Whilst looking around the museum in Bristol, I saw these ancient carving tools on display and thought it might be nice to share them with you.
The tools were bought by the museum in 1919 from a Captain E.A. Mackay. The metal is a copper alloy, which makes the carving achievements of those ancient craftsmen seem all the more amazing as the copper alloy is softer than the steel used in modern tools. Other elements used in ancient copper alloys included antimony and arsenic. Arsenic often occurs naturally in copper ore, so may have been the original alloying material with copper to make bronze. Eventually it was superseded by the use of tin, as tin was easier to add in specific amounts and was non-toxic . It wasn't until the time of the last pharaohs, long after these objects were used, that Egyptians began to use iron for this purpose.
The chisel with a wooden handle seems very similar in size and shape to a modern palm chisel and was probably used for detailed work without a mallet. It is thought to date to between 3,300 and 3,600 years ago, what was the eighteenth dynasty of the New Kingdom. The awl in front of it (a spike used for making small holes) is thought to date to the same period.
The larger chisel in the holder to the right would have been used with a mallet. It is believed to be older, from the twelfth dynasty of the Middle Kingdom about 3,800 to 4,000 years ago.
Ancient Egyptian images of woodworkers show them using many tools that woodworkers into the medieval ages of Europe were still using variations of. Axes and saws were used to roughly shape the wood into planks and blocks, adzes shaped it further, awls and bow drills were used to make holes and chisels and mallets were used for fine work. Much of the timber used was probably imported from what is now eastern Africa and the Lebanon, as Egypt did not have large forests at that time.
Nearby, there are examples of stone carving tools. The mallets certainly look familiar; I have a couple very like them in my own studio! The caption on the display speculates that the worn one may have been buried with a carver in the belief that, although it was worn out in this world, it would be perfect again in the next. They are thought to date to the third dynasty of the Old Kingdom, between 4,620 and 4,700 years ago according to the museum caption.