Tag Archives: ancient egypt

The First Moment of the Death in Ancient Egypt. Tutankhamun’s Tomb

The tomb of Tutankhmun is more than a mask, a mummy, Howard Carter… It is an historical document with lots of useful information about the funerary belief in Ancient Egypt. Let’s focus now on the funerary chamber.

Funerary Chamber of Tutankhmun. Image: National Geographic.

Funerary Chamber of Tutankhmun. Image: National Geographic.

The decoration of the funerary chamber.

The funerary chamber of Tutankhmun is the only decorated room in the tomb. The decorative program is not the typical one for a royal burial in Ancient Egypt. Starting from right to left, we find a secuence of images with contains a logic.

East Wall.

Funerary cortege of Tutankhamun. Image: www.osirisnet.net

On the East wall the funerary cortege is dragging the mummy of Tutankhmun on his sledge to the tomb. That is, Tutankhamun is being taken to the world of the dead; he is facing the first moment of the death in Ancient Egypt.

North Wall.

On the North Wall, the Egyptan artists depicted, on one hand,…

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The Ancient Egyptian Mourning Ritual, existed also in Amarna?

During the reign of Akhenaten many things changed in Ancient Egypt. The new Pharaoh modified the artistic canon, his residence, the religion, the cult…but what happened with the death?

Akhenaten, Nefertiti and their three Daughters. Altes Museum in Berlin. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo. Ancient Egypt

Akhenaten, Nefertiti and their three Daughters. Altes Museum in Berlin. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo

Those ancient Egyptian people from Amarna…did not die? Yes, they did, there was a cemetery. There were also mummies and coffins.

People continued being buried into tombs; and the walls of those tombs were decorated with reliefs. That is, there was a funerary art and a funerary architecture. A mortuary practice existed.

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Two Professional Mourning Men in Ancient Egypt?

The two Drty (two kites), offering nw vases to the four pools. Relief from the tomb of Pahery in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt

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

In Ancient Egypt a couple of two professional women in the role of Isis and Nephthys were actively involved in the dead’s resurrection. They appear usually at both ends of the coffin, during the Opening of the Mouth Ceremony or, from the New Kingdom, kneeling and offering two globular vases nw at the end of that funerary ceremony.

At the beginning we thought that this scene of the professional mourners offering the vases nw was something exclusive of the New Kingdom and of the Theban area. However we were maybe wrong; Ancient Egypt reveals always something new.

In some tombs from the Old Kingdom and from the Memphite area the artists of Ancient Egypt included an iconography, which remembers that one from later periods and from the south.

Funerary chapel of Iasen-front view with statue. Giza. Ancient Egypt. osirisnet

Funerary chapel of Iasen-front view with statue. Giza. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

That is the case of the tomb of Iasen in Gizah (G2196) from the Old Kingdom. In the funerary chapel, to the left of the niche with the statue of the deceased, there is an image of Iasen seated and facing the offering table. Underneath two unidentified kneeling men are facing the dead and offering nw vases. Their position clearly reminds the one of the two professional mourners at the end of the Opening of the Mouth Ceremony, which will become so common during the New Kingdom.

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Isis and Nephthys in the Ancient Egyptian Coffin of Nesykhonsu.

The iconography in Ancient Egypt was not gratuitous. Every image had a reason to be, but also every space.

From the Old Kingdom the two mourners in the role of Isis and Nephthys were accompanying the dead until the tomb at both ends of the mummy. The hieroglyphs of the wooden coffins from the Middle Kingdom tell how Isis was located at the feet and Nephthys at the head. This position could be due to a will of reproducing the moment of the rebirth of the deceased

Coffin of Nesykhonsu. XXI-XXII Dynasty. Museum of Art of Cleveland. Ancient Egypt

Coffin of Nesykhonsu. XXI-XXII Dynasty. Museum of Art of Cleveland. Photo: www.clevelandart.org

Later on the art of Ancient Egypt found in the coffin a new surface for including several icons, as the two professional mourners. From the XXI Dynasty became common to include these two female figures upside down in the in the external feet surface of the lid of the anthropoid coffin.

