Tag Archives: deceased

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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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?

Aside

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

Open Reflections on Pulling Hair in Ancient Egypt .


The nwn m gesture of pulling the front lock of hair.

As we can see in the graphic here below the nwn m gesture of pulling hair is very present in the Old Kingdom, while we have no documents of it from the Middle Kingdom. It appears again later and especially strong in iconography. Documents from the Late Period on are less.

gráfico nwn m

Which ideas can we take from?

Nephtys pulling her front lock of hair. Detail from the sarcophagus of Nesshutefnut from the Ptolemaic Period. Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien.  www.khm.at

Nephtys pulling her front lock of hair. Detail from the sarcophagus of Nesshutefnut from the Ptolemaic Period. Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien. http://www.khm.at

  • If we have to take notice just of the data, we could understand that the nwn m gesture disappears during the Middle Kingdom for appearing again in the New Kingdom, but does it make sense? We think the answer is no. In this case we guess we have to hold chance responsible again for it.
  • Maybe the point is that such a sacred practice had not an orthodox way of being expressed, or in religious texts, or in iconography. Once in the New Kingdom the decorative activity gets so intense and sacred texts increase little by little religious and artistic collectives establish some rules or some principles. From that moment on we can distinguish between the common mourners and the professional ones, both making similar gestures, but with different meanings and in different moments of the funerary ceremony.

Mourning Women and Mourning Hair in Ancient Egypt Funeral.


All along this work we have found three different mourners involved in Egyptian funerals.

Mourning men pulling hair. Relief from the matasba of Idu in Gizah. VI Dynasty. Photo: www.antiguoegipto.org

Mourning men pulling hair. Relief from the mastaba of Idu in Gizah. VI Dynasty. Photo: http://www.antiguoegipto.org

On one hand there were groups of common mourners (mainly women, but sometimes also men) among the rest of the members of the cortège. They were walking together weeping and making the typical gestures of mourning:  beating themselves, raising arms, ripping their clothes…those gesture included also to shake the hair and cover the face with it (nwn) or to pull a front lock of hair (nwn m). Egyptian documents (texts and iconography) do not give evidence that both gestures were made together; common mourners made one or another nor did the whole group do the same gesture all together. It seems that there was no coordination and that the women could make different mourning movements during the procession. The question is if that depended on something.

  • Was it something spontaneous and did it not depend on any order?
  • Was it an election of priests?
  • Did it depend on a local custom?
  • Was it an election made by the deceased’s family?
  • Was it an election made by the deceased? Taking into account that the tomb and its decoration was made while he was alive, it makes sense to think about a tomb’s owner election.

On the other hand, Egyptian iconography, specially tombs and papyrus from New Kingdom, show us the deceased’s widow next to the coffin also weeping and making mourning gestures, but apparently never shaking or pulling her hair. She is a mourning wife, but different from the group of common mourners and from the two representatives of Isis and Nephtys.

Isis and Nephtys are at both extremes of the mummy. Behind Roy's wife mourns her husband's death. Painting from the tomb of Roy in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Isis and Nephtys are at both extremes of the mummy. Behind Roy’s wife mourns her husband’s death. Painting from the tomb of Roy in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Finally, the funerary ceremony in Ancient Egypt counted on the participation of two mourning women playing the roles of Isis and Nepthys. The New Kingdom is the most prolific period of Egyptian history in scenes of them. They usually appear at both extremes of the coffin with a passive attitude, although funerary texts refer to them as active members in the corpse’s regeneration.

If we construct the puzzle with all the pieces from the different documents the scene we have is the following: during the cortège these two professional mourners stood static next to the mummy and with their hair covered by a piece of clothing, meanwhile the rest of mourners regretted the death of a person crying, screaming and shaking and/or pulling hair. Once the procession arrived to the necropolis things changed.

