Sunday, February 17, 2008

Mastabas and Other Strange Facts


You might be tempted to say gesundheit, but please refrain. There is no need to pull out a tissue or a hanky. There are no runny noses here. I didn’t just sneeze, but I did make a fascinating discovery.

I didn’t know what a mastaba was until I started researching for my upcoming book, Amethyst Moon. The main character, Olivia Fifield, is an archeologist on a dig in the deserts of Egypt, who ends up time-traveling to another planet. But that is neither here nor there. In my poking around on the Internet, I discovered mastabas, which are, in fact, ancient Egyptian burial tombs that predate the pyramids.

The definition of mastaba is: an Egyptian tomb with a rectangular base, sloping sides and a flat roof. Built of mud brick, or, later, stone, it has a deep shaft, which descends to underground burial and offering chambers. It comes from the Arabic word for “bench”.

They started simply enough, but later versions were more elaborate, often having false doors and hidden chambers. They often contained a statue of the deceased and had several rooms. Filled with food and equipment they grew more elaborate over time. The mighty pyramids evolved from the mastaba.

Most people know that the pyramids were the burial place of the kings of Egypt, but what many didn’t realize was that some mastabas held the mummies and possession of kings as well, although as a rule it was usually high-ranking advisors and members of the royal court.

While the walls of the pyramids were generally bare, mastabas were filled with images depicting scenes from everyday life—an actual social history of the people. In many ways, they were more important then the pyramids, offering an actual glimpse into the lives of everyday people.

Like most authors, I find myself researching all manner of strange facts. Like, what exactly does a 911 operator do? Or what other structures would an archeologist be fascinated with in Egypt besides the pyramids?

I found myself at an on-line class this weekend where the participants asked such questions as: If my heroine is given poison, what would her symptoms be? What would the EMTs give her when they arrived? And, If the hero is shot in the shoulder, would it have to hit bone? Would it cause problems with the dexterity of his hand.

It's amazing what kinds of questions arise when you're in the middle of writing a book. I always end up with a list of questions that I have to research when I complete my first draft. It certainly keeps my job interesting. *g*

Which leads me back to Mastabas.

My latest Ellora's Cave novella, Amethyst Moon, is due out this Wednesday on February 20th. If you want to know what happens to Olivia when she enters the mastaba, you'll have to read it. *g*

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Kathy said...

The early mastabas could also host the burial of any well to do family in the early days. If the family had enough money to purchase a mastaba, they could then be buried with their wealth and other family members. The amount of people buried in a mastaba would depend on the size. I love the study of ancient cultures.:-)

N.J.Walters said...

It's fascinating, Kathy. I used one because they're not as well known as the pyramids and they were used by more "regular" folks. Lots of possibilities.

Deb said...

This is fascinating. The things you learn.
NJ, I can not wait to read this.

N.J.Walters said...

It's amazing what you learn sometimes when you're researching a book, Deb. I can't wait for this book to be released!

Anny Cook said...

Two more days!

N.J.Walters said...

YAY! I can't wait, Anny!

Mechele Armstrong said...

How interesting. I'd never heard of these. It is fascinating the things you learn.

N.J.Walters said...

It is Mechele.