ancient egypt: history and culture
Ancient Egyptian bestiary: Ostriches
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Source: Excerpt, British Museum website-     Ostriches used to live in large parts of northern Africa which have become desertified since [7]. They were hunted for sport, for their feathers and probably also for their meat and skin. By the New Kingdom they had apparently become rare, and thus valuable, enough for Nubians to offer their feathers and eggs as tribute to the pharaohs [4] and even to be imported from Punt [5].

Prancing birds Scene of solar adoration, Medinet Habu
Prancing birds, identified by C. Kuentz as ostriches.
Kuentz, p.87

    The Egyptians were aware of the remarkable early morning behaviour of these flightless birds when they run around flapping their wings. Ahmose I was described in a stela as being
dancing ostriches
like Atem in the east of the sky
when the ostriches dance in the valleys
Stela 34001 Cairo Museum, Kuentz, p.85
    The ostrich feather Ostrich feather was the symbol of the goddess Maat who wore it on her head. It was the weight against which the heart of the deceased was weighed in the Judgment of the dead. According to Horapollo:
The man rendering justice to all, was represented by the ostrich feather; because that bird, unlike others, has all its feathers equal.
Horapollo II, 118
Portal p.50

    Ostrich egg shells were turned into vessels [2] and beads [3] since prehistoric times. Fans were made from wing feathers. During the Middle Kingdom common soldiers wore one or two ostrich plumes on their heads signifying victory [1], during the New Kingdom officers and the elite charioteers were decorated with ostrich feathers [6].
Kathryn A. Bard, Steven Blake Shubert, Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt, Routledge (UK) 1999
James Henry Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part III
Adolf Erman, Life in Ancient Egypt, Courier Dover Publications 1972
Mark Healy, New Kingdom Egypt, Osprey Publishing 1992
Charles Kuentz, La danse des autruches, BIFAO 23 (1924)
A. Lucas, Ancient Egyptian Materials and Industries
Frederic Portal, Comparison of Egyptian Symbols With Those of the Hebrew, Kessinger Publishing 2003
B. G. Trigger, Ancient Egypt, Cambridge University Press 1996
David Wengrow, The Archaeology of Early Egypt: Social Transformations in North-East Africa, C. 10,000 to 2,650 BC, Cambridge University Press 2006

[1] Erman, p.524
[2] Bard, p.18
[3] Bard, p.144, Wengrow p.20
[4] Breasted III, § 475
[5] Breasted III, § 37
[6] Healy, p.60
[7] Trigger, p.9

© 2002
Update: February 2007