Ancient Egypt: Funerary objects
The nemset vessel
The netjeri blade
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Funerary objectsObjects played a major part in ancient Egyptian funerary customs. They served to enable the deceased to continue his existence in the beyond, some were tools with which the corpse was made ready for burial and the afterlife, others were grave goods which the deceased could use.
Some of the grave goods from the tomb of Tutankhamen
Many objects found in tombs were ordinary things: tools, pots, chests, baskets, amulets, etc which the Egyptians used every day. Others, like censers, were employed in religious ceremonies in general and some were specially made for the occasion: coffins, masks, ushabtis, models or scrolls with spells designed to help a person to survive in the afterworld. magic everybody could afford and were hoped to protect life and limb.
Heart Scarab of Hatnofer,Nor would the deceased do without them, as the journey through the beyond was exceedingly dangerous. Most important among the amulets was the heart amulet, which was placed above the heart left inside the deceased person's chest after all the other organs had been removed. Its task was to prevent the heart from bearing witness against the deceased and help him pass the judgment of the dead with success.
ca. 1466 B.C.E.; Western Thebes
Courtesy "Rogers Fund", 1936 (36.3.2)
Source: Metmuseum website 
When wrapping a mummy, amulets were placed in its swathing, so they would always remain in place and protect it. Especially popular was the djed-pillar amulet, which ensured stability. The spell spoken over the amulet was
Raise yourself up, Osiris! You have your backbone once more, O weary-hearted one (i.e. deceased one); you have your vertebrae.The tit-amulet, a symbol for the knotted belt of Isis, a goddess great of magic, protected limbs and the wadj granted eternal rejuvenation. The weres-amulet, a symbolic headrest, kept the head raised.
The tomb itself could do with some protection too. During the 18th dynasty an amulet was imbedded in a nook in each of its four walls, and later, in the Ramesside period, statuettes of deities were also hidden in such niches.
embalmment. The 4th dynasty queen Hetepheres is the first person known to have her organs preserved. They were dried with natron and stored in a chest of Egyptian alabaster with four compartments. In later times four sperate vases with stoppers were used for this purpose. Each receptacle came to be assigned to one of the four sons of Horus and contained either the stomach, the intestines, the lungs, or the liver. These sets of jars were often put in canopic chests. By the Middle Kingdom two containers were at times used for a single set of jars, an outer one made of stone and an inner, wooden one.
Canopic jar, tomb of Senebhenaf at Abydos
Canopic jars of Neskhons, wife of Pinedjem II
Even during their heyday the use of canopic jars remained limited to the upper social strata. No canopic jars were for instance found in the New Kingdom cemetery northeast of Gurob, where lower and middle class people were buried in simple pits without superstructure and apparently without embalmment. By the time mummification became cheaper and more accessible in the Ptolemaic period, the canopic jars had gone out of fashion.
The king offering incense
Censers came in various shapes. Some were shaped like tiny altars, but many were hand held, metal cups or half spheres at times sitting on top of short handles, with or without a lid, and during the New Kingdom they might be metal-lined bowls at the end of carved, armlike handles with pellet containers from which the bowls could be refilled with incense. Above all royal censers were often beautifully decorated, showing kings prostrating themselves (a first instance is known from the Middle Kingdom) or kneeling (Ahmose II).
3rd IP bronze censer. The censer bowl which was affixed to the hand is missing.
Stone sarcophagus of Thutmose III
Sarcophagus lid of Setau, viceroy of Kush under Ramses II. British Museum
Lid of slipper coffin
But even such specially made earthenware pots were beyond the means of many, and dead babies for instance were at times placed in old terracotta jars whose mouths had been enlarged by breaking off pieces of the lip, and which were then sealed with mud.
Ptolemaic coffin frame made of ribs of palm leaves
Inscription on a pink pottery funerary cone belonging to the overseer of the House of the God's Wife Djehutinefermahu
The wish to lend the deceased an eternal human face dates back to the Old Kingdom. At times plaster was applied directly to the face or to the linen wrapping covering it, molded and painted to resemble a face. The first masks were carved from wood during the First Intermediate Period. Cartonnage, a number of layers of papyrus or of linen cloth stuck together and stiffened with gesso, began to be used at about the same time in the making of mummy masks and was still employed in Graeco-Roman times, when painted heads of plaster and pictures painted in encaustic on wood became popular.
Golden mask of Tutankhamen
Hypocephalus of Tashenkhons, daughter of Khonsardais
A so-called "Concubine of the dead"
The models served various purposes. During the Middle Kingdom, when they were more fashionable than at any other time, clay house models, the so-called soul houses, were left on top of pit graves and had the function of offering tables, ensuring the continued existence in the afterlife.
A limestone mummy label with the inscription: Tasheretpadihorsematawy daughter of Padihorsematawy, Osiris, Denderah, Roman Period
May his soul live: Petemin, son of Petempto, before Osiris, first of the West, the Great God, Lord of Abydos, until eternity and also into eternity, while his soul serves Osiris-Sokaris, the Great God, the mysterious, who repeats for him rejuvenation and vigour into eternity and also eternity.The term is sometimes used loosely. A Greek mummy label reads like a bill of lading:
Consignment: To the harbour of the village of Kerke in the Arsinoite nome the lightly clad body of Plousianos, son of Aurelius Hakar and deliver (it) to the undertakers there. from the village of Philadelphia.As the number of people who could barely afford embalmment was growing, these labels could be used to perpetuate the name of the deceased instead of having to commission an expensive mortuary stela or tombstone.
