Category Archives: 02. HAIR AND MOURNING WOMEN

Isis, Nephtys, Neith and Serket. Four Divine Egyptian Mourners?


Last week we saw that in some cases Egyptian art offers images, whose meaning seems not clear, but which are based on well known practices from Ancient Egypt.

That was the case of two scenes, one from the Book of the Caverns in the tomb of Ramses IX and the other one from the temple of Osiris in Abydos. In both cases four mourning women appear pulling and shaking a front lock of hair.

Four mourners for Osiris. Temple of Abydos. Ancient Egypt.

Four mourners for Osiris with their front lock of hair falling forwards. Temple of Abydos. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín

We know that in Ancient Egypt belief the official mourners who took part in the deceased’s resurrection were two, Isis and Nephtys. However in these two images they are four women making a mourning rite. Can we deduce something more about the identity of this foursome?

These four female figures are categorized in the tomb of Ramses IX  as “goddesses” and they are included in the decorative program of a tomb and the temple of Osiris in Abydos, both belonging to a funerary context. So, for deducing more about them, we have to consider three main aspects: They are four, they have a divinie nature and they are related to the mummy and the  body’s restoration.

Is there a group of four goddesses in Ancient Egypt, who took care of the deceased? Yes, Isis, Nephtys, Neith and Serket. In the Egyptian thought they four formed a team for protecting the dead, or more concreetly, the organs of the dead.

Canopic shrine of Tutankhamun. Serket. Ancient Egypt.

Canopic shrine of Tutankhamun with Serket on the left and Isis on the right. XVIII Dynasty. Cairo Museum. Photo: www.globalegyptianmuseum.org

For that reason they four were the guardians of the caponic jars which contained the organs of the dead and of the coffin, which contained the mummy. And their image together were usual in these Egyptian canopic chests and sarcophagi.

Coffin of Khonsu, Sennedjem's son, from Deir el-Medina. Neith and Serket at the feet end. XIX Dynasty. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Khonsu, Sennedjem’s son, from Deir el-Medina. Neith and Serket at the feet end. XIX Dynasty. Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Photo: www.drhawass.com

These are the four goddesses who spread their arms over the funeral chest of Tutankhamun. We can see them also in the coffin of Khnonsu (Sennedjem’s son) from XIX Dynasty, Isis and Nephtys are depicted at the head end of the coffin, while Neith and Serket appear together at the feet end.

Coffin of Khnum Nakht. Feet extreme with inscriptions referring to Nephtys. XIII Dynasty. Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York. Ancient Egypt

Coffin of Khnum Nakht. Feet extreme with inscriptions referring to Nephtysand also Serket. XIII Dynasty. Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

Neith and Serket, together with Isis and Nephtys, were also mentioned in the inscriptions of some coffins and in canopic chests dating from the Middle Kingdom.

Wooden canopic chest of Satipi. Neith is included in the inscription. XII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt.

Wooden canopic chest of Satipi. Neith is included in the inscription. XII Dynasty. Photo: British Museum.

So, the union of these four goddesses was something well established in Ancient Egyptian belief. And the four mourners in the tomb of Ramses IX and the temple of Osiris in Abydos could perfectly be those ones.

 

 

Four Egyptian Mourners, Four Egyptian Locks of Hair.


Ancient Egypt iconography is usually clear and understandable. Some other times, although the scenes are explicit, the sense of the image it is not so clear. That happens especially with religious images accompanying sacred texts from XIX Dynasty.  That is the case of the resurrection scene from the tomb of Ramses IX  belonging to the Book of the Caverns, in which four women pull their front lock of hair towards the mummy.

Women pulling lock of hair over the dead. Tomb of Ramses IX. Valley of the Kings. XX Dynasty. Ancient Egypt

Women pulling lock of hair over the dead. Tomb of Ramses IX. Valley of the Kings. XX Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

We know that this was a gesture made by mourners as one of the practices for helping in the dead’s restoration. But we also know tha these mourners making that were the two representatives of Isis and Nephtys.

The scene from the tomb of Ramses IX shows four women instead of two. Now the question is why?

Four mourners for Osiris. Temple of Abydos. Ancient Egypt.

