Life, Death and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt

Activities for Exploring Ancient Egypt

1 Key Words – More flashcards for reading, practice and matching games

2 Play a Memory Game with the cards above

3 Video with Questions

This is a video about an ancient Egyptian’s journey through the underworld. To watch it on your FULL SCREEN, tap here.

4 Online Crossword

5 A video about how the ancient Egyptians made their mummies:

6 Mummy Maker Game at the BBC Website

7 Questions and answers about the Nile

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Getting to Know the Vikings

Viking_shipThe Vikings, like the Romans, were a fascinating, even paradoxical group. They were clever, brave and inventive people who travelled widely and influenced many societies, contributing some pronouns and many blunt descriptive words to the English language and making their presence felt in many lands, often through violence, looting and bloodshed. Learning about them is interesting for a number of reasons:

•Initially they were not Christians, so it is intriguing to consider how their society differed from others in early Middle Ages Europe, especially in their treatment of women.

•Their society was less rigid and hierarchical than many ancient societies before them and many medieval societies after them. Teasing out the reasons why seems worthwhile.

•Although many were farmers, they are not easy to categorise or pigeon-hole. Their warrior ethos and travelling adventures were also crucial to their identity. Their stories are full of wild violence, passion and bloodshed.

1 Choose one of the links below to take your reading beyond your text. Read through it, writing down no more than five main points.

2 Work through the flashcards and then play the matching game by clicking on below the cards. 

Social Classes

An Essay on Viking Society and Influence

The Role of Women in Viking Society

History on the Net: Nobles, Freemen and Slaves


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Year 7 Research: Ancient Bodies

Dear 7A,

You need to work like a detective to be an effective historian. Sometimes you have to sift through all the evidence – literally! In this task, you have to imagine that you are at an ancient crime scene. The body has been found and your task is to figure out what happened. It’s a “cold case”, because the person died long ago.

Enjoy your criminal investigation!

Kind regards from Ms Green

Handy Links for Your Research

Ötzi the Iceman

Narrabeen Man

Lady Dai

Windeby Girl

Kennewick Man

Mungo Lady and Mungo Man

Spitalfields Woman

Tollund Man

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Medieval Thinking and the Black Death

A Quotation from the Past

“Oh happy posterity, who will not experience such abysmal woe and who will look upon our testimony as a fable.” – Petrarch

Summary of Useful Links on this Topic:

Introductory Note

Dear S2Z,

As you can imagine, the Black Death would take a heavy toll on any society that lacked modern medicines, hygienic living conditions and well-stocked hospitals. For instance, only 22 years ago, there was an outbreak of pneumonic plague in India, which led to widespread panic, attempts by the government to stop mass evacuations from slum areas and ultimately hundreds of deaths. Journalists entering the area sensibly took their own antibiotics with them. You can read a New York Times report about this outbreak here

Below is an overview of this historical event in the form of a fill-the-gap quiz on various aspects of it. Your task is to select the word that is appropriate for each blank. 

I hope you find this topic as heart-rending, gruesome and captivating as I have always found it.

Kind regards from Ms Green

Picture from the Past: Bubonic Plague in Sydney, 1900

Professional rat catchers, Sydney 1900 © State of New South Wales through the State Records Authority of NSW'

Copyright:State of NSW. Kindly provided by the State Records Authority of NSW. That pile in the middle is dead rats. 

A bounty was placed on rats – sixpence per rat according to one Melbourne report. Poor and unemployed men became professional rat catchers. 


Click here to complete the quiz below on a full screen


Use these 13 words in a paragraph about the Black Death and the medieval mentality:
exacerbated, atrocities, leprosy, Torah, pogrom, indigenous, miasma, mortality, smallpox, pervasive, vulnerable, rigorous, superstition

Assignment Link

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The Western Roman Empire Falls

Dear S2Z,

As you know, teasing out the interwoven causes, variables and factors that contributed to an important historical event is a tricky business. There is rarely a single cause that leads inexorably to a single effect.

The fall of the western part of the ancient Roman Empire is a case in point. Many factors contributed to the Roman Empire’s gradual decline and final collapse; indeed, the event was so complex that Edward Gibbon, the famous historian, wrote six long volumes on the topic.  Rome’s collapse, furthermore, was to have a profound impact on the development of medieval Europe.

Use the links below to create a set of notes possible causes and effects. Try to dip into at least three different sources.

