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Monday, 29 June 2020

Not all that Glitters is Gold: Treasures of the Dead

The blog post for this week is written by Wendy Goodridge, the Assistant Curator of the Egypt Centre and first ever volunteer at the museum. She started volunteering in 1997 before the museum was officially opened, whilst she was a postgraduate student studying under Professor Alan Lloyd. Wendy worked with the Curator Carolyn Graves-Brown and a few other eager volunteers to transform the empty museum spaces into displays highlighting the collection ready for the grand opening in 1998. She was employed at first as a Museum Assistant in 1998 and in 2003 was appointed Assistant Curator. Wendy took the lead on developing the schools programme, introducing the ‘dummy mummy’, which was made by her sister, and spends a lot of her time on museum administration. Wendy is interested in the extraordinary collector Sir Henry Wellcome and her favourite objects in the museum are the amulets! 

Sadly, we have come to the end of our five-week course, which seems to have flown by really quickly! I have thoroughly enjoyed exploring the various topics especially as Ken has illustrated them so well using the Egypt Centre collection and bringing the objects to life! Doing this course has been a refreshing change from my normal daily work where I really don’t get time to study the collection! Session five was aptly named ‘Treasures of the Dead’ and Ken commented ‘Everything we have seen in the previous four sessions could also be deemed “treasures”’. Today’s session was focusing less on funerary objects and more on personal objects that were used in daily life by the ancient Egyptians, who would have wanted to be buried with them for use in the afterlife. I am not going to be able to report on all the types of ‘treasures’ Ken mentioned, but will choose a selection. We can see ‘treasured’ objects depicted in funerary processions and paintings of the deceased in the afterlife using their ‘treasures’. Possessions such as furniture, clothing, beds and headrests, a fan, games and toys, boxes, and of course lots of wine (fig. 1)!

Fig. 1: Funeral procession in the tomb of Ramose (TT 55)

Ken discussed wooden furniture and explained it was a very common commodity for the afterlife, especially for the elite (Killen 1993, 2018). We examined the beautifully decorated chair of Sitamun in the Cairo Museum, which is decorated with protective beings such as Bes beating a tambour and wielding knives. Was this object made for the tomb or was it used in life also? The Egypt Centre has a wide variety of furniture pieces, including legs of beds, chairs, and stools. Ken highlighted a pair of Egypt Centre wooden bed legs from Akhmim (fig. 2). One is decorated with the image of Bes standing on a protective Sa-sign, with a snake on the other face. The second leg is decorated with the protective being Tawaret with a knife projecting from her feet. Is it possible this bed/couch was used by pregnant women after childbirth for purification, particularly as these beings are known to protect women in childbirth? The Egypt Centre recently presented a lecture by Manon Schutz who discussed the possible use of purification beds for women after childbirth.

Fig. 2: Bed legs from Akhmim (W2052a & W2052b)

Headrests were seen throughout Dynastic Egypt from the Early Dynastic to the Roman Period. They were used by the living as a ‘pillow’ while sleeping, but were also used to prop the head of the mummy during their eternal sleep! Some tomb models show the person laying on their side or on their back. They have a practical use but were also believed to have a symbolic function as a symbol of rebirth. The persons head represents the sun lowering each evening and, hopefully, rising each morning in the horizon, the Akhet! Ken showed a complete wooden headrest (AB80), possibly from Abydos, which was donated to the Egypt Centre by Aberystwyth University in 1997 (fig. 3). It is made of three pieces; a headrest, stem, and base so it is easier to repair and can easily be transported. Headrests are commonly made of wood, but some are made of stone or faience. They are also commonly shown on the inside of coffins from the Middle Kingdom. Some headrests are decorated with the protective being Bes,
possibly including our headrest, who would avert your nightmares! Of course, headrests are still used in modern societies today. If you fancy trying one out (after Covid-19 is a distant memory of course!) we have a replica headrest that is used for visitors and school parties. Some find it surprisingly comfy and much cooler than a pillow! For anyone who wants more information on headrests, Ken mentioned the work of Dr Katharina Zinn, University of Wales Trinity Saint David. Katharina has researched headrests and presented at the Wonderful Things 2019 conference as well as for the Friends of the Egypt Centre (Zinn 2018). You can also see our Curator Carolyn Graves-Brown talk about headrests in her Bitesize series.

Fig. 3: Wooden headrest (AB80)

Clothes were not high on the list of items taken into the tomb for use in the afterlife despite being important in life for the elite. Ken discussed the possibility that tomb depictions showing the deceased in fine linen clothes perhaps sufficed as substitutes for the real thing (fig. 4). One fascinating fact we discussed was that most clothes found were deliberately inside out! We had quite a lively discussion about this fact. Had the deceased taken them off this way and they were left inside out so the unwashed clothes had the ‘essence’ of the deceased in the sweat deposited on the garment? Or were they laundered inside out to preserve the linen? The last tale in the Westcar Papyrus tells the story of the magical birth of the first three kings of the Fifth Dynasty: Userkaf, Sahure, and Kakai. Reddedet, wife of Rewosre, a priest of Ra, goes into a difficult labour, and the god Ra, hearing it, sends Isis, Nephthys, Meskhenet, Heket, and Khnum to help her. These deities transform themselves into dancing girls and musicians and go to the home to help with the birth. They find Rewosre, upset over his wife’s condition wearing his kilt ‘upside down’, which can also mean ‘inside out’. Interestingly, it was pointed out in the chat that the modern Arabic word for inside out also means upside down! The kilt was the most popular item of clothing and comes top in laundry lists and a shopping list from Deir-el-Medina! We were lucky enough to have Rosalind Janssen participate in our Experiment and Experience conference. Rosalind has expertise concerning ancient Egyptian textiles and clothes, with a special interest in the Egyptian laundry and pleating techniques (Hall 1985, 1986).