The inner part of the coffin offered also the artists of ancient Egypt a great surface for the sacred iconography. So, what was outside could also be drawn inside. At that point is emblematic the outer coffin of Nesykhonsu (XXI-XXII Dynasty), in whose interior…

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In Ancient Egypt Isis was the South and Nephthys the North.

In Ancient Egypt the Legend of Osiris was so important that it was integrated into the solar theology. As a result Isis and Nephthys, the two mourners of Osiris, became an essential part of some solar iconography, so both from the New Kingdom were depicted flanking the solar disk in its daily rebirth.

Book of the Dead of Nespakashuty. XXI Dynasty. Musée du Louvre. Ancient Egypt

Book of the Dead of Nespakashuty. XXI Dynasty. Photo: www.louvre.fr

It also had an effect in the holy conception of geography in Ancient Egypt. If the rising sun occupied the east and the sunset the west, the two mourning goddesses had to be also located somewhere, so they had to have also a geographical assignation: north and south. At that point the titles of the two goddesses are quite explicit. In Ancient Egypt, Isis was “The One of the South” and Nephthys “The One of the North”.

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In Ancient Egypt were Isis and Nephthys Essential in Cartonnages.

Cartonnages in Ancient Egypt were used over the wrapped mummy mainly for mummy masks and some important parts of the body.

The cartonnage of Irtirutja in the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York dates from the Ptolemaic period. In it one can see how the artist of Ancient Egypt dedicated this technique for covering some special parts of the mummy.

Cartonnage on the mummy of Irtirutja from Ptolemaic Period. Ancient Egypt. Metropolitan Museum of New York.

Cartonnages on the mummy of Irtirutja from Ptolemaic Period. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

The fact of choosing those parts of the anatomy could reveal an intention of including the essential elements in the belief of Ancient Egypt for the dead’s resurrection.

Obviously the mummy mask was obligated, since, among the many faculties the dead had to recover, there were the faculties of seeing and breathing.

The feet of the mummy were covered with two images of Anubis. It seems as if they were inverted, but they are actually dressed to the deceased’s eyesight.

Two images of the scarab with the solar disk were also a grant of the mummy’s rebirth. In Ancient Egypt, the Osiriac resurrection and the solar rebirth were united, in the iconography and in the religious texts.

Image of Nephthys mourning in the mummy of Irtirutja. Metropolitan Museum of New york.

Image of Nephthys mourning in the mummy of Irtirutja. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

The four sons of Horus (two at each side of the body) were also included in the composition, They were a personification of the canopic jars, which contained the dead’s viscera, so they accompanied always the deceased.

Finally, the ancient Egyptian artist could not omit two of the most important figures in the dead’s resurrection: Isis and Nephthys, the two professional mourners, who making a mourning ritual gave the faculties back to the mummy…

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“Reading” the Ancient Egypt Funeral in the Tomb of Qar.

In Ancient Egypt art  not always all scenes of a decoration were connected. But when it happens, it is important to guess the correct order of them and “read” the story.

On January 13th we saw how a small scene from tomb of Qar could be a summarized or codified representation of the Opening of the Mouth ceremony. But this is not the only surprise of this Egyptian tomb.

According to Simpson the normal order of the funerary scenes in the north wall was, following a more occidental logic, from the top downwards; so from left to right in the upper register and from right to left in the lower one.  The sequence would start with the three figures of the Drt mourner, the wt (embalmer) and would end with the arrival to the building on the left, which was considered as the embalming place[1]. However, the Egyptian logic in art was different from ours.

Scene of an Ancient Egypt funerary procession. Tthe tomb of Qar. V-VI Dynasty. Giza. Image from W. K. Sympson.

Scene of the funerary procession in the tomb of Qar. V-VI Dynasty. Giza. Image from W. K. Simpson.

The word identifying the building on the left is uabet , which means a “pure and clean place”[2], but not necessarily just for “embalming”. We also know that uabet from the Middle Kingdom also meant “tomb”[3]. Maybe the building in the scene was the Qar’s tomb. If we think like that, the decoration then maybe should be read in a different direction; in fact sometimes Egyptian artists designed a decoration from down to top.

