Real Parties: An Egyptology/Archaeology Excursion (Part 1)

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

this year, my daughter chose the best birthday party theme ever: Egyptology. Not just an Egyptian party, but a party about the history and discovery of that history. You couldn't havepleasedthis English/Anthropology major mamma more.

I knew immediately I wanted to go old-school. Think canvas tents, torches, Howard Carter. Late 1800s/early 1900s, when so many important finds were made in Egypt, and all things Egyptian were very much en vogue. I decided to set the scene around the excavation of the tomb of Senusret I (the second king of the 12th Dynasty of Egypt), in the year 1911.
 

 

The invitations were made to look like leather-bound archaeological field notebooks. They were, for the most part, blank, so the children could write in their own observations and notes during thearchaeologicaldig. But I included acipherfor hieroglyphics and a map of the tomb of Senusret I to give the kids a bit of tantalizing history in advance of the party.

I'm sure none of the kids noticed, but I found an awesome old typewriter font, printed on 100% cotton paper, researched the firm that conducted the excavation of Senusret I's tomb in our period, and researched archaic formal British letter writing styles. See a pdf of the invitation letter here. I love those kinds of small details! They make all the difference in the world to me.

I love creating large, dramatic decor elements to help set the scene as soon as the guests walk into the party.
 

 

 

This year, that meant a full-sizedEgyptiansarcophagus! (I planned to make two, but ran out of time--now what am I going to do with that second large block ofStyrofoamin the garage?)
 

 

 

I fashioned the style of the sarcophagus after several 12th Dynasty examples. The anthropoid-shaped outer coffin became popular in the Middle Kingdom (our tomb's time period), so I got to carve that classic mummy shape. Turns out to be harder than I anticipated. Next time I'm springing for the more expensive EPS carving tools.
 

 

 
Some burlap, plaster, and paint later, I had my mummy case! The hieroglyphics are copied directly from the text on a sarcophagus from the correct era.
 
 

When we started planning the party, I immediately pictured a camp at the dig site, and knew I wanted to create it in our backyard. I thought I'd have to make my own tents, and even started down that path. And then I discovered that the military has been using the exact same tent design since the 1800s, so I was able to get some very inexpensive military surplus tents off Craigslist and have them be absolutely perfect for our period!
 

 

Some golden torches (end-of-season tikki torches on sale spray painted gold), large floor pillows we already had on hand, andMoroccanlanterns (with LED candles) helped to set the scene and create a comfortable place to hang out. A large woven basket, an Egyptianladle, and a real camel saddle helped to add to the mystique of our campsite.
 

 

 

Actual ladle from Egypt (thanks, Mom, for letting me borrow it!).
 

 

 

And the camel saddle! Really! I'm so lucky to have such an awesome mother with such an amazing collection of things nearby.
 

 

 

The second large-scale decor item was the backdrop to the dessert table. I covered aStyrofoaminsulation sheet with plaster to get the right texture, then painted on a tomb scene inspired by my research. It looked fabulous, if I do say so myself! (If you ignore the too-short arm on the guy on the right. How did I not notice that until I was halfway done with the painting?)
 

 

 

More colorful Moroccan lanterns hung above the dessert table. I wanted more light than candlelight would provide, so I simply hung the lanterns in front of a light kit.
 

 

 

Golden torches also provided a warm, flickering glow to the scene as the sun went down.

 

 

 

Bright, punchy poms and real papyrus (or at least the dwarf variety I was able to find at a local nursery) made the perfect floral arrangements for this party. Seriously easy, too. I didn't even re-pot the papyrus.
 

 

 

Adding the real papyrus to the dessert table really made a big difference, visually. I'm glad I bought two extras, even though having them on the table wasn't part of the original plan .
 

 

 

The last major decorative element of the party was the Sphinx photo prop I painted. Again, I usedStyrofoaminsulation sheeting from Lowe's for this project. It's light, it's inexpensive, and it's easy to cut. I didn't bother covering this one in plaster, and just painted directly on the foam surface. The kids loved it, and it was a great activity to keep the kids entertained while waiting for their glitter tattoos as they all arrived.
 

 

 

I love Riley's "Sphinx face!"

Want to know the best part about these large decor items? My daughter's class happened to be starting a unit on ancient Egypt two days after the party! I got to get credit as being a totally awesome mom-helper, make their classroom look even more awesome,and get the stuff out of my backyard. I'm seriously considering collaborating on themes with her teachers every year. ("American revolution? I can work with that!")

 

Nicole Wills, creator of Tikkido