Afterlife

Ancient Egyptians believed that life continued after death in the afterlife. To ensure that they reached spiritual paradise, they developed an elaborate set of funerary beliefs and practices. These beliefs were largely associated with the myth of the god Osiris. When a person died, their body was carefully preserved through the process of mummification, just as the body of Osiris had been. The body was placed inside a coffin, which was placed inside a tomb filled with provisions for the afterlife.

The spirit of the deceased embarked on a journey through the underworld, a dangerous realm overseen by Osiris, its lord and ruler. The spirit had to complete certain tasks to pass through the halls of Osiris and reach the afterlife. The deceased was aided in these tasks by funerary texts like the Book of the Dead. In the afterlife, the spirit was reunited with the body, and life continued in perpetual bliss.


Block from a Doorjamb

Probably from Deir el-Medina
New Kingdom, 19th–20th dynasty (about 1292–1075 bce)
Carved limestone
Cat. 1661
The hieroglyphic inscriptions on this block state that the kneeling man, named Hui, was in charge of building and decorating royal tombs of the Valley of the Kings. The engraved stone was originally part of a funerary chapel.

[No artwork description.]


Stela Dedicated to Meretseger

Deir el-Medina
New Kingdom, 19th dynasty, reign of Ramesses II (about 1279–1213 bce)
Painted limestone
Cat. 1521
The four snakes atop this stela represent Meretseger, a local goddess worshipped in Deir el-Medina. The standing figure on the right is the goddess Isis. The stela’s owner, Amennakht, a Deir el-Medina craftsman, appears at the bottom in an attitude of worship.

[Artwork description: Four snakes, a standing figure, a seated figure, and writing symbols are carved into a rectangle of limestone. The snakes are represented by thick cylinder shapes with eyes and rounded noses that are standing straight up in the top center of the piece. They face forward and are carved deeply into a rectangular niche. The right-hand side and bottom of the stone have a border of carved symbols. An incised figure is standing on a line that is about one-third of the way up from the bottom and just inside the right border. The lower body and head are in profile facing the center of the stone. The upper body and arms face the viewer. The right hand is holding a long staff in front of the body, and the left arm is hanging down and holding a circle with a cross hanging from it. The figure is slim and wears a sleeveless, ankle length dress. The hair is long and pulled behind the ears. One piece of hair hangs over the left breast with the rest of the hair behind the shoulder. Under the line, a figure is kneeling. It is facing the center and has both hands held up at head level with palms facing out. It is wearing loose trousers and a beaded necklace. Long hair covers the left ear and flows over the left shoulder. Written symbols are above and in front of him. At the center of the lower border, a line rises and branches to both the right and left. The right branch ends at the level of the upper figure’s shoulder. The left branch disappears on the left side. At the branch, another line rises to about the middle of the piece and branches into two scalloped lines that end at the corners of the niche that houses the snakes. Symbols are written in the triangle shape formed between these lines. Two other curved, scalloped lines begin at the left of the center line and curve up and to the left to the edge of the stone.]


Stela of Kel

Deir el-Medina
New Kingdom, 19th dynasty, reign of Ramesses II (about 1279–1213 bce)
Painted limestone
Cat. 1636
The upper register of this stela depicts Kel, a stonemason, pouring water over the food offerings that he is presenting to the gods Osiris, Ptah, Anubis, Horus, and Hathor. In the middle register, he does the same for family members. In the bottom register, Kel and his wife receive offerings from their children. This stela retains most of its original paint.

[No artwork description.]


Sarcophagus of a Great Royal Wife

Valley of the Queens
New Kingdom, 19th–20th dynasty (about 1292–1075 bce) Granite
S. 05434/01, 02, 03
These fragments once comprised the side of a sarcophagus belonging to a Great Royal Wife whose name remains unknown. The queen’s name has been removed, although the reason is unclear. It is possible that the destruction of the sarcophagus was contemporary with the removal of the name. The fragments depict three of the four sons of Horus, protectors of the deceased’s internal organs. The image of the fourth son is now lost.

[Artwork description: Three jagged and broken pieces of a sarcophagus. The first is a vertical rectangle, second has a similar shape, but is missing the bottom right corner, the third is smaller and comes to a point at the bottom. There are carvings, dents, scratches, and discoloration across the surfaces of all three pieces. The design cannot be made out.]


Decorated Jar

Valley of the Queens
New Kingdom, 18th–20th dynasty (about 1539–1075 bce) Ceramic
S. 05717
Vases decorated with light blue floral motifs are among the most refined pottery types produced in ancient Egypt. These vessels are most often decorated with horizontal bands of color.

