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How We Obtained Our Knowledge of Ancient Egypt

Updated: Nov 1, 2023


 

DW | Ancient Egypt

1.2 - How We Obtained Our Knowledge of Ancient Egypt

 

A significant portion of our knowledge about the Egyptians comes from their religious practices. They were known as "resurrectionists" because they firmly believed in an afterlife. According to their beliefs, their physical bodies would literally rise again in the next life.


Consequently, they invested considerable time and effort in constructing elaborate tombs and temples, while also burying the deceased with a wide array of items necessary for a comfortable existence in the afterworld. These tombs were built to endure indefinitely, using durable stone materials.


Tomb Wall Art

On the walls of these tombs, the Egyptians depicted scenes from daily life, which served as a means to communicate their desires to the gods regarding their treatment in the next world. For instance, if an individual enjoyed activities like hunting and fishing, they would have a scene depicting themselves engaged in those pursuits.


These depictions were immensely popular throughout Egypt, resonating with both commoners and Pharaohs alike. As an example, Ramesses the Great's wife, Nefertari, had a section of her tomb wall adorned with a painting showing her playing the game of Senet, a popular Egyptian board game resembling chess.


These wall paintings in the tombs offer valuable glimpses into the everyday lives of ancient Egyptians.

 
 

Tomb Treasures

Believing in the concept of "taking it with you into the next world," they filled these tombs with a remarkable variety of daily objects. King Tut's tomb is a striking example, as it contained over 5,000 items ranging from statues to walking canes and even his chariot. Through these carefully selected items, we can glean extensive insights into the lifestyles of these people.


Tomb Wall Writing

Another valuable source of information is the written material produced by the ancient Egyptians. They developed writing at an early stage, and as a result, utilized their temple walls as a means of disseminating important knowledge, particularly by the Pharaohs.


For instance, Pharaoh Tuthmosis III left a detailed account of the historic Battle of Megiddo on the walls of his temple at Karnak, marking the first recorded battle in history. These temple walls effectively served as bulletin boards of the ancient world, offering abundant information about the reigns of numerous kings.


Religious Texts

Religious texts also provide significant insights into ancient Egyptian culture. These texts, written on papyrus scrolls, unveil the intricate mythology underlying the various spells and incantations employed during the mummification process. Some of these spells were intended to enable the deceased to revive themselves, regain the use of their legs, or even speak.


Originally inscribed on tomb walls, these texts were later transferred to the sarcophagus and eventually compiled into the "Book of the Dead." Such materials shed light on the Egyptians' perspectives on the afterlife and further enrich our understanding of their religious beliefs.


Greek Historian/Tourist Herodotus

The Greek historian Herodotus is another valuable source for Egyptian historical information. During his visit to Egypt around 450 B.C., he extensively documented his observations, producing the first known history book on the Egyptians.


Although there is ongoing scholarly debate regarding the reliability of some of his accounts, it is important to note that Herodotus did not possess a command of the Ancient Egyptian language and relied on local guides to navigate the country. Consequently, he can be seen more as a tourist than a historian, recording the information presented to him during his time in Egypt.


Despite the debates, Herodotus remains a valuable source for various aspects of Egyptian history, and his work continues to be referenced in studies on the subject.

 

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