Pharaonic reed containers

Simple 'reed' or plant stems were used as containers by the ancient Egyptian non-elite, but seem to have been used by the upper class as well, possibly as throwaway, single-use packaging for kohl. Examples can be found in the tomb of the high official Kha who lived in the 18th Dynasty, during the reigns of the pharaoh’s Amenhotep II, Thutmosis IV and Amenhotep III (1425-1353 BC). The hieroglyphic writing in ink on his kohl containers states the quality of the kohl. From other texts we know that some kohl of the best quality was sometimes imported from thousands of kilometers away. The tube on the far left was inscribed with the name of queen Tiye, the grandmother of Tutankhamun.

Packing the reed containers for the afterlife in elite burials may have conveyed the message of a gift, they may also have accentuated the importance of kohl in a burial assemblage as a reference to the Wedjat eye  (the eye of the god Horus which could regeneration itself) and to rebirth in the afterlife. They may also have emphasized abundance, or even denote specific ritual accents, which we will probably never be able to fully grasp in the present.

The kohl containers on this page are kept in the Muselo Egizio in Turin and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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