Ancient Egyptian Materials and Industries


Fascinating, comprehensive text describes ancient Egypt's vast resources and the processes that incorporated them in daily life. Topics include the use of animal products, building materials, cosmetics, perfumes and incense, fibers, glazed ware, glass, materials used in the mummification process, and much more.

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Ancient Egyptian Materials and Industries

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Fascinating, comprehensive text describes ancient Egypt's vast resources and the processes that incorporated them in daily life. Topics include the use of animal products, building materials, cosmetics, perfumes and incense, fibers, glazed ware, glass, materials used in the mummification process, and much more.

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Editorial Reviews

A detailed study of ancient Egyptian technology, documenting materials and processes that were an integral part of Egyptian daily life. Covers the use of animal products and building materials, manufacture of glass and fibers, use of metals and alloys, precious stones, distillation of alcoholic beverages, and the mummification process. Includes an appendix of chemical analyses. First published in 1926. This is an unabridged republication of the fourth edition, as published by Edward Arnold (Publishers) Ltd., London, in 1962. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780486404462
  • Publisher: Dover Publications
  • Publication date: 11/30/2011
  • Edition number: 4
  • Pages: 544
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.18 (h) x 1.00 (d)

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Ancient Egyptian Materials and Industries

By A. Lucas, J. R. Harris

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2014 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-14494-8



The principal adhesives employed, or possibly employed, as cementing materials in ancient Egypt, arranged in alphabetical order for the sake of convenience, were albumin (white of egg), beeswax, clay, glue, gum, gypsum (plaster of Paris), natron, resin, salt, solder and starch, which may now be considered.


Albumins are natural nitrogenous bodies of complex composition, containing sulphur in small proportion, that occur both in animals and in plants, the only albumin, however, that need be considered here being egg albumin, or white of egg. This has often been suggested as the adhesive that was employed for the ancient Egyptian paint, thus Spurrell states that he found proof of the use of egg albumin on the Twelfth Dynasty tomb paintings at Kahun. The evidence he gives was that the paint was unaffected both by hot and by cold water and also by soap; that when heated it charred and gave off ammonia; that it was insoluble in dilute hydrochloric acid, but soluble in the strong acid, as the result of which he says 'There can be little doubt that it is albumen. It cannot be gelatine or any resinous gum.' He also says that 'A peculiar condition, somewhat glossy, of the surface of the stone around other paintings was found to be caused by a dressing of this albumen over surfaces now devoid of colour', which he suggests may have been done to fill up the pores of the stone. He states that 'There appears to be no doubt left that all the colours which I have examined having the above characters had egg albumen for a medium and this extends from Senefru's time to that of the Romans ...' Spurrell also reports egg albumin from some of the Eighteenth Dynasty paintings at El Amarna.

Laurie obtained a positive reaction for both nitrogen and sulphur when testing the adhesive used to fasten ancient Egyptian gold leaf to plaster (gesso), and, therefore, concluded that the adhesive employed was egg albumin.

Ritchie also tested the adhesive used for fixing gold leaf on plaster (gesso) and found that when examined spectroscopically there was evidence of the presence of phosphorus, which he suggested possibly might indicate egg albumin.

While in no way denying that egg albumin may have been employed sometimes in ancient Egypt as an adhesive, I would point out that, although this has been shown to be probable, it has not been proved. There are considerable difficulties in identifying albumin with certainty in very small specimens of material that have been exposed for hundreds, or even thousands, of years, particularly as there is no specific test for albumin, but also because albumin, even if originally present, may have undergone considerable chemical change. The fact that Spurrell found the material he tested was nitrogenous organic matter is no proof that it was albumin, since glue is also a nitrogenous organic matter that might well have been present. Also, if the stone on which the painting was done had been sized with albumin, as Spurrell suggested, the albumin found may have been present in the size and not in the paint. I have examined a very large number of specimens of ancient Egyptian paint and have always found it to be so very easily removed by water that I cannot think the adhesive was albumin, unless, if originally present, it has perished. Further, although the particular specimens of paint referred to by Spurrell, that were not acted on by water, may have contained albumin, it should not be forgotten that beeswax and resin, both of which were certainly sometimes used during the Eighteenth Dynasty for covering tomb paintings, would also have been unacted upon by water.

