Soaring Sky High in Ancient Egypt

 

Soaring Sky High in Ancient Egypt

Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History – Spring 2021

The Carnegie Museum of Natural History has a wide array of departments. Over the course of my internship, I provided research for the development of the exhibition Egypt on the Nile in the Egyptology department. This exhibition was slated to have virtual lectures, however, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, plans were altered. The research remained crucial, so I continued to assist in researching the three major areas of this exhibition: birds in ancient Egypt, Egyptian blue, and the Dahshur funerary boats of Senwosret III. I found the topic of birds in ancient Egypt to be personally of most interest. I was surprised at the many sources explaining the specific significance of owls, geese, hawks, and vultures.

Through my historical investigation, I found that birds are found in a variety of areas in Egyptian culture, including religion and everyday survival. Located near the Nile, wildlife could be easily spotted and used as a means for survival. Geese and ducks were often hunted and eaten by Egyptians along the Nile River. These birds were not only used as a source of food, but every part of the bird was used including eggs, bones, ligaments and all. Birds were mummified and offered to the deceased for means of survival in the afterlife. Birds were a food source, widely used icon, and also could be found in practices and beliefs surrounding the spiritual afterlife.

My historical exploration revealed that many different Egyptian deities are illustrated as birds. Some qualities of birds were associated with the attribute of kingship. Birds of prey are strong, fast, have excellent eyesight, and, of course, fly. The god Horus, represented as a falcon or a human with a falcon head, was a sun god as well as the Egyptian god of kingship, representing the living king of Egypt. If you would like to know more about Horus and the importance of his connection to the falcon and kingship visit the Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s Blog. Horus was not the only deity that was personified by a bird, the goddesses Nekhbet and Mut were linked to vultures. Neith, the war goddess of wisdom and the cosmos, was commonly associated with the Greek goddess Athena, whose sacred bird was a little owl. Birds were used as a means to personify deities because it was believed that flight represented soaring between the afterlife and Earth placing birds physically closer to their gods.

During the duration of this internship, my continued research revealed a great deal about the complexities of civilization in ancient Egypt. I have always been intrigued with ancient Egyptian civilization and my internship has only made my interest grow. If you are interested in learning more about ancient Egypt visit the Carnegie Museum of Natural History to see the extraordinary exhibits developed by the Egyptology department!

 

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  • Academic Interns
  • Undergraduate Work
  • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh