People in ancient Egypt were frequently buried with paddle dolls, which were clay or wood statuettes. This burial practice was common during the Eleventh Dynasty, which lasted between the years of 2040 and 1991 B.C. As their name indicates, the dolls had flat bodies shaped similarly to canoe paddles. Archaeologists believe the function of the dolls was to serve as symbols of feminine sexuality and fertility.
Paddle Doll Appearance
When paddle dolls were first excavated from tombs dated to the Middle Kingdom, archaeologists believed that they were toys. The dolls had unusually small heads, small arms, elongated necks and long, thick beaded "hair," the latter made of ceramic ware, mud or string. The doll bodies were often painted or carved with geometric patterns representing clothing.
Symbols of Fertility
Egyptologists believe paddle dolls were symbols of fertility, as they were found often in the tombs of women. By putting paddle dolls in tombs, the ancient Egyptians might have believed they could guarantee a woman's child-bearing success in her next life. Some of the dolls also portrayed Tawaret, who was a goddess frequently linked with females, pregnancy and child-bearing.
The feminine appearance of paddle dolls also leads many to believe that they're not meant to promote fertility, but rather to operate as figurative sexual partners for the buried individuals. Their pubic regions were also often highlighted with triangular shapes, contributing further to the notion that their function was supposed to be sexual.
Menats and Paddle Dolls
Paddle dolls are also frequently connected by ornament and shape to menats, amulets that were thought to ensure protection by the gods. Menats were often thought of as being symbolic of Hathor, an Egyptian goddess who signified happiness, maternal care and femininity in general. Hathor frequently held menats in her hands.
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- Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt; Margaret Bunson
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Paddle Doll
- Dancing for Hathor - Women of Ancient Egypt; Carolyn Graves-Brown
- Mistress of the House, Mistress of Heaven; Anne K. Capel and Glenn Markoe
- Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images