With reference to Laurie's work, here again the nitrogenous organic matter found may have been glue and not albumin, and the sulphur may have been derived from glue, which also contains it, and not from albumin.

Ritchie, while suggesting that the presence of phosphorus possibly might indicate albumin, lays no stress on this. The phosphorus, however, might well have been in the form of calcium phosphate, which is not an uncommon constituent of limestone, and, therefore, of the whiting of which the gesso tested was composed.

In my opinion, much more work is required before it can be accepted as satisfactorily proved that the ancient Egyptians employed egg albumin as an adhesive, and the criticisms made are intended to be helpful and not merely destructive. Although the domestic fowl was not introduced into Egypt until a late period, egg albumin was plentiful and easily obtainable, as geese and ducks were abundant. The origin of the present-day barnyard fowl was the Indian jungle fowl (Gallus banciva).


One adhesive used in ancient Egypt for painting and for coating paintings, about which there is no uncertainty, is beeswax, but as these uses are not as an adhesive in the ordinary sense, they will be considered in connexion with painting materials. Other uses of beeswax, also not as an adhesive, were in mummification; for shipbuilding; for making magical figures; for bronze casting; and, at a very late date, for covering the surface of writing tablets; all of which will be dealt with in other connexions. Here the inquiry will be limited to the use of beeswax as an ordinary adhesive only, for which purpose it was employed in considerable amount. Thus it was used for luting on the lids of vases, five of which of alabaster so treated were found in the tomb of Tutankhamun, and it was also present on several alabaster lids from the same tomb, the vases of which were missing; it was used, too, for fixing at least three alabaster vases to their pedestals and at the back of two uraei, manifestly as an adhesive. Spurrell found beeswax employed for fastening in place the flint teeth of an Eighteenth Dynasty sickle and Winlock gives an example of its use with limestone powder in the Middle Kingdom for cementing on a razor handle. Another use of beeswax was for curling and plaiting wigs, which will be described in connexion with hair.

On the basis of the known melting–points of certain specimens of ancient Egyptian beeswax, Mercier has suggested that different qualities of wax were employed for specific purposes, and that in particular that used as an adhesive and cement was perhaps adulterated with a resinous substance. This may have been either a vegetable resin or propolis intentionally mixed with the wax, though it is also possible that darker waxes containing propolis as a natural impurity were deliberately selected from the hive.

It does not seem to have been the custom to place beeswax in tombs and no record of the finding of it can be traced, but at El Amarna a piece of beeswax was found in a house.


The use of clay as mortar with sun–dried bricks will be dealt with in connexion with building materials.


This material is one of the earliest, best known and most reliable of adhesives, especially for wood. It is made by extracting certain animal products containing gelatine, such as bones, skins, cartilage and tendons, with boiling water, concentrating the liquid by evaporation and then pouring it into moulds, in which, when cold, it sets into a solid mass.

Glue was used in ancient Egypt for many different purposes, namely, (a) to fasten wood together and to fix ebony and ivory inlay in place; (b) for mixing with whiting to make both plaster and 'stopping'; (c) probably to fasten coarse woven linen fabric to wood and to plaster and to fasten gold foil to plaster; (d) probably as a sizing material for stone and plaster surfaces before painting; and (e) possibly as an adhesive for pigments. These various uses may now be considered.

At what date and for what purpose glue was first employed in Egypt is uncertain, but probably not as an adhesive for wood, since in the Fourth Dynasty tomb of Hetepheres the wood was fastened together by means of mortise and tenon joints and then sometimes bound with strips of hide, which suggests that glue was not used, though as practically all the wood had perished, this could neither be proved nor disproved. Several specimens of plaster from this tomb, however, analysed by me consisted of whiting containing nitrogenous organic matter that might have been glue, since so far as could be determined from the small amount of material available for analysis, there was not any other adhesive present, and some adhesive is essential, whiting possessing practically no natural coherence.