A great number of mummy labels have been found. Their analysis contributes greatly to the knowledge of population statistics of Graeco-Roman Egypt.
Faience nemset vessel, New Kingdom
Dispense water for Osiris Khentamenti, my King, the lord of Abydos, while the goddesses are bearing a libation vessel, a situla and a nemset-jar.
The use of the netjeri-blade during the opening of the mouth ceremony
Osiris Unas, I shall open your mouth for you. Upper Egyptian instrument for the opening of the mouth, (made of) metal, Lower Egyptian instrument for the opening of the mouth, (made of) metal.
Ptolemaic (?) limestone offering table
During the Old Kingdom food offerings were presented to the deceased lucky enough to have a substantial tomb on stone platters or offering tables in front of their funerary stela, but for most the offerings probably looked more like the hieroglyph for "food offering", a loaf of bread placed on top of a mat. The Middle Kingdom fashion was for clay Soul Houses, little models of houses with courtyards, which had been developed from simple pottery offering platters  and in which the offerings were placed. The offering tables were decorated with food stuffs and inscribed with the offering prayers, which would nourish the deceased through their magic, if real foodstuffs were not provided.
In depictions the offering tables are laden with a great variety of exquisite foodstuffs, and quite possibly that was the quality and quantity of offerings customary among the rich. Poorer folk restricted their food offerings and libations to what they could afford, sometimes to the basic bread and water.
Osiris with grain and the grain god Nepri, a tradition which began in the Middle Kingdom. A wooden frame in the form of the god Osiris or a brick with the form of the god cut into it is filled with soil in which barley seeds are sown. When the barley germinates Osiris is "resurrected". By identifying himself with the god the deceased hoped to share his fate and experience resurrection.|
The Osiris beds are reminiscent of the corn mummies, mummiform loaves of soil and grain representing Osiris, which were buried in pits and not in graves, apparently as part of the Osiris mysteries rather than of funerary ceremonies.
|52] At times lavishly illustrated these netherworld guides were quite expensive, but could be purchased by anybody having the necessary means.|
Pesesh-kaf made of chert, 15 cm long
Pesesh-kaf instrument 1
Reserve head of Nofer
Much about the function of the reserve heads is still unclear. They were apparently used in ceremonies to magically cleanse the deceased from all evil; and the fact that many of them do not have any ears may be a reminder that the necropolis is a place of silence. It has also been suggested that, just as grave figurines of dangerous animals were purposefully damaged to prevent them from endangering the deceased, reserve heads symbolized the decapitation of the deceased to protect the living from them.
Ancient Egyptian portraiture|
During the Old Kingdom statues of the ka were generally put in the serdab (Egyptian pr-twt, house of the statue or likeness) of the mastabas. These had narrow windows through which the ka could leave to partake of the offerings. These statues were expensive, often carved from the hardest of rocks with a high degree of craftsmanship. In the mastaba of Wep-em-nefret there is a scene in which two sculptors argue:
(The sculptor on the right) You are a fool! You know this work. You cannot say: 'Isn't wood like stone?'!Kings, who had the whole wealth of Egypt at their disposal could, like Sahure in his pyramid complex at Abusir, fill niche after niche in their statue chamber with life-sized effigies of themselves. Officials might have to rely on the bounty of the king. Some statues from the Middle Kingdom and later bear an inscription acknowledging the indebtedness of the statue owners to their lord's munificence. Autobiographical texts also began to be inscribed on the statues.
The purpose of these often beautiful statues was not the esthetic delectation of mortals; they gave the deceased an eternal form through which priests and relatives, above all eldest sons, could interact with them, bring them nourishment  and also, at times, appeal for their help. Statues were not only erected in tombs, but also in temples to form a bond between the person and the deity. With the death of their owners such votive statues became in effect funerary statues.
royal stelae bore just the king's name in a serekh and had been set up in niches inside the tomb. From the 3rd dynasty onward they were carved as False Doors, a symbolic gate through which the ka of the deceased could leave the tomb in order to strengthen itself on the food offerings set before it. The top of the stelae was often rounded, a feature which became more common since the Middle Kingdom. During Ramesside times funerary stelae often stood on either side of the tombs entrance.
Stela of DjetThe stelae became much more ornate in the course of history and were often decorated with depictions of the family of the deceased (cf. the stela of Mentuhotep), scenes of offerings  or–since the New Kingdom–adoration of funerary deities, or were inscribed with hieroglyphic texts. Among these were 'autobiographies', which were accounts of the life of the deceased showing them in the best possible light, thus furthering their chances in the afterlife.
As late as Roman times people still set up funerary stelae: in the northern part of the country often in an almost completely Hellenized form with Greek inscriptions and European-style depictions, while in the South ancient Egyptian traditions often still held sway, with winged solar disks displayed in the lunette and showing Egyptian deities underneath.
The ushabti: An existence of eternal servitude
Ushabtis were little, often mummiform, figurines, which were part of the grave goods since the Middle Kingdom. Mentioned first in the Coffin Texts they were magical alter egos of the deceased inscribed with his name and titles and from the late Middle Kingdom on often with spells as well. Later they came to be referred to as Hem, i.e. servants or slaves, in tune with their mission which was to fulfill all the duties the deceased was expected to perform in the beyond. The changing status from alter ego to slave brought about their proliferation with at times hundreds of ushabtis organized into teams of ten, supervised by overseer ushabtis and packed tightly into special boxes.
Faience ushabti belonging to Wasirpahati
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|Index of topics|
|Funerary practices: Preparations and burial|
|The funeral cortège and the Opening of the Mouth ceremony|
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