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Case 2

Ancient Egypt and East Africa

Headrests survive from Ancient Egypt and Sudan because they were believed important in the After Life and so were placed in tombs and graves to protect and to serve the Deceased. With the advent of the Roman occupation of Egypt, and then Christianity and Islam, this custom changed and although people continued to use headrests, their preservation decreased. We find a similar problem with regard to the preservation of headrests in more recent times. Many household items, including headrests, were used and, when damaged or broken, transformed and reused. As a consequence of this, there is little known evidence for the material culture of East African pastoral societies until the late nineteenth-century European travellers’ accounts and collections. Therefore, archaeologists and anthropologists know little about either the diversity of styles, or the movement of headrests, making it difficult to try to make connections between regions and cultures. The surviving evidence does, however, show that the funerary function of the headrest that was common in Ancient Egypt and Sudan survived elsewhere in Central and East Africa, and that the forms of nineteenth- and twentieth-century examples often recall the block, the pierced block, the branching and the stem headrest forms of the Ancient Egyptians.

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