Ancient Egyptian models, small-scale representations of objects and people from everyday life, may be miniature tools and vessels left in foundation deposits at temples. They may be votive or trial pieces, or scale models representing architectural elements of temples, such as column capitals or monumental gateways. The term model is more usually used in Egyptology to refer to figures of household servants performing cooking tasks; farm laborers tending animals and crops; and men involved in manufacturing processes. They can also represent individual items of food or offering vessels substituting for real offerings, as well as tools and weapons. There are models of religious paraphernalia for ensuring the safe passage from death to rebirth, such as the pzš-kʒf set (originally a flint knife used in the Opening of the Month ceremony), the seven sacred oils tablet, or sets of miniature libation jars and bowls. Through their outward appearance, imitating objects from life and offerings of food and drink, as well as substituting for depictions of these in tomb decoration, these models were believed to sustain the dead in their afterlife within the tomb magically, providing the food, drink, clothing, shelter, and transport that would be needed for continued existence. The most important categories of models, offering bearers and boats, are discussed separately below.

Predynastic and Early Dynastic (Naqada II to Third Dynasty, 3500–2632 BCE).

Models from the Predynastic period are rare. Their function within burials, in the absence of other evidence, is assumed to be the same as that of later models. Made from pottery, they comprise figures carrying offerings, figures within large vats perhaps intended as brewers, boats which may or may not have a crew, houses, and beds. Surviving Early Dynastic period models include large pottery jars modeled to imitate dome granaries, and ivory or bone boats.

Old Kingdom (Fourth to Sixth Dynasties, 2632–2206 BCE).

Limestone statuettes of servants appeared in the mastaba tombs of the elite at Giza during the late fourth dynasty, but became more common at Saqqara and Giza in the fifth and sixth dynasties. Models of that date are of single figures, most frequently engaged in the tasks of preparing foodstuffs; the most common is a female miller kneeling to grind grain on a quern stone. Other activities include sifting, forming dough cakes, attending a bread oven, straining beer mash, preparing beer jars, cooking or stewing meat, butchering a cow, and carrying pots or sacks. Manufacturing activities include throwing pots on a slow wheel and heating a forge through a pipe. Domestic life is represented by figures of wet-nurses and harpists. Structural models are of granaries comprising rows of tall conical silos, made either of stone or, more frequently, of pottery. Boat models are of wood. Usually, only two or three servant figures were placed in a single tomb, but the tomb of Djasha at Giza contained sixteen figures, while a group of more than twenty figures is said to have come from the tomb of Nykau-Inpu at Giza.

The diffusion of models into more and more elite burials during the long reign of Pepy II at the end of the sixth dynasty resulted in stone servant figures becoming smaller and degenerate in form, and in the appearance of the use of wood for either single figures or pairs of figures. The best preserved and largest collection of such wooden models came from the tomb of Nyankh-Pepi-kem at Meir. It comprised seventeen scenes of millers, bakers, oven attendants, beer mashers, jar cleaners, duck roasters, offering bearers, cattle carrying sacks, and a man with a hoe; there were also eight boats. Contemporary with models entirely of wood are those that incorporate certain elements, such as jars or quern stones, which were made of stone and set into the wooden models.

First Intermediate Period (Seventh to Tenth Dynasties, c. 2206–2040 BCE).

First Intermediate Period models are distinguished from their predecessors by being entirely of wood, and, for the first time, they comprise small groups of figures engaged in allied processes on the same wooden base, such as milling and baking, or brewing and bottling. Also at this time the square granary appears, usually with peaked corners and an internal courtyard in front of a row of flat-roofed silos. The intact tomb of Ini at Gebelein (eighth dynasty) contained a food preparation model, a granary, miniature granary sacks, and two boats.

Middle Kingdom (Eleventh to Twelfth Dynasties, 2134–1786 BCE).

Most extant models of wood are from the Middle Kingdom, a time of wealth and prosperity for the provincial elite. The period spanning the end of the eleventh dynasty and the beginning of the twelfth saw an increase in the power of provincial nobles. A reflection of this trend is seen in the number and diversity of models from all the major provincial cemeteries. A typical elite burial of the Middle Kingdom would have included at least two boats, a granary, a pair of offering bearers, a bread and beer preparation scene, and a butchering scene. Often these models were duplicated, probably to ensure a plentiful supply of offerings. Perhaps the largest collection of Middle Kingdom models came from the tomb of Djehutinakht at Bersheh, which contained thirty-three scenes, twelve offering bearers, and fifty-five boats. Paralleling this tomb is that of Karenen at Saqqara, which contained fourteen scenes, a procession of offering bearers, and eight boats. Similarly, the tomb of Tjawy at Beni Hasan contained eleven scenes, an offering bearer, and two boats.

