Tag Archives: opening of the mouth

“The Hand to the Mouth”. Suckling the Dead in Ancient Egypt.


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, embalmer and mourner Drt; the scene is closed by two images of an ox. V-VI Dynasty. Giza. Image: W.K. Sympson.

The assiduousness of the icon in the icnongraphy of Ancient Eypt of the mother bringing closer her breast with the aid of her hand to her baby’s mouth seems to be plenty of sense in the ancient Egyptian belief related to the new life. For that reason it does not seem too crazy to think that the expression “Djat Ra” (“the hand to the mouth”) from the tomb of Qar was related somehow to the dead’s resurrection. Let’s also remember that this gesture “Djat Ra” was closely related to the Opening of the Mouth ceremony and the resurrection of Qar’s corpse.

how-to-breastfeed-your-babyThat quotidian gesture of bringing the breast to the baby’s mouth is, in fact, a very basic way of opening the baby’s mouth, for allowing him to nurse. The first tip given to mothers at the beginning of the breastfeeding is to open well the baby’s mouth and to point the nipple to the middle part of the baby’s palate.

In the context of Ancient Egypt this idea would fit in the following way:  

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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.

Were in ancient Egypt funerals the two Drty mourners more important that the common mourners?


Rishi coffin. Both views with both funerary scenes. XVII-XVIII Dynasty. Thebes. Funerary ceremony in Ancient Egypt.

Rishi coffin. Both views with both funerary scenes. XVII-XVIII Dynasty. Thebes. Photo: www.metmuseum.org

Archaeology has brought to light Egyptian coffins dated in the XVII dynasty and in the early XVIII dynasty coming from Thebes and showing an external decoration which should be a help for the corpse regeneration. Due to the limited space which was the surface of the coffin, it seems obvious to think that the ancient Egypt artists working in Thebes had to choose the main or most effective images.

At that point the rishi coffin from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York shows at one side the funerary procession with common mourners, one of them making the nwn gesture of shaking hair forwards. On the other side is represented the Opening of the Mouth ceremony, where we can see the coffin flanked by the two women representatives of Isis and Nephtys (Drty). Both elements had to be very important for the mummy who was inside.

Rishi coffin. Right side with the funerary procession. On the left a common mourner shaking hair forwards. XVII-XVIII Dynasty. Thebes. Funerary ceremony in Ancient Egypt.

Rishi coffin. Left side with the funerary procession. On the left a common mourner shaking hair forwards. XVII-XVIII Dynasty. Thebes. Photo: www.metmuseum.org

The point is: if the Egyptian artist chose these two moments for being present in that decoration it is because they helped in the dead’s resurrection. So, the two mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys (Drty) were an important part during the Opening of the Mouth ceremony, but this does not mean that the common mourners were less important.

Rishi coffin. Right side with the Opening of the Mouth ceremony.XVII-XVIII Dynasty. Thebes. Funeray ceremony in Ancient Egypt

Rishi coffin. Right side with the Opening of the Mouth ceremony.XVII-XVIII Dynasty. Thebes. Photo: www.metmuseum.org

Not only the common mourners were necessary for the funerary ritual of ancient Egypt, but also the nwn gesture of shaking hair forwards was important in that intention of reviving the mummy. Because, as we have seen in former posts, that gesture was not just a sign of desperation and sadness, that shaken hair symbolized the renewing waters, the waters of the primeval moment the dead had to come back to for being reborn. If it would not be like that, the Theban artist of that rishi coffin would not have chosen that common mourner shaking her hair in the decoration.

“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

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.

Secular Mourning vs. Ritual Mourning. An Egyptian Custom.


We have seen Egyptian mourners, with Egyptian tears, shaking and pulling Egyptian hair and crying for an Egyptian corpse. But crying is spontaneous human expression, so mourning is not an isolated Egyptian practise; it is also a common behaviour in many other cultures, even nowadays it is still an important way of expressing desperation and sadness in case of death or any kind of disaster.

