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Ancient Egypt is one of the most evocative periods of history that schoolchildren learn about. But even now, thousands of years after the time, we are still learning new things about how people lived.

1. Not everyone was mummified after they died

Think of ancient Egypt and the scary image of a mummy springs to mind.

But, because it was an expensive process, not everyone could afford mummification, and the remains that have been found tend to belong to royalty or some high ranking official. Mummification or embalming was expensive because it was a complicated process and took a long time. It involved removing most organs and all moisture from the body before it was wrapped in linen.

Poorer Egyptians were simply buried in graveyards on the outskirts of the desert.

2. Hieroglyphic writing was rarely used

The beautiful hieroglyphic writing of ancient Egypt uses hundreds of images to communicate to the reader. But, because it takes a long time to learn and transcribe, it was only used for the most important documents and to decorate the walls of tombs and temples.

Most of the time, scribes used hieratic, a simplified and abbreviated form of the hieroglyphic script in which the symbols for people, animals and objects are depicted as a series of lines and squiggles rather than images.


3. The Great Pyramids were not built by slaves

The popular perception is that the Great Pyramids of Giza outside Cairo were built by Jewish slaves but modern evidence suggests they were in fact constructed by free Egyptian labourers.

The remains of many of these workers were recently found in graves near to the king’s pyramid – their close proximity suggesting they were not slaves. However, free men or not, archaeologist say there are signs of arthritis and wear on tear on the bones that indicate how hard they had to work.


4. Cleopatra may have not have been as beautiful as once thought

The last queen of ancient Egypt, Cleopatra VII, wooed both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, and was described by Roman historian Dio as “a woman of surpassing beauty”. But some revisionist historians now believe she may not have been the oil painting we once thought. A number of coins from the period, said to the depict Cleopatra’s profile, show an unattractive women with a prominent hooked nose, sloping forehead, and sharply pointed chin.

The jury is out – is this the inaccurate work of an untalented engraver, or the real face of Cleopatra?


To find out more about how Portals to the Past can enhance your history teaching call us on 0800 112 3192 or contact us.