Ancient Egypt: Knots
The archaeological evidence
The magic of the knot
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KnotsThe making of thread, string and rope were among the earliest cultural achievements of mankind, but without a way of making them fast their usefulness would be limited.
Papyrus rope noose, tied together with a thinner rope
Pottery handle imitating three ropes knotted together
The threads with which pieces of cloth were stitched together were knotted at the end to prevent the seam from coming apart, just as rope ends were at times knotted to prevent unraveling. When embroidering various kinds of stitches were applied, but also isolated knots.
The strands of hair making up the wig of Merit at Deir el Median (TT 8) were knotted to a plait which formed a parting along the middle of the crown.
Perfume jar in the shape of Isis nursing Bes, wearing a himation knotted between her naked breasts.
Knots holding together clothing are mostly known from statuary and depictions. Tailoring was on the whole very primitive in antiquity. Most clothes were simple, often rectangular sheets of fabric draped around the body. They were held in place by belts, which were, like the belt of Raherka for instance tied together with a reef knot, or were, as the kilts often were, wrapped around the body and tied with a half-knot at the front. Similarly, other garments, such as himations, were also often worn knotted.
The wearing of clothes held together by knotted belts was seen as an important step of the child to adulthood. At Deir el-Gebrawi a sixth dynasty official recorded in his mortuary chapel:
I was a youth who tied his belt under his majesty the king of Upper and Lower Egypt
Square knot from smA tAwy-scene at Karnak
Leather cords knotted to a stick
Knotting of the net by a fisherman of the funerary foundation.
and running knots which make lassoes and nooses possible.
Seti I with lasso
The shen (and the elongated cartouche which is derived from it) appears to be an abstraction of a noose, where a length of rope is coiled into a circle and tied together with a string, the rope ends remaining visible. The unbroken oval of the cartouche may have symbolized the rule of the pharaoh over all of creation, or may have afforded the king's name–and thus the king–all-around protection.
Cartouche of Menmaatre, Abydos Kings list
Words to speak over a [thread] of the seam of an jttw-cloth, will be made into two knots and fastened to the right hand of the patient.Children were especially vulnerable to the evil influence of daemons and needed more protection than adults. The following charm accompanied an amulet placed around a child's neck to protect it against fever:
Spell for a knotSometimes the number of knots that had to be tied into a string, a hair of the patient or a piece of linen was exactly defined.
A wooden tyet (Isis knot) amulet
Raymond O. Faulkner, Dr. Ogden Goelet, Carol Andrews, James Wasserman, The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Book of Going Forth by Day, Chronicle Books, 2008
Barry J. Kemp, Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilization, Routledge, 2006
Alfred Lucas, John Richard Harris, Ancient Egyptian Materials and Industries, Dover Publications, 1999
Manfred Lurker, Lexikon der Götter und Symbole der alten Ägypter, Scherz 1998
Gay Robins, Women in ancient Egypt, Harvard University Press, 1993
John Rose, The sons of Re: cartouches of the kings of Egypt, JR-T, 1985
Ian Shaw, Paul Nicholson, The British Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, British Museum Press 1995
Ian Shaw, Paul T. Nicholson, Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology, Cambridge University Press, 2000,
Herman te Velde, Jacobus van Dijk, Essays on ancient Egypt in honour of Herman te Velde, BRILL, 1997
Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website
 Shaw & Nicholson 2000, p.263
 Shaw & Nicholson 2000, p.283
 Petrie Museum website, UC30471
 Shaw & Nicholson 2000, p.280
 Shaw & Nicholson 2000, p.497
 Shaw & Nicholson 2000, p.258
 Shaw & Nicholson 2000, p.287
 Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website: Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften => Grabinschriften => Deir el-Gebrawi => Südhang => Grab des Ibi => Opferkapelle => Ostwand grosse Inschrift (links)
 Kemp 2006, p.71
 Lucas & Harris 1999, p. 136
 http://www.digitalegypt.ucl.ac.uk/textil/other.html#4, accessed November 2009
 Rose 1985, p.9
 Shaw & Nicholson 1995, p.62
 Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website: Projekt "Digital-Heka" (Leipzig) => Texte DigitalHeka => Schlangenzauber Mittleres Reich => Ramesseumspapyri => pRamesseum X => 1,1-2,2
 Robbins 1993, p.86
 Robbins 1993, p.86
 te Velde & van Dijk 1997, p.280
 Robins 1993, p.81
 Faulkner et al. 2008, p.156
 Lurker 1998, p.109
 cf. the way farmers tied reaped flax plants into bundles for transportation.
 After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website: Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften => Grabinschriften => Sakkara => Unas-Friedhof => Mastaba des Nianch-Chnum und Chnum-hotep => Torraum => Südwand => Szene 13
 Veldmeijer, André J., 2009, "Cordage Production" in Willeke Wendrich (ed.), UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, Los Angeles. http://repositories.cdlib.org/nelc/uee/1059
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© November 2009