Fig. 4: Elaborate clothing in the tomb of Nebamun (BM EA 37981)

Sandals were another interesting item taken to the afterlife by the elite. These may well have been worn by the deceased in life and they were usually made of plant fibre (fig, 5). What I thought was interesting was they have been found on top of coffins and sometimes inside coffins as though the deceased wants them nearby for quick access when they arise. Just like me putting my slippers by the side of my bed

Fig. 5: Sandals from the British Museum on loan to the Egypt Centre (BM EA 36201)

The last ‘treasure’ I will mention is jewellery. Many items of jewellery have been found in graves and tombs right through Egyptian history. Was the jewellery intended to enhance beauty and to feel good, worn for protection (amuletic properties), or both? Ken reminded us we shouldn’t put our modern notion of ‘beauty’ and our function of jewellery from ancient Egypt. Ken showed us various pieces from the Egypt Centre collection; one was W793, a beautiful bracelet made of carnelian, quartz (possibly amethyst), and copper, which was excavated by Flinders Petrie at Qau el-Kebir (fig. 6).
Fig. 6: Bracelet from the grave of a woman at Qau (W793)
The highlight of the jewellery Ken discussed were four New Kingdom, Eighteenth Dynasty, Amarna collars. They were part of the Berens collection purchased by Wellcome in 1923 and were believed to come from the royal tombs and bodies of the Amarna princesses! The collars are mainly made of faience and include beads of glass and semi-precious stones, such as lapis lazuli and carnelian. W8 has a large central shell shaped, floral pendant flanked by amulets of fish and squatting baboons, Bes and Taweret figures, female deities with staffs, poppy seed cases, a heart, and a row of rosettes. W9 has a rare central female Bes amulet flanked by female deities with staff, a squatting baboon, and two rows of rosettes. W10 has a central heart amulet flanked by a crouching child figure, female deities with staff, fish, and a situla amulet. W11 is a beautiful intricate round collar made of tiny beads with no central pendant. The images of the collars were excellent quality and we were told some took Ken over five days to cut out the background! Ken did a poll and asked which collar was our favourite – W9 the Beset collar won but my favourite is still W11 (fig. 7)! It is not known whether the linen thread is original. I like to hope it is—why use linen for modern threading? Ken discussed the ethics of radiocarbon dating the object; some of the thread will have to be destroyed so losing some of the beautiful beadwork and it would devalue the object if the string is not original. Although some would prefer to find out, others, like myself, would say no!

Fig. 7: Amarna collar (W11)
So many other ‘Treasures’ were discussed that couldn’t be mentioned, such as cosmetics, games, toys, vessels, wigs, mirrors, boxes, and tools of the trade! It was certainly a treasure packed session! On behalf of all those who took the five-week course, I want to say a big thank you to Ken for such interesting sessions, as well as encouraging and patiently answering so many questions. Additionally, to Sam Powell who co-hosted and worked very hard to ensure the sessions ran smoothly! We look forward to the next one on Egyptian religion, which has now been advertised!

Hall, Rosalind 1985. “The cast-off garment of yesterday”: dresses reversed in life and death. Bulletin de l’Institut français d'archéologie orientale 85, 235–243.
——— 1986. Egyptian textiles. Shire Egyptology 4. Princes Risborough: Shire Publications.
Killen, Geoffrey 1994. Egyptian woodworking and furniture. Shire Egyptology 21. Princes Risborough: Shire Publications.
——— 2017. Ancient Egyptian furniture, 3 vols, 2nd ed. Oxford; Philadelphia: Oxbow Books.
Zinn, Katharina 2018. Did you sleep well on your headrest?—Anthropological perspectives on an ancient Egyptian implement. Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections 17, 202–219.

Monday, 22 June 2020

Ritual and Magic in Ancient Egypt: The Opening of the Mouth Ceremony

The blog post for this week is written by Angela Gray. Angela’s serious interest in ancient Egypt began about eleven years ago when she stumbled across an Open University course on the Nebamun wall paintings in the British Museum. Since then, she has completed many on-line courses with Exeter University (great courses, sadly no longer on offer) and the Manchester University Certificate and Diploma. She has enjoyed attending Bloomsbury Summer Schools and study days in Bristol, at Dillington House, and in Manchester. It was a long held ambition to go to Egypt and this was made possible by a surprise trip organised by her “non-Egyptological” husband in 2018—a wonderful trip taking in amazing sights from Giza to Gebel el-Silsila. Angela has also enjoyed doing some transcribing of auction catalogues and flimsies from the Wellcome collection for the Egypt Centre. She has great plans to introduce her eleven month old granddaughter to ancient Egypt as soon as she’s old enough!

