Meaning of yellow in ancient Egypt

khenet; yellow nebw; gold

In ancient Egypt yellow (khenet, kenit) represented that which was eternal and indestructible, and was closely associated with gold (nebu or nebw) and the sun.

Gold was thought to be the substance which formed the skin of the gods and numerous statues of the gods were either made of gold or covered with gold leaf and the skin of the god was often painted gold in two dimensional images. The pharaoh's sarcophagus was made of gold as he was thought to become a god on his death and he was adorned with a variety of gold amulets and jewellery during mummification and the deceased often wore a golden mask. A golden "Shen" amulet was placed over the breast of the mummy to give the deceased the protection of Ra and ensure that he or she would live as long as the sun shone.

gold mask pf Psusennes I, Dynasty 21 copyright 2005 Daniel Speck FreeStockPhotos.com

In the undisturbed burial of Tutankhamun archaeologists discovered a beautifull solid gold and Lapis Lazuli funeral mask as well as a 300 pound solid gold coffin and an assortment of beautifull gold or gold plated funeral goods. The Twenty-first Dynasty pharaoh Psusennes I (Third Intermediate Period) was buried with a solid silver coffin and a beautiful solid gold mask. Gold was often paired with blue in Egyptian royal jewellery. The iconic Pharonic "Nemes" head scarf was composed of blue (often lapiz lazuli) and gold stripes and numerous pieces of gold and lapis jewellery have been recovered from royal burials.

gold and Lapis mask pf Tutankhamun, Dynasty 18 copyright Michael Reeve

Egyptian women were generally depicted with yellow skin, as were Asiatics and Libyans. During the Old Kingdom powerful officials were often depicted with yellow skin indicating that they (like women) spent more time indoors away from the suns rays. Depictions of groups of people often alternate yellow and brown skin to differentiate the members of the group, and younger people are more often depcited with lighter coloured skin.

The ancient Egyptians also made yellow pigments such as yellow ochre (an ore of iron) and massicot (an oxide of lead). By the New Kingdom they also used orpiment, a sulphide of arsenic. Yellow was sometimes interchangeable with white, which represented purity.

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