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Ancient Egypt


Two class periods



Ancient History

Josie Levine, middle school ESL teacher, New York City.


Students will understand the following:

1. People of today know a lot about ancient Egyptian funeral rites and customs.

2. Ancient Egyptian funeral rites and customs are both different from and similar to funeral rites and customs of other cultures.


For this lesson, you will need:

Computer with Internet access
Books and articles about funeral rites and customs of ancient and contemporary cultures

1. Invite students to share what they already know about the funeral rites of ancient Egypt.

2. Have students conduct research to find out more about ancient Egyptian funeral rites.

3. Hold a class discussion so that students can hear about one another's findings and can add findings to what they already know.

4. Next, encourage a class discussion about contemporary funeral rites and customs in places where your students have lived. The goal is to make students aware that such observances are parts of all cultures even though the observances are marked by religious, ethnic, and national differences. Ask students to relate funeral rites and customs they have experienced or heard about. Then ask them to explain why they think a given rite or custom exists:
- What is the meaning or symbolism that underlies it?

- How is this particular rite or custom supposed to help the deceased?

- How is it supposed to help the survivors?
If students have difficulty with these questions, give them time to consult and learn from family members.

5. Have each student write a paragraph comparing and contrasting ancient Egyptian funeral rites with those of contemporary groups.


Adaptations for Older Students:

Form small groups that will research, discuss, and write about how ancient Egyptian funeral rites and customs are similar to and different from funeral rites and customs of other ancient civilizations, including ancient Greece, ancient China, ancient Peru (Mayan), and early Native America. Alternatively, ask the small groups to research, discuss, and write about how ancient Egyptian funeral rites and customs are similar to and different from those of a specific contemporary culture such as Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist.

If students need direction in their research, suggest that they try to fine answers to the following questions:

- What colors are associated with funerals in the culture you are studying? Why?

- What practice, if any, do mourners in that culture follow regarding their hair? Why?

- What role, if any, does noise (such as bells or music) play in the funeral? Why?

- How is the body prepared and left? Why?

- What time line does the culture dictate for the funeral and mourning? Why?

1. Upon arriving in Thebes, one of Tutankhamen's first acts as king was to complete work on a temple started by his grandfather. Discuss the motivating factors that cause one generation to feel compelled to finish the work of another. Describe other situations in which projects were discontinued and then completed by subsequent generations.
2. Discuss what it may have been like for the young Tutankhamen to be uprooted from the only home he had ever known and moved to the original capital of Thebes.
3. Debate whether it was fair for the ancient Egyptians to have punished Tutankhamen for his father's deeds. Describe cases in which a current leader is blamed for the deeds of one who was previously in charge.
4. Compare the reasons why little is recorded about Tutankhamen with the reasons why little is recorded about Ay.
5. Discuss whether Ay's fate may have been a consequence of his efforts to become pharaoh.
6. Compare the burial rituals of ancient Egypt with those of Egyptians today.

You can evaluate students' individual paragraphs using this three-point rubric:
- Three points:gives facts about both similarities and differences; shows unity by sticking to the topic; displays coherence by moving logically from sentence to sentence and using transitional expressions

- Two points:gives facts about both similarities and differences; goes slightly off topic; needs better coherence

- One point:does not give facts about both similarities and differences; goes off topic; needs better coherence

You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining the number of facts the paragraph should contain.

Who Done It?

Challenge students to write a murder mystery based on the events leading up to and following the death of Tutankhamen. The play should include the following characters: Ay, Tutankhamen, Ankhesenamen, the Hittite king, and the Hittite prince. Students may write music and lyrics to make the play a musical. Give students opportunities to rehearse the play and then to perform it for another class.

Research: Scientists Working with Historians

In 1922, Howard Carter, an archaeologist, unearthed Tutankhamen's tomb. Later, in the 1960s, scientists reopened the tomb to take x-rays of the skull. Interpreting x-rays that seemed to reveal evidence of a blow to the back of the king's head, some Egyptologists came to believe that Tut had been murdered in his sleep. Today, computerized tomography (CT) can be used as an imaging resource to reveal more about mummies than x-rays alone can. Have students view and compare x-ray and CT images of mummies at the following Web sites:    

The Murder of Tutankhamen: A True Story

Bob Brier. Putnam Pub Group, 1998.

This fast-paced book, written by Egyptologist Bob Brier, examines the possibility that King Tutankhamen was caught in a fatal conspiracy. Brier uses photographs and x-rays of the king's skull to determine if and how he was murdered.
Howard Carter: Searching for King Tut

Barbara Ford. W.H. Freeman, 1995.

This biography of the archaeologist who discovered King Tut's tomb in 1922 covers the treasures found as well as some of the underlying politics of the hunt itself. Appropriate for young adult readers (through junior high).

Anthony's Egyptology and Archaeology

Anthony has certainly done a good job of bringing together a wealth of information on Egypt. He has lots of things to download also—from Egyptian fonts to cool sounds. Then go to a clickable glossary to learn about Egyptian terms and religion.

Egypt Search

From religion to science, this site makes it possible for you to find anything that you need related to Egypt—past and present. If you can't find what you're looking for here, then it probably doesn't exist!

Egypt and Ancient Near East—Web Resources for Young People and Teachers

Whatever your age, you can find some useful information on this site. This list of museums has resources and cyber tours of Egypt as well as some interesting ideas for teachers.

British Museum

Want to know what's going on with the mummies? How about some never before exhibited artifacts of ancient Egypt? Head to the British Museum and get a sneak peek of the upcoming exhibit.



One who inherits or is entitled to succeed to a hereditary rank, title, or office.


Young Tutankhamen, the only male heir, thus became pharaoh.


A religious ceremony.


When Tutankhamen took the throne, Thebes, with its two great temples, was once again the religious center of the country. Thousands of priests, neglected for the 17 years of the Amarna experiment, could finally return to their rituals and worship the gods of ancient Egypt.


One who dissents from an accepted belief or doctrine.


Now they were orphans, forced to move to Thebes, leaving behind their home, their religion, and even the loving memories of their father—now branded a heretic.


A case, box, or receptacle in which sacred relics are kept.


One of the most touching pieces found in the tomb was a small golden shrine that once housed a statue of Tutankhamen.


Marked by violent or overwhelming turbulence or upheaval.


During the days immediately following Tutankhamen's death, a series of events transpired that makes it probable that several murders occurred during this tumultuous period.

Grade Level:


Subject Area:

world history


Understands the major characteristics of civilization and the development of civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Indus valley.


Understands environmental and cultural factors that shaped the development of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Indus valley (e.g., development of religious and ethical belief systems and how they legitimized political and social order; demands of the natural environment; how written records such as the Epic of Gilgamesh reflected and shaped the political, religious, and cultural life of Mesopotamia).

Grade Level:


Subject Area:

historical understanding


Understands the historical perspective.


Understands that specific individuals and the values those individuals held had an impact on history.

Knows different types of primary and secondary sources and the motives, interests, and bias expressed in them (e.g., eyewitness accounts, letters, diaries, artifacts, photos; magazine articles, newspaper accounts, hearsay).
Grade Level:


Subject Area:

historical understanding


Understands the historical perspective.


Analyzes the values held by specific people who influenced history and the role their values played in influencing history.


Copyright 2001 Discovery.com.

Teachers may reproduce copies of these materials for classroom use only.

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