I have thoroughly enjoyed Ken’s series of lectures guiding us through the funerary practices of the ancient Egyptians, and can’t believe that next week is the final one. Hopefully Ken has another course up his sleeve to keep us going through these difficult times. I have been to the Egypt Centre a few times, but can’t wait to visit again (especially as Swansea is my home town) when things get back to normal—well as normal as possible—especially having the wonderful objects in the lectures in this course and those that were scheduled for the Conference, which were subsequently put on line. 

The ancient Egyptians saw the transition from this life to the next as a journey that was fraught with dangers and uncertainties. In order to overcome these and successfully reach the afterlife, they believed it was necessary to have a “good and proper burial” or “qerset nefret”. To survive this journey, the body needed to be physically and magically protected. Last week Ken discussed the physical protection of the body by looking at mummification and coffins and this week he followed this with a lecture on the magical aspects. This included discussing the rituals that were performed during the funerary process, from death to burial, as well looking at magical objects that were also used to protect the body and ensure the deceased reached the afterlife.

Fig. 1: Opening of the Mouth rituals on the papyrus of Ankh-hapi (W867)

The word for magic in ancient Egyptian is ḥkȝw heka and Ken began his lecture by explaining what magic meant to the Egyptians. Perhaps when we consider the word magic we think of tricks where things are made to disappear or negative connotations such as witchcraft. However, to the Egyptians it was seen as a creative power that was possessed by all the gods, the Pharaoh, all knowledgeable people, and the deceased. In a funerary context, this power could be used to solve problems and crises the deceased would encounter on his journey to the next life. Therefore, funerary rituals, which involved reading texts, performing actions such as burning incense, and placing magical objects on the mummy and in the tomb played a part in providing the deceased with the necessary knowledge to successfully complete the hazardous journey to the afterlife.

As the subject of funerary rituals and magic is such a huge topic, I thought that in this blog I would just concentrate on one aspect, the Opening of the Mouth ceremony (Otto 1960). I have been studying Egyptology for well over ten years and was familiar with it, but some of the points raised in Ken’s lecture have certainly increased my understanding of how complex it actually was. The Opening of the Mouth ceremony was one of the most well-known and important of the funerary rituals, part of which is illustrated in a rather beautiful vignette from a Book of the Dead belonging to a man named Hunefer, which dates to the Nineteenth Dynasty (fig. 2).

Fig. 2: Opening of the Mouth from Hunnefer’s Book of the Dead (BM EA 9901, 5)

Scenes showing the ritual appear in both royal and private tombs, as well as in the Book of the Dead. The purpose of the ritual was to reanimate the mummy by restoring the use of their mouths, eyes, ears, and nose so that they would be able to breathe, see, speak, and receive nourishment from offerings to sustain the ka. The rituals, referred to as sȝḫw, transform the deceased into an akh or an “effective spirit” worthy of reaching the afterlife. I hadn’t fully made the connection that the Opening of the Mouth had developed from a ritual that was performed during the Old Kingdom in order to animate statues so that they could act as a safe vessel for the ka to reside in (Quack 2015). In fact, one of the words in ancient Egyptian used for sculptor is sꜥnḫ, which literally translates as “the one who makes life”. This also makes it clear why the adze was used in the ritual, which I always thought was rather odd—why would they use a workman’s tool in a funerary ritual? As Ken explained, it relates to the fact that carpenters would have used an adze (fig. 3) when carving the statues and it would make sense to use the tool used to create it to bring it to life. Now it all made sense!

Fig. 3: Opening of the Mouth implements from the tomb of Khaemhat

I was particularly struck by the scene Ken showed from the tomb of Khonsu (TT 31) in which we have written evidence of some actual text used, always useful in helping in our understanding of the complex nature of ancient Egyptian religious practices. The scene shows a priest on the right reading from a papyrus (fig. 4). This is Khonsu’s son who is the high-priest of Sobek, Usermontu. The text on the papyrus reads “To do the opening of the mouth for the Osiris, the high-priest, To”.

Fig. 4: Opening of the Mouth in the tomb of Khonsu

Additionally, I hadn’t understood how complex the ritual was and was interested to learn that it actually consisted of many episodes. Each had their own rituals, incantations, as well as specific ritual objects associated with each episode. I suppose I was used to just seeing scenes in books showing the priest offering the adze or a snake headed implement to the mouth of the deceased (Roth 1992; 1993). However, as Ken explained, the ritual had 75 episodes. No complete set of episodes has been found in any tomb, but scholars have been able to reconstruct the full set by looking at scenes of the ritual found in a number of tombs, such as those of Rekhmire (TT 100), Menna (TT 69), and Seti I (KV 17). The tomb of Rekhmire contains 51 of the 75 episodes of the rituals, with a very useful description of them being found here. Interestingly, in Rekhmire’s tomb the Opening of the Mouth is shown being performed on a statue rather than his mummy, which links nicely back to the original purpose of the ritual (fig. 5).

