Thursday, May 26, 2011

Page 12: Health and Hygiene in Ancient Egypt

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The purpose-built workmen's town of Kahun was constructed to house the ancient Egyptian officials and workforce building the pyramid of Sesostris II at Lahun in about 1895 BC. The larger houses in Kahun generally  included a reception hall or living room, women's quarters, a kitchen and a room with washing or bathing facilities. There were also cellars and circular granaries. In poorer as well as rich dwellings, stone tanks used for washing were set into the mud floors, and running down the center of every street were the remains of stone drainage channels. The town housed an estimated population of 5000 on a 14 hectare site.

Sir William Flinders Petrie, the British Egyptologist who excavated Kahun between 1888 and 1890, discovered that almost every house had been invaded by rats and their holes had been stuffed with stones and rubbish. A pottery rat trap was also found. Cats were kept to protect food and grain from rodents but, in the absence of a cat, 'cat's grease' was recommended as a deterrent.

The workmen's village of Deir el-Medina was occupied by Theban artisans for 450 years from the beginning of the 18th Dynasty to the end of the 20th Dynasty (figure 2). The dwellings were originally built of mudbrick but later housing included walls with stone bases. The single-storey, flat-roofed houses had an average of four rooms, with small windows with stone or wooden grilles. The inside walls might be decorated with frescoes or whitewashed, and wooden doors opened directly on to the street. During the reign of Seti I (19th Dynasty) there were about 600 people living in the village and, unlike in the earlier years of settlement, the animals were kept in compounds outside rather than inside the village walls.

The smallest workmen's village, at Tell el-Amarna, waas built in the 18th Dynasty to house the workmen constructing Akhenaten's new city, Akhetaten. It was occupied by some 350 inhabitants for about 13 years. EAch house had four areas; an outer work area, a living room, a bedroom and a kitchen with stairs leading to the roof. The houses, although not elaborate, were sturdily built with mainly white-washed walls and ceilings.

None of these settlements had wells, so water had to be brought from the river, which, at Deir el-Medina, was over 1.5 km away. In this village water was first stored in large jars within the house but later a community reservoir was built outside the north gate. In all the dwellings furniture was sparse and simple. People slept on the floor, on clay benches along the wall or on beds of interlaced cord with a wooden headrest. Feathers were used to stuff cushions although these were used as back supports rather than pillows.

In ordinary ancient Egyptian homes the lavatory consisted of a wooden stool under which a cup half-filled with sand might be placed or, as at Deir...
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