The activities represented by Middle Kingdom models fall into five categories: agriculture and animal husbandry; food preparation; industrial processes; offering bearers; and boats. Models of men hoeing the soil, ploughing with cattle, raising calves, herding and force-feeding cattle have been found most frequently at Asyut, Bersheh, Meir, and Beni Hasan, perhaps reflecting the agricultural wealth of this region in Middle Egypt. Industrial processes comprise spinning and weaving, woodworking and metalworking, and the manufacture of pottery and stone jars. Workshop models of this type come most frequently from Saqqara.

By the reign of Senwosret II, fourth king of the twelfth dynasty, the influence of the provincial elite began to decline because of royal intervention, and there was a concomitant decline in the number and diversity of models. However, the materials from which they were made increased, so that models from the twelfth dynasty Faiyum sites are of wood, faience, and various stones. Alongside the traditional wooden models of kitchen and cooking scenes, granaries, offering bearers, and boats are models of foodstuffs—fruit, vegetables, cuts of meat, cereal grains, and various types of bread—made of blue or green faience or painted cartonnage.

Second Intermediate Period, New Kingdom and Later (1786–931 BCE).

With the demise of models came the rise of the shawabti figure, perhaps developed from mummiform figures commonly found on twelfth dynasty funerary boats. Inscribed with chapter 6 of the Book of Going Forth by Day (Book of the Dead), these figures took over many of the functions of models. An eighteenth dynasty variation of the shawabti is in the form of a miller. Isolated models continued to be used into the Late period, most notably boat models and figures of mourners.

The Meketre Models.

Theban tomb 281 belonged to Meketre, chancellor to Montuhotep I, reunifier of Egypt in the eleventh dynasty. A niche in the entrance corridor of the tomb contained the finest collection of models ever found. These models are unique for their size, quality of craftsmanship, and attention to detail. The Meketre models are probably the product of a northern workshop, perhaps at Lisht, and probably date to the reign of Amenemhet I—hence their notable differences from other late eleventh and twelfth dynasty models from the Theban necropolis. There are nine scenes, each contained within a walled room, as well as two offering bearers and thirteen boats. Unique to this group are the two walled gardens and the inspection of a herd of cattle by Meketre and his officials. The gardens contain model sycamore fig trees surrounding a copper-lined pond, overlooked by a colonnade and windows. The roofs have copper rain spouts. The group also includes a spinning and weaving shed and a carpentry shop. The quality of the figures in these models allows the identification of tasks depicted in other, less accomplished models.

Offering Bearers.

Offering bearers are the largest models, in terms of height, of all model types and are among the earliest to be found. Predynastic period offering bearers are simple pottery figures with hollowed heads, or figures carrying hollowed receptacles. Usually these are single figures, but a rare example is known of a row of bearers, possibly from Naqada. Later bearers tend to be more carefully made than other model types, and some are on a par with figures of the tomb-owner. This implies that offering bearers were regarded by the Egyptians as more important than the generic producers of food and drink. During the Old Kingdom, depictions in relief of women carrying baskets on their heads are found on royal mortuary monuments and later in private tombs. These women are given hieroglyphic labels identifying them as mortuary estates, or land and servants assigned by the dead person as the producers of the funerary offerings. Models of offering bearers, women carrying baskets on their heads and holding flowers or fowl, may have been substitutes for the relief and painted mortuary estates or the servants of those estates.

Offering bearers are usually female, but male porters are found. Indeed, Old Kingdom stone bearers are all male; often they are dwarfs carrying sacks or jars. Male bearers tend to carry religious items such as sensors and libation jars, or scribal equipment, in contrast to the females, who carry food items.

Generally, female offering bearers are single figures, but they can be found in pairs, either two single figures or two figures sharing a single base. This pairing may represent the concept of Upper and Lower Egypt or their titular goddesses, or the two staples of Egyptian diet, bread and beer. Other offering bearers are found in processions, in single or double file, comprising a mixture of both sexes. The finest of this genre is the so-called Bersheh Procession from the Middle Kingdom tomb of Djehutinakht at Bersheh, consisting of three female bearers led by a shaven-headed priest. A similar though smaller procession was among the Meketre models, complementing the two larger offering bearers from that tomb. The largest procession is of (originally) twenty figures, from the tomb of Karenen at Saqqara.

Model Boats.