Four mourners for Osiris with their front lock of hair falling forwards. Temple of Abydos. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín

Looking for more exmaples the only similar scene we found is an image from the temple of Osiris in Abydos. Here four women appear in a sorrow position with a front lock of hair falling forwards. Although they are not pulling the hair, it is clear the realtionship of it with the Osiris resurrection. But the inportant point here is that they are four and not two.

In the Egyptian Book of the Caverns from the tomb of Ramses IX, these four women are named as “...the Goddesses who mourn together in the secret place of Osiris…“. So, it would not be crazy to think about these four female figures in the temple of Osiris in Abydos, also as women with a divine nature.

But…who?…Any idea?…

We will see in the next post.

The Ancient Egypt burial and rebirth “narrated” in a fragment of a coffin.


Today I would like just to stress the importance of watching well the pieces in museums all over the world for knowing better Ancient Egypt.

Usually people focus on travelling to Egypt or on watching those big pieces in great museums. It is obviously necessary (if not essential) both. But we cannot undersatimate less famous museums and pieces, which also show us so much about Ancient Egypt culture.

Mourning scene in a fragment of a coffin. V century BC. Ancient Egypt. Museum of Budapest

Fragment of a coffin. V Century BC. Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest.

This is the case of this fragment of a Egyptian coffin dating from the Late Period in the Museum of Fine Arts of Budapest. Apparently the images here are the usual funerary images we can find in some other formats for Ancient Egypt art (walls, stelae…). And it fact, they are. But, we are facing different scenes in the same surface. The point is: are they independent? or Are they conected and telling a sequence?

Probably many “western” visitors looking at that piece would watch it from top to down. So, first the scarab, second the winged goddess Maat, then the mummy with Anubis and the two mourners Isis and Nephtys, and finally the mummy on the boat. In that order, there is no sequence at all.

However, the decoration is on a sacred surface, on a funerary surface, and had to have a funerary meaning. Because in Ancient Egypt belief, the art had a practical purpose. In this case, and taking into consideration that these images belonged to an Egyptian cadaver, they had to be there related of the resurrection of the mummy.

Mourning scene in a fragment of a coffin. V century BC. Ancient Egypt. Museum of Budapest

The corpse neing transported to the necropolis.

Firstly the corpse was transported to the necropolis and he/she had to to cross the Nile, and that is what the Egyptian artists drew at the bottom of the piece.

Restoring rites. Anubis emblaming the corpse and Isis and Nephtys at both ends making the mourning rite. Ancient Egypt

Restoring rites. Anubis emblaming the corpse and Isis and Nephtys at both ends making the mourning rite.

Once in the necropolis took place the restoring rites for giving back the life to the death. That is, Anubis embalming the mummy and the two professional mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys making the mourning rite for giving back the vital faculties to the body.

The winged goddess Maat, and the scarab with the solar disk. Ancient Egypt.

The winged goddess Maat, Egyptian goddess of order, truth and righteousness; and the scarab with the solar disk, Egyptian icon of rebirth.

Afterwards the dead entered in the Hereafter, but before being accepted there he/she had to overcome the final judgment (psicostasia). Here the dead had to show that on earth he/she had behaved following the Maat’s rules, that is correctly, since she (here the winged goddess) was the goddess of order and righteousness.

Once it was proven that he/she had been righteous, he/she could enter into the Heaven. The final resurrection was a fact. The scarab with the solar disk is a typical Egyptian icon of rebirth.

Summing up, this fragment of coffin should be “read” from bottom (funeral) to top (resurrection); only like that the two middle registers have a meaning: the restoring rites and the final judgment.

Let’s  watch at Ancient Egypt art with an Ancient Egypt logic.

 

 

 

An Egyptian Ostracon with Professional Mourners inside the Tomb.


Ostracon with funerary scene. New Kingdom. Manchester Museum. Ancient Egypt

Ostracon with funerary scene. New Kingdom. Manchester Museum.

Last week we could read about ostracon 5886 in Manchester Museum. In that skecht the Egyptian artists represented what happened outside the tomb. Let’s see now what happened inside.

