Daily Life in Ancient Egypt

The Yale Peabody Museum and its sister museum, the Yale University Art Gallery, have between them collections that span Egyptian civilization from the Predynastic Period (c.4500–3100 BC) through the Greek and Roman Periods (332 BC–AD 640), a long sweep of time encompassing both remarkable change and remarkable continuity.

Daily Life in Ancient Egypt announces itself with an impressive and dramatic entrance façade, constructed by the Museum’s resourceful Construction Shop. Passing into the heart of the exhibition, you enter a setting that suggests the richness and complexity of a great and wondrous civilization, and bringing out the true beauty and power of the Egyptian collection. This exhibition attempts to embody current Yale research in Egyptian civilization, for which the Peabody collection has been an important resource.

The objects on display include the granite Head of Osiris, the relief of Mentu-her-khepeshef Worshiping Osiris, and the black diorite Bust of a Ptolemaic King, widely regarded as the finest piece of Egyptian sculpture at Yale, offer great insight into Egyptian society. So, too, does the votive piece Kneeling Statue of an Official.

The highlight of the exhibition is the Museum’s mummy resting in a decorated inscribed tomb, its “house of eternity.” As the mummy and coffin—both of which have undergone extensive restoration—are attributed to the Late Period of Egyptian art (XXV–XXX Dynasties, around the 7th to 4th centuries BC) an appropriate Late Period tomb had to be used for the reconstruction, and the tomb of the Vizier Nespakashuty (656–650 BC) at Deir El-Bahri in Egypt is the only Late Period tomb that can be reconstructed in an American museum. The original tomb was excavated by a Metropolitan Museum of Art Egyptian expedition led by Herbert E. Winlock from 1922 to 1923; fragments of its relief decoration are in collections all over the Uited States. The Peabody’s reconstruction used molds based on the portion of the tomb at The Metropolitan Museum, which receates the northern part of its west wall.

Ancient Egyptian civilization is one of the oldest in the world. The strategic location of Egypt on the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, and its fertile Nile Valley, led to the rise of a rich, powerful, and interesting culture with extensive contacts with neighboring countries and throughout the ancient world. The ancient Egyptians had a complex system of religious beliefs centered on polytheism and a faith in an eternal life after death. Indeed, no civilization, ancient or modern, has been as preoccupied with death as were the ancient Egyptians. Tomb scenes display a wide variety of the mythical creatures they imagined inhabited the underworld. This fascination with death was the main motivation behind their elaborate burials, which ranged from pyramid complexes to rock-hewn tombs. The human form was preserved in a mummified state to act as a repository for the soul.

Renovation of Daily Life in Ancient Egypt was made possible by gifts from the Fusco Corporation and the Simpson Fund.

Curator of Anthropology Frank Hole served as Curator-in-Charge and Egyptologist Randa Baligh was research assistant during its development. Information on some of the Division of Anthropology collections, including its Egyptian holdings, are aceessible through the Division’s online catalog.