Tag Archives: funeral

“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).

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

Aside

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

Open Reflections on Mourning Ritual in Egyptian Geography.


What about considering the iconography from the geographical point of view?  If we order in a map of Ancient Egypt the scenes we have found of mourning women that is what we have:Hair in Geography

The resulting map is the following:

Map hair

It seems that the nwn m gesture of pulling the front lock of hair belonged more to the Lower Egypt, while the nwn gesture of shaking hair was more habitual in the Upper Egypt. The exception was the royal tombs of New Kingdom, where the artist included also scenes of mourners (Isis and Nephtys or mourners of the Hereafter) pulling hair. So many questions come now to mind:

  • Did the nwn m gesture come from the north?
  • Did the nwn gesture have its origin in Upper Egypt?
  • Had the nwn gesture its origin in the Myth of Osiris? And was it typical from Abydos?
  • Were both gestures from Abydos and nwn m was extended to the north, while the nwn was extended to the south?
  • Did the election of one or another gesture depend on the place the burial took place?
  • Was the nwn m gesture introduced from the north in the royal funerary habits of New Kingdom?
  • While mourners pulled and/or shook their hair in Egyptian funerals, what happened in Nubia?

As we can notice, the matter is still full of questions with no answer. Many doubts come to our mind and we need to study deeper, slowly and with more documents.

Open Reflections on Shaking Hair in Ancient Egypt.


If we organise all the data in a graphic, we can more easily make some reflections for proving that the matter is still too far of being closed. Let’s see what we have about the nwn gesture of shaking hair forwards.

grafico nwn

    If we just look at the evolution we see that there is no trace of an explicit nwn gesture in the Old Kingdom. It seems that during the Old Kingdom the normal practice for mourners (the common ones and the two representatives of Isis and Nephtys) was to pull the hair (nwn m), not to shake it (nwn). This last one appears in documents from the Middle Kingdom, and the New Kingdom is the most prolific period, mainly in iconography. Does it mean something?

  • Was the nwn gesture of shaking hair sm3 forwards developed sometime before the Middle Kingdom; let’s remember that in XI Dynasty it is already entirely developed, as the stele of Abkaou proofs in the Festivity of Osiris.

    Detail of the stele of Abkaou in the Louvre Museum. XI Dynasty. Photo: www.commons.wikimedia.org

    Detail of the stele of Abkaou in the Louvre Museum. XI Dynasty. Photo: http://www.commons.wikimedia.org

  • Could we think that the nwn gesture was something that belonged just to the Festivity of Osiris? And later on it was included in the funerals of common people?
  • Maybe it has been a matter of pure luck and documents have not preserved (or have not been yet discovered) for knowing that the nwn gesture was also made by the two professional mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys during the Old Kingdom. In fact the Pyramid Texts say they pull their hair sm3, not their frontal lock of hair swt. Could it be a trace of the nwn gesture in the professional mourning ritual at that time?
  • On the other hand, the corpus of scenes the artists had for the private tombs of the Old Kingdom did not include images of the funerary ceremony nor of the Opening of the Mouth ceremony. So, the nwn gesture could be made in the mourning ritual of the Old Kingdom, but we cannot see it because it was not represented.

Data Collection on Mourning Hair in Ancient Egypt.


We have seen all along this work many documents showing an Egyptian mourning ritual during funerals. Mourning women shook and/or pulled their hair, the common mourners during the cortège and the two mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys in a precise moment of the Opening of the Mouth ceremony. But, was the reconstruction we have made of the funerary ceremony the same in every period of the history of Ancient Egypt and in every Egyptian city? Did the Egyptian mourners all over the country the same gesture with their hair?

DATA COLLECTION

Let’s compare chronologically the documents related to mourning women and the hair we have worked with. First we will compile in figures all the data about the nwn and nwn m gestures and about the haircut and offering and we will order them:nwn (2)

If finally we collect chronologically all the information, this is the result:

hair

According to that, the New Kingdom is the period of Egyptian history with a bigger legacy about mourning rites, especially in iconography, does it mean that in that moment the mourning ritual was more consolidated than before? If so, the latest period’s archaeological remains could make us think that the hair offering was a commoner practice in Greco-Roman times. No, things are not so easy.

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.