jueves, 30 de abril de 2015

fragment: sarchophagus

This is a fragment from a wooden outer-coffin of the Middle Kingdom, Dynasty 12, that was gessoed and painted on the inside. Four thousand years later, the colors are still extraordinarily vibrant.

 The horizontal hieroglyphic text on the top refers to two of the four sons of Horus: On the left, we can read im-st, referring to Imsety the human-headed deity protecting the liver. On the right, we read h-p-y, referring to Hapy, the baboon-headed deity protecting the lungs. The two large and symmetrically identical figures of the panel wear the ceremonial ‘false beard’. “The beard was evidently a symbol of power, and, in the form of the ceremonial ‘false beard’… strictly reserved for the chins of kings and gods” (Shaw 2000:50).

 But it is the text on the two vertical columns that is most tantalizing. On the right, htp-di-nsw, “a boon which the king gives”, is an introduction to the name of the deceased, to be revealed either on the adjacent panel below (missing), or in the next column of hieroglyphs to the left. The three hieroglyphs on that column read : k-a-i, which could either be the name of the deceased, or k-wr-i, which contains wr meaning “great.”

It so happens that we do know of an individual of some prominence named Kai, son of the nomarch (head of a ‘nome’) Neheri, who lived about that time, and might possibly be the defunct. As King Mentuhotep II proceeded with reunifying Egypt, around 2040 BC, “Neheri, who was the nomarch of Hermopolis at that time as well as the vizier and commander of one of the two Herakleopolitan divisions, simply protected his province with the help of his son Kay and the future Tunakht V…” (Grimal 1994:145).

“When at the end of the Old Kingdom, high-ranking officials ceased to be buried in imposing mastabas whose walls were entirely covered with relief decoration, the coffins were embellished with further decorative elements. The interior began to be covered with images and texts which, it was thought, would prove useful to the deceased in the Underworld” (Tiradritti 1998:126).

 Sarcophagus is a Greek term used in Egyptology to designate a container made to protect a mummified body (the term literally means “body eater”). Although we are guilty here of using the term loosely, the generally accepted convention today is to use ‘sarcophagus’ for a stone container, and ‘coffin’ for a wooden or metal container.

 Initially, Egyptian coffins were rectangular (sometimes with arched tops). They were decorated with symbolically charged motifs and ritual texts. Around Dynasty 12 (Middle Kingdom) appeared the first anthropomorphic coffins, which followed the general shape of the human body. By the New Kingdom, royal burial sets had become very elaborate: “The mummy. . . lay in three mummiform coffins; the innermost is made of solid gold, and the other two of wood covered with sheet gold. . . [the] set of anthropomorphic coffins was laid into a rectangular or cartouche-shaped sarcophagus, which in turn was surrounded by several chapel-like wooden structures. . .” (Redford 2001:[1]283).

Bibliography (for this item)
Andrews, Carol
 1984 Egyptian Mummies. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA. (
 6 # 4

Grimal, Nicolas
 1994 A History of Ancient Egypt (Reprint of the 1994 edition, translated by Ian Shaw). Blackwell, Oxford, United Kingdom. (145)

Hart, George
 1986 A Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, United Kingdom. (75-76

Shaw, Ian
 2000 The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. Oxford University Press, Oxford, United Kingdom. (50)

Tiradritti, Francesco
 1998 Egyptian Treasures from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. White Star Publishers, Vercelli, Italy. (

Bibliography (on Sarcophagus)
Redford, Donald B.
 2001 Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. Oxford University Press, London. (283)

Period:  Egypt, Middle Kingdom, Dynasty 12
Dating:  1991 BC–1782 BC
Origin:  Egypt, 
Material:  Wood (undetermined)
Physical:  43.5cm. (17 in.) - 
Catalog:  WOD.XL.00526

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