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Baking in ancient Egypt

8 August 2013 by Ashley Cooke

Model of a Kitchen about 2055 BC

Model of a Kitchen from Beni Hasan, about 2055 BC

Chatting about objects with members of the public in our galleries always reminds me of the relevance of our collections in today’s society. This morning I arranged to meet a baker in the Ancient Egypt Gallery to show him some examples of 3500 year old loaves of bread from tombs. David Atherton bakes bread but is also fascinated by the history of baking and wanted to discover more about the origins. Where better to start than the local museum?

Not only do we have the tools used to harvest the wheat and barley but we have grain excavated from a town that was harvested to feed the men building the pyramid of the 12th Dynasty pharaoh, Senusret II, at Lahun – bread and beer were part of the staple diet. They were made in tandem and we have a beautiful 4000 year old carving of a baking, brewing and butchery scene from a tomb at Beni Hasan.  Not only do we have the tools used to harvest the wheat and barley but we have grain excavated from a town that was harvested to feed the men building the pyramid of the 12th Dynasty pharaoh, Senusret II, at Lahun – bread and beer were part of the staple diet. They were made in tandem and we have a beautiful 4000 year old carving of a baking, brewing and butchery scene from a tomb at Beni Hasan. As far as the tomb owner, Khnumn-nakht, was concerned this model would have functioned as the real thing in the afterlife and kept him and his family supplied with bread and beer, and, for a little bit of luxury, beef.

Bread, fruit and grain from ancient Egyptian tombs, about 1400 BC

Bread, fruit & grain from New Kingdom tombs, about 1400 BC

It was great to talk with David about baking today and how little has changed in many respects. In the new gallery we aim to deepen public engagement with Egyptology by taking a more humanistic approach to the display of our collection. Beautiful objects of international importance are displayed alongside objects of a more everyday nature such as bread to help audiences identify with the past on a more personal level. I left David with a list of hieroglyphs that represent different types of bread so he could go round the gallery spotting bread hieroglyphs on our objects. Meeting a baker reminded me how often bread is used in inscriptions and it’s given me some ideas for activities and displays – thanks, David.

  1. Debbie Kennedy says:

    Wow! Thank you SO MUCH! Next time I’m in England, I will do my best to get to Liverpool to see your collection – I would LOVE to see actual bread & grain from Ancient times

  2. Ashley says:

    Hi Debbie: thanks for your kind comment. There’s so much to do in Liverpool and especially so if you like museums and art galleries as Liverpool has the most outside of London. If you like Egyptology you’re also spoiled for choice as there’s World Museum and the Garstang Museum of Archaeology in Liverpool, and less than an hour away are Manchester Museum and Bolton Museum. All the best, Ashley.

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