Fig. 5: Opening of the Mouth ceremony on the statue or Rekhmire

Since the lecture, I have been spurred on to looking through my books and online to find out more about the Opening of the Mouth ceremony, which could have taken up several lectures in its own right. With the new information I gained from the lecture, I have been able to look at images of the ceremony with new eyes and gained a better understanding of its role in ancient Egyptian funerary beliefs.

Andrews, Carol 1994. Amulets of ancient Egypt. London: The British Museum Press.
Engelmann-von Carnap, Barbara 2018. Zum Mundöffnungsritual im Grab des Padiamenope (TT 33). Bulletin de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale 118, 127–141.
Hornung, Erik 1999. The ancient Egyptian books of the afterlife. Translated by David Lorton. Ithaca (NY): Cornell University Press.
Otto, Eberhard 1960. Das ägyptische Mundöffnungsritual. Ägyptologische Abhandlungen 3. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
Quack, Joachim Friedrich 2015. Das Mundöffnungsritual als Tempeltext und Funerärtext. In Backes, Burkhard and Jacco Dieleman (eds), Liturgical texts for Osiris and the deceased in Late Period and Greco-Roman Egypt / Liturgische Texte für Osiris und Verstorbene im spätzeitlichen Ägypten: proceedings of the colloquiums at New York (ISAW), 6 May 2011, and Freudenstadt, 18–21 July 2012, Studien zur spätägyptischen Religion 14. 145–159. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
Roth, Ann Macy 1992. The psš-kf and the ‘opening of the mouth’ ceremony: a ritual of birth and rebirth. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 78, 113–147.
——— 1993. Fingers, stars, and the ‘opening of the mouth’: the nature and function of the nṯrwj-blades. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 79, 57–79. 
Taylor, John H. 2001. Death and the afterlife in ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press.
——— (ed.) 2010. Journey through the afterlife: ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. London; Cambridge, MA: British Museum Press; Harvard University Press.

Monday, 15 June 2020

Mummification and Coffins in Ancient Egypt

The blog post for this week is written by Averil Anderson. Averil has been fascinated by Egypt ever since she visited the 1972 Tutankhamun exhibition in London. In 1990, she visited Egypt for the first time on a Nile Cruise and fell in love with the place, the history, the atmosphere and the people. Eventually, Averil took her interest a step further with the University of Manchester Online Certificate and Diploma. This luckily led her to The McManus Museum Dundee's Collections Unit where she has been volunteering since 2011 researching the Egyptology Collection.

I am writing this blog post about Week 3 of Ken Griffin’s Funerary Artefacts of Ancient Egypt course (for which I am very grateful in these Lockdown times!) with this week dealing with Mummification and Coffins, which I find fascinating. First up is mummification, which is not everyone’s favourite topic, but disposal of the dead and its accompanying ritual is an essential part of the fabric of society,  especially so in the hot climate of Egypt. To the Egyptians, it was vital to keep the body intact beyond death since he body harboured the ba and the ka. It was, therefore, vital to turn the corpse into a sꜥh (eternal and perfect image of the deceased). The body was mummified primarily to stop deterioration, with the dry climate and burial in the sand naturally mummifying the dead. The first known mummification was at Hierakonpolis, c. 3700 BC, but mummification was carried out over a 4000-year period of Egyptian history. Over time, rituals became part of the process accompanied with mummification materials having religious and preservative functions.

Fig. 1: Mummy covering (W894)

A great example of the art is the mummy of Ramesses III, who died during the Harem Conspiracy. We saw a mummy covering (W894), which shows a priest dressed as Anubis attending to the mummy resting on a bier. The priest is aided Isis and Nephthys (fig. 1). Mummification is said to take 70 days, although there is no complete ancient text that gives comprehensive instructions. We do have scenes on coffins, in tombs, and on papyrus, such as NMS A1956.313. Mummification would have developed over time, so one single source could give us the whole picture. The most well-known written sources are those of Herodotus (450 BCE) and Diodorus Siculus (100 BCE), which were unlikely to be first hand accounts. Herodotus tells us there were three forms of mummification depending on the wealth of the deceased’s family. The most costly and elaborate version is described as follows:

“They take first a crooked piece of iron, and with it draw out the brain through the nostrils, thus getting rid of a portion, while the skull is cleared of the rest by rinsing with drugs; next they make a cut along the flank with a sharp Ethiopian stone, and take out the whole contents of the abdomen, which they then cleanse, washing it thoroughly with palm wine, and again frequently with an infusion of pounded aromatics. After this they fill the cavity with the purest bruised myrrh, with cassia, and every other sort of spicery except frankincense, and sew up the opening. Then the body is placed in natron for seventy days, and covered entirely over. After the expiration of that space of time, which must not be exceeded, the body is washed, and wrapped round, from head to foot, with bandages of fine linen cloth, smeared over with gum, which is used generally by the Egyptians in the place of glue, and in this state it is given back to the relations, who enclose it in a wooden case which they have had made for the purpose, shaped into the figure of a man. Then fastening the case, they place it in a sepulchral chamber, upright against the wall. Such is the most costly way of embalming the dead.”

