The ancient Egyptians developed a rich and highly specialized culture over thousands of years that included a variety of art. The beautifully carved statues, papyrus scrolls and woodcraft pay testament to their religious beliefs, aesthetic sense and a desire to beautify the built environment. Artifacts recovered by archeologists reveal how stone workers, carpenters, painters and other artists' tools and techniques grew in parallel with an increasingly sophisticated Egyptian society.
The raw materials immediately available dictated the tool types the ancient Egyptians used. The most abundant natural resource for artisans was stone, including the limestone, granite and sandstone quarried for monument design. Art dated to the predynastic era (5000 to 3000 B.C.) demonstrates the use of clay for pots and bowls, as well as ivory for figurines, animal carvings and amulets. Trees native to Egypt such as acacia, tamarisk and sycamore fig were used for fine carpentry, models and furniture. Egyptians mined for gold beginning in predynastic times, while the later use of metals such as copper and bronze served as both artistic medium and tool.
Tools for Carving
The Egyptians used stone, bronze and copper tools for stone work, including weighted drills, saws and picks. Harder stones such as granite or basalt were used to construct monuments, but also served as tools to work softer stones, including limestone and alabaster. Copper was the earliest metal used for tools in the predynastic period, and continued to be used until the harder bronze alloy was discovered. Metals were smelted and cast to form axes, chisels, rivets and jugs. The ability to create metal tools enabled the Egyptians to develop advanced carpentry, creating cabinets, ships and coffins with sophisticated joints.
Writing and Paper
Papyrus scrolls served as an important surface for both writing and artwork throughout the pharaonic era. The soft inner material of papyrus reeds was cut into thin strips, laid across each other in vertical and horizontal rows, beaten together with a stone mallet to form a sheet, which was then dried. Egyptian artists used wooden palettes to hold reed brushes and inks; later, during the Ptolemaic period, scribes used reed pens.
The ancient Egyptians developed several products to add vibrant color to their art. They used many naturally occurring minerals as pigment, including iron oxide to produce red, malachite to produce green, and yellow ochre. Lime and gypsum were used for white, and blue pigment was created using copper carbonate. For painters of tombs and monuments, the minerals were ground, mixed with water and adhesive like egg white or wood resin, a way of paint-making called "tempera."
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- Brooklyn Museum: Pigments and Inks Typically Used on Papyrus
- University of Michigan: How Ancient Papyrus was Made
- Fitz Museum: The Ancient Egyptians Materials and Technology
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