Boat models were believed to provide transport along the river Nile, Egypt's main artery of communication. George A. Reisner in Models of Ships and Boats (Cairo, 1913) organized model boats into seven categories:

  • 1. Square-cut craft with two rudders (Old Kingdom)
  • 2. Craft with curling stern and one rudder (Middle Kingdom)
  • 3. Papyrus raft/skiff (Predynastic period onward)
  • 4. Papyriform wooden craft (Old to Middle Kingdom)
  • 5. Papyriform wooden craft with raised finials (Early Dynastic onward)
  • 6. Solar barks (twelfth dynasty)
  • 7. Divine barks (New Kingdom onward)

Five further categories of New Kingdom vessels, from Dilwyn Jones's Model Boats from the Tomb of Tutʿankhamun (Oxford, 1990) have a deeply curved hull profile. Each type of boat had a different purpose: types 1–3 were used for transport, fishing, and leisure; types 4, 5, 7, and sometimes 2 were used for funerals or on symbolic pilgrimages to sacred sites, such as Abydos; and types 6 and 7 represented highly specialized religious craft, used to traverse the heavens and underworld in the company of the gods.

Two models were usually placed in the tomb, one rigged for sailing south with the prevailing wind and placed facing south, the other equipped for rowing north with the current of the river and placed facing north. In some tombs, flotillas of from four to more than fifty models have been found, consisting of pairs of different types of boats.

The earliest boat models are from the Predynastic period, and are made of pottery, ivory, and bone. All are hollow canoe forms, some with raised finials closely resembling the depictions of boats on painted pottery and in tomb 100 at Hierakonpolis; others are similar to Reisner's types 3 and 5. Wooden boats appeared in the fourth and fifth dynasties at sites in Upper and Lower Egypt, becoming common at the end of the sixth dynasty. These models are carved from a single piece of wood, with masts, spars, rudders, oars, and cabins made separately and attached with pegs. Additional details are shown in paint: red and yellow for planking, white for deck details, and black for cordage. Old Kingdom boats have a more or less hollow hull, while First Intermediate period and Middle Kingdom boats tend to have solid hulls with a flat base to facilitate standing upright in the tomb.

Three important sixth dynasty groups of boats consist of eleven models from the tomb of Kaemsenu and sixteen boats from the pyramid of Queen Neith, both at Saqqara. Both these groups comprise types 1, 3, 4, and 5. The third group of eight boats, from the tomb of Nyankh-Pepi-kem at Meir, differs only in the inclusion of model sailors to crew the vessels, a feature common from the end of the sixth dynasty.

Thirteen boats came from the Middle Kingdom tomb of Meketre at Thebes. Two of the seven type 2 boats were kitchen tender boats for the preparation of meals on long journeys. Fishing and hunting in the papyrus swamps was done from a pair of type 3 skiffs, and for deeper water a small type 2 boat was provided. Meketre's type 5 ritual boats differ from most others in the provision of paddles and sails. Painted tomb scenes of the funeral and pilgrimage journeys indicate that ritual craft were usually towed to their destination.

From twelfth dynasty burials at Bersheh and el-Lisht have come the peculiar type 6 boat models. Devoid of crew, they carry instead the standards and emblems of solar deities, and were probably intended to allow the deceased to travel in the company of those gods.

A unique pair of early New Kingdom boats from the burial of Queen Ahhotep, mother of Ahmose, at Dra Abu Naga (Thebes), is of gold and silver and resemble type 7 craft. One of the boats was found resting on a model wheeled carriage. Such carriages, it is known from tomb paintings, were used to transport boats around impassable sections of the Nile.

Fragments and whole boat models have come from the eighteenth dynasty tombs of Amenhotpe II and Thutmose III in the Valley of the Kings, but it was not until the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun that a complete collection of New Kingdom boats was found. Comprising thirty-five boats, they form three flotillas of twenty-four traveling craft based around three larger state vessels. There are also types 3, 5, and 7 craft in the collection. The latest wooden boat model from a burial context is the type 7 craft from the twenty-first dynasty tomb of the priests of Amun at Deir el-Bahri (Bab el-Gasus).

Boats can be helpful as a dating tool. Type 1 models are not found after the end of the sixth dynasty, when they are replaced by type 2. Type 4 boats with elongated finials and bipod masts are found during the late sixth dynasty to First Intermediate Period. Type 2 models with a high stern angle are generally of the First Intermediate Period or early Middle Kingdom, while a curled rudder fork on a low-angled stern indicates a twelfth dynasty date.

Geographical and Social Distribution.

