Tag Archives: Nephtys

An Egyptian Ostracon with Professional Mourners inside the Tomb.


Ostracon with funerary scene. New Kingdom. Manchester Museum. Ancient Egypt

Ostracon with funerary scene. New Kingdom. Manchester Museum.

Last week we could read about ostracon 5886 in Manchester Museum. In that skecht the Egyptian artists represented what happened outside the tomb. Let’s see now what happened inside.

Inside the tomb, a man is descending and some others appear in the funerary chamber carrying the coffin. But there are two important things: a man with a jackal head is next to the corpse and two kneeling figures are in a corner of the chamber.

Acccording to Campbell Price the coffin would be being  placed into the tomb, which is completely true. But was it necessary for placing the coffin a man with a jackal-headed mask and those two kneeling figures?

Ostracon with funerary scene. Detail of the inside. New Kingdom. Manchester Museum. Ancient Egypt.

Ostracon with funerary scene. Detail of the inside. New Kingdom. Manchester Museum.

The schematic scene would in fact represent what happened inside the tomb for reviving the deceased. We have already seen that the Egyptian Opening of the Mouth ceremony would happen inside the tomb and that the two mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys were a part of the party making a mourning rite in favour of the mummy.

The man with the jackal-headed mask as a living image of Anubis would play the role of the embalmer. In our opinion these two kneeling figures would be the two representatives of Isis and Nephtys.  In fact the scene shows the members of the common Egyptian scene in which Anubis assists the mummy while Isis and Nephtys are (standing or kneeling) at both ends of the corpse. The difference here is that these ones stay apart in the chamber and already with their short hair.

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

The man on the right seems to hold with his hand a long straight object, which seems to be more similar to a kind of strike than to an incense burner, Could we consider it as the adze used in the Opening of the Mouth ceremony?

Opening of the Mouth ceremony from the tomb of Menna in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

Opening of the Mouth ceremony from the tomb of Menna in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

Both men are holding the mummy as if they wanted to place it down in the shaft after having finished the rites.

It does not seem too ridiculous to think that such schematic skecth would represent the end of the Opening of the Mouth ceremony and the moment in which the mummy is finally buried. Meanwhile the two professional mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys would wait kneeling and already with no mane of hair until the dead is placed in the burial place and the shaft is sealed.

While that was happening inside the tomb, outside the common mourners would be lamenting, three of them with raise arms and one of them with hair on her face and her arms hanging down.

Nut places the two mourners in some coffins of the XII Dynasty.


In Ancient Egypt Isis was usually located at the feet extreme of the mummy, while Nephtys were located at the head extreme of it. Although it seems to have a logic based on a mythic legend, we find that this was not the rule all over the Egyptian history.

In previous posts we have seen how during the XI and XIII Dynasties Egyptian coffins show Isis at the head end and Nephtys at the feet end.

However, some coffins dating back on the XII Dynasty (the core Middle Kingdom), show that in that period of the Egyptian history Egyptians started thinking of Nephtys at the head end of the box and Isis at the feet end of it.

Coffin of Senbi from Meir. XII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Senbi from Meir. XII Dynasty. Cleveland Museum of Art. Photo: www.commons.wikimedia.org

For instance, in the coffin of Senbi from Meir in the Cleveland Museum of Art, the inscription shows that the place of Nephtys was the head extreme of the coffin.

Detail of the head end of the coffin of Senbi. Inscription referring to goddess Nephtys. Meir. XII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt

Detail of the head end of the coffin of Senbi. Inscription referring to goddess Nephtys. Meir. XII Dynasty.

Another example is the coffin of lady Senbi from Asyut in the Altes Museum of Berlin, which also shows the head extreme of the box as the place for Nephtys. So, in both cases Isis would be standing at the feet end.

Coffin of Lady Senbi from Asyut. XII Dynasty. Nephtys at the Head. Ancient Egypt

Coffin of Lady Senbi from Asyut. According to the hieroglyphs, Nephtys is at the head end. XII Dynasty. Egyptian Museum in Berlin: Photo: www.egyptian-museum-berlin.com

There are some other coffins, whose information is still much more complete. Not only they indicate the place for each goddess, but also inform us about who decided that.

