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egypt glossary
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Egypt: A New Look at an Ancient Culture

amulet: a charm worn to protect the wearer from evil or to bring good luck

ankh: the Egyptian word for "life"

ba: one aspect of the human life force, usually represented as a human-headed bird, which after death could leave and reenter the body at will

bark: a small sailing vessel, models of which were used to carry divine images in Egyptian religious processions

Book of the Dead: the modern name for a collection of New Kingdom funerary spells, derived from the Coffin Texts and Pyramid Texts, which were typically written on papyrus and placed in the tomb

cartouche: a circular or oval frame used to enclose the name of an Egyptian king or member of the royal family

Coffin Text: a series of magical spells, derived from the Pyramid Texts, which were inscribed on coffins and the walls of sarcophagus chambers during the Middle Kingdom

demotic: literally, "popular," a type of cursive Egyptian script that originated in Dynasty 26 and was widely used for the next thousand years

djed: the Egyptian word for "stability," represented by a sacred pillar

epigraphy: the study of inscriptions

false door: an architectural element in Egyptian tombs in front of which offerings would be made to the deceased. The ka of the deceased was believed to enter and exit the tomb through this doorway

hieratic: a cursive form of hieroglyphs used on papyrus

ka: one aspect of the human life, perceived as a spiritual double that continued to live after a person's death

in situ: literally, "in position." In archaeological terminology, it refers to an artifact, architectural feature or other find that has been excavated or exposed in its original, ancient context

maat: the Egyptian concept of world order, justice, and truth, represented by the hieroglyph of a feather and sometimes personified as a goddess wearing a feather on her head

mastaba: from the Arabic word for "bench," a flat, rectangular, mud-brick tomb with sloping sides, characteristic of Memphite cemeteries, especially in the Old Kingdom

Pyramid Texts: Egypt's earliest body of religious literature, carved on the walls of royal pyramids of Dynasties 5 and 6, and consisting of a series of spells intended to guide the deceased king into the afterlife

serekh: a rectangular frame containing the king's name and decorated with a niched facade representing the palace

shabti: small figurines placed in tombs to act as substitutes for the deceased when he or she was called upon to perform agricultural labor in the afterlife

sistrum: a musical instrument whose metal frame held elements that jangled when shaken, often used in the religious celebrations of the goddesses Hathor and Isis

stela: a carved or inscribed slab set up in cemeteries and sanctuaries for commemorative purposes

uraeus: the symbol of a rearing cobra worn on the forehead crown of Egyptian kings and queens and believed to have a protective function


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