The Tomb of Meketre

902 words | 4 page(s)

The Tomb of Meketre, which forms a part of the Egyptian exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was uncovered in the Theban Necropolis, next to the unfinished royal tomb of Amenemhat I, located in Sheikh Abd el-Qurna. Meketre is believed to have been the royal chief steward, and his tomb, which contains wooden replicas depicting scenes from his daily life and community, can teach us many things about Egyptian life.

Among the different scenes depicted by the replicas are a boat ride, a cattle market, a bakery, brewery, and granary, gardens, and scribes at work. What is so striking about these depictions when compared to many other examples of Egyptian art within the exhibition is that they focus on the real activities of everyday life.

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Because the replicas in the tomb depict scenes taken from everyday life, we can learn a great deal about what life was like for people from many different walks of life. This is in contrast to a lot of other examples of Egyptian art, such as tomb paintings and religious statues, which often depict only elite members of society or symbolic representations, and which are often formal and symbolic rather than realistic. We can learn from these replicas that many concerns in Egyptian life were similar to today; for example, there is an emphasis in the depictions on organizing and managing the everyday essentials of life such as food, drink, housing, and transport. Despite the importance of Meketre, and the religious purpose of the replicas, the fact that so much care has gone into depicting examples such as the preparation of bread and beer suggest that these everyday concerns were central to Egyptian thought. At the same time, however, the clear demarcations in activity, dress, and position of the elite figures from the commoners, and the focus in many of the scenes on religious offerings and symbolism, shows that religion and status were much more important in everyday life than they are in our own modern society.

Women are depicted less frequently than men in the replicas. However, of the women who are present, one stands out more than any other, and that is the female offering bearer. She carries a basket on head and carries a duck in one hand, but at the same time she wears rich jewellery and clothing, signaling her high status. This figure is typical of Egyptian representations of offering bearers, which are often female and are usually carrying offerings of food. In this respect they differ from male offering bearers who usually carry religious items, and this can also be seen in this exhibit, where the male offering bearers are less richly dressed, but carry items such as linens and jars rather than food. Other replicas show women doing less significant jobs, such as the two women milling flour in the bakery, but in these depictions the women are greatly outnumbered by the men. What this suggests is that women were less publically visible than men in Egyptian society, and although they were not prohibited from holding public offices alongside men, they were given more domestic roles in these positions than men. Nevertheless, the high status of the offering bearer suggests that women in Egyptian society were able to occupy positions of high status as much as men were.

Commoners seem to be the most numerous representations in the exhibits, far outnumbering the depictions of elite members of society. Examples include the numerous figurines depicting workers in the slaughter house, men grinding grain and baking bread in the bakery, workers brewing beer in the brewery, working in the granary, and rowing the boat. These representations of commoners all differ from the elite characters in that they wear simple clothing, have shaved heads, are always in large groups and are always depicted being active. In contrast, elite characters wear elaborate costumes, jewellery, and wigs, are less active and more posed, and are usually depicted alone or separate from other characters. A good example is the lone offering bearer described above, or the depiction of Meketre himself in the boat, sitting apart from the commoners rowing the boat, in the cabin. These differences mean that it is very easy in these depictions to distinguish between the commoners and the elite characters, and it suggests that the elite typically remained aloof from the commoners who kept society functioning. In contrast, the depictions seem to suggest that for a commoner life was busy and social.

My favorite part of the exhibit was the way in which the figures were designed in such a way as to convey a sense of motion and to give the impression of real life suspended for a moment. In these depictions everything looks lifelike and busy, and it is easy to imagine the figures might come to life at any moment and complete the tasks they have started. Compared to a lot of other Egyptian art which can seem flat and/or stylized, this feels like a real snapshot of Egyptian life.

As can be seen, then, Meketre’s Tomb can tell us a great deal about the way in which Ancient Egyptians lived, how they spent their time, what was important to them, and how they organized their society. Quite apart from these benefits, however, the exhibition is also extraordinarily beautiful, and touching in the way it depicts everyday life. Overall, the collection is well worth a visit.

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