Tag Archives: resurrection

Two Professional Mourning Men in Ancient Egypt?


The two Drty (two kites), offering nw vases to the four pools. Relief from the tomb of Pahery in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt

The two Drty (two kites), offering nw vases to the four pools. Relief from the tomb of Pahery in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

In Ancient Egypt a couple of two professional women in the role of Isis and Nephthys were actively involved in the dead’s resurrection. They appear usually at both ends of the coffin, during the Opening of the Mouth Ceremony or, from the New Kingdom, kneeling and offering two globular vases nw at the end of that funerary ceremony.

At the beginning we thought that this scene of the professional mourners offering the vases nw was something exclusive of the New Kingdom and of the Theban area. However we were maybe wrong; Ancient Egypt reveals always something new.

In some tombs from the Old Kingdom and from the Memphite area the artists of Ancient Egypt included an iconography, which remembers that one from later periods and from the south.

Funerary chapel of Iasen-front view with statue. Giza. Ancient Egypt. osirisnet

Funerary chapel of Iasen-front view with statue. Giza. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

That is the case of the tomb of Iasen in Gizah (G2196) from the Old Kingdom. In the funerary chapel, to the left of the niche with the statue of the deceased, there is an image of Iasen seated and facing the offering table. Underneath two unidentified kneeling men are facing the dead and offering nw vases. Their position clearly reminds the one of the two professional mourners at the end of the Opening of the Mouth Ceremony, which will become so common during the New Kingdom.

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“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).

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?

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

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?