Kind regards,

Ms Green

fall of rome

Questions to ask yourselves as you read:

a Gibbon thought we should ask why the Roman Empire lasted as long as it did, rather than why it fell. This is a whole new way of considering the issue. What do you think?

b What were the possible benefits of Rome’s fall?

c Is it accurate to assert that its fall ushered in the so-called “Dark Ages”?


“The decline of Rome was the natural and inevitable effect of immoderate greatness…” – Edward Gibbon, writer of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Links on the Fall of Rome

Words for describing cause and effect in history:

Cause and effect in History

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A Voyage to the Middle Ages

Dear 8Z,
It is a pleasure to see your familiar faces and to welcome you back to school. If you are anything like my daughter, or indeed like me, you will be considering the school year with a certain rueful regret that those long summer holidays have passed so swiftly. Perhaps you will be looking ahead with some apprehension. In my daughter’s case, since she is in Year 12, her apprehensions are utterly understandable. In your case, however, you can relax and enjoy the journey into the past that this semester in History offers.

We begin with the fall of the Roman Empire and plunge immediately into the question of when it fell. The standard conception is that Western Rome fell in AD476, after a long period of decline. The view presented by John Green in the video below is an alternative vision of the past, in which he argues that you have to take into account the Eastern Empire, which flourished and prevailed for almost another 1000 years, only falling in 1453.

It seems only right that we should begin our studies of History this semester with a question about when the Fall of Rome actually happened, rather than with a straightforward date or fact. After all, History is always open to reinterpretation. That’s what makes it intriguing – like a crime novel or any mystery.

Kindest regards from Ms Green

Quick Quiz based on John Green’s Analysis (see video below)

Kahoot: Preview Version | Class Version

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Night of Notables, 2017

A message from an admirer

Dear 7X,
From 2003 until 2014, I was one of the Night of Notables teachers every year. I helped to organise it and regulate the chaos of setting up, the lining up, the speech giving and the whole experience. Then I taught Year 8 History for two years and became a mere visitor to the event. Yesterday, I was dreading the setting up double. “It’s always chaotic,” I told a less experienced colleague. “Brace yourself.”

Actually, with you as my class, it was not chaotic at all. You were all so focused and organised. You seemed completely unfazed by small matters like having to fit all your display materials on exam tables, not having a table at all initially, and then later, being squashed into a room with hundreds of admirers. You just sailed right on and did your stuff. By twenty minutes from the start of the double, you had the situation well in hand. I was almost a bystander. 

Of course, I expected no less of you. All the same, it is an unalloyed pleasure to be the teacher of such a self-reliant, resilient crew of young dreamers, thinkers and entrepreneurs.

Kind regards,
Ms Green

Please write a comment about the Night of Notables, in which you respond to any or all of the following questions:

  • What did you most enjoy about the project and the night?
  • What did you learn from it?
  • What did you discover about yourself and your friends?
  • Were there any particularly amusing moments, bizarre questions or unexpected crises?
  • Which skills did you develop or hone as you went about your work?
  • Were there any obstacles that you had to overcome and how did you go about it?
  • What could we as your teachers do in order to make the project better or easier to manage?
The many delightful details of the Night of Notables…
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The Dangerous and Clever Romans


Handout: Word Document | PDF Version

Dear 7X,

It is lovely to be back in your company and to observe your insight, industry and courtesy at close hand. Whatever possessed me to leave you for five whole weeks?

Today we continue our exploration of the wily, brutal and inventive ancient Romans. I suppose we could use those adjectives for the whole human race to some degree, but the history of Rome, more than most, sometimes strikes me as a kind of violent soap opera with several crime stories as subplots. The story is captivating and horrifying at the same time. Perhaps you can identify some modern equivalents? 

We begin our study, after that outlandish and sensational introduction based on the Ben Hur chariot race, with a more serious exploration of the vocabulary you will need in order to speak knowledgeably and accurately about ancient Rome. After briefly encountering these words, with the help of this handout, you will be ready to hear the fascinating summary by the witty and fast-talking John Green, embedded for your edification below. This will permit you to discourse knowledgeably on even more topics at your parents’ dinner table.

Kind regards from Ms Green (no relation)

PS You can open and read the transcript if you watch this video on YouTube. This is not a bad idea, should some of the presenter’s words fly past too quickly even for your quick ears and agile minds.

