Friday, July 19, 2013

Between Heaven and Earth: Birds in Ancient Egypt edited by Rozenn Bailleul-LeSuer

I had the pleasure a couple of weeks ago of seeing an exhibit at the Oriental Institute Museum in Chicago for a second time. It is called Between Heaven and Earth: Birds in Ancient Egypt, and it displays artifacts from the Oriental Institute with a few select items borrowed from other Chicago museums and one coffin for an ibis from the Brooklyn Museum. Everything in the show which ends at the end of this month relates to the role of birds in Ancient Egypt culture. Among the items are bird mummies, statues, reproductions of wall paintings, vases and other pottery, furniture, and a 5000 year old ostrich egg.

I was so impressed at my first viewing of the special exhibit that I bought the catalog, Between Heaven and Earth: Birds in Ancient Egypt edited by Rozenn Bailleul-LeSuer. The first half of this attractive publication is a collection of short papers about the roles of birds along the Nile River. The last half shows and explains all the items in the exhibit.

One role of birds in Ancient Egypt was as food, as the river attracted great flocks of water fowl. After fish, birds were the second most popular source of protein in the Egyptian diet. In the collection is a wall painting of a royal person hunting birds with a throwstick, an actual 3500 year old throwstick, and another painting showing ducks and geese being herded and caged for sale. Eating was not, however, the Egyptians only concern. They were interested in nature, and everywhere they looked there were birds, especially every spring and fall during the great migrations between Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa. Many of these birds whose species can still be identified were depicted in Egyptian art works.

But there is more. Egyptians believed their gods took the forms of birds and some birds, because they could fly, served as messengers between earth and heaven. Falcons, ibises, storks, vultures, and owls figure in myths and even lend their shapes to hieroglyphs. There are 54 recognized bird hieroglyphs and another 8 of bird parts, such as feathers and eggs.

There is so much more to say, but I should let you discover it through the catalog which is so beautifully illustrated. It is worth seeking out.

Between Heaven and Earth: Birds in Ancient Egypt. Oriental Institute Museum Publications 35, 2012. 232p. ISBN 9781885923929.

No comments: