From about 3000 B.C. and the reign of the early pharaohs, until the death of its last queen in 30 B.C., ancient Egypt saw changes in the design of its tools and weapons that reflected a gradual, sometimes uneven development. The implements of woodworking, masonry, farming and war changed both in form and in the choice of materials used to make them over this long period.
The edges of Egyptian tools and weapons were made initially of stone, but over the centuries copper, bronze and, finally, iron were employed as their availability increased and their properties became understood. By 3500 B.C., copper had begun replacing flint in sickle blades, notes John Romer in his book “A History of Ancient Egypt.” Between 2000 and 1500 B.C., bronze began superseding copper, and by the time of the last pharaohs, iron had superseded bronze. However, the introduction of new metals did not necessarily mean the abandonment of older materials that were effective. Egyptians continued using copper chisels, flint scrapers, and in embalming work, exclusively stone blades.
From at least the start of the third millennium B.C., Egyptian carpenters and cabinet makers used the ax, saw, knife, scraper, mallet, chisel and adze, a tool that cuts wood with a thin arched blade set at right angles to the handle. The Egyptian ax head had a distinctive crescent shape and narrow cross-section, the straight edge being fitted into the cloven end of a wooden haft and bound to it with cross-wound cords, observes Eugen Strouhal in his book “Life of the Ancient Egyptians.”
Chisels, mallets and saws were used by Egyptian stonemasons as well as woodworkers. Mallets, made of wood, had handles at one end and large, rounded surfaces at the other for pounding chisels. A flat-bodied chisel was used for cutting into rock while a more rounded, bar-like chisel could smooth stone surfaces. Around 1500 B.C., a drill came into use, consisting of a wooden spindle with a handle at the top and a metal or hard-stone bit capable of boring into stone.
Egyptian farmers used sickles, hoes, axes, shovels, pitchforks and rakes. Originally, the sickle was almost straight or only slightly curved, its wooden handle having a longitudinal groove in which a row of squarish flint blades were set close together. Later, the sickle acquired a more curved shape, resembling a donkey’s jaw. Designed to loosen soil, the hoe had a broad, thin blade of hard wood set at an acute angle to a long wooden shaft to which it was bound with plant-fiber cord, notes Strouhal.
Until about 1500 B.C., Egyptian archers used simple wooden bows and arrows with stone or copper heads while infantrymen carried spears, copper axes and daggers. One of the oldest weapons, the mace, consisted of a wooden club with a head of stone, or later copper. After 1500 B.C., Egyptians adopted the khopesh, a bronze-bladed sword shaped like a sickle; the use of bronze in spear and arrow heads to harden them; and the composite bow, a bow made of laminated strips of wood, horn and sinew.
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