Inside the tomb, a man is descending and some others appear in the funerary chamber carrying the coffin. But there are two important things: a man with a jackal head is next to the corpse and two kneeling figures are in a corner of the chamber.

Acccording to Campbell Price the coffin would be being  placed into the tomb, which is completely true. But was it necessary for placing the coffin a man with a jackal-headed mask and those two kneeling figures?

Ostracon with funerary scene. Detail of the inside. New Kingdom. Manchester Museum. Ancient Egypt.

Ostracon with funerary scene. Detail of the inside. New Kingdom. Manchester Museum.

The schematic scene would in fact represent what happened inside the tomb for reviving the deceased. We have already seen that the Egyptian Opening of the Mouth ceremony would happen inside the tomb and that the two mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys were a part of the party making a mourning rite in favour of the mummy.

The man with the jackal-headed mask as a living image of Anubis would play the role of the embalmer. In our opinion these two kneeling figures would be the two representatives of Isis and Nephtys.  In fact the scene shows the members of the common Egyptian scene in which Anubis assists the mummy while Isis and Nephtys are (standing or kneeling) at both ends of the corpse. The difference here is that these ones stay apart in the chamber and already with their short hair.

Isis and Nephtys at both extremes of the corpse with shen rings. Tomb of Siptah. XIX Dynasty. Valley of the Kings. Ancient Egypt. Photo: www.thethebanmappingproject.com

Isis and Nephtys at both extremes of the corpse with shen rings. Tomb of Siptah. XIX Dynasty. Valley of the Kings. Photo: http://www.thebanmappingproject.com

The man on the right seems to hold with his hand a long straight object, which seems to be more similar to a kind of strike than to an incense burner, Could we consider it as the adze used in the Opening of the Mouth ceremony?

Opening of the Mouth ceremony from the tomb of Menna in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

Opening of the Mouth ceremony from the tomb of Menna in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

Both men are holding the mummy as if they wanted to place it down in the shaft after having finished the rites.

It does not seem too ridiculous to think that such schematic skecth would represent the end of the Opening of the Mouth ceremony and the moment in which the mummy is finally buried. Meanwhile the two professional mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys would wait kneeling and already with no mane of hair until the dead is placed in the burial place and the shaft is sealed.

While that was happening inside the tomb, outside the common mourners would be lamenting, three of them with raise arms and one of them with hair on her face and her arms hanging down.

An Egyptian Ostracon with a Disheveled Mourner.


Funerals of Ancient Egypt are usually known thanks to funerary scenes from the tomb walls. However, small objects can also give a very useful information.

Ostracon with funerary scene. New Kingdom. Manchester Museum. Ancient Egypt

Ostracon with funerary scene. New Kingdom. Manchester Museum.

That is the case of a limestone ostracon from Thebes and in the Manchester Museum (Acc. no. 5886), which dates from the New Kingdom. An Egyptian artist drew on it an ink sketch with a scene of a funeral.

The scene represents an Egyptian burial (there is a post written by Campbell Price in the blog ofthe Manchester Museum). The plan of the tomb is seen from a bird’s-eye view, while the members of the funerary team and the coffin are shown from a front view (the combination of different visual plans was normal in Egyptian art).

Ostracon with funerary scene. Detail of common mourners. New Kingdom. Manchester Museum. Ancient Egypt.

Ostracon with funerary scene. Detail of the common mourners. New Kingdom. Manchester Museum.

Outside the tomb a group of mourners are standing while weeping and a priest is with them burning incense and pouring water. Although it is not too clear, it seems that the artist pretended to draw one of these women with a lock of hair falling in front of her face. It should be pointed out that, while the three others appear with her raised arms, the mourner with the hair falling on her face has her arms hanging down.

Why? Egyptian artists had several ways of representing the lament: tears droping on the face, raised arms, arms crossing on the chest, hands covering the face, hands over the head, hair falling forwards, hair covering the face…Probably the artist who drew this sketch chose to represent three common mourners with raised arms and another one with hair falling on her face.

Common Mourners in the tomb of Rekhmire. Ancient Egypt.

