Tag Archives: lock of hair

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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Isis, Nephtys, Neith and Serket. Four Divine Egyptian Mourners?


Last week we saw that in some cases Egyptian art offers images, whose meaning seems not clear, but which are based on well known practices from Ancient Egypt.

That was the case of two scenes, one from the Book of the Caverns in the tomb of Ramses IX and the other one from the temple of Osiris in Abydos. In both cases four mourning women appear pulling and shaking a front lock of hair.

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

We know that in Ancient Egypt belief the official mourners who took part in the deceased’s resurrection were two, Isis and Nephtys. However in these two images they are four women making a mourning rite. Can we deduce something more about the identity of this foursome?

These four female figures are categorized in the tomb of Ramses IX  as “goddesses” and they are included in the decorative program of a tomb and the temple of Osiris in Abydos, both belonging to a funerary context. So, for deducing more about them, we have to consider three main aspects: They are four, they have a divinie nature and they are related to the mummy and the  body’s restoration.

Is there a group of four goddesses in Ancient Egypt, who took care of the deceased? Yes, Isis, Nephtys, Neith and Serket. In the Egyptian thought they four formed a team for protecting the dead, or more concreetly, the organs of the dead.

Canopic shrine of Tutankhamun. Serket. Ancient Egypt.

Canopic shrine of Tutankhamun with Serket on the left and Isis on the right. XVIII Dynasty. Cairo Museum. Photo: www.globalegyptianmuseum.org

For that reason they four were the guardians of the caponic jars which contained the organs of the dead and of the coffin, which contained the mummy. And their image together were usual in these Egyptian canopic chests and sarcophagi.

Coffin of Khonsu, Sennedjem's son, from Deir el-Medina. Neith and Serket at the feet end. XIX Dynasty. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Khonsu, Sennedjem’s son, from Deir el-Medina. Neith and Serket at the feet end. XIX Dynasty. Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Photo: www.drhawass.com

These are the four goddesses who spread their arms over the funeral chest of Tutankhamun. We can see them also in the coffin of Khnonsu (Sennedjem’s son) from XIX Dynasty, Isis and Nephtys are depicted at the head end of the coffin, while Neith and Serket appear together at the feet end.

Coffin of Khnum Nakht. Feet extreme with inscriptions referring to Nephtys. XIII Dynasty. Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York. Ancient Egypt

Coffin of Khnum Nakht. Feet extreme with inscriptions referring to Nephtysand also Serket. XIII Dynasty. Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

Neith and Serket, together with Isis and Nephtys, were also mentioned in the inscriptions of some coffins and in canopic chests dating from the Middle Kingdom.

Wooden canopic chest of Satipi. Neith is included in the inscription. XII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt.

Wooden canopic chest of Satipi. Neith is included in the inscription. XII Dynasty. Photo: British Museum.

So, the union of these four goddesses was something well established in Ancient Egyptian belief. And the four mourners in the tomb of Ramses IX and the temple of Osiris in Abydos could perfectly be those ones.

 

 

Egyptian Words for “Lock of Hair” related to the Mourning Rite.


Detail of Papyrus of Ani. The lock of hair of Ani. XVIII Dynasty. British Museum. Ancient Egypt.

Detail of Papyrus of Ani. The lock of hair of Ani. XVIII Dynasty. British Museum. Photo: www.britishmuseum.org

Ancient Egyptians had different ways to refer to the action of disheveling hair. That happens because the Egyptian was a very rich language and had many centuries of history.

In this same line, we find that Egyptians also had various terms for designating “lock of hair“.

Egyptian word for "lock of hair".

Egyptian word for “lock of hair”.

The most common, that we have been reading and watching all over this blog is the word “swt” or “syt”.It was a very generic word for referring to a portion of head hair. This term seems to appear in the New Kingdom and according to the iconography it was chosen by scribes mainly for naming the pulled lock of hair related to the mourning practices.

Detail of the sarcophagus of Djedhor with Isis pulling her front lock of hair. Ptolemaic Period. Louvre Museum. Ancient Egypt

Detail of the sarcophagus of Djedhor with Isis pulling her front lock of hair. Ptolemaic Period. Louvre Museum. Photo: www.cartelfr.louvre.fr

Egyptian word for "lock of hair"

Egyptian word for “lock of hair”

The word “samt” has in Egytian a double value. In fact it is a controversial term. For some scholars it should be translated just as “sadness” or “lament“, but somne other scholar, due to the hair determinative and taking into consideration the context this word appears in, consider that it could be translated as “lock of hair“.

All along this blog we have seen how the word “samt” is closely related to the mourning rite and concretely to the mourning practice of cutting a piece-lock of hair of the professional mourners at the end of the funerary ceremony. So, one of the translations of  “s3mt” could be exactly this one: “lock of hair of a profesional mourner”.

Another very interesting Egyptian word for “lock of hair” is “nebed“.Lock of Hair nbd. Ancient Egypt It also appears in the New Kingdom and it seems to refer concretly to “plaited lock of hair“. It is very interesting to  notice the  between “nebed” and “nebedj”. Lock of Hair nbD. The bad. Ancient EgyptThis last word exists in Ancient Egypt from the Old Kingdom and its translation was “the bad“, in fact with the hair determinative it could also have the enemy determinative. There also was the proper noun of “Nebedj“, which was a way of naming Seth, the enemy of Osiris (and also Apophis,the enemy of Re).Lock of Hair nbD. Seth and Apophis. Ancient Egypt

We wonder if the word nebed for “lock or plait of hair” could come from the former Egyptian term nebedj, which was related to Seth, to he bad, to the enemy of Osiris. This is a dimension which links pefectly with the mourning practices with the hair of the professional mourners destinated to the resurrection of the dead. So, maybe nebedj was another Egyptian word for “lock of hair” again related to the mourning rite.

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.

Shaking, Pulling, Cutting and Offering the Hair in Ancient Egypt Funerals.


If we take a look at all documents compiled by category the results are these ones:shaking, pulling, cutting and offering

There are more examples of these women shaking their hair forwards than pulling their front lock of hair and it seems quite safe to affirm that in Ancient Egypt there was the habit of cutting and offering hair to the deceased. destacada 24de junio

We could conclude that Egyptian mourners shook more their hair than pulled it before cutting it, but it would not be precise, because archaeology and ancient history are not exact sciences and we just count on the documents the chance has preserved.

From the chronological point of view it seems that the New Kingdom has more activity, although it is obvious that it comes from the amount of examples of decoration it remains.shaking, pulling, cutting and offering together

But anyway, still some questions come to our mind related to shaking or pulling hair:

  • Was really the nwn m gesture the main one during the Old Kingdom?
  • Was the nwn gesture more in vogue from the Middle Kingdom on?

If both gestures coexisted, was still shaking hair the preferred one?

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.

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.