Tag Archives: Egyptian funeral

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 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.