Common Mourners in the tomb of Rekhmire. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

In fact, a very similar solution found the Egyptian artist  in the tomb of Rekhmire (TT100), where some mourners are kneeling with their hands on their head, some others are standing with crossed arms on their chests and another one stands also with crossed arms but with the mane of hair covering her face.

Relief from the tomb of Amenemhat (TT 82)

Painting from the tomb of Amenemhat (TT 82)

Also in the tomb of Amenemhat (TT82) we can see a group pf common mourners among who, some raise their arms, some cover their faces with their hands and two make the nwn gesture of shaking hair forwards. With them a priests holds an incense burner and a purifying water vessel. The same scene as we can see in the ostracon of the Manchester Museum.

The scene of this ostracon could be considered as an schematic way (or an “ostracon version”) of the nwn gesture made by a common mourner.

Re and Geb also place Isis and Nephtys at both ends of the Egyptian mummy.


We know that goddess Nut places Isis and Nephtys in some Egyptian coffins of the XII Dynasty. That goddess, as mother of these two mourners, decided to put Isis at the feet and Nephtys at the head of the mummy.

But that was not always like that in the Egyptian belief.

Some other coffins from XII dynasty and also found in Middle Egypt show that some other gods of the Heliopolitan cosmogony were also involved in that decision.

Feet end of inner coffin of Gua from el-Bersha. XII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt

Feet end of inner coffin of Gua from el-Bersha. XII Dynasty. Photo: www.britishmuseum.org

The inner coffin of Gua, from el-Bersha, presents inscriptions at both extremes of the box. At the feet end we read “Words said by Geb, I have put Isis at your feet in order she weeps you“. At the head end the hieroglyphs show that again Nut is the responsible of placing Nephtys there.

Head end of the coffin of Nakhti from Asyut. XII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt

Head end of the coffin of Nakhti from Asyut. XII Dynasty. Photo: www.cartelfr.louvre.fr

 

 

The coffin of Nakhti from Asyut is different. At the head end of the box we read: “Words said by Ra, I have put Isis at your head in order she weps you and she mourns“.

Feet end of the coffin of Nakhti from Asyut. XII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt

Feet end of the coffin of Nakhti from Asyut. XII Dynasty. Photo: www.cartelfr.louvre.fr

At the feet end we read: “Words said by Ra, I have put Nephtys at your feet in order she weps you and she mourns“.

In the coffin of Nakhti we find two things. On one hand Isis is at the head, while Nephtys is at the feet; the opposite of the expected location. On the other hand, the one who decides that location is Ra, the main god of the Heliopolitan cosmogony.

 

 

The coffin of Sebekhetepi from Beni Hassan has no trace of Isis andNephtys at both ends of the box. Instead of that, Sebekhetepi is in front of Anubis and The Great God Lord of the Sky, which is usually an epithet of Re.

These three coffins date from the XII Dynasty and come from Middle Egypt. The information we get from the inscriptions demonstrates that nothing about this subject was still fixed in the period of the Egyptian history.

Some reflections come to my mind:

  • The Egyptian mourning rite for helping in the dad resurrection was still too unknown and also the role of these two women as representatives of Isis and Nephtys. So what they did or where the were was not so clear for Egyptian  artists.
  • The mourning rite had a deep osiriac origin and was not yet well stablished in Egyptian decoration.
  • The mourning rite and its osiriac origin needed the Heliopolitan cosmogony for helping in that stablishment. Maybe Egyptian priests during the Middle Kingdom were atill looking for the way of combining these two traditions in the Egyptian coffins.

Nut places the two mourners in some coffins of the XII Dynasty.


In Ancient Egypt Isis was usually located at the feet extreme of the mummy, while Nephtys were located at the head extreme of it. Although it seems to have a logic based on a mythic legend, we find that this was not the rule all over the Egyptian history.

In previous posts we have seen how during the XI and XIII Dynasties Egyptian coffins show Isis at the head end and Nephtys at the feet end.

However, some coffins dating back on the XII Dynasty (the core Middle Kingdom), show that in that period of the Egyptian history Egyptians started thinking of Nephtys at the head end of the box and Isis at the feet end of it.

