Life in Ancient Egypt

Daily Life: Kohl Pots

Kohl Pot In ancient Egypt, the widespread use of kohl or eye makeup was reflected in the production of great numbers of small kohl pots. These jars had a multitude of shapes. Cosmetic containers, either modeled in the form of monkeys or using monkeys as decorative elements, were present among funerary equipment from the late Old Kingdom through the end of the New Kingdom (from ca. 2345 to 1070 B.C.). Since monkeys, probably guenons imported from central Africa, were common pets, their frequent appearance on objects used in daily life is hardly surprising. Tomb paintings show pet monkeys entertaining their owners with their antics and occasionally harvesting ripe fruit for their masters.

This kohl jar is in the form of a pet monkey standing on its hind legs holding a small cylinder between its hands. The status of pet is easily indicated by the decorated collars encircling the animal's neck and lower body. Small marks filled with paint on its chest and back indicate areas of thicker fur. On the cylinder's front, Taweret, a well-known goddess, is schematically rendered. She is a deity depicting a pregnant hippopotamus with additional body parts from a woman, a lion, and a crocodile. Taweret's presence on this kohl jar follows her role as a popular household deity whose powers included guarding family members, particularly pregnant women or women undergoing childbirth.

Image:
Kohl Pot
New kingdom
(ca. 1539-1070 B.C.)
Abydos, D28a

Excerpted from Reflections of Greatness: Ancient Egypt at The Carnegie Museum of Natural History by Diana Craig Patch.
© 1990 The Board of Trustees, Carnegie Institute.

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