Ancient History

What was placed Inside Ancient Egyptian Tombs

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When an ancient Egyptian tomb is found, most people who think of the sarcophagus or even the mummy itself. What they may not realize is that several items were likely entombed with the deceased. These artifacts give archaeologists a valuable view into what life and death was like for the ancient Egyptians.

The manner in which an ancient Egyptian was buried was a reflection of the Egyptian belief that death was a transition into a journey into eternal life. The type and number of items placed with the mummified remains of the deceased varied due to social status and time period. The wealthier or more powerful the deceased, the more elaborate the items were that were buried with him. Every ancient Egyptian, no matter how poor, was buried with something to help them on their journey in the Afterlife.

Amulets of different types were placed among the layers of linen wrappings. Each amulet was a protection against particular evils of the Afterlife. The heart scarab was especially important because it would keep the heart of the deceased from testifying against him.

The body itself could be interred in nested coffins. During the Middle Kingdom Period, the coffins were decorated in such a way as to look like the deceased looked in life. In case the body was destroyed in some way, the sarcophagus itself could serve as a substitute for the deceased.

In the Late Period, the mummified remains were laid to rest with a flat bronze disc called a hydrocephalus under the head. On the disc were pictures of Egyptian deities and texts from the Book of the Dead. This disc had the powers to keep the deceased warm in the Afterlife. A funeral mask was sometimes molded and placed over the mummified face for the purpose of giving the deceased a face in the Afterlife and so that the body could be recognized by its spirit.

A small image of the deceased was sometimes placed close to the body as a resting place for the Ka, or life spirit, of the deceased. In some tombs, the Book of the Dead was placed inside the sarcophagus. The Book of the Dead was a set of spells and passwords' on a papyrus scroll needed for the Afterlife.

An ancient Egyptian tomb from the Fourth Dynasty would hold stone or clay canopic jars. These jars, often with stoppers shaped in the images of the Four Sons of Horus, contained the embalmed and anointed internal organs considered vital for life after death. These organs were the lungs, liver, stomach and upper intestines, and lower intestines. The Four Sons of Horus were in the image of a baboon, a human, a jackal, and a falcon.

Statues or wall paintings of different Egyptian deities were included in some tombs for the purpose of protecting the deceased. In other tombs reserve' heads have been found. These are life-size stone replicas of the head of the deceased, placed there apparently to be a substitute should the actual head of the deceased be destroyed. Clay funerary cones have been found in some tombs, their broad bases inscribed with the genealogy of the deceased and his name and title.

Osiris boxes have been found in some ancient Egyptian tombs. These were shaped like Osiris and held silt from the Nile and grain. Before the box was placed in the tomb, the silt would be watered. The sprouting grain was a representation of the rebirth the deceased would experience.

A strange relic of burial, the shabti, was placed in the tomb with the deceased. Also known by the Egyptian words ushabti or shawabti, these were representations of the mummified remains. It was hoped that when Osiris, the king of the underworld, came to summon the deceased to work in his fields, he would mistakes one of these shabti slaves for the deceased. The deceased would not have to labor in the Afterlife if a shabti slave took his place. Osiris would then protect the soul of the deceased. Shabti statues were made of many materials: glass, wood, mud, stone, bronze, wax, or pottery. In the New Kingdom Period, a tomb could have as many as 365 shabtis, one for each day of the year, and 36 overseers to watch over the labor being done. In the Middle Kingdom Period, the shabti would have Chapter 6 of the Book of the Dead carved into their backs as further protection. The shabti became so numerous by the time of the Third Intermediate Period, they were kept in wooden boxes.

Miniature statuettes of animals were included in the tombs. These animals were carefully chosen for the quality the deceased would need from them. A hare would provide the deceased with speed while a cat or frog were symbols of fertility.

Everything the deceased would need to carry on life after death was left in the tomb. The ancient Egyptians were buried with items needed to clothe them and keep up their appearance. Sandals, linen clothing, wigs, glass perfume bottles, slate cosmetic palettes, ivory combs, and jewelry have been found in the tombs. Storage jars and pots, flint knives, beds, tables, and chairs made the Afterlife a home. Whatever the deceased's occupation was in the former life they would be expected to do in the Afterlife. Therefore, a soldier would be buried with small representations of his chariot, horse, weapons, and shield. If an item was too large to be placed in the tomb a miniature would be made of it or a scene of it would be painted upon the wall. The expectation was that these things would magically become real in the Afterlife for use by the deceased.

Oakes, Lorna, and Lucia Gahlin. Ancient Egypt: An Illustrated Reference to the Myths, Religions, Pyramids and Temples of the Land of the Pharaohs. New York: Barnes and Noble, 2006.

More about this author: Sandra Petersen

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