Journey to the Beyond: Ancient Egyptians in the Pursuit of Eternity

The ancient Egyptians' attitude toward life and death has been fascinating us for millennia. Their pursuit of the external existence and provisioning for the journey to the BEYOND is the story of this exhibition, which presents, in a new context, objects from RAFFMA's permanent collection and on loan from Dr. Benson Harer.

Audio Transcript

The ancient Egyptians' attitude toward life and death has been fascinating us for millennia. Their pursuit of the external existence and provisioning for the journey to the beyond is the story of this exhibition, which presents, in a new context, objects from RAFFMA's permanent collection and on loan from Dr. Benson Harer. Press the play button to Journey into the beyond. 

RAFFMA Egyptologist, Bryan Kraemer on

Hetepheres and the Ka Soul

Audio Transcript

Bryan Kraemer: This statue of a little girl named Hetepheres stands in a place of prominence at the beginning of the exhibition Journey to the Beyond. It dates to the 5th Dynasty. And she was a real person who lived at some point around 2500-2400 BCE. Statues like this of the deceased could serve several purposes especially as physical substitutes for the deceased’s body or as a vessel for her soul.


One of the most important ritual uses of statues in Ancient Egyptian tombs was as a focus for the mortuary cult. Mortuary priests, relatives, and visitors who entered a tomb were expected to interact with a statue or another image of the deceased persons buried there. The tomb’s architecture and decoration were designed to visually guide visitors to approach a statue like this one. Otherwise there could be a special niche shaped like a door carved in a wall with an image of the deceased person above it.


A table was often set before the statue or door. Visitors were expected to lay some food on the table as a courteous gesture to the deceased. And when building their tombs, Ancient Egyptians also set up foundations of land as payment to employ mortuary priests to bring offerings of food, drink, and incense to their tombs to lay them on this table for years and years after their death.



To the Ancient Egyptians, statues were objects that could serve as a substitute for the body of a person. This idea underlies many magical practices and rituals in which statues were used. The Ancient Egyptians used the same word masi not only to mean “giving birth” but also to refer to the process of creating a statue. Ancient Egyptian priests performed a special ritual called “Opening the mouth” on statues so that they could gain aspects of animated existence such as the ability to receive food and drink, to see, to hear, to feel, and smell. etc.


For the mortuary cults, statues placed in a tomb were especially important as vessels into which one of a deceased person’s souls, the ka-soul could be channeled. Mortuary priests could magically call down the person’s ka-soul by reciting an offering ritual recorded for us in the Ancient Egyptian Coffin Texts. This calls the ka-soul to come down to a place where it can receive the offering made on the offering table. The positioning of statues in tombs directly in front of the offering table therefore shows the exact moment of the ka’s arrival that this offering ritual is meant to magically bring about. Ideally in a tomb, visitors would provide food and drink for the ka soul on a table set before the statue or another image of the deceased, and by reciting the offering ritual or other rituals they would thereby allow the ka-soul of the deceased to take up the food. Also a visitor could achieve a similar magical gift for the deceased by reading other magical spells written around the statue or image of the deceased which promise food and other gifts and name the dead person. Texts recorded in tombs from throughout Egyptian history actually address living visitors and make a request to either bring food or at the very least read the magical spells.


In this statue, Hetepheres is being depicted as a girl who is preadolescent in age. Her status as a child is apparent because she is depicted being naked holding her finger to her mouth. These were conventional symbols commonly used to convey childhood in Ancient Egyptian art. Her left shoulder is positioned so that her arm would have been held outward horizontally to her side indicating that she was holding onto the leg of another larger figure in a gesture indicating support and her subordination to that figure. This is an important clue to the larger context for this statue.


Now statues of children like did not typically stand by themselves in Ancient Egyptian tombs as the focus of a mortuary cult. Tombs were usually built for adults who had achieved some level of social prominence in their lives. And children were depicted in them customarily as a compliment to the tomb owners as members of their family. That was the case with the statue of Hetepheres too.


