Celia Franks: Ancient Egyptian burial and funerary ritual objects

                Ancient Egypt, a civilization located in northeastern Africa that dates back to the fourth millennium BC, has been a subject of great interest to many, and has held a mysterious allure that continues to develop with each new archaeological discovery that seeks to reveal her secrets (“Ancient Egypt”).  Life in ancient Egypt can be compared to “an oasis in the desert of northeastern Africa, dependent on the annual inundation of the Nile River to support its agricultural population” (“Ancient Egypt”).  The culture that developed there was unique, having relatively little influence from the trade that was conducted by way of the Mediterranean sea, as Egypt required “few imports to maintain basic standards of living” (“Ancient Egypt”).  Nearly all the people of ancient Egypt were tied to the land (which was, in theory, rightfully owned by the king) through its cultivation and were not allowed to leave even though they were not considered to be slaves (“Ancient Egypt”).  Slavery was reserved for “captives and foreigners or to people who were forced by poverty or debt to sell themselves into service” (“Ancient Egypt”).  The gods that Egyptians worshipped were represented by animals as well as forces of nature, with their principal god being the sun (called Ra-Horakhty) (Davies et al. 49).  The geography of the land not only played a part in the everyday lives of the people, but “also played a formative role in the development of art” (Davies et al. 49).  One of the reasons that ancient Egypt is so captivating is due to the incomparable and epic design that went into its monuments and works of art.  “Egyptian artists executed works of art mainly for the elite patrons of a society that was extremely hierarchical” (Davies et al. 49).  Mighty structures, the pyramids, were commissioned by royalty (mainly by the kings, also known as pharaohs) to be used as tombs to commemorate their rule, and were built to leave a lasting impression (Davies et al. 57).  Much of the artwork that survives from the ancient Egyptians are “paintings, sculptures, and other objects they placed in the tombs to accompany the deceased into eternity” (Davies et al. 49).  Egyptian temples and tombs were constructed of “stone with relief decoration on their walls and were filled with stone and wooden statuary, inscribed and decorated stelae (freestanding small stone monuments), and, in their inner areas, composite works of art in precious materials” (“Ancient Egypt”).  These precious materials, such as “obsidian and lapis lazuli were imported from as far afield as Anatolia and Afghanistan” (“Ancient Egypt”).  Not only were the tombs of remarkable size and decoration, but the way the deceased were prepared (mummified) and dressed for the afterlife was also impressive.  “The mummified body was usually placed within a sarcophagus (a stone coffin) and buried in a chamber at some depth…” (Davies et al. 53).  The deceased were also buried with jewelry and other items of artwork, with the living believing that the “paintings provided nourishment, company, and pastimes for the dead” (Davies et al. 63).  The following exhibit of funerary ritual objects used in Ancient Egyptian burial practices offers a visual perspective of this culture and an explanation as to why people are continually fascinated by it.                           

Works cited                                                                    

"Ancient Egypt". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 07 Mar. 2016. <http: / /www.britannica.com /place /ancient-egypt>.                                                                     

Davies, Penelope J.E., et al. Janson's History of Art: The Western Tradition. 8th ed. New Jersey: Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2011. Print.