Coffin of Senbi from Meir. XII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Senbi from Meir. XII Dynasty. Cleveland Museum of Art. Photo: www.commons.wikimedia.org

For instance, in the coffin of Senbi from Meir in the Cleveland Museum of Art, the inscription shows that the place of Nephtys was the head extreme of the coffin.

Detail of the head end of the coffin of Senbi. Inscription referring to goddess Nephtys. Meir. XII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt

Detail of the head end of the coffin of Senbi. Inscription referring to goddess Nephtys. Meir. XII Dynasty.

Another example is the coffin of lady Senbi from Asyut in the Altes Museum of Berlin, which also shows the head extreme of the box as the place for Nephtys. So, in both cases Isis would be standing at the feet end.

Coffin of Lady Senbi from Asyut. XII Dynasty. Nephtys at the Head. Ancient Egypt

Coffin of Lady Senbi from Asyut. According to the hieroglyphs, Nephtys is at the head end. XII Dynasty. Egyptian Museum in Berlin: Photo: www.egyptian-museum-berlin.com

There are some other coffins, whose information is still much more complete. Not only they indicate the place for each goddess, but also inform us about who decided that.

Coffin of Sopi from el-Bersha. XII Dynasty. Musée du Louvre. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Sopi from el-Bersha. XII Dynasty. Musée du Louvre. Photo: www.cartelfr.louvre.fr

The coffin of Sopi, an intendant under the reigns of Sesostris II and III, from el-Bersha and now in the Louvre Museum, has a very rich decoration inside and a more austere one outside. Anyway, in both cases, the inner and outer decorative/textual pattern sends the same information: Isis is at the feet of the mummy. That happens because, according to the inscription,  “Nut has placed Isis at the feet of the corpse.

Coffin of Sepi from el-Bersha. XII Dynasty. Outer head end. Nut places Nephtys at the head. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Sepi from el-Bersha. XII Dynasty. Outer head end. Nut places Nephtys at the head. British Museum. Photo: www.britishmuseum.org

The same case we find in the coffin of the army commander Sepi, also from el-Bersha and in the British Museum. Outside of both extremes the hieroglyphs read how Nut has placed Isis at the feet and Nephtys at the head.

Coffin of Sepi from el-Bersha. XII Dynasty. Inner head end with the name of Nehtys. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Sepi from el-Bersha. XII Dynasty. Inner head end with the name of Nehtys. British Museum. Photo: www.britishmuseum.org

Coffin of Sepi from el Bersha. XII Dynasty. Outer feet end. Nut places Isis at the feet. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Sepi from el Bersha. XII Dynasty. Outer feet end. Nut places Isis at the feet. British Museum. Photo: www.britishmuseum.org

And also in the inner head end of this coffin, we read how the dead is there in front of Nephtys.

 

In these two cases, Isis stands at the feet of the dead and Nephtys at the head, following a decision of the goddess Nut.

Could we conclude something?

Not at all!

Next week we will see that nothing was stablished about this subject in the XII Dynasty.

Some other gods will also decide about tyhe location of Isis and Nephtys at both ends of the mummy.

The two Mourners Isis and Nephtys in the Egyptian Coffins of XI Dynasty.


In Ancient Egypt iconography Isis and Nephtys appeared at both extremes of the corpse, usually Isis stood at the feet, while Nephtys stood at the head of the mummy. However this position was not always like that. We saw on 18th March how at the Egyptian coffin of Khnum Nakht, dating from the XIII Dynasty and coming from Meir (Middle Egypt) had an excellent manufacture in the decoration but probably with the wrong location of these two goddesses; the inscriptions of the feet extreme of the coffin mention Nephtys, while at the head extreme was the figure of a goddess named as Isis.

Model coffin of Neferu. XI Dynasty. Deir el-Bahari. Ancient Egypt

Model coffin of Neferu. XI Dynasty. Deir el-Bahari. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

Many coffins and model coffins (small model coffins made of wood contained figurines of the deceased and have been used in Ancient Egypt from the Middle Kingdom) from the Second Intermediate Period show the same location for both Isis and Nephtys. But if we look back to the XI Dynasty, we find that also that happened.