In 1936 the Egyptologist John Cooney figured out that this girl was originally part of a larger statue of a group of five people representing Hetepheres’ family. The other four family members from the same statue are now part of collections in museums in Worcester, Brooklyn, New York, and Kansas City. John Cooney was further able to link this statue with a set of feet and a statue base found at a tomb in Giza in 1930 by the Egyptologist Selim Hassan at Giza in the Central Field near the sphinx. Someone probably found the statue intact in the 19th century and broke it apart to sell for more money as separate pieces, after which each individual piece coincidentally made its way into an American collection. The statue base fortunately gives the names of all the family members depicted. For example we learn that the name of Hetepheres’ brother and her father was both Rawer. And Hetepheres was apparently named after her paternal grandmother, who was also called Hetepheres.


The girl’s father Rawer is a well-known person from Egypt’s 5th Dynasty. He is perhaps most famous for having a unique biographical text that was discovered in this tomb. This describes how king Neferirkare accidentally struck Rawer with his scepter in the course of a festival procession. Because of the king’s ritual power in that moment, this accident apparently posed a danger to Rawer, so much so that the king then had to stop everything and cure him magically. Additionally, the king ordered a permanent record of the incident to be made a copy of which was the one found in his tomb.


An exceptional feature of the tomb of Rawer is that it has a large number of statue chambers, over 25, many of which are hidden behind a wall. Hidden statue chambers are features found exclusively in tombs from Egypt’s Old Kingdom. Egyptologists call them serdabs, using an Egyptian Arabic word for “cellar or basement.” Serdabs in the tomb of Rawer and elsewhere sometimes have statues inside of them like that of the group with Hetepheres, representing the tomb owner and other family members. Also they may include diminutive statues of people at work representing perhaps servants of the family. One of these is also on display at RAFFMA. The statue base of the family group of Rawer and Hetepheres is an extremely important discovery for this tomb. No other statue or inscription from the tomb of Rawer indicates the relationship of his family members. And there are no other representations of his daughter Hetepheres known to exist.

Audio Transcript

As we journey into the beyond, you're going to notice a timeline. On this timeline describes [various] practices changing throughout time. Use this timeline as a point of reference as you walk through the gallery. This exhibit is broken into sections; the first one being the Underworld, the Netherworld, and the Gods, second Mummification, third Masks and Coffins, fourth Tombs, and lastly Graves Goods.

The Underworld, the Netherworld, and the Gods

The life-loving Egyptians believed that even in death they would live again, this time forever. To them, death was the necessary first step in the journey to the beyond. The Egyptians feared and anticipated this journey. Knowing that it would be filled with dangers, obstacles, and challenges, they spent a lot of time and effort to prepare for it. For most of ancient Egyptian history, the ability to reach the beyond was available to everyone but not everyone was able to reach it. 

Osiris, Late Kingdom-early Third Intermediate Period, Dynasties 20-21, ca. 1187-945 BC, Painted gesso on wood


Osiris, the King of the Underworld, held regenerative powers that could be magically passed on to the deceased. Statues of Osiris, like the one shown above were placed in the deceased's tomb. Osiris was believed to grant immortality. Osiris's green skin is a depiction of his regenerative powers. Press play to learn more.

Audio Transcript

The Underworld, the Netherworld and the Gods.

The life-loving Egyptians believed that even in death they would live again, this time forever. To them, death was the necessary first step in the journey to the beyond. The Egyptians feared and anticipated this journey. Knowing that it would be filled with dangers, obstacles, and challenges, they spent a lot of time and effort to prepare for it. For most of ancient Egyptian history, the ability to reach the beyond was available to everyone but not everyone was able to reach it. The Egyptians also worshipped many gods and goddesses; the most important was Osiris, god of the Underworld. We can see the statue here of Osiris, from the late kingdom to early third period, and the statue is painted gesso on wood. Osiris, God of the Underworld held regenerative powers that could be magically passed on to the deceased. Statues like this would be placed in somebody's tomb or burial plot so, they have Osiris with them on their journey to the afterlife. Notice Osiris' green skin as well as his black, mummified body; this is to show regeneration. The black body shown on Osiris is to depict the Nile river and its dark, fertile soil. At the base of Osiris would fit a papyrus scroll; it could be either the Book of the Dead or, the Book of the [inaudible]. Look for Osiris in varying contexts throughout this exhibition

