Dwarfs were respected in ancient Egypt: study
Courtesy John Wiley & Sons Inc. Publishers
and World Science staff
Dwarfs in ancient Egypt were well accepted, weren’t seen as handicapped and sometimes
attained great respect, according to a new study.
previously noted that some dwarfs reached high positions in ancient
Egyptian society, and that some gods were even represented as dwarfs.
But the new study adds a detailed investigation of the role of dwarfs in
the society, both among the ruling classes and the masses.
The study, which analyzed funerary remains and depictions of dwarfs, is published in the January 2006 issue of the
American Journal of Medical Genetics.
“The image of short people in ancient Egypt is essentially positive,” wrote the author, Chahira Kozma, a pediatrician at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C.
“Dwarfs were likely accepted in ancient Egypt and were given a visible role in the society. Furthermore their daily activities suggest integration in daily life and that their disorder was not shown as a physical
Dwarfism is thought to have been common
in ancient Egypt, with some scholars suggesting it might have been a
result of inbreeding.
Some researchers have argued that
Egyptian benevolence toward dwarfs was not a result of overlooking the
fact they were different, but of an education that included principles
of tolerance. An Egyptian manual of advice for life of around 1100 B.C.,
known as the Instruction of Amenemope, enjoins: “Do not jeer at a blind man nor tease a dwarf.”
The Egyptians left an immense legacy of information on their culture and daily life,
making it easier for scholars to study the role of dwarfs. The
information comes from inscriptions and depictions on tomb and temple walls, documents on papyrus, and funerary objects.
The hot, dry climate and elaborate burial systems also have left intact many human remains, including complete and partial skeletons.
As a result, Kozma said, Egypt is a major source of information on how ancients perceived achondroplasia, the bone disorder underlying the most common type of dwarfism.
The earliest biological evidence of dwarfs in ancient Egypt dates to an early time called the
period, of about 4500 B.C., Kozma said. There are also several skeletons from the so-called Old Kingdom period of 2700 to 2190 BC.
Depictions of dwarfs in tomb and vase paintings, statues and other art forms abound, she added. These show dwarfs working as personal attendants, overseers of linen, animal tenders, jewelers, dancers and entertainers.
Several dwarfs were members of households of high officials and were esteemed enough to receive lavish burials in the royal cemetery close to the pyramids, she added.
There were also several dwarf gods in ancient Egypt; the best known were involved in magical practices to protect the living and the dead. Repetition of certain pictures shows that they were well integrated into various aspects of society, specializing in certain occupations, added Kozma. Ordinary dwarfs are depicted in at least 50 tombs.
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