For the second type, Herodotus says that “If persons wish to avoid expense, and choose the second process, the following is the method pursued:- Syringes are filled with oil made from the cedar-tree, which is then, without any incision or disembowelling, injected into the abdomen. The passage by which it might be likely to return is stopped, and the body laid in natron the prescribed number of days. At the end of the time the cedar-oil is allowed to make its escape; and such is its power that it brings with it the whole stomach and intestines in a liquid state. The natron meanwhile has dissolved the flesh, and so nothing is left of the dead body but the skin and the bones. It is returned in this condition to the relatives, without any further trouble being bestowed upon it.”

The third and most basic: “The third method of embalming, which is practised in the case of the poorer classes, is to clear out the intestines with a clyster, and let the body lie in natron the seventy days, after which it is at once given to those who come to fetch it away.”

One can only imagine this was a delicate and somewhat smelly process that most people would be happy to hand over to professionals. We must remember that any mummification would have been for the wealthy in society and not the average Egyptian. We also hear that during the Late Period mummification could last between 20–70 days. The stelae of Psamtek, son of Iahweben (610 BC), unusually tells us his date of birth, his length of life, his date of death, and that he spent 32 days in the pr-nfr being made ready for his burial. We have developed our knowledge about mummification through mummy unwrappings, and now the non-destructive radiography and computerised tomography (CT) scanning. There has also been a modern mummifications by Dr Bob Brier to test the theories. He was due to come to talk to Egyptology Scotland Kelvingrove in August, but sadly this has been postponed as with so many things.

Fig. 2: Deir el-Bahari shroud (W922)

The mummy was first washed soon after death with a solution of natron salt in the purification tent (i͗bw n wꜥb). Horus and Thoth are often depicted purifying the deceased or the Pharaoh. Additionally, some goddesses perform the nyny rite/gesture on the deceased, as can be seen in the tomb of Tutankhamun or in the doorways to some tombs in the Valley of the Queens. In the wꜥbt or pr nfr, the brain was removed along with the other internal organs, The heart was the only organ to remain in the body as it was the seat of intellect and memory.  The liver, lungs, stomach, and intestines were embalmed separately before the body was then washed again with palm wine and completely covered in natron (changed daily according to Salima Ikram) for 40 days. The body was then packed with linen, sawdust, earth, and aromatic resins to give the body shape. The resins and bitumen also protected the body against moisture. The eyes (replaced with onions or rock crystal) and eyebrows were spruced up and even prosthetic limbs (BM EA 29996) and finger coverings could be included to make the body whole for the afterlife.

Fig. 3: Mummy label (W549)

Mummies then were wrapped in linen, often bed sheets but there is an example in Lyon of a sail being used. Wrappings came in five different qualities from fine to coarse. Incantations would be said as the body was wrapped, right down to the individual fingers and toes, while amulets and spells from the Books of the Dead were often enclosed. An example is W922 from the Egypt Centre (fig. 2). The mummy mask (W917) was a vital piece of the mummy trappings, painted in an image of the deceased, which also provided additional protection for the head. In the Graeco-Roman Period, mummy labels (W549) were common, often telling us about the deceased (fig. 3). We must also note the disposal of any “waste products” and the funerary meal, which were gathered together and buried in a deposit near the tomb. This is perhaps also shown on tomb walls, such as that of Ramose (TT 55), as the mysterious “tekenu, a human shaped bundle on a sledge. The tekenu was something I only heard about recently and I wonder if any “body” shaped bundles have ever been found? Another rabbit hole to wander down…

Fig. 4: Old Kingdom coffin from Giza (BM EA 71620)

The four (or maybe up to 6 according to recent discoveries at Saqqara) canopic jars contained the following organs:

Son of Horus     
Associated Organ
Protective Deity
Falcon headed
Jackal Headed
Human headed
Baboon headed

The second half of the lecture concentrated on coffins. They tell us about the development of beliefs in the afterlife and religious thoughts. We can also examine the materials and techniques used in their production. The coffin was a container to protect the deceased from tomb robbers and scavenging animals, which enabled their wellbeing in the afterlife. The coffin with its religious scenes and magical texts enclosing the mummy ensured “a good burial”.

Fig. 5: Coffin depicting the goddess Nut (BM EA 75193)

The earliest coffins were a “house” for the deceased. They resembled buildings and had the palace façade design, as can be seen with BM EA 71620 (fig. 4). In the Old Kingdom, more emphasis was on the orientation and decoration of the coffin. The long sides were oriented east-west and the head of the deceased faced east. As time went on the insides of the coffins were decorated with funerary items, while the coffin was a miniature tomb in its own right. The lid was associated with the sky and the case with the earth. The goddess Nut is often seen stretching protectively over the deceased (W646), and the deceased was identified with Osiris or Re, both of whom were reborn each day (fig. 5). In the Old Kingdom, the complete coffin could be identified as the womb of Nut as she was the mother of Osiris (and therefore the deceased). She would symbolically give birth to him each day.

