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This Egyptian Paddle Doll May Look Like a Simple Toy, But It Is So Much More

Lacking the austere grandeur usually associated with the art of ancient Egypt, the truncated body and staring eyes of this simple female form may seem enigmatic.

Within its deceptively simple arrangement of form and color, however, is distilled the rich, complex fusion of cultures that determined one of the crucial turning points in the history of this fascinating civilization. Not for the first time, the identity of Egypt and its people was crucially enriched by the expressive traditions of the great black kingdom of Nubia to the south.

Cut from a thin, flat piece of wood, the figure is reduced to a rather elegant elongated form. This particular shape and the toylike aspect of the object have lent such objects the imprecise term of “paddle dolls.” The legs and hands are purposely eliminated. Around the neck a band of cloth has been wound, painted black with two white beads attached for eyes.

One of the most distinctive features of this figure, and hundreds more of the same type, is the elaborate hairdo. It is made of dried mud beads threaded onto fiber strands and recalls the braided style of some sub-Saharan peoples.

The figure wears a long, formfitting dress suspended by straps from the shoulders. It is decorated with simple geometric patterns arranged in sequential patterns of red, black and brown. Below the dress, the prominent pubic region is exposed, a feature of great importance for the significance of the figure.

 

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