Plaster of this nature (i.e. whiting and glue, which is termed 'gesso' by Egyptologists) has been identified by me from the Third Dynasty, where it was used for fastening the small blue faience tiles to the walls in the step pyramid at Saqqara and in the great tomb of Djoser adjoining the pyramid, and also from the Fifth Dynasty, where a carved limestone bust was covered with a painted layer of this plaster. Painted and gilded gesso decoration also occurs on a copper diadem of Old Kingdom date, and Winlock states that the wooden models from the tomb of Meketr? (Eleventh Dynasty) were patched with gesso. Gesso was employed on a large scale during the Eighteenth Dynasty and onwards for applying to wood as a ground for painting and gilding, being often worked with designs in low relief before being gilt, and at a later date it was used extensively for making cartonnage mummy masks and coffins, which consist of layers of linen and gesso, or, at a still later date, of old papyrus documents and gesso, with or without linen. Where gesso was on wood, there was sometimes a layer of coarse woven fabric (linen) between the two, and, not only was the canvas probably treated with glue to make it adhere to the wood on one side and to the plaster on the other, but in those instances in which the gold was thick, this was probably also fastened on with glue, though whether glue was used when the gold was only thin leaf has not been determined.

Gesso was also used for architectural decoration in certain temples of the New Kingdom, a thin coat being applied on very fine linen fabric glued to the sandstone. The gesso was carved in low relief and painted, and possibly also gilt.

It is probable that in a very few instances the adhesive present in whiting plaster was other than glue. Thus, of two specimens of plaster of predynastic date, described as gesso, one appeared to have no organic adhesive, the calcium carbonate perhaps containing sufficient clay to act as a binder, while a plaster from the tomb of Yuya and Tuyu, examined by Pollard, seemed to be a form of gesso consisting of calcium carbonate with possibly an albuminoid binder.

A specimen of glue of Eighteenth Dynasty date was found by Carter in a rock chamber over the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el Bahari. This, which was examined by me, was in the form of a rectangular piece thirteen centimetres long with a square section of about two centimetres each way, that manifestly had been cast, and, except that it had dried and shrunk, it could not be distinguished from modern glue, to all the usual tests for which it responded.

The use of glue is probably shown in a scene on a tomb wall of Eighteenth Dynasty date at Thebes, and also on an ostracon now at Leipzig, of which the date is not given.

Spurrell reports gelatine used as an adhesive in paint from the Fourth Dynasty, and Toch thought he found evidence of glue or gelatine on the mural paintings in the Fifth Dynasty tomb of Perneb. The use of gelatine is also reported by Spurrell in a painted pavement from El Amarna. I have examined a large number of pigments from ancient Egyptian painted objects, including mural paintings, but the specimens of material available have all been too small for any satisfactory determination of the nature of the adhesive to be made, particularly as there is no specific test for glue. Also, it should not be forgotten that the presence of glue in a paint does not necessarily mean that it was employed as a binder, since it may have been used in the same manner as modern size, namely, to fill up the pores in the plaster, stone, or other painting ground, before the paint was applied.

Brunton mentions a small painted wooden box of Fifth Dynasty date with mitred joints fastened with some 'resinous material, which was possibly glue'. Mace and Winlock state that a staff from a Twelfth Dynasty tomb was joined with glue, and Carter found glue used as an adhesive on a toilet box and on a game board, both of late Middle Kingdom, or Second Intermediate Period date. Winlock says that glue was used on two of the coffins of Queen Meryetamun of the Eighteenth Dynasty, and that a wooden box from the same tomb was 'carelessly mended with a mixture of mud and glue'. Glue is present on many of the objects from the tomb of Tutankhamun, where it was employed exactly in the manner of the modern joiner to fasten wood together and to fix ebony and ivory veneer and inlay in place. A number of specimens of 'stopping' from the same tomb, used to fill holes and to cover up imperfections in wood, were found on analysis by me to consist of a mixture of whiting and glue (i.e. gesso), coloured (in one case with yellow ochre) to match the colour of the wood, or of the paint on the wood. Several hundred tiny shawabti figures of uncertain, but late, date, in the Cairo Museum, I examined were found to be composed of powdered limestone held together with glue and moulded.


Gum is obtained at the present day largely from various species of acacia that grow in the Sudan, but as the acacia also grows in Egypt, where it was more plentiful formerly than now, the greater part, if not the whole, of the ancient Egyptian gum may have been obtained locally. Pliny states that in his day the best gum was obtained from Egypt, which, however, may mean from the Sudan through Egypt.

