The coffin that Namenkhetamun rests in provides many talking points; not only does it provide us with a name, it also offers insight into the Egyptian mummification and burial processes.
As mentioned in the previous blog about Namenkhetamun’s personal history, we know that the mummy contained within the coffin is not who it was built for...
The coffin that Namenkhetamun rests in is bright and decorative, adorned with hieroglyphs and images of gods. Part of this decoration, towards the bottom of the lid reveals the mummy’s name. You may know of Rosetta Stone as being language teaching software but it is named after something which enabled us to learn the Egyptian language and decipher hieroglyphs. The original Rosetta Stone was found by Napoleons’ French troops whilst they were in Egypt in 1799. It was a stone that listed the great things accomplished by the rulers of the country during the reign of Ptolemy V in 197BC. It did not consist of hieroglyphs alone, it was written in three languages; Greek, Hieroglyphics and Demotic, as all three were used across Egypt; and allowed everyone who lived there to read it. The stone was then deciphered in the early 1800’s by Jean-François Champollion, who could read Greek and Coptic, which was similar to Demotic and allowed for educated guesses on what the script said. This then enables us to recognise not only the name but the significance of the decoration that is painted across the coffin.
On this particular coffin we can see the intricate detail that surrounds the neck that depicts jewellery.
Further down, the four sons of the god Horus are repeated; they are often associated with the funerary process and represent protection. Anubis is featured on most coffins, as he was the God of Embalmers.
Anubis also attended the ‘Weighing of the Heart’. This is a ritual which determined whether a soul would be allowed to enter the realm of the dead by weighing the heart on one side of a scale against a feather. If you had led a good life, your heart was lighter than the feather and you could enter. If your heart was heavy and outweighed the feather, you had led a bad life and you were denied, which led to your heart being devoured by a monster called Ammit. This was seen as the worst fate to face, as you would lose the possibility of rebirth.
After Anubis, Osiris assumed the position of the God of the Afterlife and he was very much seen as a merciful judge of the dead. Osiris is often represented as a figure with a bandaged bound body to convey mummification, as Osiris was the first man to be mummified which made him the prototype for all Egyptians.
In this way, Namenkhetamun’s coffin is a typical coffin, yet it is clear that he was not of Royal descent or necessarily very high up in society. Indeed, as was aforementioned, mummification was performed when people were able to afford it however; some were done on a more modest scale than those of royalty, such as, Princes, Princesses and Pharaoh’s.
Namenkhetamun’s coffin is made of wood, though not entirely; wood was sparsely used to create a basic structure. It was then covered in a textile or sometimes even discarded or recycled papyrus. After the textile/papyrus layer was placed over the wood, a layer of gesso was used, which was similar to the modern day Plaster of Paris, to make the surface solid which could then be painted on with images. ‘False doors’ were often painted onto coffins. They allowed a person’s ‘Ka’, otherwise known as the soul or vital essence, to come and go as it pleased. Namenkhetamun’s coffin has a false door painted on the lid for this purpose.
Namenkhetamun is currently undergoing conservation work and will next go on public discussion as part of the Secret Egypt exhibition.