Embedded Handout:

Visit to our class by our librarian, Mrs McQueen:

A relatively reliable source for biographical research

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More on Ancient Egypt…

Dear 7X,
You are a delightful class. Although I am leaving you for five weeks, I look forward to seeing you next term and discovering all your ideas for the Night of Notables upon my return.

Have a wonderful time with Ms Giesbrecht and please treat her like a Pharaoh in my absence! (Well, at least like a very important person.)

Kind regards, Ms Green


1 Ancient Egypt – Essential Vocabulary

Below there is also a little Quizlet on ancient Egypt, which will help you to learn many of the words connected with this topic. As an added incentive, you can play the Gravity game, but only after cycling through the digital flashcards at least once.

2 The ancient Egyptians – General Introduction

Photo kindly provided by Mrs McQueen

The ancient Egyptians built the Great Pyramid of Giza without the wheel. In addition, they developed their own system of writing, probably influenced by the Sumerians. The ancient Egyptians often get the credit for domesticating cats, but some believe that this occurred much earlier in Cyprus. It is undeniable, however, that Egyptians loved cats. They also embalmed bodies with great skill and lived successfully in a land that, except for a thin fertile strip near its river, was basically desert.

It was an improbable place for the development of such a major and successful civilization, made possible only by the existence of that river, the Nile, and by the talents of the people. Every year the Nile delivered its fertile silt to the inhabitants of the Nile Valley, its floodwaters sweeping down from the Ethiopian mountains in the south to the plains of the north. Every year the Egyptian peasant farmers used that silt and water to crop their land and grow the food that supported the whole population.

Some of my students think life would have been much easier once farming began. They point out that people would no longer have encountered as much danger from hunting and would have felt more confidence about having food when they needed it.

While these are fair points, farming in ancient Egypt was labour-intensive, to say the least. A peasant farmer was also at the bottom of the social hierarchy. This was no easy life. Hunter-gatherers six or seven thousand years before in a fertile area might well have had more leisure time and fewer people telling them what to do – and no one to tax them as well.

3 Some Introductory Websites and Videos

Find out more about ancient Egypt at these links. This is just a preliminary wander along the Nile River:

Mummy Maker Game at the BBC Website

The importance of the Nile – BBC Website

Questions and answers about the Nile – an easier website

A day in the life of various ancient Egyptians – PBS Website

A fascinating account of archaeological evidence on who actually built the Pyramids – PBS website

A video about an ancient Egyptian’s journey through the underworld:

A video about how the ancient Egyptians made their mummies:

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Writing – for Better or Worse

Writing in Ancient Egypt
The ancient Egyptians used writing to administer their complex hierarchical society, to give orders, to tot up taxes, to write the spells that would protect the dead in the afterlife and to describe their lives. Their tombs were covered with the beautiful, pictorial symbols we call hieroglyphics.

Who would have thought that learning langauges no one could speak would one day open up the study of a fascinating ancient civilisation?
Who would have thought that learning languages no one could speak would one day open up the study of a fascinating ancient civilisation?

The knowledge of how to read ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, however,  was lost for more than 1500 years, until Jean-François Champollion figured out how to decipher these beautiful and mysterious symbols. As a boy he used to write his journal in Coptic, the language used by the early Christian Church in Egypt, but long since dead.

A language is considered dead when no living child speaks it as his or her mother tongue. No living child had spoken Coptic for over 1500 years, but it turned out to be the one written language that could provide clues to the sounds of ancient Egyptian speech.

Never suspecting that Coptic might supply the vital link to understanding hieroglyphics, Champollion learned it as a teenager, along with several other dead languages. It was knowledge that he placed on the back-burner of his mind. One day that knowledge would burst into flame. One day it would illuminate the study of ancient Egypt.


As you read the links below, look for or think of answers to these questions (and write or type brief notes):

The cartouche of Tutankhamen (Wikimedia Commons)

a Write your name in hieroglyphics and write 3 dot points about the characteristics of this ancient script.

b What is a cartouche? How did this symbol help in the decipherment of hieroglyphics?

c Champollion wrote that “phonic” symbols were the basis of hieroglyphics. What does this mean?

d Write a comment: How can writing be used for positive, life-affirming purposes? Conversely, how can it be employed to hurt, to harm or to oppress other human beings?

1 Discover the basic details of hieroglyphics at these links:

Egyptian Hieroglyphic Alphabet

Link to Ancient Egypt Online

2 Learn how to write your name in hieroglyphics at this link.

3 Read the whole fascinating story behind the decipherment of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics at this link.


