Queen Nefertari’s Egypt » Egyptian Tombs

Egyptian Tombs

Egyptian Funerary Texts

Funerary books provided guidance for the dead to reach the afterlife safely. These texts supplied spells or utterances that would help the deceased negate threats and overcome obstacles on the long and perilous journey through the underworld.

While the Book of the Dead, with about two hundred spells (or “chapters”), is the most well-known Egyptian funerary text, several other texts, known collectively as the Books of the Underworld, were also used. These books follow the voyage of the sun god through the netherworld during the twelve hours of night, until his successful rebirth the next morning. They also detail the geography of the afterlife. Although described as books, the spells were written and lavishly illustrated on papyri, coffins, and tomb walls as well as decorated amulets and shabtis.

The Process of Mummification

According to Egyptian funerary beliefs, without the body, the spirit of the deceased could not survive in the afterlife. Egyptians developed the process of mummification as a means of preserving the body and its remains. When a person died, embalmer priests washed the body with a mixture of water and natron, a natural drying agent made up of sodium salts. Then they followed a highly ritualized set of steps that took a total of seventy days to complete. Mummies were created in the image of the god Osiris, said to be the first mummy, who was bound in linen bandages by the god Anubis and reanimated by the goddess Isis after his death.

Egyptian Tombs

Egyptian tombs, known as “houses of eternity,” were vital in the journey to the afterlife. They protected the coffin of the deceased and contained all the items necessary for sustaining life after death. Because tombs were intended to last forever, they were built of durable materials like stone. The Valley of the Queens, part of the Theban Necropolis (complex of tomb sites), is located on the western side of the Nile. Ancient Egyptians located cemeteries to the west because they believed human life paralleled the path of the sun, which rose in the east and set in the west. The underworld was said to reside to the west, in the land of the setting sun. While excavating in the Valley of the Queens, archaeologist Ernesto Schiaparelli and his colleagues uncovered the tombs of Khaemwaset and Setherkhepeshef, two sons of Ramesses III. Their tombs were constructed during the 20th dynasty but later reused during the 24th and 25th dynasties. Dozens of coffins were piled inside the tombs, many belonging to the families of two temple priests. Although the coffins were already emptied, their inscriptions still call out to the gods.

Anthropoid Coffins

The shape and decorative style of coffins changed considerably over time in ancient Egypt. By the time the New Kingdom started (c. 1540 BCE), coffins had taken on an anthropoid (human) form. The features of the deceased were sculpted or painted onto the lids of coffins in this style. The eyes were shown open, as if the deceased were still alive, a tradition that spanned from the Old Kingdom until well into the Roman period.

Components of Egyptian Burial

Once the body of the deceased was preserved through the process of mummification, it needed to be provisioned and prepared for burial. The body was adorned with amulets and jewelry, then topped with a funerary mask or “mummy board”— a shallowly carved and painted depiction of the deceased. The whole assembly was placed inside a coffin, or a series of coffins, intended to protect the body. These were placed inside a stone sarcophagus, which was then moved into the tomb of the deceased. This case displays the way in which the body was provisioned and nested inside multiple coffins.

Book of the Dead of Hor

Ptolemaic Period (332–30 ce) Papyrus with ink
Cat. 1803
This papyrus depicts the weighing of the heart, a standard scene in the Book of the Dead. In the scene depicted on the left-hand side of the papyrus, the deceased, standing between the goddess Maat and the goddess of the West, raises his arms in jubilation. The gods Horus (falcon head) and Anubis (jackal head) weigh the heart of the deceased against Maat’s feather, while the god of the underworld, Osiris, and forty-two judges look on. Should the heart be heavier than the feather (and thus judged to be not pure), the beast Ammit waits in readiness to devour the sinner. The god Thoth (ibis head) records the result of the trial.

[No artwork description.]

