chapter  11
16 Pages

ALL IN THE FAMILY? HEIRLOOMS IN ANCIENT EGYPT

The subject of heirlooms seems not to have been very frequently or specifically addressed in the Egyptological literature. The English word 'heirloom', which is perhaps more precise and descriptive than French meuble de famille or German Erbstuk, contains the element 'loom', a tool; the original sense was probably a craft item such as a chisel or knife, passed on, no doubt with the specialist skills and knowledge that its possession implied, to successive generations. This chapter adopts a rather different approach from the recent discussion of the archaeological and ethnographic contexts and social significance of heirlooms by K. T. Lillios, which links heirlooms with the emergence of societies displaying inherited social differentiation and treats them as markers of hereditary rank or ancestry. Heirlooms in Egypt might presumably have been held and transferred over time both by formal conveyance or contract, for which there was evidently a constant provision, and by informal gift or donation.