Models have been found at sites from Aswan in the south to Abusir in the north. It is probably only the damp conditions of the Nile Delta that prevents the placing of models farther north, since models, albeit of pottery, have been found at the Dakhla Oasis site of Qila' el-Daba, indicating how widespread the practice was. Predynastic models have come from such sites as Abadiya, el-Adaima, and Naqada, while Old Kingdom stone servant figures have come from the mastaba fields of Giza and Saqqara. Late Old Kingdom models of both stone and wood have been found at Saqqara, Dahshur, Meidum, Sedment, Dara, and Qubbet el-Hawa (Aswan). First Intermediate Period and Middle Kingdom models come from both capital and provincial cemeteries the length of the Nile, such as Saqqara, Sedment, el-Lisht, Riqqeh, Beni Hasan, Bersheh, Meir, Rifeh, Asyut, Hawawish, Sheikh Farag, Gebelein, Qubbet el-Hawa, and the Theban necropolis, to name but a few.

Only the elite in Egyptian society, those in the secular and religious professions, had models in their tombs. This elite group were buried in mastaba tombs, in rock-cut tombs with a decorated superstructure, and in shaft tombs with one or more subterranean chambers at the bottom. Characteristic of provincial cemeteries is the arrangement of the high-status rock-cut tombs in a good stratum of rock with the shaft tombs of provincial court members below in the foothills. It is from this latter tomb type that most models have survived. Rarely do models occur in pit tombs, a form of simple shaft, except for pottery miniature agricultural implements and tools.

Excavation of these different tomb types indicates that models were placed in a variety of locations: pits outside the tomb enclosure or shaft mouth; niches cut in the floor of the entrance corridor to the superstructure; serdabs (statue chambers) within the mastaba superstructure, tomb shaft, or burial chamber; and the burial chamber proper. Some intact tombs, such as that of Nakht at Asyut (Middle Kingdom) had some models placed in the tomb chapel, the area accessible to the living and most vulnerable to the attentions of tomb robbers. It is the discovery of such intact deposits that is most instructive, but sadly most tombs have been robbed and their contents stolen, scattered, or smashed, leaving archaeologists the task of putting the pieces together again.


  • Arnold, Dieter. Der Tempel des Königs Mentuhotep von Deir el-Bahri, vol. 3: Die Königlichen Beigaben. Mainz, 1981. Publication of the models belonging to Nebhepetre Montuhotep I.
  • Arnold, Dorothea. “Amenemhat I and the Early Twelfth Dynasty at Thebes.” Metropolitan Museum Journal 26 (1991), 5–48. The most up-to-date and authoritative discussion of the Meketre models.
  • D'Auria, Sue, et al. Mummies and Magic: The Funerary Arts of Ancient Egypt. Boston, 1988. Exhibition catalog, covering Old and Middle Kingdom models, including those of Djehutinakht of Bershah.
  • Bourriau, Janine. Pharaohs and Mortals: Egyptian Art in the Middle Kingdom. Cambridge, 1988. Exhibition catalog, with a section on models.
  • Breasted, James H. Egyptian Servant Statues. Washington, 1948. Out of print, but available in specialist libraries, this is the first work dedicated to models.
  • Garstang, John. The Burial Customs of Ancient Egypt as Illustrated by the Tombs of the Middle Kingdom. London, 1907. Out of print, but available in specialist libraries. This is the publication of the important provincial cemetery at Beni Hasan, where hundreds of models were found.
  • Jones, Dilwyn. Boats. London, 1995. Authoritative and up-to-date work dedicated entirely to pharaonic boats.
  • Landström, Björn. Ships of the Pharaohs: 4000 Years of Egyptian Ship-building. London, 1970. Excellent color illustrations of model boats.
  • Petrie, W. M. Flinders. Gizeh and Rifeh. London, 1907. Publication of the intact burial of two brothers at Rifeh.
  • Petrie, W. M. Flinders, and Guy Brunton. Sedment. 2 vols. London, 1924. Publication of the models from the Sedment cemetery.
  • Robins, Gay, ed. Beyond the Pyramids: Egyptian Regional Art from the Museo Egizio, Turin. Atlanta, 1990. Exhibition catalog with entries on models from Asyut.
  • Spanel, Donald B. “Ancient Egyptian Boat Models of the Herakleopolitan Period and Eleventh Dynasty.” Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur 12 (1985), 243–253. Discusses the use of model boats as a tool for dating.
  • Tooley, Angela M. J. Egyptian Models and Scenes. Shire Egyptology, 22. Princes Risborough, 1995. Most recent work concerning models, their chronology, functions and place in funerary culture.
  • Vinson, Steve. Egyptian Boats and Ships. Princes Risborough, 1994.
  • Winlock, Herbert E. Models of Daily Life in Ancient Egypt from the Tomb of Meket-Re' at Thebes. Cambridge, Mass., 1955. Out of print, but available in specialist libraries, this remains the best source of information concerning the highly detailed models of Meketre.

Angela M. J. Tooley