Life and Death at Work in Ancient Egypt (Middle Kingdom)


No god-like king with his calm and arrogant gaze presides over the busy and buzzing little scene of daily life at work in this Middle Kingdom ancient Egyptian slaughter house. A bird’s eye view gives a good sense of the whole, but to get a better sense of this vivid thing, the hustle and bustle of men at work, you need to zoom in your attention.

Have you ever seen anything like it? I hadn’t.

“This model of a meat processing installation was found with twenty three other models of boats, gardens, and workshops in a hidden chamber at the side of the passage leading into the rock cut tomb of the royal chief steward Meketre, who began his career under King Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II of Dynasty 11 and continued to serve successive kings into the early years of Dynasty 12.

Two oxen are being slaughtered in the large hall. Their legs have been trussed together and two men are cutting their throats. Opposite these men, two others hold bowls to catch the blood which will be made into pudding by the men in the corner fanning fires under kettles. An overseer and a clerk, holding batons, superintend the slaughtering and the plucking of a goose. On the balcony above hang joints of meat. The cords holding joints of meat have been restored.”


Slaughter House, from the Tomb of Meketre, ca. 1981–1975 B.C. Egyptian, Middle Kingdom Plastered and painted wood, gesso; L. 76.8 cm (30 1/4 in.); W. 58.5 cm (23 1/16 in.); greatest H. 58.5 cm (23 1/16 in.) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund and Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1920 (20.3.10)



About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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