Sunday, June 1, 2014

Museum Pieces - Funerary model of cow giving birth

(Photocredit: Royal Ontario Museum)

Carved and painted wood
Centimetres: 47.2 (length), 21.6 (height), 17.8 (width)
c. 2000 BC
Early Middle Kingdom
Area of Origin: Meir?, Egypt
Area of Use: Meir ?; Egypt; Africa

Funerary model of cow giving birth

This wooden tomb model dates to the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2055 -1650 BC) and, although such models are commonly placed in tombs at this time, this one is unique in its content. Middle Kingdom models depicting various aspects of daily life activities, especially food production, survive in many examples. The vignette of a cow giving birth is popular in tomb paintings from this period but this wooden model is the only three dimensional example extant. Tomb painting and models were placed in a tomb to ensure the deceased everlasting prosperity, for it was thought that both would magically come to life and work for the tomb owner in the Afterlife. Our model shows that animal husbandry was practised at this early date in ancient Egypt, with one man calming the cow while the other ensures a proper delivery.

Funerary models

Possibly as late as the Early Dynastic Period funerary sacrifices of royal retainers destined to serve the king in the afterlife may have taken place. These practices ceased and the tombs were furnished with figurines of servants and pictures instead.

The need for servants may have been most pressing to those who had been waited upon hand and foot during their lifetime, but people saw also the need to have models of granaries, houses, gardens, of farmers ploughing, of carpenters building furniture, weavers weaving cloth, of model tools and weapons, boats, furniture, animals and even of model offerings.

The models served various purposes. During the Middle Kingdom, when they were more fashionable than at any other time, clay house models, the so-called soul houses, were left on top of pit graves and had the function of offering tables, ensuring the continued existence in the afterlife.

Wooden models of farmers and artisans plying their trade placed in rock-cut tombs on the other hand were destined to increase the material well-being of the tomb owner, and clay granaries to ensure their food supply. The importance the Nile had as a waterway and the place navigation had in mythology is reflected in the great number of boat models; in the tomb of Meketre for instance they made up half of all the models. As funerary boats their role was to further the deceased person's progress through the underworld.



  1. Hi Dennis

    I always look forward to your Sunday museum pieces, this one is as beautiful as it is interesting though, I feel for the cow giving birth to that large of a calf. :)

    1. Thanks Timothy! Appreciate your comment! And yes...poor cow ;-)