Egypt in the Old Kingdom

Katep and Hetepheres (no. 6 in the tour)

The pyramids and tombs of Egypt's Old Kingdom (Third to Sixth Dynasties, about 2686-2181 BC), with their magnificent reliefs, paintings, statues and stelae, have often been seen as the epitome of the whole of ancient Egypt. Indeed, if the Early Dynastic period was the formative period in which the bases of Egyptian civilization were firmly established, the Old Kingdom was when it came of age.

From the Fourth Dynasty, the administration of the country was highly organised, controlled by civil servants from the royal residence at Memphis, where the king was supreme. The efficiency of the administration is no better exemplified than in the building of the pyramids: it is estimated that the Great Pyramid when complete contained about 2,300,000 blocks of stone of an average weight of 2½ tons, all of which had to be transported from quarry to site.

This tour features objects from the period in the British Museum's collection, including remains of the fabric of the early royal pyramids, architectural elements and sculpture from the tombs of the officials that ran the country and a papyrus from one of the most important adminstrative archives of the period.