Reed and rush

Reed grows abundantly in the waters of the Nile and other marshy areas, such as the Delta, and was harvested to make simple boxes from Predynastic times. The hollow stems of this plant are rigid, making it unsuitable for basketry, but were an ideal material for the construction of wig boxes (figure 4). A framework of stout reed stems would have been bound together with rush or papyrus, with diagonal reeds often built into the framework structure to increase the box's rigidity. The side and base of the structure were faced with thinner reed stems, which were stitched in groups to the horizontal elements of the framework. The top edge of the box was often finished by covering the exposed and uneven stems with a strip of palm leaf, which again was bound into position with rush. The lid was of a similar construction and simply placed across the opening. A beautifully preserved wig box, now in the Egyptian Antiquities Museum, Cairo, was found in the Eighteenth Dynasty tomb of Yuya and Thuya at Thebes. Also rectangular in construction, it is designed with ventilation holes in the side walls. Other reed boxes were used to store food and, on occasion, writing materials and equipment.

4. Reed wig box, New Kingdom. (British Museum, London, 2561. Photograph: Lorraine March-Killen.)


Sheep, goats and cattle were domesticated and their skins used as clothing at an early date. Leather production was well established by the Predynastic Period. Tanning was achieved by treating skins with the juice from the fruit of the acacia tree. Leather was used during the Predynastic Period to make thongs for tying woodwork joints together, and the webbing of some early bed-frames and the seats of New Kingdom stools were formed from leather straps.

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