The model coffin of Queen Neferu dates from the XI Dynasty and comes from Deir el-Bahari in Thebes. The inscriptions on it show that the extremes of the coffin was already at that time reserved to the two mourners of Osiris, Isis and Nephtys. But, according to the inscription, the place for Nephtys here was the feet end of the box.

Coffin of Child Myt. XI Dynasty. Thebes. Ancient Egypt

Coffin of Child Myt. XI Dynasty. Thebes. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

 

This is not the only example of that; the coffin of Child Myt, from Thebes and dated in the XI Dynasty, shows also an inscription at the feet of the box mentioning the goddess Nephtys.

Coffin of Child Myt. XI Dynasty. Detail of Nephtys hieroglyph. From Thebes. Ancient Egypt

Coffin of Child Myt. Detail of Nephtys hieroglyph. XI Dynasty. Thebes. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

The coffin of Princess Mayet dates from XI Dynasty and comes also from Thebes. The hieroglyphs in it shows clearly that the head end was the place for Isis, while the feet end was the extreme for Nephtys.

Coffin of Princess Mayet from Thebes. XI Dynasty. At the feet end the name of Nephtys. At the head end the name of Isis. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Princess Mayet. At the feet end (left) the name of Nephtys. At the head end (right) the name of Isis. XI Dynasty. Thebes. Photo: Brooklyn Museum

This location of Isis at the head and Nephtys at the feet in the coffin is also visible in some Theban coffins from XIII Dynasty, as for instance in the coffin of Entemaemsaf, from el-Asasif.

Coffin of Entemaemsaf. XIII Dynasty.Isis at the head and Nephtys at the feet. el-Asasif. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Entemaemsaf. Isis at the head and Nephtys at the feet. XIII Dynasty. El-Asasif. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

 

But it is not the only example…

To be continued.

 

The Egyptian Verbs for “Disheveling Hair”


Ancient Egypt language had many different words for expressing the disorder in a long female hair.

We have seen that in the funerary context the most used one was the verb nwn, which literally meant “to dishevel the hair over the face”,nwn gesture of disheveling hair in Ancient Egypt that is, to shake the mane of hair forwards and cover the face with it.  So the verb refers to the fact of extending the hair upside down. That was the gesture the mourners did during their mourning ritual in the Egyptian funerals. The verb is documented already from the Old Kingdom and closely realted to the funerary context.

All during this blog we have seen how the nwn gesture was made by the common mourners during the cortège, but overall by the two professional mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys during the resurrectional rites. Making the nwn gesture those two women evoked some crucial moments of the Myth of Osiris, as the copulation beweet Isis and Osiris, when Isis as a kte produces vital breath with her wings or the maternity of Osiris.

 

 

Another Egyptian word was tejtej (also written with the determinative of hair) tejtej-dishevel hair in Ancient Egyptwhich meant the tangled hair. According to Erman and Grapow, it was documented from Middle Kingdom and the sense of this verb was related to disorder. It was also applied to the fact of having the ideas mixed-up, so producing a state of confusion. The enemies of Egypt were as well tejtej when captured, since they were put all together in a disordered pile.

Isis as a kite over the corpse of Osiris. Relief from the temple of Seti I in Abydos. XIX Dynasty. Photo: www.common.wikimedia.org)

Isis as a kite over the corpse of Osiris. Relief from the temple of Seti I in Abydos. XIX Dynasty.

It is interesting to notice that chapter 17 of the Book of the Dead, which relates the copulation of Isis with Osiris, uses the verb tejtej for referring to the disordered hair of isis during her copulation with Osiris (Urk. V, 87). It still gains sense when we realise that tejtej is a reduplicated form from the Egyptian verb tej, which meant “get drunk”. And one epithet of Isis from the New Kingdom was “Lady of the Inebriation”. So, aluding to this state of confusion, which in the Myth of Osiris would be the moment of the copulation.