Rosetta Stone in BM, our photo
A photo of the Rosetta Stone that I took back in 1987, before it was encased in glass

Once upon a time…

Once upon a time, there was a young boy called Jean-François who was very quiet and studious. Oddly enough, although he loved books, he was not content with reading only his own language.

He wanted to read languages that he could not understand.

In fact, the languages that almost no one could understand interested him more than anything else. The only people who knew these languages were scholars in universities who had spent their lives in the study of ancient texts and musty scrolls. 

Imagine learning a language that no one can speak, then using it to write your journal – and later, to unlock an ancient mystery. That was the achievement of Jean-François Champollion.

Jean-François learned Persian and Sanskrit, along with many other ancient tongues. He also began work on a dictionary and grammar of the Coptic language and used this language to write his journal.

At the time, he had no idea that this language would allow him to unlock an ancient mystery, a written script that people hadn’t been able to read for more than 1500 years. Through his work, scholars can now read hieroglyphics, the written language of the ancient Egyptians.


There is of course a moral to this story. You may think something you’re learning now is just for fun, or perhaps that you are learning it just because your teacher wants to be a slave-driver.

Nevertheless, put your new knowledge on the back-burner of your mind and let it gently simmer. One day, in a decade or two, it might help you to find a job, learn a related skill, develop a product or medicine, write a book or change the world. Even if this knowledge is never employed for a precise and discernible purpose, it will become part of the creative and versatile human being that you already are and will continue to become.

A story within a story:

Euclid was an ancient Greek whose mathematical textbooks were used until the 19th century and whose work is still the basis of related study today. He was teaching a young man geometry when his student, after learning the first theorem, unwisely asked: “What shall I get by learning these things?” Euclid called his slave and said: “Give this young man a few coins, since he must get something from what he learns”.

Perhaps this is what Euclid meant:

When you learn something, you shouldn’t worry what it gives you. Leave that to the “grand Perhaps”, in Robert Browning’s words.  

Kind regards,

Ms Green


The Rosetta Stone, encased in glass in the British Museum
With the help of this stone and the ancient tongues he had learned as a child, Jean-Francois Champollion unlocked a 1500-year-old mystery. It is because of him that we know so much about the ancient Egyptians.

The Power of the Written Word

The power of the written word is immense. With our ability to write, we can compose a love poem, pass laws that bring justice to thousands (or deny it), pen moving lyrics for a song, tap out a tweet, write a comment online or correspond with a loved one far away. 

Human talents such as writing can help us to soar above the tiresome details of everyday life, but they can also be employed for destructive purposes. For instance, you could write lies and slander and so use the written word to destroy reputations. If you were a dictator or a tyrant, you could issue orders that might destroy the lives of the people you were oppressing. You could use writing to enslave others. You could even write a death sentence.

All the same, can you imagine how many aspects of human life would be different, how impoverished life would be, without this simple, supreme gift of human expression? 

You see, once you can write down a language, you can preserve ideas beyond your own lifetime and send them across the world.

You can give orders, compile books of quotations, remember speeches and create literature. Your ideas can travel through time and space. They are no longer dependent upon your physical presence.

Writing makes us all time travellers. 

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A Ground-Breaking Development

Question for Knowledge Check:

  • Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the introduction of farming in comparison with the hunter-gathering lifestyle that was gradually replaced.


  • Identify the similarities and differences between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens. Suggest some possible reasons for the extinction of Neanderthals about 30,000 years ago.

Opposition Words: although • but • despite • in spite of • however • on the contrary • nevertheless • on the other hand • while • whereas • even though

Connecting Words: consequently • therefore • hence • as a result • it follows that • for instance • for example • this suggests that

Useful Verbs: indicate • suggest • provide evidence for • show • demonstrate • conclude • assume • argue • contend • pose a question • raise a question • consider • reflect on • interpret • hypothesise

Link to Reading on Neanderthals

Handout: A Mystery of History + SWOT on Farming

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Welcome to History, 7X!

Dear 7X,

I have heard all about you already from at least two of your other teachers, Mr Jäckisch and Mrs Andrews. So I know that you are curious, perceptive, witty and delightful. Do you mind living up to such high praise? No pressure!

As I grow inexorably older (no faster than you are, but sometimes it seems that way), I notice that, even in the 30 years since I gained my teaching qualification, the story of history has changed quite significantly. Historians keep digging (literally and figuratively) and scientists have found entirely new ways to unwrap the enigmas of history.

