Ancient Egypt 137 Letters

Your thoughts on issues raised by the magazine.

Dear Editor,

I am an amateur woodworker, and have made several different pieces of furniture including an 8-foot black lacquer TV/stereo cabinet. I have trouble accepting the straight, precise, square-sided pieces of wood shown in the photo of the gesso-painted stool (‘The afterlife of two Egyptian stools’, AE 135, p.46). How could the carpenters of the time produce that exact dimension of wood in enough quantity to make multiple copies of this furniture? The tools that come to my mind of that time-frame are very primitive in comparison, and defy accuracy.

I participated in a two-week tourist tour of Egypt and was thoroughly amazed by the heavy construction and sculpturing accomplished. Fantastic! The quantity and quality of the copious hieroglyphs was overwhelming. An article on tools and available construction equipment would be interesting. The time involved and man-hours spent is beyond comprehension.

Manson Polley

 A gesso-painted stool from the Tombof Kha and Merit (TT8). Image: Museo Egizio, Turin
A second gesso-painted stool, now in the British Museum. Image: JPP

Hello Manson,

I, too, am in awe of the skills demonstrated by the ancient Egyptian woodworkers, especially in the precision and regularity of the shaping of the various sections of the lattice stool. That this was achieved with the fairly primitive hand tools available to them is almost unbelievable, and yet the proof is there in the many examples on display in museums throughout the world, and in photographic archives, like those of Tutankhamun’s tomb (Griffith Institute, Oxford) or the records of Schiaparelli’s discovery of the tomb of Kha and Merit (TT8; Turin). In the 1930s, Walter Segal made some detailed and accurate scale drawings of Tutankhamun’s furniture; you can see them at Go to the Tutankhamun tab then go to Online Resources, where you will find Segal MSS – well worth a search.

Most amazing, to me at least, is the fact that the curved seats were created, not by steaming and bending, but by carving. To see how this can be done, see Paul Bouchard’s account ‘Building a Theban Lattice Stool’ ( There are other similar online resources, including some on YouTube. For a basic introduction to Egyptian furniture-making, see Geoffrey Killen’s Egyptian Wood-working and Furniture.

The Ancient Egyptians have been a constant source of wonder to me for more years than I care to admit. Their skill and ingenuity in engineering, construction, arts and crafts are apparent in the results of their handiwork, from the largest pyramid to the most delicate jewellery. I like to take a step back from wondering how, and instead think: wow!

Hilary Wilson