Mummification

In ancient Egypt, preserving the physical body (khat) for the beyond was essential as a resting place for the ba spirit- the powerful, animated expression of the dead person. In the most extensive mummification process, bodies were cleaned and internal organs were removed. The heart was considered as the most important of all the organs, both the seat of intelligence and soul of a human being, was returned to the body. Bodies were packed with natron-salt for many days to stop decomposition. Dehydrated, they were wrapped in linen bandages and placed in coffins.

Two-Finger Amulet, Late-Ptolemaic period, 664-30 BC, Steatite 


Such amulets were placed within the mummy bandages on the abdomen near the incision made to remove the internal organs before the embalming process. The two fingers intended to "hold" the incision sealed in order to protect the body, possibly representing the fingers of Anubis. The use of black stone was symbolic and magical. Black was associated with the underworld while the stone's hardness assured the endurance of the deceased person for eternity in the beyond. Press play to learn more.

Audio Transcript

Mummification

In ancient Egypt, preserving the physical body (khat) for the beyond was essential as a resting place for the ba spirit- the powerful, animated expression of the dead person. In the most extensive mummification processes, which would last 70 days, bodies were cleaned and internal organs were removed. The four internal organs that were removed include, the stomach, the intestines, liver, and the lungs; which would be placed in [inaudible] jars as seen in this case. The heart was considered as the most important of all the organs, both the seat of intelligence and soul of a human being. Bodies were packed with natron-salt for many days to stop decomposition. They were dehydrated, wrapped in linen bandages and placed in coffins. The protective amulet that would be tucked away with ones bandages include the two finger amulet as seen. This type of amulet would be placed near the abdomen, or wherever the incision was made to take out the four internal organs. The two fingers intended to "hold" the incision sealed in order to protect the body, this two finger amulet, possibly represents the two fingers of Anubis. The use of black stone was symbolic and magical; black was associated with the underworld while the stone's hardness assured the endurance of the deceased person for eternity in the beyond.

Masks and Coffins

Mummy masks were placed over the head of the deceased person after the body was mummified. Preserving the head was important in order to allow the deceased to be recognizable to his or her ba. Masks could even act as a replacement for the actual head. 

Mummy Mask, Dynasty 30-Ptolemaic Period, ca. 380-30 BC, limestone


This face is from a large human-shaped limestone sarcophagus. In the Late and Ptolemaic Periods, wealthy people were often buried in large stone sarcophagi of this type that represented the deceased as a mummy. Press play to learn more.

Audio Transcript

Masks and Coffins

Mummy masks were placed over the head of the deceased person after the body was mummified. Preserving the head was important in order to allow the deceased to be recognizable to his or her ba. Masks could even act as a replacement for the actual head. The mummy mask seen in this case from dynasty thirty, made of limestone, is the face from a large human-shaped limestone sarcophagus. Wealthy people were often buried in large stone sarcophagi of this type that represented the deceased as a mummy. Adjacent to this mummy mask is the lid, sarcophagus lid of Petosiris. Within Petosiris' cedar, painted lid, you will notice a series of Egyptian protection symbols which include the scarab beetle, a symbol of fertility and regeneration, two [inaudible] eyes or the Eyes of Horus to ward off evil, as well as the Four Sons of Horus, which are at the base legs of Petosiris. These Four Sons of Horus will protect the person in their journey to the afterlife. The vertical columns at the base legs of Petosiris includes a series of hieroglyphs that illustrate and decipher who the sarcophagus lid belongs to as well as what provisions they want with them in the afterlife. As you continue on within the gallery, keep an eye out for the protective symbols you've seen on this sarcophagus lid.