Cortège with the common mourners, the deceased's wife and the two Drty in the role of Isis and Nephtys. Papyrus of Nebqed. Musée du Louvre. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.eu.art.com

Cortège with the common mourners, the deceased’s wife and the two Drty in the role of Isis and Nephtys. Papyrus of Nebqed. Musée du Louvre. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.eu.art.com

Mourners over the corpse. Detail of the stele of Akbaou. XI Dynasty. Photo: www.commons-wikimedia.org

Mourners over the corpse. Detail of the stele of Akbaou. Musée du Louvre. XI Dynasty. Photo: http://www.commons-wikimedia.org

The Opening of the Mouth ceremony for reviving the mummy took part somewhere in an enclosed area (most probably the tomb) and not in view of anyone. It was when the priestly team entered into the mythical dimension; the myth became rite in a group of practices for getting the deceased’s resurrection. The two women (Drty) turned into Isis and Nephtys and the mummy into Osiris. Outside the common mourners (included the deceased’s wife) kept moaning, but inside the two “kites” carried out a mourning ritual in which they made the nwn and the nwn m gestures. This way they reproduced that part of the Osiris myth in which Isis conceived Horus and he could revenge his father’s death.

During the Opening of the Mouth ceremony the sem priest played the role of the tekenu, helping in the transmission of life force to the corpse, but he also was the representative of Horus for facing Seth. This part of the myth is materialised in the rite by means of the sacrifice of an ox.

Sacrifice of the ox with the presence of the mourner. Painting from the tomb of Rekhmire in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Sacrifice of the ox with the presence of the mourner. Painting from the tomb of Rekhmire in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

The animal’s slaughter meant the victory of Horus over Seth, the good over the evil, so the mourning’s end. At that moment we consider the s3mt was cut, cutting this mourner’s hair symbolized the enemies’ annihilation, the end of the mourning and the Udjat eye’s recovery.

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, both with short hair. Relief from the tomb of Pahery in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

At the end of the Opening of the Mouth ceremony there were, among others, a hair offering. It was the mourner’s hair that had been shook and pulled and that served for symbolizing the revitalization process of the mummy (recovery of vital faculties, return to the Nun and to the womb…) and the removal of the evil which could drag out that process (lunar eye suffering, enemies, chaos…). This hair was offered as an image of the Udjat eye and materialised the deceased’s resurrection.

Ringlets and Plaits, Horns and Snakes, Moon and Resurrection.


In ancient Egypt some aspects of the hair have just a symbolic dimension in the deceased’s resurrection, these are the cases of the two ringlets wprty and the plait of hair Hnskt.

The goddess Hathor with lateral ringlets. Column from the temple of Khnum in Elephantine Island. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

The goddess Hathor with lateral ringlets. Column from the temple of Khnum in Elephantine Island. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Wprty are, according to the Coffin Texts, the two lateral ringlets at both sides of Hathor’s face; these two pieces of hair are in Egyptian imagery a kind of curtains which open and let see the goddess’ face. It is about the lunar divinity and to see her face means to see the moon, it is the metaphoric access to light from the darkness of the death, so a proof of resurrection. When the two wprty open, the deceased can come into the Herefater and be guided by the moon through the night sky.

Regarding the plait Hnskt, it is assimilated to the snake and the horns, both elements having a lunar nature. In Egyptian belief moon and snake are immortal, due to their cyclic renovation; they change gradually without dying; in fact that change is a way of regeneration and getting in a new existence. This is the Egyptian idea of death: it was not a disappearance, but a change of condition in the human life, so the funerary ceremony could be considered as a rite of passage.

Comparison of crescent (photo: www.channing.info) with the horns of a bull. Relief from a block in the Open Air Museum of Karnak. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martíni.

Comparison of crescent (photo: http://www.channing.info) with the horns of a bull. Relief from a block in the Open Air Museum of Karnak. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Horns in many ancient cultures, and also in the Egyptian one, were a symbol of regeneration thanks to the shape, which remembered the first quarter of the moon. This union between hair and horns makes us as well think about the two ringlets wprty of Hathor as a hair image of the two horns of the goddess. Precisely for that reason, the horns of Hathor can be connected with the plait Hnskt, which, according to one version of the Osiris legend, the goddess lost.

Head fragment from a statue of a "Bald of Hathor". New Kingdom. Metropolitan Museum of New York. Photo: www.metmuseum.org

Head fragment from a statue of a “Bald of Hathor”. New Kingdom. Metropolitan Museum of New York. Photo: http://www.metmuseum.org

In turn, all that can be related to the clergy of Hathor, whose priests were called “bald of Hathor” and whose requirement was the lack of hair in the crown, so remembering the goddess’ mutilation.