Egypt, First Intermediate Period, Ninth - Eleventh Dynasties (2125-1975 B.C.)

    During this time Egypt was beset with disastorous climate change bringing famine. In about 2350 B.C. archaeologists can trace the end of the "Neolithic Wet Phase." The end of the rains also caused dust storms and high winds. Egypt was also divided by civil strife. The inter-nome rivalry was exacerbated by invasions by Libyans and other Asiatics. Reliefs from this time show emaciated figures.

    The poor economy diminished the amount spent by royalty and nobility on their tombs. We start to see painted scenes on plastered walls instead of carved reliefs. Texts were painted directly on the coffin of the deceased rather than being carved on tomb walls. We see more figures of servants in the tomb scenes. Monumental statues were made of wood rather than granite. But at Mentuhotep's tomb at Deir el-Bahri, the reliefs were carved in limestone with precise details and elegant proportions.

    The political effect of the famine was devastating. The public no longer had patience with the pharaohs, who each only lasted a year. At times, no king is named. After a about a hundred years of chaos, Mentuhotep II of Thebes (2055 - 2004 B.C.) restored the dignity of the position of pharaoh, but never to the level it had in the Old Kingdom.

    Sandstone statue of King Mentuhotep II, Deir el-Bahri, ca. 2030 B.C., 72 cm., Egyptian Museum, Cairo, Egypt

    Relief, limestone, man with papyrus, ca. 2010, Deir el-Bahri; Musée d'Art et d'Histoire, Geneve.

    Model showing bread baking, from the tomb of King Mentuhotep II (2055-2004 B.C.); it was put in his tomb to insure that he would have bread in the afterlife; 47 x 78 cm.

    During this period, it seems that local craftsmen were trained in Memphis. There is art from this period that lacks the high level of royal techniques but is often more vibrant and clever. Local life, even donkeys not typically seen in Memphis reliefs, make an appearance.

    Wood statue of servant, polychrome, ca. 1991; there were attachments for the fists, which are now lost, 15.2 cm.