A Loving Embrace Survives Thousands of Years

Since I recently wrote a post that touched on the topic of women’s roles in ancient Egypt, I thought sharing this news story would be apt.  It discusses the tomb of a family who lived during the Old Kingdom (the time of the pyramids, hundreds of years before Khnumhotep and Tjat lived) and the unusual level of closeness it seems to depict between Kahai and his wife Meretites.  I look forward to seeing the recently published book on the tomb, which includes full-color photographs of its decoration.

The tomb at Saqqara [of Kahai] — which held this couple, their children and possibly their grandchildren — has now been studied and described by researchers at Macquarie University‘s Australian Center for Egyptology. Among the scenes depicted is a relief painting showing the couple gazing into each other’s eyes, with Meretites placing her right hand over Kahai’s right shoulder.

Such a display of affection was extraordinary for Egypt during the Pyramid Age. Only a few examples of a face-to-face embrace survive from the Old Kingdom (2649 B.C. to 2150 B.C.), the time period when the couple lived and pyramid building thrived, said Miral Lashien, a researcher at Macquarie University. “I think that this indicates very special closeness,” Lashien told LiveScience in an email.

This scene, along with other works of art recorded in the tomb, suggest that women in Pyramid Age Egypt enjoyed a greater level of equality than some scholars believe. “The tomb of Kahai is an example of the importance of women,” wrote Lashien in the email. “The frequency of their representations and the equal size to their husbands or brothers suggest equal status.”


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About Melinda Nelson-Hurst

Melinda Nelson-Hurst is an Egyptologist whose interests lie in the social history and archaeology of ancient Egypt. She has worked most extensively on families and their influence within the state administration during the period of the Middle Kingdom. Since starting a new research project on the Egyptian Collection at Tulane University in 2012, her interests have expanded into the modern history of the field of Egyptology and Egyptian collections. You can also follow her on twitter @dr_mgnh

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