We have tried to look for similar examples of mourning in some other cultures near Egypt and more or less contemporary. We have found in some cases some coincidences, but also big differences.

In many African areas, women mourn in the same way Egyptian women did. They scream, lie down on the ground, and tear their clothes. But, apparently nothing is done with the hair.

Mourning woman when te city is being besieged. Relief from the tempel of Ashurnasirpal II in Nimrud. IX BC. Photo: www.lectio.unibe.ch

Mourning woman when te city is being besieged. Relief from the tempel of Ashurnasirpal II in Nimrud. IX BC. Photo: http://www.lectio.unibe.ch

From the reign of Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BC) in Assyria come some examples of women mourning and making gestures similar to those one we found in Egyptian funerals. His son Salmanasar III also left similar iconography. They are women crying desperate because their city is being attacked and their men killed. The document remembers the scene coming from the tomb of Inti in Dishasha (near Bahr el-Yusuf) from the IV Dynasty, where a woman is pulling her front lock of hair desperate because the city is being besieged.

Drawing of the relief in the tomb of Inti. Inside the fortress we can see the major and a woman, both pulling their lock of hair. Dishasha. VI Dynasty.

Drawing of the relief in the tomb of Inti. Inside the fortress we can see the major and a woman, both pulling their lock of hair. Dishasha. VI Dynasty.

But although they are examples of desperation as those Egyptian ones, the Assyrian women do not pull their hair nor shake it forwards. When Assyria was ruled by Ashurnasipal II and Salmansar III Egypt was in its Third intermediate Period.

There are several documents from the Archaic Greece showing women mourning in funerals. Many funerary plaques from that period show these women moaning and pulling locks of hair from their heads. Loutrophoros were vessels of pottery for water used in funerals, they were decorated with funerary images, and many of them show female during the mourning pulling locks of hair.

Eos mourning the death of  Memnon. Amphora in Etruscan museum in Vatican. VI BC. photo: www.facukty.gvsu.edu

Eos mourning the death of Memnon. Amphora in Etruscan museum in Vatican. VI BC. photo: http://faculty.gvsu.edu/websterm/Read_Iliad.htm

In an amphora in the Etruscan Museum in Vatican the goddess Eos is depicted mourning the death of her son Memnon at the hands of Achilles, she is bended over her son’s corpse pulling a front lock of hair. Another good example for us is a hydria from the VI century b. C. containing the mythological scene of the mourning of Achilles killed by Paris; some of the Nereids appear pulling locks of hair. While that was happening in Greece, Egypt was ruled by the XXVI Dynasty.

Thetis and the Nereids mourning the death of Achilles. Musée du Louvre. VI BC. Photo: www.commons.wikimedia.org

Thetis and the Nereids mourning the death of Achilles. Musée du Louvre. VI BC. Photo: http://www.commons.wikimedia.org

Greek Illiad describes how in Patroklos’ burial his fellows cut themselves locks of hair and covered his body with them and how Achilles cut a yellow lock of his hair and put it in the hands of Patroklos.  These two gestures were made in honour of Patroklos, but not for helping him in a final resurrection. Anyway, did this practice belong to Homer’s times (VIII century BC) or to the Trojan War’s times (usually dated in XII century BC)? If we consider the first date Egypt is in the Third Intermediate Period, while the second one coincides with the end of the XX Dynasty.

As we can see all the Egyptian proves are much more ancient, some of them more than 2.000 years. On the other hand, in Ancient Egypt there were two types of mourning, the secular one and the ritual one. The first one is closer to the foreign examples we have seen: a human behaviour for sadness or in honour of the death. In the second case the gestures belong to a rite, which comes from a myth. Egyptian mourners during the Opening of the Mouth ceremony made the mourning ritual with their hair for reviving the mummy. Does anybody know something similar in other cultures?