Egyptologist Bryan Kraemer on

RAFFMA's largest artifact:

The coffin of Padiusir

Audio Transcript

Visually one of the most prominent artifacts on display at RAFFMA is this lid of a painted wooden anthropoid coffin. It once belonged to a man named Padiusir, who lived likely in Egypt’s 25th or 26th Dynasties, roughly in the late 700s to 500s BCE. Only the lid of this inner coffin is on display at RAFFMA. The base and its mummy are now missing. The exterior of the lid is decorated. The face looks like it may be a modern restoration.


The anthropoid coffin is a type that first appears in royal burials at the end of Egypt’s Second Intermediate Period (circa 1600 BCE). For the next 1600 years, it became the most popular burial container for royals and commoners alike. Another form that Egyptian coffins took was the shape of a box. And the box shaped did continue to be used after 1600 BCE but to a less and less degree. The anthropoid coffins of the time of Padiusir were typically used as part of a set of two coffins: there was an anthropoid inner coffin and a box-shaped outer one. The outer box coffin would had a vaulted roof making it resemble a small building or a shrine. When assembled these two coffins figuratively represented the mummy at rest inside of his embalming house, where the body of the deceased had been made into a mummy in the first place. This arrangement would ensure that Padiusir would continually benefit from the performance of rituals that typically happened inside of the embalming house, and thus he would be assured that his body was protected and his souls made a successful transition into the afterlife.


What is distinctive about anthropoid coffins is that they take the shape of the human body. And as an image of the body, the anthropoid coffin was often treated ritually much like a statue. In fact, the Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic word for statue, Twt, was written with a picture of an anthropoid coffin.  Both statues and anthropoid coffins could ritually substitute for the body of the deceased, but the coffin was more obviously connected to the body because the body was actually inside of it.  This ritual connection was furthermore reinforced by the presence of Padiusir’s name on the exterior, fixing him to this object for eternity. Like with statues, the ritual called “Opening the Mouth” was also used on anthropoid coffins. Depictions of Ancient Egyptian funerals from the New Kingdom especially show mortuary priests performing this ritual on anthropoid coffins which are set up beside the tomb entrance. And anthropoid coffins from the time of Padiusir were typically made with a pedestal below the feet so that they could easily be set up for the performance of this ritual. This ritual was supposed to return some abilities of a living person to the coffin and the deceased mummy inside of it. For instance, once it was performed, the coffin of Padiusir and his mummy were able to receive offerings of food and drink. And importantly, the coffin then was able to serve as the place where his bird-shaped ba-soul could land at the end of every day in order to renew its critical, spiritual connection with the mummy. Little statues of ba-birds were commonly included on top of the exterior coffins at the time of Padiusir. A similar but later version of this kind of ba-soul statue is on display at RAFFMA.


One documented name for this type of anthropoid coffin in Ancient Egyptian is swH.t, which also happens to be the Ancient Egyptian word for “egg.” Likewise the theme of rebirth is intimately connected to coffins. They often have an image of the sky goddess Nut painted on the interior of the lid. A spell found first in the Pyramid Texts is often inscribed on coffins which declares “Your mother Nut stretches out over you” and it describes her embrace as protecting her child who is the deceased person inside. The wood that these coffins are made of is also intimately connected to the goddesses Nut and Hathor, who are sometimes represented as emerging from trees to suckle or give water to the deceased person. This symbolism relates to an overarching idea of rebirth via being buried. Ritually, when the body was placed in the coffin, it was returning into its cosmic mother’s womb in preparation for rebirth in the sky.


