“When we study ancient societies, it can sometimes be difficult to tell who fulfilled which of the various day-to-day roles. For Ancient Egypt, we have a wealth of information, including pictorial records along with sculptures and figurines, buried with the deceased so they could have workers in the afterlife.But these depictions can be idealised, or leave things out. Bones, on the other hand, don’t lie – and the teeth of an Egyptian woman who lived over 4,000 years ago show that the lives of women back then may have been more varied than some records suggest.
Two patterns of wear on 16 of her 24 teeth are inconsistent with eating, which means she was using her teeth for something else; further analysis suggests she was a craftswoman.
This, according to a research team from the University of Alberta, is a surprise.
“Based on tomb paintings and recovered texts, scholars assert that there were only seven professions open to women throughout ancient Egyptian culture history,” they wrote in a new paper.
“[Those are] as priestesses in temples dedicated to goddesses (for high status and well-connected women); as singers, musicians, and dancers (for women with skills and talent); as mourners; as weavers of cloth in the workshops of the aristocracy; and as midwives.”
The remains, originally excavated in the 1970s, are from a necropolis in Mendes, which was once the capital of Ancient Egypt. The woman lived around 2181-2055 BCE, and died after the age of 50.
Apparently she was well respected, too, compared to other remains dating from the same era. She was placed in a wooden coffin lined with reeds, with grave goods that contained alabaster vessels, a bronze mirror, cosmetics and gold leaf.
And, of the roughly 1,070 total teeth from the necropolis site that survived the millennia and excavation of their 92 skeletons, only hers showed these unusual wear patterns”