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A short history of woodcarving in ancient Egypt

Have you ever wondered why you don't spot examples of exceptional woodcarving in museums quite as often as stone carvings or sculptures? Here at The ToolPost, we imagine that it has much to do with the vulnerability of wood carvings to the ravages of time. Such items need to be suitably taken care of if they are to survive over many millennia.

Thankfully, however, some fine examples of wood carving from the distant past do survive, and help to illustrate the wonderfully fascinating history of this wonderfully fascinating art. There aren't too many parts of the world where wood could survive for such a long period of time without being cared for especially well, but one rare example is Egypt.

Famed for its extremely dry climate, this country was where 11 wooden panels were discovered in 1860, after more than 4,000 years of being buried under the sands. These relief carvings were found in the tomb of Pharaon Hesy-Ra, each of the panels measuring two feet by one and a half feet. It is also in Egypt where the earliest three-dimensional figure yet found was discovered, apparently carved in around 2500 BC.

Measuring some three feet high, this carving depicts a typical Egyptian pose, the figure walking forward, one hand holding a staff, both feet flat on the ground. That Egypt has given us so many fine examples of woodcarving to enjoy for posterity is all the more remarkable given how scarce wood was in the country. The only trees considered suitable for carving were the Acacia and the Sycamore, their rarity granting them sacred status.

But of course, woodcarving isn't thought to have begun with the Egyptians - far from it. When one imagines early man living in a forest or jungle, surrounded by little more than standing or fallen trees and some of the earliest tools such as an arrowhead, spearhead or knife, it's also easy to imagine them trying their hand at woodcarving. It's likely that this process resulted in the very first wooden tools and utensils.

Nonetheless, it is Egypt that gives us so many of the remarkable examples of ancient woodcarving that we can appreciate today. They are exhibited today by such institutions as the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo, and encompass everything from statues and mummy cases to furniture like folding seats. Considered as a whole, such items show just what a remarkable inheritance Egypt has handed us in this area - and continue to inspire today's amateur and professional woodcarving devotees.

Editor's Note: The ToolPost ( is represented by the search engine advertising and digital marketing specialists Jumping Spider Media. Please direct all press queries to Louise Byrne. Email: or call: +44 (0)20 3070 1959 / +34 952 783 637.

1997-2010 P. Hemsley.  The information on this website is the copyright property of Peter Hemsley.  Coeur du Bois and The ToolPost are trading styles of Peter Hemsley.  Whilst reasonable efforts are made to ensure the accuracy of information presented, no liability can be accepted for errors in this information nor for contingencies arising therefrom.  If you are inexperienced in any aspect of woodworking, we would strongly counsel that you take a course of formal instruction before commencing to practice