February 17, 2012

Crafts and Craftsmen in Ancient Egypt Part 1/4

Crafts and Craftsmen in Ancient Egypt

Crafts in Ancient Egypt
In contrast with today's craftsman, who is seen as an individual artist whose signed works have great intrinsic worth, his ancient Egyptian counterpart remained an anonymous artisan who was an object of derision to the arrogant scribal class. Most craftsmen in ancient Egypt were employed by Pharaohs, the government or temples. They labored in large, highly organized workshops or in special communities, such as that of the royal tomb-builders at Deir el-Medina. Their techniques and tools were simple, the high quality of their skill and the almost endless time and patience which they were able to devote to their work.

An example of such a workshop, belonging to a temple, comes from the tomb of two sculptors named Apuki and Nebamun at Thebes. They both held important positions as controllers of sculptors and artisans at the palace and in an unnamed temple, as well as being controllers of the balances of the king. All these posts had been held by their respective fathers before them.

Nebamun at Thebes
In the top of the scene, the supervisor is shown seated on a lattice-work stool. He is inspecting a number of finished pieces presented by two craftsmen. These include wooden furniture a scribe's palette, metal vessels and jewellery. Above the two attendants is a man operating a balance. On one side are ten gold rings and in the other a weight in the form of a bull's head. Crowning the balance is a head of the goddess of truth. Ma'at, to ensure that the metal is weighed truly.

This weighing of metal in the presence of an overseer represents one of the strict security measures which operated in these official workshops. All metal was precious to the ancient Egyptians. It was either rare or else the mining of it required great effort. Gold, for instance, was relatively abundant in Egypt and Nubia, but mining techniques were unsophisticated and the mines lay in inhospitable desert regions. Thus all raw metal given out to craftsmen was weighed and the amount recorded. Even simple bronze tools were registered out to the workmen at Dier el-Medina. The superintendent of a group of artisans, therefore, held a post of great responsibility and trust,, which , as the records show, was unfortunately often abused.

The Next scene shows the activities of the workshop, or possible series of workshops, conflated into one picture. It is a model of order and cleanliness, suitable for an idealized picture of the afterlife. In reality mist workshops must have been noisy, dirty and hot, the ground littered with the debris of manufacture. The top register show as group of carpenter and cabinet-makers at work. They are engaged in constructing a gilded shrine for the temple of a tomb. On the far right a balding man is seen cutting up wood into planks. The wood to be cut held upright on a post by thick rope. The saw is pulled backwards and forwards, although unlike modern saws which cut on both actions, the ancient Egyptian saw it only when pulled.

Crafts and Craftsmen in Ancient Egypt
Behind the sawyer and on the far side of the men assembling the shrine are five artisans engaged in making amulets to decorate it . One of them roughly shapes a block of wood to the required size, while three others carve out the amulets. The main tool is the adze, which was used by the ancient Egyptians for cutting, shaping and smoothing wood. For finer work one man uses a chisel. The fifth craftsman is about to paint the djed-amulet (denoting strength) in his hand. Most of the men are seated on three-legged stools characteristic of artisans' workshops. They work on large blocks of stone or wood, some with ledges or stops to prevent their work slipping. In the centre two men place the completed amulets in the framework of the shrine, These appear smaller than the amulets in the process of manufacture, but thus us because the latter have been enlarged by the artist so that they can be more clearly seen.

The techniques of carpentry were similar to those of today . Wood was joined by dovetailing, mitering , mortice and tenon joints and dowels. Inlay and veneer were common forms of decoration , as a means of disguising the poor native timbers of Egypt. Ebony and ivory were glued or pinned to the surface of the object. Paint was also used applied over a thin layer of gesso. There is even one example of plywood used to construct a Third Dynasty coffin, a technique not used again until modern times.

In the central and lower registers are depicted metalworkers and jewelers. Two men , seated on stools, prepare and place in a box electoral pectorals and necklaces. The one on the right rubs together two pieces of inlay in order to smooth them. Ah abrasive substance is kept in the cup above his hands. Above this is kept in the cup above his hands. Above this is a bowl containing semi-precious stones awaiting use, covered with a cloth to keep away prying eyes. His companion places a toral containing the car-touches of Amenophis III in a casket .Other jewels ready for packing are shown above.

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