The verb sps has a very similar meaning as nwn, it was used for the tousled hairsepes- dishevel hair in Ancient Egypt, the main difference is that sps was documented from the New Kingdom, concretely in the Book of the Dead, while nwn is an existing verb for disheveled hair from the Old Kingdom. On the other hand it seems quite sure that nwn was the verb for referring to the concrete gesture of covering the face with the hair.

Two women shaking their hairs. Relief from the Red Chapel of Hatshepsut in Karnak. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín

Two women shaking their hairs in the Festival of the Valley. Relief from the Red Chapel of Hatshepsut in Karnak. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín

We have also to notice that the verb sps was later on also written with the determinative of a dancing person and it meant “dance”. sepes- dishevel hair in Ancient Egypt

At that point we could think that the verb sps could refer to the tousled during some dancing. If so, it comes tour mind those dances made by women during the Festival of the Valley or the Heb Sed. In them those dancers shook their hair forwards and disheveled it on her faces as symbol of renewing.

For the moment we cannot give many conclusions, but we know that the original word related to disheveled hair was nwn, as the gesture of shaking hair forwards by the mourners in the funerary ceremony.

In the Middle Kingdom appears the verb txtx, apparently evoking the chaos and disorder of a tousled hair and applied to the copulation of Isis and Osiris.

From the New Kingdom the verb sps is another way of referring to disheveled hair, although probably taken from ritual dances in which the dancing women made the nwn gesture of shaking hair forwards.

The wrong location of Isis and Nephtys in the coffin of Khnum Nakht.


In Ancient Egypt iconography Isis was mainly placed at the feet of the mummy, while Nephtys were at his head. That happened in tomb walls and in sarcophagi.

We have seen that this position was not accidental, but something deliberate. That typical icon of the mummy flanked by Isis at his feet and Nephtys at his head would remain two things. On one hand, it could represent a birth itself, when one woman gives birth (Isis) and being assisted by a midwife (Nephtys). On the other hand, it could refer to the mythical copulation between Isis and Osiris, so the goddess being at his feet would be ready for putting herself over her husband.

Coffin of Khnum Nakht. Head extreme with image of Isis. On the left the false door with the two udyat eyes indicating the threshold between the earthly world and the Afterlife. XIII Dynasty. Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Khnum Nakht. Head extreme with image of Isis. On the left the false door with the two udyat eyes indicating the threshold between the earthly world and the Afterlife. XIII Dynasty. Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

But, sometimes, Egyptian art surprises us with some exceptions. Looking at the coffin of Khnum Nakht in the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York we realised that the decoration in it did not follow the rule we have said before.

The coffin of Khnum Nakht dates from the XIII Dynasty and comes from Meir (Middle Egypt). The decoration in it includes on the left side of the coffin the false door with the two udyat eyes. That indicates that the head of the mummy was located behind it.

Coffin of Khnum Nakht from Meir. XIII Dynasty. Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York. Ancient Egypt

Coffin of Khnum Nakht from Meir. An image of Isis at the head extreme of the coffin. XIII Dynasty. Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

At both extremes of the corpse the artist placed two goddesses. At the extreme of the head appears a goddess with a strange standard on her head carrying two hieroglyphs of the sealed oil jar with unguent mrht or mDt. According to the inscription above, she is Isis the Divine (Ast nTrt).

At the feet of the coffin there is no image, but two paintings of the façade of the palace. However we know this was the place of Nephtys thanks to the inscription.

Coffin of Khnum Nakht. Feet extreme with inscriptions referring to Nephtys. XIII Dynasty. Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York. Ancient Egypt

Coffin of Khnum Nakht. Feet extreme with inscriptions referring to Nephtys. XIII Dynasty. Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

Isis and Nephtys were there, at both extremes of the coffin assisting in the deceased’s resurrection. But it is surprising to watch that they were not where they were supposed to be: that is, Isis at the feet and Nephtys at the head.

We do not why, but the artist who decorated the coffin of Khnum Nakht located the feet as the place for Nephtys and the head as the place of Isis.

Was it maybe just a mistake? The coffin is made with an exquisite technique, so the manufacturer was not a beginner. The coffin was decorated by an expert (or a team of experts).

Was the icon of Isis at the feet and Nephtys at the head of the corpse still not too consolidated during the Middle Kingdom?…