[No artwork description.]


Anthropomorphic Vase

Valley of the Queens
New Kingdom, 18th dynasty (about 1539–1292 bce) Ceramic
S. 05719
From the 17th dynasty until the end of the New Kingdom period, vases with feminine features were produced at many sites in Upper Egypt. Early examples were decorated with a face, two arms with hands, and breasts. Through the centuries, the face became more like the goddess Hathor’s, with a huge wig and bovine ears, suggesting a link to childbirth, fertility, sexuality, regeneration, or rebirth.

[No artwork description.]


Decorated Vase

Valley of the Queens
New Kingdom, 18th–20th dynasty (about 1539–1075 bce) Ceramic
S. 05720
The upper bodies of these vessels are sometimes pierced, probably to serve as spouts from which to pour liquids. These vases have been found in both funerary and domestic contexts.

[No artwork description.]


Statue of Idet and Ruiu

Probably from the Theban Necropolis
New Kingdom, early 18th dynasty (about 1480–1390 bce) Painted limestone
Cat. 3056
Statues like this typically depict a married couple. It was unusual for two women to be sculpted side by side. The relationship between these two women is not specified, although Idet seems to be more important, as she is seated on the right (the place of honor).

[Artwork description: This limestone sculpture shows two women seated next to each other on a stone bench with a tall back that rises to the top of their heads and a foot raised platform for a foot rest. Tiny hieroglyphics are carved into the side of the seat. The women both wear long white sleeveless dresses with multicolored stripes for a collar and a column of hieroglyphics starting at the knees and running between the legs to the ankles. Their bare feet are placed flat on the platform. The women have one arm behind each other, fingers resting on the other’s shoulder. They both have chest-length black hair in rows of braids. They have large, almond-shaped eyes with black eyeliner that comes to a point at the temples. The woman on the left has more damage to her face, with part of her nose and mouth missing. They both appear to gaze straight ahead and sit with backs straightened. Their hands that are not around each other rest gently on their knee, palm down, fingers gently extended. Multiple chips, dents, scratches, and spots of discoloration cover the surface of the sculpture.]


Statuette of a Young Boy Called Amenmes

Excavation site unknown
New Kingdom, early 18th dynasty (about 1500–1450 bce) Painted limestone
Cat. 3093
In ancient Egyptian art, men were generally portrayed with darker, reddish skin, in accordance with their role outside the home. This statuette depicts a young boy, whose age is signified by his traditional side-lock and his nudity.

[Artwork description: A limestone figure of a young child seated upright with hands flat on his lap and feet together. The figure is painted a warm, rusty brown all over except for the necklace, sidelock and eyes. Fingers, toes and navel are well delineated. The necklace consists of concentric circles starting with cream at the neck, changing to turquoise, cream, rusty brown, a wide swath of cream ending in gold. Eyes and brows are heavily lined in black. The braided side lock is also painted black. The boy sits on a white seat with a high solid back. The side of the seat features tow vertical rows of hieroglyphics. The boys feet rest on a continuation of the white limestone seat. A small museum plaque is fixed to the base and reads “cat. 3093”]


Headrest

Excavation site unknown
New Kingdom, 18th–20th dynasty (about 1539–1075 bce) Wood
Cat. 6408

[Artwork description: Wooden headrest. A wide U shaped panel on top connects to a thick trunk that extends outward to form a thin base. The surface is filled with a heavy woodgrain. A small column of hieroglyphics that are too small to distinguish.]


Shabtis of Pharaoh Seti I

Excavation site unknown
New Kingdom, 19th dynasty, reign of Seti I (about 1290– 1279 bce)
Faience
Cats. 2503, 2504, 2505, 2506, 2512
Seti I was the father of Ramesses II. His tomb, discovered in 1817, contained hundreds of shabti figures made of wood or faience. These statuettes depict the mummy of the deceased, holding hoes and carrying baskets on their backs. It was believed that these figures would perform manual labor for the deceased in the afterlife.

[Artwork description for 2512: This small, ceramic statuette is glazed in bright blue with black detailing and depicts a standing human form. It wears a nemes headcloth, its folds outlined in black. The nose, lips and ears are formed in ceramic but not outlined. The arms are crossed over the chest and each hand holds a hoe, painted in black. The lower leg portion of the statuette is solid providing space for five horizontal sections of hieroglyphics separated by a black line. Details such as bracelets, eyebrows, eyes and ornamental necklaces are portrayed with black line. The surface of the statuette appears smooth.]


