Traces of Ancient Egypt: Thoughts from an Egyptologist Turned Kids' Writer

Instead of posting this week on a new strategy or resource for teaching in the Social Studies classroom, I have invited Malayna Evans to write a guest post about teaching Ancient Egypt to middle school students. 
Malayna Evans is releasing her book, Jagger Jones and the Mummy's Ankh, in May and she is guest blogging on A Lesson Plan for Teachers on #teaching about Ancient Egypt in the #middleschool classroom. I know students will love her #3.

Malayna Evans was raised in the mountains of Utah and spent her childhood climbing, skiing, reading Sci-Fi, and finding trouble. Many years later, she earned her Ph.D. in ancient Egyptian history from the University of Chicago. She's used her education to craft a time-travel series set in ancient Egypt. Book one, Jagger Jones and the Mummy's Ankh, is out in May of 2019. She enjoys visiting classrooms to share her passion for ancient Egypt, travel, and coffee. Malayna lives in Oak Park, Il, with her two kids, a rescue dog, and a hamster.

Here are her thoughts!

With the upcoming release of my middle grade debut novel, Jagger Jones and the Mummy’s Ankh, I’ve been busy talking to kids about ancient Egypt. I start like this. “Imagine you lived over 3,000 years ago in ancient Egyptian. How would your life be different?”

Kids point out that they wouldn’t have an iPhone or Nikes or slime. Girls wonder if they’d have gone to school. (No, nor would most boys.) Some wonder if they’d have worshiped different gods, or ended up as mummies, or if they’d fit in or stand out.

Kids are full of smart guesses and clever questions. What surprises many are the modern objects and practices we inherited from ancient Egypt. I’ve found that talking about how this fantastical culture is still with us is a great way to engage kids.

You want to try it? Great. Here are just three things to highlight.

1. They gave us our system of writing

The ancient Egyptian were the first to marry written signs to phonetic values, starting around 3,000 BC. With thousands of signs, the language cycled through five stages and had a longer life span than any other language. It was lost until 1799, when scholars used the Rosetta Stone to crack the code--it had the same decree written in three texts: hieroglyphs, demotic, and Greek.

It’s not only the alphabet we can trace back to ancient Egypt, but also writing instruments. Egyptians took the leap from carving words into stone and clay tablets to writing on papyrus with reed pens early in Egyptian history. This spread to the Mediterranean and West Asia during the first millennium BC, when papyrus became a valued export. Eventually, Europe started using parchment and China invented paper around 100 BC, using a technique that we still use today.
2. They established the systems we use to mark time

Kids are more surprised to learn that the Egyptians invented our calendar.

Okay, it was a little different. It was split into three seasons and twelve months, each made up of three ten-day-long weeks. If you do the math, you’ll see that only equates to 360 days, which meant the calendar slowly shifted out of synch with the irrigation cycle. So they tacked five extra days onto it--birthdays of the gods. In 30 BC, the Romans tweaked this calendar, adding an extra day every fourth year, to give us the calendar we use today.

Ancient Egyptians were also the first to measure time using both water clocks and sun/shadow clocks.

3. They were very fashion forward

Kids get a kick out of learning that Egyptians were serious fashionistas. They invented loads of items designed to beautify that are still with us today.

Wigs, for example, were commonly worn by men and women, as was make-up. They made lipstick and blush from clay, eyeliner and eye shadow from fat, and their nail polish and hair color was a form of henna. They used toothpaste, toothbrushes, and breath mints. And yes, their toothpaste really did include mint. Their breath wasn’t the only thing that smelled good: they made perfume from aromatic woods, incense and animal fats, sometimes using it in wax form so it would melt throughout the day, leaving the wearer smelling fresh and yummy. Oh, and their clothes and jewelry were to die for. They even had high heels!

I hope these starter ideas are helpful. One of the most rewarding things about using my Ph.D. in ancient Egyptian history to write a middle grade book was invisibly weaving aspects of the history kids probably don’t already know about into the adventure. Well, that and the mummies!

Find out more about Malayna through the links below.

Malayna Evans is releasing her book, Jagger Jones and the Mummy's Ankh, in May and she is guest blogging on A Lesson Plan for Teachers on #teaching about Ancient Egypt in the #middleschool classroom. I know students will love her #3. And if you'd like classroom-ready resources to supplement those from Malayna, take a look at my Complete Ancient Egypt Unit with interactive resources to keep students engaged and excited about learning history.

Happy Teaching!
Michele Luck

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