Educator How-to: Make an Anubis mask!

Anubis is the Greek name for the “jackal-headed” god associated with death and the rituals of mummification in Ancient Egypt. Anubis’ color is black, symbolizing rebirth, which parallels the belief that the deceased is, in fact, reborn in the afterlife.

anubis 1

Ancient Egyptian cartonnage Anubis mask.

Over time, Anubis played several roles in funerary rituals, from protector of the grave to head embalmer, and advocated for the deceased in the Weighing of the Heart ceremony. A mask, like the one pictured below, was worn by the priest performing the Opening of the Mouth ceremony and other funeral rituals.

Anubis 2

Opening of the Mouth Ceremony.

Interestingly, recent genetic research suggests the Egyptian jackal, long thought to be the inspiration for the god Anubis, may not be a jackal at all, but rather an African wolf and a member of the gray wolf family. However, at present, the animal is considered of unresolved taxonomical identity and is presently classified as a golden jackal, despite genetic evidence that suggests otherwise.

jackal

The Egyptian jackal, or perhaps the African wolf.

With the directions below, you can make your own Anubis mask! First, print out these Anubis Templates for the mask and ears and gather the following supplies:

  • Cardstock
  • Cardboard (you can recycle a cereal box for this purpose)
  • Crayons
  • Glue
  • Hole punch
  • Scissors
  • Stapler
  • Elastic string

Cut out the face and ears from the template. Trace the ears onto a piece of cardstock and cut them out carefully. Color the face of Anubis any way you like, using your crayons. When finished, glue the face to the cardboard and cut it out using a pair of sharp scissors. Then use glue or a stapler to attach the ears to the top of the mask. Use the hole punch to make a hole on each side of the mask at its widest point. Finally, tie the ends of a length of elastic string to each of these holes so the mask fits snugly over your face. Now you can legitimately perform the Opening of the Mouth Ceremony yourself!

masks

 

Use these designs above for inspiration or invent your own. You learn more about Anubis and other Egyptian gods at the Houston Museum of Natural Science in the Hall of Ancient Egypt.

Huh? Nope, it’s Heh: How the Egyptians measured time and thought about eternity

The week is finally over! While only five days long, the workweek can certainly feel like an eternity. Which got me thinking (as many things do) about how the Egyptians measured time and thought about eternity.

Houston HehBarely an inch in height, this small hammered gold object depicts a man kneeling, wearing a knee-length pleated linen kilt and a long wig which comes down in two lappets on either side of his face – the typical get-up of Egyptian gods. His right hand stretches out to grasp a tall element with a curving top; his missing left hand originally did the same.

His pose and accessories identify him as the god Heh. Larger, more detailed representations show that the curved objects he holds are palm ribs, notched to tally up the years. The ‘years’ often rest on crouching frogs or tadpoles, the hieroglyphic sign for ‘100,000;’ these in turn sit on top of tied rings, symbolizing enduring protection.

Big HehWith all this in mind, it’s no surprise that Heh was considered the god of eternity, and was himself used as the hieroglyphic sign for ‘1,000,000’ – the largest number the Egyptians wished to write. Images of Heh in temples and on royal objects provided an eternal framework for the rituals that surrounded them. Tutankhamun was buried with a mirror in a Heh-shaped case, keeping him forever safe and youthful.

Our Heh is smaller and less finely worked than these, but is still made from expensive gold and would have been a cherished possession of its owner. A loop soldered to his back allowed him to be attached to a cord, where he would have served as an amuletic charm on a necklace, or possibly an element of a diadem.

Excavated parallels to our Heh date to the late Old Kingdom and First Intermediate Period (which we Egyptologists abbreviate to ‘FIP’) of Egyptian history (Dynasties 6-10, around 2300-2000 BC), and illuminate the problems we can run into when studying the past. Literary accounts of the First Intermediate Period describe it as a period in which the legitimate king was unable to exercise his authority: chaos, fighting, and famine ensued until the kings of the Middle Kingdom were able to reunite the country.

Excavations of FIP cemeteries, however, reveal a different picture. Valuable metal objects like weapons and our Heh are preserved in far higher quantities from FIP graves than Old Kingdom graves. If the FIP didn’t benefit the king and his court, less privileged people used the weakening of royal control as an opportunity to enrich themselves in this life and the next.

The amulet of Heh will go on display in the Hall of Ancient Egypt in the summer. Keep an eye out for him!

Emails from the other side: When it comes to ushabtis, is it possible to miss something you never had?

Our correspondence with Ankh Hap, the original Museum mummy, continues this week with a discussion of ushabtis — miniature funerary figurines placed in ancient Egyptian tombs and meant to take the place of the deceased should they be called upon to perform any manual labor in the afterlife.