Ancient Egypt is known for its beautifully ornate artistic treatment of funerary objects. This Egyptian mummy mask is an exquisitely decorative example of what would have been made and placed on the face of the dead at the time of burial. Found in Abydos, Egypt and dating back to the Roman period (30 BC to AD 641), this specific mask is in excellent condition (“Egyptian Mummy Mask”). It is made of car tonnage: “the material of which many Egyptian mummy cases are made consisting of linen or papyrus glued together in many thicknesses and usually coated with stucco” (“Car tonnage”). Painted blue and gilded (an overlay process using a thin layer of gold), this head-case features a winged scarab on the forehead and measures at a height of 36.50 centimeters (“Egyptian Mummy Mask”). Images of Scarabs (large beetles with black shells) were often used in Ancient Egypt and Ancient Egyptian art “as a talisman, ornament, and a symbol of resurrection” (“Scarab”). The blue paint may have been used for this mask because the Egyptians associated that color “with fertility, regeneration, and the goddess Hathor” (Davies et al. 2011). Unfortunately, like so many other works of Egyptian art, the artist of this mask is unknown. Works cited Car tonnage. Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2016. Davies, Penelope J.E., et al. Janson's History of Art: The Western Tradition. 8th ed. New Jersey: Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2011. Print. Egyptian Mummy Mask. N.d. The British Museum. Web. 18 February 2016. Scarab. Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.
The scarab beetle is an ancient Egyptian religious symbol “associated with the divine manifestation of the early morning sun, Khepri, whose name was written with the scarab hieroglyph and who was believed to roll the disk of the morning sun over the eastern horizon at daybreak” (“Scarab”). In Egyptian funerary rituals, the scarab was not only common, but also a preferred form used in amulets (“Scarab”). While some funerary scarabs were used as decorative objects only, the “”heart scarabs” of the New Kingdom (1539-1075 BCE)… were placed in the bandages of mummies and were symbolically identified with the heart of the deceased” (“Scarab”). On this particular heart scarab, the back is decorated with painted stripes of gold and the base, or underside, is inscribed with spell 30B of The Book of the Dead (“Heart Scarab bearing”). Spell 30B has been translated as an incantation with the title 'Formula for preventing the heart of a man from opposing him in the underworld’ (“Book of the Dead”). This scarab would have been placed with the deceased, used as a talisman to protect the deceased during the ritual weighing of the heart ceremony (“Heart Scarab bearing”). Crafted by an unknown artist of green phyliite, its dimensions are 6.6 x 5.3 x 3.8 centimeters (“Heart Scarab bearing”). Works cited Book of the Dead. University College London. Web. 25 February 2016. http://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt/literature/religious/bdbynumber.html Heart Scarab bearing a standard spell requesting the heart not to testify against its owner during the weighing of the heart ceremony. N.d. The Israel Museum. The Scarab: A Reflection of Ancient Egypt. Web. 18 February 2016. "Scarab". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 25 Feb. 2016. <http://www.britannica.com/topic/scarab>.
Another talisman, or funerary ritual object that would have been placed with the deceased at the time of burial is known as a Shabti. Egyptian Shabti’s were crafted out of either wood, stone or faience (a type of glazed pottery) and were commonplace within ancient Egyptian tombs (“Ushabti figure”). The purpose of these statuettes were to “act as a magical substitute for the deceased owner when the gods requested him to undertake menial tasks in the afterlife” and were fashioned in the likeness of the deceased (“Ushabti figure”). This particular Shabti is of Neferibre-saneith, “a high-ranking court official from the Saite period”, was found among other figures within the burial vault that was located in Saqqara, and is made out of faience (“Shabti of”). This object dates back to the 6th Century BC and measures 18 x 4.7 centimeters. Shaped in the likeness of its deceased mummy, this shabti wears a beard (symbolizing divinity) and a tripartite headpiece (“Shabti of”). Carved into the body of the shabti, in hieroglyphics, is the Saite version of Chapter VI of The Book of the Dead (“Shabti of”). Works cited Shabti of Neferibre-saneith. N.d. Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest. Web. 18 February 2016. "Ushabti figure". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 25 Feb. 2016. <http://www.britannica.com/topic/ushabti-figure>.
In ancient Egyptian funerary rituals and burial practices, another article that was commonly placed within the tombs of the deceased were colorful illustrations on papyrus (writing material) from The Book of the Dead (“Book of the Dead”). Egyptian scribes would often copy these texts taken from the original Book of the Dead and sell them to individuals for use in burials (“Book of the Dead”). This particular papyrus is from the Book of the Dead of Nakht, who “was a royal scribe and overseer of the army (‘general’) at the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty (about 1550-1295 BC)” (“Papyrus from”). This illustrated page shows Nakht and his wife, Tjuiu worshipping Osiris (god of the dead) and Maat (who represents the customary order of things) (“Papyrus”). Also depicted on the papyrus sheet is an Egyptian house and a water filled pool surrounded by lush trees and vegetation (“Papyrus”). Although the scene looks like a plain representation of how ancient Egyptians would have lived during that time period, the elements drawn on the papyrus (such as the house and pool) are more than likely pictorial symbolisms (“Papyrus”). The house pictured probably represents Nakht’s desire to come back to earth from the afterlife, while a pool was often the Egyptians symbol for resurrection or rebirth (“Papyrus”). At the top of the papyrus, there are hieroglyphic inscriptions of Chapter 15 of the Book of the Dead, which contains an assortment of songs of worship connected with the veneration of Ra, the sun-god (“Papyrus”). This beautifully preserved article by an unknown artist from the 18th Dynasty is a wonderful example of the permanence of ancient Egyptian art (“Papyrus”). Works cited “Book of the Dead”. ". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 25 Feb. 2016. http://www.britannica.com/topic/Book-of-the-Dead-ancient-Egyptian-text Papyrus from the Book of the Dead of Nakht. N.d. The British Museum. Web. 18 February 2016.
In ancient Egyptian burial practices, the bodies of the deceased were placed in an ornamental sarcophagus (coffin) “shaped to resemble the human form with a carved portrait head” (“Sarcophagus”). Depending on the dynasty (time period), these coffins ranged in material makeup from the earliest being plastered papyrus sheets to the latter being made of wood, pottery or stone (usually limestone taken from the region) (“Sarcophagus”). In cases of royal burials, such as Tutankhamen, some were even made of solid gold or silver (Psussenes I) (“Sarcophagus”). This well preserved coffin is that of Nesmutaatneru, (daughter of Tjaenwaset and Neskhonspakhered) “an elderly woman who suffered from extensive dental disease, including a molar abscess extending into the jaw. Her advanced age is indicated by arthritic changes in the neck” (“Inner coffin”). Found in Thebes, Egypt, at the Temple of Hatshepsut, this sarcophagus dates back to the 25th dynasty (760-660 BC) and is 151 centimeters in length (“Inner coffin”). This type of coffin replaced the earlier car tonnage cases, being made of wood and taking “the form of a mummified body standing on a pedestal and supported in back by a djed-pillar, the hieroglyph for stability and emblem of Osiris. The decoration is brightly painted on a layer of plastered linen” (“Inner coffin”). She is depicted wearing “a vulture headdress over a long wig, an elaborate broad collar, and a ram-headed pectoral. The body is divided by bands of hieroglyphic text into compartments containing images of deities associated with the afterlife. In the central scene, the deceased lies on a bier surrounded by Isis and Nephthys and surmounted by a winged scarab representing Khepri” (“Inner coffin”). The beautifully intricate details of this sarcophagus shows the importance and sacredness of funerary rituals to the ancient Egyptians. Works cited Inner coffin of Nesmutaatneru. 760 BC- 660 BC. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The Ancient World. Web. 18 February 2016. "Sarcophagus". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 26 Feb. 2016. <http://www.britannica.com/topic/sarcophagus>.
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