Coffin of Sopi from el-Bersha. XII Dynasty. Musée du Louvre. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Sopi from el-Bersha. XII Dynasty. Musée du Louvre. Photo: www.cartelfr.louvre.fr

The coffin of Sopi, an intendant under the reigns of Sesostris II and III, from el-Bersha and now in the Louvre Museum, has a very rich decoration inside and a more austere one outside. Anyway, in both cases, the inner and outer decorative/textual pattern sends the same information: Isis is at the feet of the mummy. That happens because, according to the inscription,  “Nut has placed Isis at the feet of the corpse.

Coffin of Sepi from el-Bersha. XII Dynasty. Outer head end. Nut places Nephtys at the head. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Sepi from el-Bersha. XII Dynasty. Outer head end. Nut places Nephtys at the head. British Museum. Photo: www.britishmuseum.org

The same case we find in the coffin of the army commander Sepi, also from el-Bersha and in the British Museum. Outside of both extremes the hieroglyphs read how Nut has placed Isis at the feet and Nephtys at the head.

Coffin of Sepi from el-Bersha. XII Dynasty. Inner head end with the name of Nehtys. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Sepi from el-Bersha. XII Dynasty. Inner head end with the name of Nehtys. British Museum. Photo: www.britishmuseum.org

Coffin of Sepi from el Bersha. XII Dynasty. Outer feet end. Nut places Isis at the feet. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Sepi from el Bersha. XII Dynasty. Outer feet end. Nut places Isis at the feet. British Museum. Photo: www.britishmuseum.org

And also in the inner head end of this coffin, we read how the dead is there in front of Nephtys.

 

In these two cases, Isis stands at the feet of the dead and Nephtys at the head, following a decision of the goddess Nut.

Could we conclude something?

Not at all!

Next week we will see that nothing was stablished about this subject in the XII Dynasty.

Some other gods will also decide about tyhe location of Isis and Nephtys at both ends of the mummy.

The two Mourners Isis and Nephtys in the Egyptian Coffins of XIII Dynasty.


We saw on 1st April that during the XI Dynasty hieroglyphs on Egyptian coffins show that Isis was supposed to be at the head of the mummy and Nephtys at the feet. 

Later on, in the XIII Dynasty the tendency was the same one. Inscriptions on Egyptian coffins were also embellished with images. One of the best examples is the coffin of Khnum Nakht from Meir. 

Coffin of Khnum Nakht. Head extreme with image of Isis. On the left the false door with the two udyat eyes indicating the threshold between the earthly world and the Afterlife. XIII Dynasty. Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Khnum Nakht from Meir. Head extreme with the image of Isis. On the left the false door with the two udyat eyes indicating the threshold between the earthly world and the Afterlife. XIII Dynasty. Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

There is a group of coffin from Thebes (from el-Asasif) dating back to the XIII Dynasty and whose main feature are their black background colour. They also include some figures: at the head end of the panel there is the false door and at both extremes of the coffin the artists draw the images of two goddesses with her raised arms.

Coffin of Ikhet. XIII Dynasty from el-Asasif. Ancient Egypt

Coffin of Ikhet from el-Asasif. XIII Dynasty. At the head end there is the false door and at the head extreme a feminine figure stands with raised arms. Photo: www.metmuseum.org

Coffin of Nefnefret. XIII Dynasty from el-Asasif. Isis and Nephtys. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Nefnefret from el-Asasif. XIII Dynasty At both extremes the two feminine images, Photo: www.metmuseum.org

These two women are not always identified, as for instance in the coffin of Ikhet or the one of Nefnefret, but in some cases the hieroglyphs accompanying them says clearly that they are Isis and Nephtys. This is what we can see in the coffin of Entemaemsaf. The woman on the head extreme is goddess Isis and the woman on the feet extreme is goddess Nephtys.