The 'gum of myrrh' mentioned in ancient texts was not gum in the ordinary sense, but an odoriferous gum-resin used as incense, and the 'gum of god's land'; the 'gum of Punt'; the 'gum' from Genebteyew and other 'gums' were probably similar material, and not gums, since, even in modern commercial practice, many gum–resins are loosely called gum.

According to Herodotus, gum was employed to fasten together the linen bandages in which mummies were wrapped after embalming, with reference to which he states that the Egyptians mostly used it instead of glue. Gum has been identified on mummy bandages in two instances (undated) by Reutter, and in four instances (all Twentieth Dynasty) by me, and Elliot Smith states that 'a sheet of cloth saturated with some gum-like substance was placed in front of the face' of the mummy of Amenhotpe III (Eighteenth Dynasty), and he also mentions 'gum-saturated bandages'.

Spurrell found gum, which he states was gum acacia, used as an adhesive for paint in the Fourth Dynasty and also in the Eighteenth Dynasty. This, he says, had decayed and left the pigment pulverulent and loose. He also states 11 that 'Several pots of paint were found to have a thick layer of gum overlying the colour, which had settled out at the bottom, these had not been exposed and the gum answered all the usual tests. Gum was also used for the painting of Akhenaten and the little princesses. It was used also on parts of the painted pavement.' Laurie found gum in a paint of Nineteenth Dynasty date. Winlock reports the use of 'a water–soluble gum' as a varnish on certain parts of the models from the tomb of Meketr? (Eleventh Dynasty). Another probable use of gum was for binding together the powdered pigments to make the cakes that are found on the scribes' palettes.


The earliest use of gypsum (plaster of Paris) as an adhesive, so far as is at present known, was for repairing a large pottery vessel of predynastic date found by Menghin and Amer at Ma'adi, the material having been analysed by me. Gypsum plaster was also used to repair the sarcophagus recently found in the pyramid of Sekhemkhet at Saqqara (Third Dynasty), and among the objects from the tomb of Tutankhamun was a pottery jar, the cover of which was fastened on with gypsum.


Excerpted from Ancient Egyptian Materials and Industries by A. Lucas, J. R. Harris. Copyright © 2014 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


List of Abbreviations,
Chronological Table,
CHAPTER I Adhesives (Albumin: Beeswax: Clay: Glue: Gum: Gypsum: Natron: Resin: Solder: Starch: Salt: Miscellaneous and Unidentified Adhesives),
CHAPTER II Alcoholic BEVERAGES (Beer and Brewing: Wine and Wine Making: Distilled Spirits): SUGAR,
CHAPTER III Animal Products (Bone: Feathers: Gut: Hair: Horn: Ivory: Leather: Mother of Pearl: Ostrich Egg-shell: Parchment: Tortoise-shell: Marine and Fresh Water Shells),
CHAPTER V Building Materials (Bricks and Brick Making: Stone and Stone Working: Mortar: Plaster: Wood),
CHAPTER VI Cosmetics, Perfumes And Incense,
CHAPTER VII Inlaid Eyes,
CHAPTER VIII Fibres (Basketry: Brushes: Cordage: Matting: Papyrus): WOVEN FABRICS (Spinning and Weaving: Linen and other materials): DYEING,
CHAPTER IX Glazed Ware (Glazed Steatite: Faience: Faience Variants: Glazed Quartz: Glazed Pottery: Glazing Methods and Media),
CHAPTER X Glass and Glass Manufacture,
CHAPTER XI Metals and Alloys (Antimony: Copper, Bronze and Brass: Gold and Electrum: Iron: Lead: Platinum: Silver: Tin): MINERALS (Alum: Barytes: Cobalt compounds: Emery: Graphite: Manganese compounds: Mica: Natron: Nitre: Salt: Sulphur),
CHAPTER XII Mummification (Natron, Resins and other materials),
CHAPTER XIII Oils, Fats and Waxes,
CHAPTER XIV Painting Materials: Writing Materials,
CHAPTER XV Pottery and Pottery Making,
CHAPTER XVI Precious and Semi-precious Stones,
CHAPTER XVII Stones, Other than Building Stones and Precious Stones: Stone Vessels,
CHAPTER XIX Historical Summary,
APPENDIX: Chemical Analyses,

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