Jars and Vases in the Tombs

During the early 1900s, when Ernesto Schiaparelli excavated several tombs in the Valley of the Queens, he found an array of grave goods, including many jars and vases. These items were commonly used in everyday life to hold a range of liquids, from water and beer to oil and wine. They were included in tombs for the same purpose, providing liquid provisions to the deceased in the afterlife. Vases decorated with light blue floral designs are among the most refined pottery types produced in ancient Egypt. One of the most widespread decorative motifs used on these vases was horizontal rows of flower petals, which imitated the wreaths of real flowers—symbols of rebirth—that were sometimes strung like garlands around jars and their stands during religious festivals.


Fragment of a Canopic Jar

Tomb of Nebettawy (QV60), Valley of the Queens
New Kingdom, 19th dynasty, reign of Ramesses II (about 1279–1213 bce)
Alabaster
S. 05440

[Artwork description: Tan vertical fragment of a vase. The left side has a column that runs the length of the fragment with multiple hieroglyphic symbols. The right side contains ten larger hieroglyphic symbols. The column on the left has a symbol that is difficult to distinguish, an eye, a symbol that resembles a flamingo with a sword shape next to it, three more symbols that cannot be distinguished, a bird, a horizontal line, then a vertical oval with multiple bowl and line shapes. The edges are jagged and there is discoloration and scratches throughout.]


Scarab Amulets

Tomb of Khaemwaset (QV 44), Valley of the Queens
Third Intermediate Period or Late Period (about 1075– 332 bce)
Faience
S.05329 & Provv. 3365
These scarabs, placed on the chest of the deceased, were once attached to a bead net that covered a mummy, as evidenced by the series of tiny holes along the edges. Bead nets were used to decorate the mummy and represented the night sky of the goddess Nut.

[Artwork description part 1: Tiny beetle that is a mix of rusted turquoise and dark brownish red. The design is simple with the head and two closed wings outlined in the dark brown. There are six holes spaced evenly around the edge. The surface is rough and there is discoloration and scratches across the beetle.

Artwork description part 2: Small turquoise carving of a beetle. It is in a rectangular shape with rounded edges. There are two horizontal curved lines about ¼ of the way down from the head and three vertical lines extending downward from those lines. The head is square with a carving on it that resembles a capital T on top of a half circle. There are flat edges around the beetle with five triangular notches evenly spaced evenly around the edge. The top has a shape resembling a crown with a hole in the middle.]


Fragments of a Washbasin

Deir el-Medina
New Kingdom, 18th–20th dynasty (about 1539–1075 bce) Ceramic
S. 07292 + 07308
This washbasin depicts the face of Hathor, goddess of the Theban Necropolis, who is often depicted as a cow. The largest mountain of Thebes was seen as the body of a prone cow. Burying members of the royal family in the Theban Necropolis inserted them back into Hathor, allowing them to be reborn every morning like the sun.

[No artwork description.]


Food Storage Boxes

Tomb of Imhotep (QV46), Valley of the Queens
New Kingdom, 18th dynasty, reign of Thutmose I (about 1493–1482 bce)
Wood with organic material
S. 05081
This small wooden container was discovered in the tomb of Imhotep, vizier (an official of the highest rank appointed by the Pharaoh) and mayor of Thebes during the reign of Pharaoh Thutmose I. The containers held the embalmed remains of various food offerings (duck, beef haunches, and ribs).

[Artwork description: These two shallow wood kidney-shaped containers for food have a brownish black glossy painted interior that has cracks running throughout. The portion of the containers that envelops the painted interiors is a natural colored material.]


Provisions for the Deceased

Provisions for the Deceased Tombs were equipped with many objects necessary for the well-being of the deceased. The most crucial were the trappings of the body: amulets, jewelry, masks, and coffins. Many of these objects had a protective function in the afterlife. A wooden headrest was used to support the base of the mummy’s head inside the coffin. A large amulet in the shape of a scarab beetle was often placed on the chest of the deceased to protect the heart and serve as a replacement should the heart be destroyed.

Also included in the tomb were shabtis, small statuettes shaped like mummies and holding implements. They were animated by a spell contained in the Book of the Dead and performed manual labor for the deceased in the afterlife. Other provisions such as food, clothing, furniture, games, and weapons ensured the continuous comfort of the deceased in the afterlife.