Anthropoid coffins of the time of Padiusir and later are often decorated with the images of pieces of costume that were actually worn by mummies. Although it has some unique features, Padiusir’s coffin is a fairly typical example of this. The body is colored in yellow, which may represent the color of linen bandages used to wrap mummies. More imaginatively it could be the color of the body of a blessed-dead-spirit called an akh who has been illuminated by association with the sun-god. The striped headdress with two lappets on its sides is found in masks worn by mummies, such as the example on display at RAFFMA. Below this there is the image of a collar made a flowers and beads strung together. At the ends of this collar there are two heads of the falcon god Horus. These were used in actual beaded necklaces, and they are typical of the ritual object called the “broad collar of a falcon”. Below this collar, there is a highly stylized version of a winged scarab beetle. Real examples of this decoration are made of faience and attached to the chest of mummies. One is on display at RAFFMA. This scarab on Padiusir’s coffin has an uncommon feature in that it is depicted of holding two sun disks on either side of its body.

Above the beetle’s outstretched wings, there are two jackals. They represent the two jackal gods Wepwawet of the North and Wepwawet of the South. Typically they are drawn at or near the feet on mummies in order to protect the ability of the deceased to walk and enter into the afterlife. The lower half of the front of the coffin has a set of 25 standing figures holding knives. These represent the sons of the god Horus and other gods who acted as guardians during a vigil for the body of the dead god Osiris as he lay in his embalming hall. On mummies these figures were included as faience amulets, a few of which are on display at RAFFMA. On top of the feet, there is an image of a vulture with her wings stretched outward. This is an unusual decorative motif, but it has some other parallels. More typically there would be an image of the winged goddess Nut on the chest of the mummy. A cartonnage pectoral for a mummy showing this winged goddess is on display at RAFFMA. Finally at the bottom there are images of the two eyes of Horus; they allow the deceased to see out of the coffin among other abilities. These are a very old feature of coffins going back at least to the Middle Kingdom (c. 2000-1700 BCE). They are commonly drawn on other parts of anthropoid coffins at the time of Padiusir


All of the hieroglyphic spells on the coffin of Padiusir consist of a version of a standard offering formula named the Htp-di-nsw formula by Egyptologists, according to its beginning phrase. This translates as “An Offering that the King gives.” The formula also invokes the god Osiris Foremost of Westerners Lord of Abydos, who is one of the most important gods connected with the dead. Otherwise, the offering formula is a magical spell that is meant to ensure an ample supply of food and other provisions for the deceased person’s ka-soul in the afterlife existence. The main version of this formula is found on the legs of the coffin of Padiusir and it is the one place where we actually have his name recorded. Very strangely, his name is spelled with the female name Tadiuser instead of the male name Padiuser. But this must be a misspelling since he is acknowledged to be the son of his parents Horwedja and Taamun. The little texts situated around the gods are all abbreviated versions of the offering formula. But one on the upper left other mentions a woman named Isis-Hesat. And two on the bottom mentions another woman named Kakek. We have to assume that these are relatives of Padiuser perhaps included in the same tomb as he was.


Unusually, there is a small image of a woman painted on the upper left side of the coffin. This is not a typical figure found on other anthropoid coffins of any period. This small figure is distinguished from the gods because she is not holding a knife. It is probable that she is the individual who corresponds to a particular female name that appears on a formula below her. The closest name to this figure is Isis-Hesat, situated in the band of text below her. Although we can’t be certain it is possible that this woman was his wife who may have outlived him. Perhaps she was the one who paid for his coffin and so insisted that there was a picture of her on it.


The decorative elements on this coffin show a very provincial style. The artisan may have had a free hand to add variations to canonical iconography for a typical Egyptian anthropoid coffin or more likely he was inexperienced in how to make them. The closest parallels to elements of the coffin’s decoration are found on the few coffins from Middle Egypt dating to the 25th or 26th Dynasties. We can be fairly confident that Padiusir’s coffin came from that region because the name Isis-Hesat is rare and it honors a cow-goddess Hesat who was worshipped in the town of Aphroditopolis, which was situated in northern Middle Egypt.