As a consequence, while I once used to discuss the question of whether the Neanderthals were related to Homo sapiens with my students in an uncertain, speculative way, I can now state, more or less categorically, that some of our genes come from that mysterious group of people who hunted and gathered, just as we did, but did not survive to see the modern world that we have made. You can find more on this topic at this post.

The internet has also changed how I teach, how my students learn and the sheer breadth of material available to us all. For instance, it was only after the internet became available that I discovered how many women artists in the Renaissance were never mentioned in my old history books. Here is an example.

Since I have also changed in the last 30 years, I perceive history differently as well. One reason is that I have taught myself two foreign languages in the past 8 years. When you read history in another language, you discover that English writers have sometimes left out vital details. Every people has its own story and its own way of telling it.

Unravelling the tangled threads of history…

In short, history is a fluid, ongoing mystery, a continuous endeavour to tease out the truth from all the stories, the lies, the propaganda and the partial sources at our disposal. I hope that you will enjoy the process of unravelling the tangled threads of the human story and that you will contribute your own youthful exuberance, wisdom and knowledge to the process.

Kind regards from

Ms Green

Four Periods in History | Introductory Handout

Essential Terms for Describing Time:

• Prehistory

The time before the first writing appeared, in the period between 3500 and 3100 BC. Once people could write records, they could write history. That’s when we say that “history” began, though the human story stretches much further back into the mists of time.

• BP – Before the Present

This is frequently used by scientists who deal with huge numbers of years and want to provide a rounded indication of how long ago something happened. 

• BC – Before Christ

The time before the birth of Christ, an expression used in Christian societies

• BCE – Before the Common Era

The time before the birth of Christ, without Christ’s name being mentioned; employed in non-Christian societies and increasingly in Christian societies when an objective style of describing history is desired; equivalent in meaning to BC

• AD – Anno Domini, Latin for “Year of our Lord”

The years that have elapsed since the birth of Christ, an expression used in Christian societies 

• CE – Common Era

The years that have elapsed since the birth of Christ, without Christ’s name being mentioned; employed in non-Christian societies and increasingly in Christian societies when an objective style of describing history is desired; equivalent in meaning to AD


And last of all, a Jumble Kahoot: 

Panorama of Four Periods of the Human Story: Prehistoric, Ancient, Medieval and Modern Periods
Class Mode | Preview Mode | Create an Account

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The Mandate of Heaven

Dear 7Y,

Imagine that you could invoke a powerful spiritual being to justify your position, your actions and your power. Every time someone questioned your actions or doubted your motives, you could fall back on your entitlements as the chosen one of this powerful being, who had theoretically ordained you and anointed you as the person in charge. If your underlings believed in the existence of this being, your position would be impregnable.

Or would it?

There’s usually a downside to this kind of religious propaganda, even though it has been employed by many monarchs and emperors in history to underpin their supposedly unassailable authority. If things started to go wrong, if the crops failed or there was a flood or natural disaster, the very argument that you once used to justify your domination might also be used to dispute its validity. Perhaps that divine being is questioning your so-called birthright. Perhaps you don’t deserve that birthright any more.

For centuries, the “Mandate of Heaven” was the basis of the Chinese emperors’ overwhelming power, yet this belief in a divine blessing could be hijacked by opponents as proof of their unworthiness too. For this reason, the dynasties of China could last for centuries and seem invulnerable, only to be challenged, to fall and to be replaced. The concept of the “Mandate of Heaven” could be conveniently used to explain both their lasting power and their fall from grace.

Yet another of those odd little internal contradictions in human history…

Kind regards from Ms Green (no relationship to John and Hank)

♦ John Green’s take on the Mandate of Heaven and on Chinese history in general:

♦ Other links about the Mandate of Heaven

Boundless • Mr Donn’s simpler version

♦ Simple interactive quiz on this topic 

♦ Encounter a Chinese dynasty at Boundless 

  • After reading your text on the ancient dynasties of China, select one that interests you in particular and create a dossier on its origins, rise to power, cultural and technological achievements and legacy.
  • Then construct a little quiz for your fellow students at this link. Use a variety of question types, including multiple choice, chronological order and matching. You will need to create an account in order to do this, using your school email account. If you would prefer, you can make a set of Tiny Cards on your chosen dynasty.
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