Fig. 6: Middle Kingdom coffin from Deir el-Bersha (BM EA 30842)

The concept of the coffin as a cocoon is apparent in the word for a coffin, sḥwt, meaning egg. A sarcophagus could also be part of the burial assemblage and would hold the coffin. There is some debate on the use of the word, although it is generally accepted that a sarcophagus is stone and rectangular. Anthropoid coffins, on the other hand, could be regarded as “coffins” rather than “sarcophagi”, regardless of the material, and are seen as a substitute for the deceased should their mummy be destroyed. The Egyptian word for a sarcophagus was nb-ankh, possessor or lord of life, reinforcing the idea that it aided in the renewal of life for the deceased . In the Predynastic Period, the body was placed in a shallow pit covered by matting. Wicker baskets and pot burials were later used. It was not until the Early Dynastic Period that coffins were commonplace. The first clearly established royal coffins date to the Third Dynasty. They were often plain with flat or vaulted lids. The decoration included false doors and eyes for the deceased to “see” out into the land of the living (MMA26.3.9a). Middle Kingdom coffins were decorated on the inside with a frieze of objects for everyday life (BM EA 30842) and included clothing, jewellery, weapons, perfume (much as we might include a loved ones treasured items in their coffin today), as well as the Coffin Texts (fig. 6). In the Twelfth Dynasty, the outside of the coffins were decorated with vertical and horizontal bands of hieroglyphs (W304). There were, however, regional variations between Beni Hasan, Deir el-Bersha, and Meir in the North and Asyut, Akhmim, and Thebes in the South.

Fig. 7: Rishi coffin (NMS A.1909.527.1 A)

In the Second Intermediate Period, the anthropoid coffin has become standard. It was an image of the deceased that could house not only his body but his ka and ba. They were of the rishi (feathered) type, again symbolising the protection offered (fig. 7). In the Eighteenth Dynasty, anthropoid coffins were painted white with bands of hieroglyphs running up the middle of the coffin and four bands around the sides imitating mummy wrappings (MMA 14.10.2a, b). The coffin of Amenhotep II shows the Sons of Horus between the texts. Other scenes can include funereal rituals while the lid usually depicting the outstretched figure Nekhbet or Nut. By the middle of the Eighteenth Dynasty, non-royal coffins were more commonly covered with black pitch, with the higher quality including gilded faces and bands made of gold (fig. 8).

Fig. 8: Eighteenth Dynasty coffin fragment (EC425)

New Kingdom coffins could be made of a variety of woods, including cedar, sycamore fig, or acacia. Gold and silver were reserved for kings. By the Nineteenth Dynasty, a mummy board was placed on the body of many burials showing the deceased in daily life. The “yellow” coffins were attested from Thebes and Memphis and were decorated with vignettes of spells 1 and 17 of the Book of the Dead. In anthropoid coffins, the forearms were crossed at the chest, with men having clenched fists and women having open hands. In the Twenty-first Dynasty, new compositions were added emphasising solar religion with the myth of Osiris, the revival of the deceased, and the triumph over Apophis. The colour palette also broadened, and scenes could now include vignettes from the Amduat or rituals associated with the Sed-festival (fig. 9).

Fig. 9: Interior coffin decoration of BM EA 22900

In the Third Intermediate Period, coffins continued to change. There were many regional variations at this time and individual  workshops can be identified. The coffins were now deep enough to hold the mummy with a flat or convex lid. Another style can be seen in BM EA 15655 and part of a similar coffin is in the Egypt Centre (W1044a & b). The inside of the coffin had texts from the Book of the Dead, usually accompanied by Nut (fig. 10). The outside depicted solar scenes and the Four Sons of Horus on the side walls, with a recumbent jackal atop the vaulted roof and falcons on the posts.

Coffin of Ankhpakhered (AB118)

In the Late Period, more texts are included. Passages from the Saite version of the Book of the Dead included less animated scenes. By the end of the Pharaonic Period, coffins varied considerably again according to region and foreign influences. In the Roman Period, W1042a shows us that decoration is less skilled, with the hieroglyphs often impossible to decipher. The emphasis was now placed on how it looked and not so much on what it said (fig. 11). Shrouds and other mummy coverings appear including the Fayum portraits.

Fig. 11: Roman Period coffin from Tuna el-Gebel (W1042a)

This has been a whirlwind trip through mummies and coffins giving a brief outline of the enormous and fascinating subject. I am now very keen to visit the Egypt Centre when life is able to return to “normal”, especially now I have had a look at the new database Abaset (currently only available to participants of the course) and can see there is much more coffin related material than the lecture allowed time for! I can’t wait for Ken’s next lecture on Magic and Ritual!

