which was stored in pottery jars.

Many favourite leisure pastimes were depicted in the tombs and these include hunting, athletic games such as wrestling and boxing, banqueting and dancing. Music was also enjoyed by the Egyptians, at a concert in 250 BC it is recorded that 600 musicians played simultaneously, but no record of any actual tune played has ever been discovered. There were also many popular board games, examples of which have survived to the present day.

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