Apparently one can’t even count on death as a reprieve from hard work! And according to Ankh Hap, one doesn’t know luxury until one knows the benefits of an ushabti army.

For more of Emails from the Other Side, review past Beyond Bones posts here.

Troop of funerary servant figures shabtis in the name of Neferibreheb

Emails from the other side: The Museum mummy reaches out

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Emails from the other side: The Museum mummy reaches out

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Emails from the other side: The Museum mummy reaches out

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Emails from the other side: The Museum mummy reaches out
Meet Ankh Hap in-person and survey his new digs when the Hall of Ancient Egypt opens next week!

As the Dung Ball Rolls…

Dung beetles are perhaps some of the most well known insects throughout the world. They have played a role in pop culture, in literature and they were the quintessential image of the sacred scarab beetle in Ancient Egypt. Now, we are the proud owners of two separate species of dung beetles! I have always thought dung beetles were neat, but it was not until i saw them in action that they completely stole my heart!

Many people don’t realize exactly how crucial dung beetles are to our environment. They are responsible for not only waste removal, but they enrich the soil by recycling the nutrients back into the earth. They also eliminate breeding sources for important pests such as flies, that can pester and even harm livestock.

We are very lucky to have several species of dung beetles native to the United States. They save the country around 380 million dollars a year by removing the waste themselves! Some countries are not as fortunate. Australia, for example introduced 23 species of dung beetles from South Africa and Europe between 1965 and 1985 to help improve the quality of their pastures. The beetles also cut the population of bush flies, a major pest there, by 90%! Many other developing countries have benefited from dung beetles which have improved standards of hygiene.

Most dung beetles feed exclusively on feces of herbivores and omnivores. They can be divided into 3 categories: roller, tunnelers, and dwellers. Rollers are the most charismatic of the three and are very fun to watch. They will construct a perfectly round ball of dung and roll it away from the pile. Usually a male and female can be seen together with a ball, although the male does most of the work while the female hitchhikes! Once they find a suitable spot, they bury the ball. The female lays an egg inside the ball and the larva feeds and develops inside. Tunnelers simply bury the dung they find, and dwellers live inside of the dung.

We have acquired a species that is a roller, Canthon pilularius, and one that is a tunneler, Phanaeus igneus. Canthon Pilularius are also known as tumblebugs. As soon as I gave them dung, they started to construct and roll balls around. They have kept me entertained for a long time as they are extremely comical to watch! Phanaeus igneus are also known as rainbow scarabs and are beautiful beetles with a metallic red head and thorax and a metallic green abdomen. The major males have a long horn extending back towards their abdomen. They do not roll, but they are very active and visible on the surface of the substrate and can be seen busily preparing their burrows in hopes for a mate. I was able to capture both species on video and it was so cute I just had to share!

Reebie Scarab - Kodachrome-esque

Creative Commons License photo credit: swanksalot
a depiction of Khepri, the sun god

Probably the most interesting thing about dung beetles is their role in Ancient Egyptian culture. Simply known as the scarab, it’s image represented transformation, renewal, and rebirth and can be found throughout Egyptian religious and funerary art. They were linked to the god of the rising sun, also known as Khepri. Khepri was said to, as the dung beetle rolls balls of dung, roll the sun across the sky and into the underworld at night, only to safely return it to the sky each day. The god was often depicted as a whole scarab or a man with a scarab for a head. Images of the scarab have been found all around Ancient Egypt. They are usually small beads carved from bone, ivory, stone, or even precious metals. Similar beads can still be found today in bead shops! These scarabs would often accompany the dead into the afterlife by being placed on the chest of the deceased during entombment. They were known as heart stones, the most famous of which was was found buried with Tutankhamen. They were to help protect the soul in the afterlife. Other images of the scarab were very large and sometimes contained long inscriptions. Some of these massive sculptures can be seen at the Luxor Temple and many other places in Egypt.

Scarab, back

Creative Commons License photo credit: marioanima
a Scarab Sculpture

The Ancient Egyptians were very smart to revere this little beetle, even though, at the time, they didn’t know exactly how important they were to the environment. Many insects play an important symbolic role in ancient cultures and for good reason. I don’t even want to imagine where we would be without beneficial insects such as these. Every little bug, down to the most annoying or insignificant (to us) plays a crucial role in the delicate balance of nature. We all should realize this as our ancestors did!

You can celebrate the legacy of the dung beetle by coming to see them on display at the Cockrell Butterfly Center along with many other fascinating creatures. Until next time, happy bug watching!