Book of Amduat

Third Intermediate Period, 21st–24th dynasty (about 1075–712 bce)
Papyrus with ink
Cat. 1783
The most important book of the underworld was the Book of Amduat. The text is organized according to the twelve hours of the night. This papyrus scroll shows the final hour of the sun god’s journey through the netherworld. To rise again, the sun god, depicted as a ram-headed deity in a royal boat, must pass inside a giant snake. After passing through the snake, the sun god leaves the mummy of Osiris in the afterlife and rises in the form of Khepri, the scarab beetle god. As Khepri, the sun god is propelled by the air god Shu, whose head and outstretched arms extend across the curved vault of the sky.

The text and story progress from left to right across the papyrus.

[No artwork description.]

Coffin of Namenekhetimenipet

Valley of the Queens, Thebes
Late Period, 25th–26th dynasty (about 722–525 bce) Stuccoed and painted wood
S. 05222
Careful examination of coffins found in the tombs of Ramesses III’s sons revealed that eleven belonged to members of two distinct families of Theban religious officials whose family trees have been traced back five generations. This coffin belonged to Namenekhetimenipet, a member of one of these families. The coffin of her sister, Takhaauenbastet (displayed nearby), was also found in the tomb.

[Artwork description: This wooden coffin lid is topped with a realistic looking head emerging from a rectangular box that tapers downwards. The rounded head is adorned with a wig that sits low on the forehead and is painted black with splotches of red and areas where the paint has chipped away and the wood underneath shows through. The face is finely carved with thin black painted eyebrows arching over almond-shaped eyes that are heavily outlined in black. There is a long, straight nose with thin lips directly underneath. The lips are pressed together and give the impression that the figure is smiling. Two ears are finely detailed and peek out in front of the wig, which has two oblong parts that hang on either side of the head. The two ends of the wig rest on a decorated collar that forms the shoulders of the figure and extends under the neck to form a semicircle. The collar has about 10 zigzagging stripes running horizontally that are positioned close together and painted a reddish brown. The remainder of the lid is unpainted wood that mimics the shape of a body. Running down the center of the lid are three vertical columns of hieroglyphs rendered in black. A thin raised edge runs along the bottom of the lid where the figure’s feet would be.]

Lid from the Coffin of Neskhonsuennekhy

Valley of the Queens, Thebes
Late Period, 25th–26th dynasty (about 722–525 bce) Stuccoed and painted wood
S. 05245
Although the paint on this coffin lid is not well preserved, an elaborate collar is visible across the deceased’s shoulders. Beneath the collar, a goddess spreads her wings protectively across the chest of the deceased. Many of the coffins found inside the tomb of Setherkhepeshef, one of Ramesses III’s sons, were blackened from a fire in ancient times.

[Artwork description: This wooden coffin lid is topped with an intensely painted red traingular face that has two thin arching eyebrows, almond-shaped eyes outlined in black, a graceful nose, and thin lips pressed together. Sitting low on the forehead is an elaborate wig that features two hawk’s wings that curve behind the figure’s ears. The remainder of the wig is painted with thin black lines and there are chips at the very top of the wig. The two ends of the wig extend below the neck to the midchest area and rest on a highly detailed color with black markings that have been largely worn away. Below the collar is another set of finely wraught hawk’s wings, followed by a series of short red vertical strips separated by black markings, again worn away. A narrow bands of horizontal black stripes, made up of a series of squares, follow. A wide swath underneath has been worn away but bleeds into additional painted bands of black and red stripes with large squares containing decorations positioned in the middle of the sections of stripes. These bands are bisected by a large column that runs down the middle of the lid, with long, narrow red and black vertical stripes. These decorations end in a slightly rounded portion that has a large chunk missing from the lower right side and has been worn away. The bottom of the lid sits on a thick wooden pedestal.]

Lid from Outer Coffin of Bes

Valley of the Queens, Thebes
Late Period, 25th–26th dynasty (about 722–525 bce) Stuccoed and painted wood
The hieroglyphic texts on this coffin tell us that Bes was “lord of the house” and that his father had the same title. The decoration shows the characteristic scenes from the afterlife found on many coffins of this period. The thickness of the huge coffin is painted with a pattern of rosettes, and the form of the god Ptah-Sokar can just be seen on the bottom of the interior.