Coffin Offering Formula

Audio Transcript

Texts inscribed upon this object:

 

ḥtp di nsw n Wsir-ḫnty-imnt.t nṯr ꜥꜣ nb Iꜣb.t di⸗f pr.t ḫrw t ḥnḳ.t iḥ ꜣpd irp irṯ(.t) m ḫ(.t) nb(.t) nfr(.t) wꜥb{ḫ}.t n kꜣ n Wsir Tꜣ-di-Wsir sꜣ n Ḥr-wḏꜣ ir.n nb(.t pr) n Tꜣ-Imn


An offering that the king has given to Osiris, foremost of the west, great god, lord of Abydos. May he give a voice offering, bread, beer,  beef, poultry, wine, milk, as everything good and pure to the ka of Osiris-Tadiusir (=Padiusir) son of Horwedja, whom the lady (of the house) Taamun made.

Tombs

Tombs were essential in planning for the journey to the beyond, they served as one's home for eternity.

Tomb Painting Fragment, Southern Egypt, Deir el-Gabrawi, Old Kingdom, Dynasty 6, ca. 2278-2184

The provisioning for the BEYOND took various forms. In addition to the actual goods placed in tombs, agricultural or offering scenes were carved and painted on the tomb walls, and somehow through magic, they would transmit the depicted activities and products for one's afterlife.

Audio Transcript

The section we are in is Tombs. Tombs were essential in planning for the journey into the beyond. They were also supposed to serve as homes for the eternity. In this case here, we see a tomb painting fragment from dynasty six. The provisioning for the beyond took various forms, in addition to the actual goods placed in tombs, agricultural, or offering seeds were carved and painted on the tomb walls. Through magic, they would transmit the depicted activities and products into the afterlife. This part of a scene of presenting an offering to the deceased; the man is making a ritual gesture addressing the deceased's image. Within the same case is a funerary cone of Mermose new kingdom, dynasty 18. Funerary cones of this type were inserted into tomb facades and they were exclusive to the tombs of high-ranking officials, one like this includes the Theban necropolis from dynasty 18-26. The stamped hieroglyphic impressions on their bases contain details of the owners' names and titles as to whom the tomb belonged to.

Funerary Cone of Mermose, New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, ca. 1550-1295 BC, clay

Such funerary cones were inserted into tomb's facades. They were exclusive to the tombs of high ranking officials in the Theban necropolis from Dynasty 18- 26. The stamped hieroglyphic impressions on their bases contain details of the owners' names and titles.

Grave Goods

The ancient Egyptians placed objects in tombs ranging from objects used in everyday life such as mirrors, jewelry, and cosmetic vessels as well as objects made specifically for burial such as canopic jars and shabtis.

Shabti Coffin, New Kingdom, late Dynasty 18, painted wood Shabti were placed in miniature coffins similar to large coffins. This Shabti, is a black-varnished, human-shaped coffin of the late Dynasty 18. It could have been part of a set that included shabti in multiple coffins-all in a larger, rectangle box. Press play to learn more.

Audio Transcript

We are in the last section of the exhibition which is Grave Goods. Everything that you'll be seeing in this section are provisions that would be placed in ones tomb or burial slot so that they can have it in the afterlife. The ancient Egyptians placed objects in tombs ranging from objects used in everyday life, such as, mirrors, headdresses jewelry, cosmetic vessels, as well as canopic jars and shabtis. Going into the shabti case, this is an early shabti from dynasty 18. These shabtis were also called answers for the afterlife. The Egyptians would sometimes make as many as 365 shabtis and place them on their tomb or burial plot so that they have someone in the afterlife; to do their farming, their building, or to help them around the house in the afterlife.

Notice the different types of shabtis in this case, there are stone ones, wood ones, as seen with the dynasty 18 ones, and there's miniature ones in a coffin; and we've been seeing a lot of the faience colour, which is a turquoise blue, throughout this exhibit. Faience is a type of glaze that would be placed onto ceramic-ware and when fired in a kiln, would turn a turquoise blue colour. The Egyptians loved this turquoise blue colour, as well as deep royal blues.

This is the final step into the Journey into the Beyond; and the last steps that the Egyptians would go into would be, the weighing of the heart ceremony, as well as the opening of the mouth ceremony. Both were very important ceremonies to enter into the Beyond successfully.

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