Coffin of Entemaemsaf. XIII Dynasty.Isis at the head and Nephtys at the feet. el-Asasif. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Entemaemsaf. Isis at the head and Nephtys at the feet. XIII Dynasty. El-Asasif. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

Model coffins are not an exception, because Egyptians treated them as authentic coffins. For instance the model coffin of Teti from the Second Intermediate Period is of unknown origin (maybe from Thebes, although it is not for certain), but it follows the feature indicated above. The coffin, with some spells from the Coffin Texts, has a false door in the head end of the right panel and at the head extreme a feminine figure is standing with her raised arms.

Model Coffin of Teti. Second Intermediate Period. Ancient Egypt

Model Coffin of Teti. Second Intermediate Period. British Museum. Photo: www.britishmuseum.org

In Ancient Egypt the decoration of coffins during the XI and XIII Dynasties could include hieroglyphs and images of these two women at both extremes. It seems reasonable to think that they were Isis at the head extreme and Nephtys at the feet extreme.

But, what happened during the XII Dynasty?…

 

The two Mourners Isis and Nephtys in the Egyptian Coffins of XI Dynasty.


In Ancient Egypt iconography Isis and Nephtys appeared at both extremes of the corpse, usually Isis stood at the feet, while Nephtys stood at the head of the mummy. However this position was not always like that. We saw on 18th March how at the Egyptian coffin of Khnum Nakht, dating from the XIII Dynasty and coming from Meir (Middle Egypt) had an excellent manufacture in the decoration but probably with the wrong location of these two goddesses; the inscriptions of the feet extreme of the coffin mention Nephtys, while at the head extreme was the figure of a goddess named as Isis.

Model coffin of Neferu. XI Dynasty. Deir el-Bahari. Ancient Egypt

Model coffin of Neferu. XI Dynasty. Deir el-Bahari. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

Many coffins and model coffins (small model coffins made of wood contained figurines of the deceased and have been used in Ancient Egypt from the Middle Kingdom) from the Second Intermediate Period show the same location for both Isis and Nephtys. But if we look back to the XI Dynasty, we find that also that happened.

The model coffin of Queen Neferu dates from the XI Dynasty and comes from Deir el-Bahari in Thebes. The inscriptions on it show that the extremes of the coffin was already at that time reserved to the two mourners of Osiris, Isis and Nephtys. But, according to the inscription, the place for Nephtys here was the feet end of the box.

Coffin of Child Myt. XI Dynasty. Thebes. Ancient Egypt

Coffin of Child Myt. XI Dynasty. Thebes. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

 

This is not the only example of that; the coffin of Child Myt, from Thebes and dated in the XI Dynasty, shows also an inscription at the feet of the box mentioning the goddess Nephtys.

Coffin of Child Myt. XI Dynasty. Detail of Nephtys hieroglyph. From Thebes. Ancient Egypt

Coffin of Child Myt. Detail of Nephtys hieroglyph. XI Dynasty. Thebes. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

The coffin of Princess Mayet dates from XI Dynasty and comes also from Thebes. The hieroglyphs in it shows clearly that the head end was the place for Isis, while the feet end was the extreme for Nephtys.

Coffin of Princess Mayet from Thebes. XI Dynasty. At the feet end the name of Nephtys. At the head end the name of Isis. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Princess Mayet. At the feet end (left) the name of Nephtys. At the head end (right) the name of Isis. XI Dynasty. Thebes. Photo: Brooklyn Museum

This location of Isis at the head and Nephtys at the feet in the coffin is also visible in some Theban coffins from XIII Dynasty, as for instance in the coffin of Entemaemsaf, from el-Asasif.

Coffin of Entemaemsaf. XIII Dynasty.Isis at the head and Nephtys at the feet. el-Asasif. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Entemaemsaf. Isis at the head and Nephtys at the feet. XIII Dynasty. El-Asasif. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

 

But it is not the only example…

To be continued.

 

The wrong location of Isis and Nephtys in the coffin of Khnum Nakht.


In Ancient Egypt iconography Isis was mainly placed at the feet of the mummy, while Nephtys were at his head. That happened in tomb walls and in sarcophagi.

