Ancient Egypt. That’s where we are headed today. Ancient Egypt is a total wealth of art–massive sculptures, colorful and detailed paintings filled with symbolism, monumental columns with sunken relief sculptures, fancy jars filled with organs, golden, jeweled sarcophagi, and more. So, what did I chose to feature today?
Yep. A comb. When there are so many amazing artworks to chose from, why did I chose this tiny 2.2-inch ivory comb? I have two reasons: 1. This little comb is delightful. I love delightful things. 2. I’m scared of Ancient Egyptian art.
Yes, I admit it. I am terrified of Ancient Egyptian art. It’s amazing. Everyone (including me) loves it. I feel this ginormous sense of pressure when I teach it, because kids LOVE Ancient Egypt. I’m weird. I don’t know. It’s a hang-up. I don’t usually get nervous when I teach, but I do get nervous when I have to teach Ancient Egypt. I think I feel that there is nothing I can do to give it justice, ya know?
So, I chose a comb. I am going to try to ignore the pressure and the massive amounts of information I could be covering instead and just focus on this delightful comb. If you do want a massive resource, check out the products and links in the resource section for lots of fabulous information.
Ancient Egyptian Comb Art Information*
This artifact was created in Egypt’s prehistory which was before the pyramids and hieroglyphs and all of that jazz. The thing about works of art from prehistory is that we don’t know much about them. We can speculate and use context clues and try to figure it out, but when it all comes down to it, we just don’t know. They didn’t write it down, because writing just didn’t exist. (Can you imagine a world with no writing? Wild.) For example, we can guess that this object was used for a ceremonial purpose because it was so intricately carved, but really, the artist could have just been bored. How are we to know?
I love this comb because it shows us that the Ancient Egyptians didn’t just suddenly create these amazing and breathtaking pyramids and tombs filled with treasures from nothing. There was a rich, artistic legacy before it all began.
The artisan carved rows of animals into this ivory combs: elephants, snakes, wading birds, giraffes, hyenas, cattle, and maybe boars*. There are other objects in existence that have a similar layout, so chances are this had some sort of meaning. The cool part is the elephant walking on top of the snakes. Here is what the Met Museum description has to say about this. “Elephants treading on snakes suggest that this part of the scene was symbolic. The mythologies of many African peoples associate elephants and serpents with the creation of the universe. The uppermost row of this comb may symbolize a creative deity to whom the rest of the animals owe their existence.”* (source). Two thumbs up.
I did a little digging on the web trying to find out more about this, but I came out empty-handed. I did find something about an elephant standing on a turtle standing on a snake which then caused Earthquakes in India. That was a really interesting read. There are big gaps in the internet in some areas of art. (Side note: It’s really weird to realize the limitation of the Web even though I was around before it existed.) That’s about all I know about this. I’ll show you some other cool Predynastic Egyptian combs for good measure.
* Source: Met Museum Website, For the other combs, click on “Related Artworks” in that same link.
Art Discussion Questions
- What animals do you see? Why do you think these animals were chosen?
- What can you tell about the people who made this based on what you see?
- What was this object used for? If it was just for combing hair, why did they make it so fancy?
Make your Own Ancient Egyptian Hair Comb
Of course, you must make your own hair comb. I’ve thought this through. I thought of clay with toothpicks, but that just seemed ridiculous. I think the best bet would be to use model magic or air-dry clay and sculpt something onto a hair pick. Okay, that seems weird too, but it may be fun, right? I can see my 5-year-old thinking that making her own comb would be the best thing to ever happen to her. So, go for it! Let me know how it goes. If I decided to try it with my girls. I’ll let you know how it goes. Older kids may give you the side eye with this one.
More Resources and Citations
The Art of Ancient Egypt: A Resource for Educators by Edith W. Watts — This Met Museum resource is a massive 184 page PDF with information, lessons, and artworks. What an amazing resource!
Egyptian Art and Culture by Khan Academy — Excellent resource for teachers and students