Amenta, Alessia and Hélène Guichard (eds) 2017. Proceedings First Vatican Coffin Conference 19–22 June 2013, 2 vols. Città del Vaticano: Edizioni Musei Vaticani.
Brier, Bob 1994. Egyptian mummies: unraveling the secrets of an ancient art. New York: William Morrow.
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Faulkner, Raymond O. and Carol Andrews 1985. The ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. London: Guild Publishing.
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Maitland, Margaret 2017. The tomb: ancient Egyptian burial. Edinburgh: NMS Enterprises Ltd.
Manley, Bill and Aidan Dodson 2010. Life everlasting. National Museums Scotland collection of ancient Egyptian coffins. Edinburgh: NMS Enterprises Ltd.
Miniaci, Gianluca 2011. Rishi coffins and the funerary culture of Second Intermediate Period Egypt. GHP Egyptology 17. London: Golden House.
Strudwick, Helen and Julie Dawson (eds) 2019. Ancient Egyptian coffins. Past, present, future. Oxford: Oxbow Books.
Strudwick, Nigel and John H. Taylor (eds) 2003. The Theban necropolis. Past, present, and future. London: British Museum Press.
Taylor, John H. 1989. Egyptian coffins. Dyfed: Shire Egyptology.
Taylor, John H. 2010. Egyptian mummies. London: British Museum Press.
West, Glennise 2019. The tekenu and ancient Egyptian funerary ritual. Archeopress Egyptology 23. Oxford: Archeopress.
Willems, Harco 1988. Chests of life: a study of the typology and conceptual development of Middle Kingdom standard class coffins. Mededelingen en Verhandelingen van het Vooraziatisch-Egyptisch Genootschap “Ex Oriente Lux” 25. Leiden: Ex Oriente Lux.

Monday, 8 June 2020

The Funerary Figures of the Ancient Egyptians

The blog post for this week is written by Vanessa Foott. Vanessa’s lifelong passion is ancient Egypt and for the last five years she has been studying Egyptology at the University of Manchester. She is very excited to be starting their Masters Degree in Egyptology in October so she is practically a professional student! Vanessa has filled her time since retiring from her main career by travelling all over the country attending and also giving talks on Egyptology, representing the Egypt Exploration Society as one of their Local Ambassadors, and writing articles for Nile Magazine. Lockdown has put an end to all the travelling, which is a shame since she was due to be in Egypt at present doing voluntary fieldwork. Luckily, there are a wealth of excellent lectures being held online and she is able to write about one of them today!

I am writing this week’s blog about the second part of Ken’s course The Funerary Culture of the Ancient Egyptians, the topic being ‘Funerary Figures’. I hope I can do this justice after last week’s very eloquent contribution by the Reverend Jim Collins, who was able to offer an insight from a ‘professional’ point of view!

We started with an interesting, and some might say, uncomfortable, look at the possibility of a very short-lived trend of human sacrifice during the First Dynasty, a subject also touched on in last Monday’s episode of Egypt’s Unexplained Files on the History Channel. The evidence for this comes from the tomb of Hor-Aha at Abydos (fig. 1) whose burial was accompanied by a number of subsidiary burials of men who apparently died at the same time and were buried with their own grave goods (Morris 2007). The whole area was roofed as one and covered in a sand mound. The Egyptians quickly realised that bumping off servants, although great for the deceased king, was probably not such a good idea for those left behind and something different had to be planned to provide for the afterlife.

Fig. 1: Plan of burial complex of Hor-Aha, courtesy of museums-static/digitalegypt/abydos/abydostombhoraha.html

During the Fourth and Fifth Dynasties, we begin to see stone servant figures being included in the tombs of the elite. These are usually made of limestone, which can be painted and represent single figures either grinding grain or brewing beer, less common are ones baking or doing butchery. Occasional ones are shown stone working or producing pottery. By far, the largest corpus are those relating to food production, which leads to the conclusion that these were being produced to aid the deceased in having sustenance for the afterlife. Figure 2 is an example of a butcher found in the tomb of Ny-kau-Inpu at Giza thought to date from the Fifth Dynasty. The statue is in its original state with the exception of the knife, which has been restored. This figure shows a high standard of craftsmanship as the gap between the legs and the arms has been made, something that is hard to do when working in stone when one slip of the chisel could ruin the whole piece.

Fig. 2: OIM 10626, courtesy of The Oriental Institute of Chicago

The stone figures were gradually replaced by wooden ones, which were easier to manufacture. Not only were servant figures included in the tomb, but also wooden statues of the tomb owner, which could be used to house the kꜣ (an aspect of the soul), should anything happen to the body. W688 is one such and is shown in fig. 3. Luckily, Ken and Sam Powell have located the missing leg and base and the item has been sent to Cardiff University Conservation Department for restoration. The Egypt Centre actually has over 100 elements from wooden servant figures, including the figures, numerous arms, legs, bases and oars, which are in the process of being painstakingly matched up.

Fig. 3: Wooden figure of a tomb owner (W688)

Moving into the First Intermediate Period, dozens of these figures could be found in a single burial and groups of figures began to be included. The quality of the workmanship varies greatly from really exquisite figures such as W434 (fig. 4) to more basic examples like W436 (fig. 5) as the masses began to believe that an afterlife was available not only to the king and the elite. Although the most popular figure groups related to food production, many burials included models of boats, which through magic would enable the deceased to travel in the afterlife. These may enable the deceased to undertake a pilgrimage to Abydos, the cult centre of Osiris, and may also be connected with the journey of Ra across the sky in his two boats—one for the night and one for the day—in which he would be accompanied by the deceased.

