Tag Archives: Abydos

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.

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Two Mourners in the new discovered Tomb of the Egyptian King Senebkay?


Two mourners in the new discovered tomb of the Egyptian King Senebkay?

That was my first thought when I saw yesterday the new about the recent discovery of the university of Pennsylvania in Abydos. The tomb of King Senebkay, probably dating from XIII Dynasty, built in a simple way and, according to archaeologists, with reutilised blocks, is not too well preserved.

The painted decoration that it remains in this Ancient Egypt grave is very scarce and also quite simple. On a white background some images are visible, like the King’s cartouche, the winged sun disk and some female figures.

Decoration at the funeral chamber of Pharaoh Senebkay in Abydos. XIII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt. Photo: www.terrantiqvae.com

Decoration at the funeral chamber of Pharaoh Senebkay in Abydos. XIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.terrantiqvae.com

The scene which attracted our attention was the one at the last chamber. It is very typical Egyptian funerary scene. On the top of the wall a winged sun disk (image of Horus) is over a painted false door, which is crowned by the heker frieze and contains two Udjat eyes. This icon is very common in Middle Kingdom coffins; the eyes, in the Ancient Egypt belief are the deceased’s connection with the world of the living, so this part of the tomb symbolises the limit between this world and the Hereafter. At both sides of the false door two standing women appear as the only human beings.

According to Joseph Wagner (responsible of the works), the bad conditions of the tomb could be a proof of the bad economical situation of Egypt at that period (Second Intermediate Period). If so, it would make sense the lacking decoration of the tomb (let’s remember that itis about a Pharaoh’s tomb). But this premise would be important. If the decorative programm was limited, the artists had to include in the tomb just the essential for granting the Senebkay’s resurrection. Obviously, the false door and the Udjat eyes as the meeting point between the world of the living and the Hereafter were necessary. And what about those two women?

Let’s emphasize some points:

These two women appear alone, with no other human figures, so they were important.

These two women stand at both sides of the false door, in the same way Isis and Nepthys stand later on at both extremes of the coffin and/or the mummy.

These two women are at the connection point between the world of the living and the Hereafter. It is the place were the Egyptian mummy comes back to life after the resurrection ritual. We have seen all along our research that the two mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys were a very important part in the resurrection of the deceased.

These two women wear around their wrists apparently the hieroglyph of the seal. We still do not know really how to interpret that, but at first sight one image came to mind: the one of Isis and Nephtys in the New Kingdom scenes at both extremes of the coffin holding the shen ring, as a symbol of eternity. The seal and the shen ring hieroglyphs could be both determinative for the Egyptian word djebat (Wb V, p. 566), which meant “signet-ring“, so the seal in a ring worn by the Pharaoh.

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

These two women had to be there for granting the resurrection of the king. The question is who were they? There is an inscription next to them, which probably will shed light on that issue. Meanwhile let’s also think that the tomb is located in Abydos, place were the Myth of Osiris was specially important. Had the Egyptian artist represented the Osiris (so Senebkay) resurrection as summarized (or even cheap) as he could?

Hair offering in Ancient Egypt. Archaeological remains.


Iconography and texts point to an Egyptian funerary custom of shaving or cutting a piece of hair to the two mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys. But, does the archaeology say something to us? The answer is yes. There is archaeological information from different moments of the Egyptian history proving the existence of hair offering to the dead.

  • In the tomb of king Djer in Abydos (I Dynasty), a piece of hair and a false fringe were found by Petrie. He considered that they could be from the queen. Nowadays these remains are in Pitt Rivers Museum of Oxford[1]. In a common sepulchre in Abydos, dating possibly from the III Dynasty, many locks of hair were found, some of them were plaited and some were tangled up[2].