[Artwork description: The brownish red face of the coffin is triangular shaped. He has large almond shaped eyes with black centers and black eyeliner that comes to a point at the temples. He has a short nose and small lips. There is a hole on the chin where the fake beard was attached. He wears a wig with yellow, red, yellow, and green stripes that are horizontal across the forehead and vertical down the hair that rests on the chest. His shirt has approximately seven horizontal stripes. The first has multicolored triangles in red, green, blue, and yellow. Next a thick tan stripe with vertical rows of multicolored dots is bordered with thin black lines. Below a thin stripe of brown spikes rising out of a blue green base. Below a thick tan stripe with columns of larger multicolored ovals with a thin black stripe below. Next another tan stripe with brown spikes rising from a blue green base with a thin brown line below. Next a stripe of thick black columns with green and red lines behind it has a tan line at the base. Below a row of multicolored images that are shaped like vases sit on top of the outstretched wings of a goddess in the middle. It is flanked by columns of dark colored hieroglyphics. Below the wings is a tan strip with brown hieroglyphics bordered by thin blue and red lines. Below is a detailed scene with a number of figures facing the middle of the coffin. Another tan strip with brown hieroglyphics bordered by thin red and blue stripes. Below is a thick strip of approximately twelve columns of large, black hieroglyphics. Another tan strip with brown hieroglyphics bordered by thin red and blue stripes. A thick strip with scenes depicting the psychostasia, weighing of the souls with a column of hieroglyphics on the left and right. Winged goddesses on both sides outstretch black and brown wings towards the center. Vertical lines run above the wings with multicolored shapes between them that cannot be distinguished. Two tan stripes with brown hieroglyphics bordered by thin red and blue stripes border the final row which is filled with ten columns with black hieroglyphics. The bottom is eroded, jagged dark brown material with several dents and scratches. The whole surface is covered with scratches and areas of discoloration. A long crack runs down the middle of the coffin from the chin to the base. There are also large cracks on the top of the wig.]

Outer Coffin of Bes

Valley of the Queens, Thebes
Late Period, 25th–26th dynasty (about 722–525 bce) Stuccoed and painted wood

[Artwork description: The bottom portion of the coffin is shaped to accommodate a lid that has a head attached to a slightly tapered portion where the body would be laid to rest. Consequently, there is a rounded part at the top of the rectangular box. There is a lip around the whole structure. The exterior is decorated with red and yellow stripes with black hieroglyphs in between along the two longest sides of the coffin. At the head of the coffin there is a painted red circle with a yellow, bird-like shape on either side. At the foot of the coffin there is a red circle with a yellow ring painted around it. The two longest sides of the interior of the coffin are each decorated with a horizontal figure painted black with a red robe, a yellow and black headdress, and bare yellow feet protruding from the robe, with a green band encircling the ankle. a red stripe along the longest sides of rectangle.]

Lid from the Coffin of Takhaauenbastet

Valley of the Queens, Thebes
Late Period, 25th–26th dynasty (about 722–525 bce) Stuccoed and painted wood
S. 05248
Hieroglyphic inscriptions painted on this coffin reveal the name of the person buried inside— Takhaauenbastet—along with the names of her parents. When archaeologists examined other coffins found in the same tomb, they discovered the parents’ names recorded on another coffin, as well (that of Namenekhetimenipet, displayed nearby). These matching inscriptions led the archaeologists to conclude that the women buried in the two coffins were sisters.