Fig. 4: Finely carved tomb figure (W434)
Fig. 5: Crudely carved tomb figure (W436)

Some of the Middle Kingdom tomb models are very elaborate indeed. Perhaps the best known are those from the tomb of Meketre discovered by Herbert Winlock at Thebes in 1920. Although the tomb had been robbed, these models survived as they had been placed in a separate room that the robbers had missed. The models were split between the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo where they can be seen. Figure 6 is the model granary, but others can be seen by visiting I really would urge you to take the time to have a look, the workmanship and detail is outstanding and would have enabled Meketre to enjoy all the comforts of his earthly life in the next, even including his garden.

Fig. 6. Model granary MMA 20.3.11, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The next part of the lecture focused on shabtis, ushabtis, and shawabtis. This was particularly eye-opening to me as I was familiar with the different terms, but like, I suspect, many of my fellow students, did not realise that the terms were not quite so interchangeable and meant, if albeit slightly, different things. They were first introduced around 2100 BCE in the First Intermediate Period and continued to be popular until the end of Pharaonic Egypt, only ceasing to be used in Roman times (Janes 2002; Schneider 1977; Stewart 1995). Shabti is used to name those from the late Middle Kingdom and New Kingdom. Shawabti is also from the New Kingdom but more specifically occasionally in the Seventeenth Dynasty and in particular the Nineteenth Dynasty at Deir el-Medina (fig. 7). Ushabti refers to those from the Twenty-first Dynasty to the end of Ptolemaic times. The etymologies for the words are an interesting subject in themselves. šbty or šwbty are used for all three. The word for food or meals is šꜣbw, to command or appoint is šꜣ, and wšb to answer, so it is not hard to find a connection. Another alternative is šwꜣb, meaning Persea tree, but as no figures have been found made from this wood it is harder to see this link (Taylor 2001, 115–117).

They could represent both the tomb owner, acting, as we have already seen with the wooden figures, as a reserve home for the kꜣ, and servants. They were not meant to be true likenesses of the tomb owner but represented him in an idealised divine form and, as such, these figures were sometimes placed into miniature coffins. They started as figures made from wax or mud, which were probably wrapped in linen to make them sacred. Production declined at the end of the Thirteenth Dynasty but was revived at Thebes towards the end of the Seventeenth when we start to see the stick-like wooden shabtis known as ‘peg shabtis’ (fig. 7).

Fig. 7: Seventeenth Dynasty double shabtis of Tetyankh and Tetiky, Musee de Louvre E32373. Photo courtesy of Musee de Louvre

The so called ‘Shabti Spell’ (Coffin Text 472; Book of the Dead 6) was often carved on the front of the figures: “O, this/these ushabti(s), if one counts, if one reckons the Osiris (Title and Name) to do all the works which are to be done in the God’s land-Now indeed obstacles are implanted therewith-as a man of his duties, ‘here I am,’ you shall say when you are counted off at any time to serve there, to cultivate the fields, to irrigate the riparian lands, to transport by boat the sand of the east to the west and vice-versa; ‘here I am,’ you shall say.” (Faulkner 1985). I would really like a nice shabti figure that I could call on to do the gardening or the housework! Apparently so did Walt Disney as this was his inspiration for the Sorcerer’s Apprentice featured as part of the 1940 film Fantasia (Ogden 2004, 115).

Ahmose II is the first Pharaoh attested to have his own shabti, and from the reign of Amenhotep II onwards the numbers in each tomb began to increase. The material used also became more varied with faience, pottery, and wood all being known. From the mid Eighteenth Dynasty, closed hands are routinely portrayed and the number of tools being carried increases to include, hoes, picks, and seed baskets. Use of a mould enabled them to be quick and cheaply produced, but they did vary in quality from the excellent ones found with Tutankhamun (fig. 8) to really awful ones barely recognisable.

Fig. 8: One of the shabtis found in the tomb of Tutankhamun recently exhibited at The Saatchi Gallery London.
Photo by the author.

As the New Kingdom progressed, they became more depersonalised and viewed increasingly as slaves (Poole 1998). Royal shabtis of the Twentieth Dynasty were often poor and this may be a reflection of the troubled economic times that affected the whole of the Late Bronze Age Eastern Mediterranean. The numbers increased and a full compliment would now be 365 workers, one for each day, together with an overseer for each 10, and sometimes a further 12, one for each month of the year. The quality continues to decline through the Third Intermediate Period. Figure 9 is a mummiform shabti of the Divine Adoratrice Qedmerut (W1315), dating to the Twenty-second Dynasty, which is made of blue faience with painted black hieroglyphs (Griffin 2017).

Fig. 9: Shabti of Qedmerut (W1315)

Our journey through the evolution of the shabti continued through the small crude examples of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty to the return to using stone in the late Twenty-fifth/early Twenty-sixth Dynasty. In the Twenty-sixth Dynasty, they began to have a back pillar and a base enabling them to stand. The form from the reign of Psamtek I through to the end of the Ptolemaic period remained fairly static. They were mostly made of moulded faience with inscriptions added whilst the material was still soft prior to firing. The colour was predominately green and they retained the back pillar and pedestal (fig. 10).

Fig. 10: Shabti of the general Ankhwahibresaneith ((W1312)

This comes to the end of our rapid gallop through funerary figurines. Next week the topic will be mummification and coffins. I am thoroughly looking forward to our continued exploration of The Funerary Culture of the Ancient Egyptians!

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