The sequence would start at the right of the lower register. The cortège moves the coffin on the boat until the uabet building, the tomb (this would be a reproduction of the Egyptian mythical voyage to Abydos), the burial place and also the embalming place. We notice that the corpse is being accompanied by the two Drty mourners with short hair, the wt (embalmer) and the lector priest.

Ancient Egypt funeral. The coffin on a boat is being moved to the tomb. The mourners Drty are at both extremes of the coffin, in the prow sit the lector priest and the embalmer. Tomb of Qar. Giza

The coffin on a boat is being moved to the tomb. The mourners Drty are at both extremes of the coffin, In the prow sit the lector priest and the embalmer. Tomb of Qar in Giza. V-VI Dynasty. Photo: http://www.archaeology-archive.com

In the upper register the artists represented what it was happening inside the uabet building. There are always three main figures: the lector priest, the wt (embalmer) and the Drt mourner. And their presence allows us to divide the upper register in three scenes:

1)      They three and the coffin transport. That would be the staff and the mummy getting into the tomb.

The Drt mourner, the embalmer and the lector priest in front of the w3t. Tomb of Qar in Giza. V-VI Dynasty. Photo: www.allposters.com

The Drt mourner, the embalmer and the lector priest in front of the w3t. Tomb of Qar in Giza. V-VI Dynasty. Photo: http://www.allposters.com

2)      They three inside the w3t. This Egyptian word meant “way” or just “a part of a place[4]. Inside the w3t there is:

  • The tools of the Hmt (artisans),
  • The tools of the lector priest.
  • All necessary for the purification of the feeding[5]. It should refer to the final food offerings.
  • The icon shows that in this w3t there is water.

All these four points refers to what the staff needed for the Opening of the Mouth ceremony, as we can see in some tombs of the New Kingdom.

Funerary practice in the mastaba of Qar with lector priest, embalmer and mourner Drt; the scene is closed by two images of an ox. V-VI Dynasty. Giza. Ancient Egypt. Image: W.K. Sympson.

Funerary practice in the mastaba of Qar with lector priest, the embalmer and the mourner Drt; the scene is closed by two images of an ox. V-VI Dynasty. Giza. Image: W.K. Simpson.

3)     They three during the D3t r3 and the slaughter of the ox. We have already seen that this image could be a way of representing the Opening of the Mouth ceremony.

Summing up, the decoration of the north wall in the tomb of Qar could be read from down to top. The artist would have “narrated” the arrival of the funerary procession to the tomb, the resurrection rites practiced on the mummy and for that reason finally at the final top of the wall Qar sits alive in front of his funerary offerings.

Qar sits in front of his funerary offerings. Scene at the top of the north wall. Funerary ceremony below. Ancient egyptian funerals. Tomb of Qar in Giza. V-VI Dynasty. Photo: W. K. Simpson.

Qar sits in front of his funerary offerings. Scene at the top of the north wall. The funerary ceremony is below. Tomb of Qar in Giza. V-VI Dynasty. Photo: W. K. Simpson.


[1] Simpson, William K., The Mastabas of Qar and Idu. G 7101 and G 7102.  Vol. 2. Boston. 1976, p. 5

[2] Wb I, 284

[3] Wb I, 284, IV

[4] Wb I, 248, II

[5] This inscription deserves special attention, because it is not too clear. It seems to refer to purification (abu) of the “feeding” (D3t r3).


Looking at the walls of Egyptian tombs belonging to the Old Kingdom we are aware that artists at that period of the Egyptian history represented funerary ceremony not in such an explicit way as they did later on. The mastaba … Continue reading


Shaving the Mourners in Ancient Egypt during the Old Kingdom. We have already seen that there are proves of a practice in Ancient Egyptian funerals of cutting and then offering the hair of the two Drty (”kites”), who made a … Continue reading

Hair and Death in Ancient Egypt: Bibliography.

Dear fellows,

following the requirement from some of you I send you here enclosed the biliography.

Scribe. XVIII Dynasty. Detroit Institute of Arts. Photo: www.dia.org

Scribe. XVIII Dynasty. Detroit Institute of Arts. Photo: http://www.dia.org

I hope this can help to some of you, specially students making their research.


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