[Artwork description: Brightly colored sarcophagus lid with mostly red tones that is eroded at the bottom revealing jagged wood. The face is strawberry shaped with large ears with round black earrings. The tip of the nose is broken off and the eyes are outlined with black eyeliner that comes to a point at the temples. There is a wrinkle in the skin under the right eye. The lips are plump and short. The black wig has the hair parted in the center and cascading over both shoulders with red strips at the end. Red and yellow wings with black lines that resemble feathers along the side of the head and a snake skin like pattern on the hanging half circle on the forehead. There are approximately twenty horizontal stripes that create the collar. They are mostly rust red with black, tan, yellow, blue, and black accents. Some rows have tiny vertical lines. Near the middle is a depiction of a goddess with dark black skin, arms extended outward with long wings with four layers of feathers. She sits on a platform that is red and black and has a red round orb on her head. Below her wings are vertical columns of hieroglyphics, approximately twelve on each side. Below are three horizontal rows with hieroglyphics in the middle row and three black horizontal lines in each red square on the rows above and below. Under these is a thick row of red figures with a black background – some appear human and some gods. Below is another set of the three horizontal rows with hieroglyphics in the middle row and three black horizontal lines in each red square on the rows above and below. It is difficult to see the next set of hieroglyphics due to significant surface damage. It appears there are three larger scenes depicted with approximately five columns of hieroglyphics between them. The bottom has a large scene in the middle with a large central figure and two figures next to it with approximately six columns to the left and right. The whole surface is covered with scratches and areas of discoloration. A long crack runs down the middle of the coffin from the chin to the base. There are also large cracks on the top of the wig.]

Lid from the Inner Coffin of Secheperamon

Valley of the Queens, Thebes
Late Period, 25th–26th dynasty (about 722–525 bce) Stuccoed and painted wood
S. 05246
On this inner coffin lid elaborately painted decoration surrounds funerary texts related to the journey of the deceased in the afterlife. The center of the lid shows the mummy of Secheperamon receiving life and warmth from the rays of the solar disc, while the sky goddess Nut stretches her wings above the weighing of the deceased’s heart. Meanwhile, Thoth, the ibis-headed god of wisdom, leads Secheperamon toward a company of other deities.

[Artwork descriptions: A triangular face sits atop this wooden coffin lid with a wig that sits low on the forehead. The two sides of the wig hang straight down behind the ears and extending past the chin to sit on the figure’s collar. Bands of decorations embellish the “body” of the coffin but, unlike the other coffin lids, the “skirt” of the figures appears to have vertical creases or waves rather than being straight. The coffin is also more rectangular than tapered, in contrast to other lids.]

Inner Coffin of Hory

Excavation site unknown
Third Intermediate Period, 21st–22nd dynasty (about 1075–790 bce)
Stuccoed and painted wood
Cats. 2212/01/02
Egyptian coffin ensembles originally consisted of three main parts: the outer coffin, the inner coffin, and the mummy board. Here, the outer coffin is now missing, but the inner coffin of Hory is displayed. The top of the coffin has a yellow background and is decorated with a frieze of uraei (cobras) with single plumes in between. The bottom is damaged, but it was originally decorated with an image of Imentet, goddess of the necropolises west of the Nile, who welcome the deceased to the afterlife. Beneath the inner coffin lid, a false lid, or mummy board, provided an additional layer of protection for the mummy. This wooden plank was decorated like the inner coffin lid and covered the full length of the mummy, with a sculpted face and hands.

[No artwork descriptions.]

Coffin of Asetemhat

Valley of the Queens, Thebes
Late Period, 25th–26th dynasty (about 722–525 bce) Stuccoed and painted wood
S. 05239
The inscriptions on this coffin reveal the name of the deceased—Asetemhat, called “mistress of the house”— as well as her parents, Padiusir and Aseturet. The coffin is elaborately decorated inside and out. A central vignette on the outside of the lid shows Anubis, god of the dead, mummifying Asetemhat. The interior shows two full-length representations of Nut, goddess of the sky. The coffin’s underside depicts a djed-pillar, which represents the spine of Osiris, god of the underworld, a symbol of stability and resurrection.

[Artwork Description: This wooden coffin lid has a head with a rounded face at the uppermost end. The head is topped by a wig that sits low on the forehead with two sides curving down past the chin and behind the ears to sit at midchest on a painted collar. The ends of the wig are painted a light blue. The highly decorated “body” of the coffin has vestiges of different colored paint that has worn away. The bottom of the coffin juts out in a rhomboid shape.]


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