We have seen that this position was not accidental, but something deliberate. That typical icon of the mummy flanked by Isis at his feet and Nephtys at his head would remain two things. On one hand, it could represent a birth itself, when one woman gives birth (Isis) and being assisted by a midwife (Nephtys). On the other hand, it could refer to the mythical copulation between Isis and Osiris, so the goddess being at his feet would be ready for putting herself over her husband.

Coffin of Khnum Nakht. Head extreme with image of Isis. On the left the false door with the two udyat eyes indicating the threshold between the earthly world and the Afterlife. XIII Dynasty. Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York. Ancient Egypt.

Coffin of Khnum Nakht. Head extreme with image of Isis. On the left the false door with the two udyat eyes indicating the threshold between the earthly world and the Afterlife. XIII Dynasty. Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

But, sometimes, Egyptian art surprises us with some exceptions. Looking at the coffin of Khnum Nakht in the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York we realised that the decoration in it did not follow the rule we have said before.

The coffin of Khnum Nakht dates from the XIII Dynasty and comes from Meir (Middle Egypt). The decoration in it includes on the left side of the coffin the false door with the two udyat eyes. That indicates that the head of the mummy was located behind it.

Coffin of Khnum Nakht from Meir. XIII Dynasty. Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York. Ancient Egypt

Coffin of Khnum Nakht from Meir. An image of Isis at the head extreme of the coffin. XIII Dynasty. Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

At both extremes of the corpse the artist placed two goddesses. At the extreme of the head appears a goddess with a strange standard on her head carrying two hieroglyphs of the sealed oil jar with unguent mrht or mDt. According to the inscription above, she is Isis the Divine (Ast nTrt).

At the feet of the coffin there is no image, but two paintings of the façade of the palace. However we know this was the place of Nephtys thanks to the inscription.

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 Nephtys. XIII Dynasty. Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York.

Isis and Nephtys were there, at both extremes of the coffin assisting in the deceased’s resurrection. But it is surprising to watch that they were not where they were supposed to be: that is, Isis at the feet and Nephtys at the head.

We do not why, but the artist who decorated the coffin of Khnum Nakht located the feet as the place for Nephtys and the head as the place of Isis.

Was it maybe just a mistake? The coffin is made with an exquisite technique, so the manufacturer was not a beginner. The coffin was decorated by an expert (or a team of experts).

Was the icon of Isis at the feet and Nephtys at the head of the corpse still not too consolidated during the Middle Kingdom?…

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?

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.

Hair is Vegetation in Ancient Egypt.


Mourners with tears falling from their eyes (water) and hair on both sides of the face (vegetation). The image could be a metaphor of the Egyptian landscape, made up by the Nile and the both shores of the river. Painting from the tomb of Ramose in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Mourners with tears falling from their eyes (water) and hair at both sides of the face (vegetation). The image could be a metaphor of the Egyptian landscape, made up by the Nile and the both banks of the river. Painting from the tomb of Ramose in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

The connection of hair with nature is not only in its assimilation with water. The Egyptian funerary texts show hair Snw of Isis and Nephtys as an image of both banks of the Nile. According to Pausanias the tears dropping from the eyes of Isis were like the water in the riverbed, so the two mops of hair at both sides of the face could be considered as the vegetation on each bank of the Nile.

For reinforcing this idea we have the Egyptian language, which designates the vegetation as “the hair of the earth” el pelo de la tierraand considers a land with no plants as a “bald land”la tierra calva; therefore the hair is clearly in Egyptian belief identified with the vegetation. The two mourners’ pieces of hair/vegetation would be a metaphoric image of the two banks of the river.

From the natural point of view, we would be here facing a second seasonal step of the Egyptian calendar. The hair sm3 is a symbolic image of the inundation, that happens in the first season of akhet, while the hair Snw is referring to the plants, so the second season of peret. The growing of the plants is a natural rebirth, so making the nwn gesture and throwing the hair assimilated to the vegetation could be understood as a way of transferring the living force to the corpse; in the funerary dimension this would be a way of contributing to the mummy’s resurrection.