DUE TO THE EFFECTS OF TIME, THE NATURE OF THE BUILDING MATERIALS, AND THE LOCATION of Old Kingdom houses close to the Nile River, few traces of these houses remain. Above is the floor plan of a house from Giza. The family quarters (orange) and servant quarters (green) are clearly separate. A porter, whose lobby was located at one side of the front door, would escort guests of the owner through an open court (a) to a living room (b). Here the owner, seated on a chair set in a niche at the end of the long room, would receive visitors. Off this central room, another door led to two private chambers (c, d). The first was certainly a bedroom, since it had an alcove for a bed in a side wall. Servants and persons with business entered through a rear door. Here they were received in a porter's lodge (e) and escorted through a number of small rooms (f, g) to a second, smaller court (h) dedicated to domestic purposes. At least one of the small rooms on this side of the house (i) probably functioned as a storeroom. On one side of the smaller'court was a passageway leading into the kitchen area (j), where servants prepared meals in ovens. In an annex (k), grain was kept in small, dome-shaped granariesand water was stored in large jars.
Most Egyptians in the Old Kingdom were farmers and lived in modest homes of only one or two rooms. Made from wickerwork and mud or from sun-dried mud brick, these homes had a courtyard for animals. More substantial houses belonging to priests who served the mortuary cult of Queen Khentkawes I were found at Giza (see page 29). These houses were also built of sun-dried mud brick. Their thick walls helped keep them cool in summer and warm in winter. Inside and out, these walls were coated with dark yellow plaster. Although the surviving walls are now only a few courses high, walls of later periods suggest that the windows were most likely small and placed high-up in the walls. This arrangement kept out the glaring Egyptian sunshine and let in cooling breezes.
Although these houses were part of a planned community and are all similar, they may perhaps be taken as representative of houses that belonged to average Egyptians of the official class.
As Selim Hassan, the Egyptian archaeologist who excavated the Giza houses, remarked: The architect who designed the houses was evidently an expert in domestic architecture, as he placed the kitchen to the southeast of the living and sleeping rooms. Since the prevailing wind in Egypt is from the north, this placement prevented the smoke and smells of cooking from spreading throughout the house. The English archaeologist J.E. Quibell noted in another connection that the position of the bedroom in the southwest corner would also ensure a good current of air most nights, and the owner would not be awakened by the first dawn.
No elite houses of Old Kingdom date have yet been excavated in the Nile Valley. Nevertheless, representations of workshop scenes on tomb walls show carpenters working on an elaborate type of locking mechanism for a formal door and on a wooden lotus column. These images indicate that a middle- or upper-class home of the time probably resembled house models found in a tomb dating to some 500 years later.
The side of the house facing the street had no decoration, only a great, double-paneled central door with an elaborate openwork fanlight above. Probably used only on formal occasions, the central door would have been flanked by a single-paneled entrance for daily use. There may also have been a tall, latticed window.
At the back of the house was a court fronted by a porch. With its brightly painted, wooden columns that were crowned with an open lotus flower design or with papyrus or lotus buds, the porch provided a refuge from the noonday sun. In the center of the court, a pool shaded by trees, cooled the surrounding air by a few degrees.
In the houses of the wealthy, rooms would undoubtedly have been larger and more numerous. In addition, the rear of the house was probably given over to domestic quarters for live-in servants and to workshops. By custom, the servants in these houses provided many of the necessities used by the inhabitants.
Edward Brovarski first became interested in Egyptology at 11 years of age. He received his training and a Ph.D. in Egyptology from the University of Chicago. In 1974, he joined the staff of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, becoming in 1986 Curator of Egyptian and Ancient Near Eastern Art and then Research Curator in Egyptian Art in 1988. At present, as Adjunct Research Scholar, he devotes his time to the publication of the excavations of the joint Harvard University-Boston Museum of Fine Arts Egyptian Expedition at Giza and at a number of other sites.
Brovarski has participated in several field expeditions, among them the Joint Iranian Expedition of the Oriental Institute and the University of California at Los Angeles in Iran. In 1987, he became co-director of the Yale University-Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Giza Mastabas Project, and has since spent several seasons at Giza copying reliefs and inscriptions in the mastaba tombs surrounding the Great Pyramid of Khufu. Since 1997 he has been Adjunct Professor of Egyptian Archaeology at Brown University and, since 2000, co-director of the Cairo-Brown Expedition with Professor Tohfa Handoussa. Brovarski is currently at work on a book about daily life in the Age of the Pyramids.