    Hair remains from the tomb of King Djer. I Dynasty. Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. Photo: www.prm.ox.ac.uk

    Hair remains from the tomb of King Djer. I Dynasty. Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. Photo: http://www.prm.ox.ac.uk

  • In a “pan-grave” from the Middle Kingdom near Balabish[3], at the south of Abydos, was found a burial with a masculine mummy, close to the body were laying out some plaits of hair, which apparently did not belong to the mummy[4], so they should be a ritual offering.
  • In the tomb of Tutankhamon was found inside a small anthropoid sarcophagus a plait of hair belonging to the Queen Tiye. According to A. Rowe, that would a queen’s relic, who was divinised, so that plait was considered a goddess’ hair[5]. Due that Queen Tiye was dead when Tutankhamon was buried, it seems much more logical to think of a familiar relic[6].
  • From Deir el-Bahari is a group of tombs from XVII, XVIII and XIX Dynasties.  Maspero assures there were locks of hair wrapped and put between legs, arms and around the necks of each mummy[7].
  • In a tomb of Deir el-Medina were found locks of hair inside a basket[8].
  • In the tomb of Queen Ahmose- Meritamun (XVIII Dynasty) H. E.Winlock found three baskets with human locks of hair and plaits of hair inside them.
    Inner coffin of Ahmose-Meritamun. XVIII Dynasty. Cairo Museum. Photo: www.wikimedia.org

    Inner coffin of Ahmose-Meritamun. XVIII Dynasty. Cairo Museum. Photo: http://www.wikimedia.org

    They were found with some other toilette objects. For that reason, Winlock considered that this hair was maybe for the Mertiamon’s hairdressing in the Hereafter[9]. This hypothesis sounds logical.

  • In many houses from Amarna were found clay balls with hair inside. They cold maybe be utilised for some kind of domestic magic[10].
  • In el-Kahun, Petrie found in 1890 in a tomb dating from the XX Dynasty two clay balls with locks of hair inside[11].
  • From Deir el-Bahari is a mummy dating from XXI Dynasty of a young girl, between her two legs were put locks of hair of 40 cm long[12].
  • In Gurob Tomb 605 at both feet of a female mummy was a squared case, which contained locks of hair. In some other tombs were also found hair remains[13].
  • Finally, we have to mention the Douch necropolis, in el-Kharga[14] and dating from I-V  centuries. In ten tombs were found deposits with globular clay vases with cut hair wrapped in clothing packs inside[15]; these vases were sometimes on the ground and sometimes inside a kind of whole in the walls of the funerary chambers . According to scholars the hair inside did not belong to the deceased ones, since these ones still had their own hair, but offerings.
The two Drty (two kites), offering nw vases to the four pools. Relief from the tomb of Pahery in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

The two Drty (two kites), offering nw vases to the four pools. Relief from the tomb of Pahery in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

All these archaeological remains make us think of those images of the twomourners called Drt with short hair at the end of the Opening of the Mouth ceremony and also of those texts mentioning the shaving of the mourners and the cut of the s3mt.


[1] Petrie and M. Flinders, 1902, p. 5, Pl. IV, fig. 7.

[2] Maspero, 1912, p. 170.

[3] It was in the group B 213, near the cultivable area.

[4] Wainwright, 1920, p. 11.

[5] Rowe, 1941, p. 624.

[6] Nachtergael, 1980, p. 243.

[7] Maspero, 1893, p. 274.

[8] Wagner et allii, 1984-1985, p. 188. They are in Musée du Louvre (Département des Antiquités Égyptiennes, Inv. Nº E 18851).

[9] Winlock, 1932, p. 34, Pl. XXXII y XXXIII.

[10] Peet and Woolley, 1923, p. 66.

[11] Crompton, 1916, p. 128. They are in the Manchester Museum.

[12] Daressy, 1907, p. 34.

[13]Bell, 1985, pp. 61-86, Pl. II.

[14] Dunand, Heim, Henein, Lichtenberg, 1992; Wagner et allii, 1984-1985, pp. 175- 202.

[15] The tombs are: T3, T4, T5, T7, T9, T11, T12, T53, T58, T66.