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UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


Egyptian Barbie aka Dhimi Masrya

By Edmund Connolly, on 3 July 2013

  guest blogger: Monika Zgoda

Although undoubtedly the most famous and well known wonders of the Ancient Egypt are the pyramids, the immaculate engineering skills of this incredible civilization translated into smaller, in no way less impressive, objects of everyday life. Petrie was fascinated by the lives of the ordinary people collected objects of daily use, creating bridges between the Ancient Egypt and the Western civilizations of the 19th and the 20th centuries. It seems that when it comes to the mantra of ‘working hard, playing hard’ the ancient Egyptians were not too dissimilar to us (no matter what age), and long before every little girl’s best friend was Barbie, the Egyptians amused their daughters with a more demure precursor of the long legged blond bombshell.

UC28024 an Egyptian doll from the world famous Petrie Museum collection

UC28024 an Egyptian doll from the world famous Petrie Museum collection


The rag doll found by Petrie in Hawara, although now in an extremely fragile condition, still holds its charm – made of rushes, with a carved head and real hair still proudly stands at 13cm, despite parts of it missing and being disarticulated. Just like the modern day Barbie, the doll comes with a set of changeable garments. It could be speculated that the doll must have been a treasured possession of a wealthy owner – typically the Egyptian dolls were rather simple creations, made with materials such as wood and clay. ‘Paddle’ dolls – most popular dolls in Egypt at the time – were basic wooden pieces, highly stylized with geometric patterns representing clothing or ritual scaring and tattooing, and were often found on the side of burials, leading anthropologists to believe they were funerary objects placed in tombs as cherished possessions and to protect their owners in their next life.

    These are not to be confused with Shabti dolls – funerary figures, shaped as both men and women (whereas paddle dolls are typically of female form), made out of stone or wood. Each figure inscribed with a unique Shabti formula specifying its role, was to fulfil a role of a ‘worker’ – serving its master in their after life. As with many artefacts discovered during excavations, archaeologists are often able to determine the status of the tomb’s owner – Shabtis were purchased from temples and their size and number corresponded with one’s wealth.

     Although fundamentally and distinctively different in their roles, both the Shabti dolls and the dolls used by the Egyptians as toys draw an important social context, so eagerly sought by Flinders Petrie. As with many artefacts at Petrie there is a time defying charm, allowing the visitors of the museum to get to know the Ancient Egypt beyond the golden treasures of Tutankhamun, their daily customs – after all, not so different from our own.

After working in the fashion industry for a number of years, Monika is now pursuing a career as a fashion historian, discovering the ethnographic and anthropological origins of clothing and jewellery.

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