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Model of butchers at work, Egyptian, c.1980-1900 BC

This wooden model comes from the Tomb of Khety, which was excavated between 1902-1904 at Beni Hasan in Egypt by John Garstang on behalf of the University of Liverpool. It dates to the early 12th Dynasty, around 1985-1950 BC. It entered the Fitzwilliam Museum as a gift from the Beni Hasan Excavation Committee.

Where is Beni Hasan?

The cemetery of Beni Hasan lies in Middle Egypt. It was used as the burial site for important administrators from the immediate area such as Khety, during the Middle Kingdom. It was built on the ruins of a ‎much older burial site that was in use during the period of the Old Kingdom. ‎The site is vast and contains about 930 tombs. The Tomb of Khety comes from the lower part of necropolis and was one of only a few tombs found intact by Garstang.

What does the model show?

This model, made of painted wood and linen, shows three men (originally four) grouped around a bound bull. Two men lean over the animal’s head; one cuts its throat with a flint knife and the other holds a bowl to catch the blood. Near the bull’s hind legs, the feet of a third man survive. His task was probably to cut off the haunch which symbolized the meat offering for the deceased. A fourth man, stationed behind the animal’s back, leans over a three-legged cauldron in which the joints of meat will be cooked after the butchering has taken place. The men’s bodies are painted reddish-brown and their kilts white. The man at the cauldron also has a scrap of linen tied around his waist.

This model represents an activity which may be endlessly repeated in the Next World. Also, it might possibly depict an actual event which took place at the funeral. The bull would have been consumed by priests and mourners after the presentation of its haunch to the deceased by the chief mourner.

What role did models like this play in Ancient Egypt?

This wooden model in an example of Egyptian funerary equipment, intended to ensure that, in his resurrected body, the deceased should enjoy a continuous supply of food and the company and support of his family and servants. Such models were believed to be animated by spells so that the deceased and his household would have an endless supply of all they needed.

This model was found in Khety's tomb together with items of pottery and several other models depicting "scenes of daily life" such as a granary, brewing, and baking as well as models of boats that were supposed to enable the deceased to travel on the Nile.

The inclusion of model figures involved in food production became standard practice in burials of the Middle Kingdom (c.2040-1750 BC). In addition to models, real food and drink were placed in tombs.

How do we know that it is an original object?

Many forgeries of such tomb models are found in museum and private collections today, but since the coffin of Khety together with its models was photographed shortly after excavation, we can be certain that the object on display is original.

Written by Maja Michaliszyn