Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Archaeologists uncover 3700-year-old ’magical’ birth brick in Egypt

26.07.2002

University of Pennsylvania Museum archaeologists have discovered a 3700-year-old "magical" birth brick inside the palatial residence of a Middle Kingdom mayor’s house just outside Abydos, in southern Egypt. The colorfully decorated mud birth brick--the first ever found--is one of a pair that would have been used to support a woman’s feet while squatting during actual childbirth.

The birth brick, which measures 14 by 7 inches, was discovered during summer 2001 excavations directed by Dr. Josef Wegner, Associate Curator, Egyptian section of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and Assistant Professor, Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Pennsylvania, part of a large-scale, ongoing joint effort of the combined University of Pennsylvania-Yale University-Institute of Fine Arts/NYU Expedition to Abydos. The ancient brick still preserves colorful painted scenes and figures: clearly visible is a mother holding her newborn baby, as well as magical images of gods whose role was to protect and aid the mother and baby at the time of birth.

According to Dr. Wegner, Egyptologists have long known, from ancient texts, that the standard form of childbirth in ancient Egypt was for the woman to deliver the baby while squatting on two mud bricks. The upper surface of the birth brick discovered at Abydos, unlike the bottom and sides, is crumbled away. "It is quite possible," Dr Wegner notes, "that the damage to the top of the brick --and another like it that has not been preserved-- was caused by its use to support a woman’s feet in childbirth for a long period of time and during multiple deliveries."

And whose birth brick was this? Dr. Wegner and the Penn excavation team have a pretty good idea of who may have used the birth brick: a noblewoman and princess named Renseneb. Back in the summer of 1999, the Penn team discovered (from seal impressions with hieroglyphic texts and other objects) that the grandiose building they were excavating was, in fact, the mayor’s residence--the first ancient Egyptian mayor’s residence ever positively identified. The birth brick recently unearthed was in an area clearly identified as a female residential section of the house. Numerous inscribed clay seal impressions found in this area have the name of the "noblewoman and king’s daughter Renseneb." Dr. Wegner suspects that this woman, who lived during Egypt’s 13th Dynasty, may have been a princess who was married to one of the town’s mayors.

In ancient Egypt, where child mortality was high, Egyptians called upon the help of their gods through magical objects, like birth bricks, and special ritual practices during childbirth. The Egyptian birth brick was associated with a specific goddess, Meskhenet, sometimes depicted in the form of a brick with a human head. On the newly discovered birth brick, the main scene shows a mother with her newborn boy, attended on either side by women and by Hathor, a cow goddess closely associated with birth and motherhood.

The Egyptians likened the birth of a child to the rising of the sun at daybreak. The magical practices of childbirth were intended to protect a newborn baby in a way paralleling Egyptian myths where the young sun god required protection from hostile forces. On the birth brick from the Abydos excavation the sun god appears in symbolic form in the guise of a desert cat. Images of the guardians of the sun god decorate the sides of the brick, to magically provide similar protection for mother and child, according to Dr. Wegner.

One set of objects closely associated with the recently discovered birth brick are magical wands usually decorated with scenes of deities and demons--and the Penn excavators have discovered fragments of these as well in the mayor’s residence. Egyptologists know that such wands were used in a form of "sympathetic magic" that invoked divine forces to protect the newborn baby at the time of birth in the same way, according to Egyptian myth, that the allies of the sun god would protect him when he was young and vulnerable.

Dr. Wegner and his Penn team have been working in the Middle Kingdom town (circa 1850-1650 B.C.) named "Enduring-are-the-Places-of-Khakaure-true-of-voice-in-Abydos," since 1994. The positive identification in 1999 of a mayor’s residence, in this town that was organized around the service of Pharaoh Senwosret III’s mortuary temple, was seen by Dr. Wegner as "a great opportunity to study an ancient mayor’s lifestyle." The discovery of the birth brick offers another piece of the story of life at that time and a rare glimpse into motherhood and childbirth in Ancient Egypt.

Pam Kosty | EurekAlert

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Live from the ocean research vessel Atlantis
13.12.2018 | National Science Foundation

nachricht NSF-supported scientists present new research results on Earth's critical zone
13.12.2018 | National Science Foundation

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Data use draining your battery? Tiny device to speed up memory while also saving power

The more objects we make "smart," from watches to entire buildings, the greater the need for these devices to store and retrieve massive amounts of data quickly without consuming too much power.

Millions of new memory cells could be part of a computer chip and provide that speed and energy savings, thanks to the discovery of a previously unobserved...

Im Focus: An energy-efficient way to stay warm: Sew high-tech heating patches to your clothes

Personal patches could reduce energy waste in buildings, Rutgers-led study says

What if, instead of turning up the thermostat, you could warm up with high-tech, flexible patches sewn into your clothes - while significantly reducing your...

Im Focus: Lethal combination: Drug cocktail turns off the juice to cancer cells

A widely used diabetes medication combined with an antihypertensive drug specifically inhibits tumor growth – this was discovered by researchers from the University of Basel’s Biozentrum two years ago. In a follow-up study, recently published in “Cell Reports”, the scientists report that this drug cocktail induces cancer cell death by switching off their energy supply.

The widely used anti-diabetes drug metformin not only reduces blood sugar but also has an anti-cancer effect. However, the metformin dose commonly used in the...

Im Focus: New Foldable Drone Flies through Narrow Holes in Rescue Missions

A research team from the University of Zurich has developed a new drone that can retract its propeller arms in flight and make itself small to fit through narrow gaps and holes. This is particularly useful when searching for victims of natural disasters.

Inspecting a damaged building after an earthquake or during a fire is exactly the kind of job that human rescuers would like drones to do for them. A flying...

Im Focus: Topological material switched off and on for the first time

Key advance for future topological transistors

Over the last decade, there has been much excitement about the discovery, recognised by the Nobel Prize in Physics only two years ago, that there are two types...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

ICTM Conference 2019: Digitization emerges as an engineering trend for turbomachinery construction

12.12.2018 | Event News

New Plastics Economy Investor Forum - Meeting Point for Innovations

10.12.2018 | Event News

EGU 2019 meeting: Media registration now open

06.12.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Data use draining your battery? Tiny device to speed up memory while also saving power

14.12.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Tangled magnetic fields power cosmic particle accelerators

14.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

In search of missing worlds, Hubble finds a fast evaporating exoplanet

14.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>