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Oldest coffin in the world.
members of the deceased's family were sculptured in relief, with their names on the seat. Groups of two or more figures, husband and wife, brother and sister, father, mother and child, were placed in tombs, and from the biographical notices inscribed upon them many valuable historical facts have been gleaned.
COFFINS. Egyptian coffins are usually made of wood, but under the Ptolemies and Romans hard stone came into use.
The oldest coffin in the world is probably that of Mycerinus, a king of the IVth dynasty, about B.C. 3633, which is preserved in the British Museum, No. 6647; it was found, together with the remains of a wrecked mummy, by Colonel Howard Vyse in the third pyramid of Gîzeh, and was presented by him to the British Museum in 1837. The stone sarcophagus of Mycerinus, of which only a very small fragment has been preserved (B.M. No. 6646), and parts of the coffin and mummy, were lost by the wreck of the ship in which they were being brought to England, on the Spanish coast, on the western side of the Strait of Gibraltar. The coffin, without paintings, had originally a human face, formed of several pieces of wood pegged together on to the cover, and the well-cut inscription in two perpendicular lines down the cover reads : “ Osiris, King of the North and South, Men-kau-Rā, living for ever. Heaven has produced thee; thou wast conceived by Nut; thou comest of the race of the god Seb. Thy mother Nut (the sky) spreads herself over thee in her form of heavenly mystery. She grants that thou shalt be a god ; never more shalt thou have enemies, O Men-kau-Rā, King of the North and South, living for ever.” On the cover, just over the knees of the mummy, are two raised projections resembling knees. It has been stated that this coffin was made during the New Empire at the expense of some pious person who wished to keep fresh the memory of Mycerinus. Of the coffins of the VIth dynasty, the fragments of that belonging to Seker-em-sa-f? appear to be the only remains ;
1 See Aegyptische Zeitschrift, 1892, p. 94.
but it is tolerably certain that coffins during the first six dynasties were made of plain wood, that they had a human face, and that the inscriptions were short and cut into the cover.
Coffins during the XIth and XIIth dynasties are usually Coffins rectangular in form, with a cover consisting of one flat about
B.C. 2500. plank about 2/2 inches thick. Both coffin and cover are very rough, and the paintings consist of large stripes of blue, red, white, green, and yellow colours, interspersed with lotus flowers and pictures of funereal offerings, sometimes very rudely drawn. Many of the coffins of this period are, however, of the greatest interest, and B.M. 6654 and 6655 are good typical examples. The former is inscribed on the outside Ornamen
tation of with one line of well-cut hieroglyphics, and is inlaid with
early ; the inside of the coffin and both inside and outside of coffins. the cover are inscribed in hieratic with a number of chapters of the Book of the Dead of the period of the Ancient Empire ; this coffin was made for an official called Amamu." The latter, made for Mentu-hetep, is of the same form, and is also inscribed in hieratic with chapters from the Book of the Dead. At the same period, coffins with human faces were also made; they were formed of rough pieces of wood, badly put together, and are characterised by a rude, gaudy style of ornamentation. A striking contrast to these is the gilded wooden coffin of An-åntef, B.M. No. 6652, a king of the XIth dynasty, who ruled at Thebes about B.C. 2500. The hardwood face is beautifully carved, and is intended to be a portrait of the deceased; the eyes and eyelids are made of black, white, and blue obsidian, inlaid; the feather work and star ornaments on the coffin appear to have originated at this period. The ordinary ornamentation of coffins at this period is a large collar, beneath which are figures of the uræus and vulture, emblematic of dominion over the north and south, and under the feet are kneeling figures of Isis and Nephthys, who mourn the dead Osiris.
The coffins of the period between the XIIth and the
"A facsimile of the text and an English translation were published by Birch, Coffin of Amamu, London, 1886.
* For facsimiles of other hieratic texts on coffins of the XIth dynasty, see Lepsius, Aelteste Texte des Todtenbuchs, Berlin, 1867.
XVIIIth dynasties are imitations of those with the gilded
coffin or arranged by the walls.
are often inlaid; on the breast is a vulture, and the inscrip-
With the XIXth dynasty there appears a class of coffin
out from it, and other scenes were traced in yellow, on a The finest mauve or purple ground. The mummy and this covering
were placed in a coffin with a cover having a human face, and about B.C
the hands, in relief, were crossed upon the breast. The lower 1400.
part was ornamented with scenes in which the deceased is
Antiquities in the Fitzwilliam Museum.” A third, and even a fourth, coffin was sometimes used for one mummy.
The coffins of the XXth dynasty are good imitations of the best examples of the XIXth dynasty; the paintings are, however, neither so fine nor so carefully executed.
From the XX Ist to the XXVIth dynasty coffins exhibit Coffins many varieties of decoration ; they are sometimes painted about black, or the wood is left altogether in its natural colour, and the faces are often red. Sometimes they are painted with inscriptions in many colours on a white ground, and the scenes on the covers are divided into two groups by perpendicular inscriptions between them. Faces of coffins of this period are also flesh coloured and gilded, and the eyes, made of obsidian, are inlaid between eyelids of the same material or of bronze. Notwithstanding the fact that mummies of this period are protected by cartonnage cases, they are laid in two and even three coffins. Akhmîm coffins of this period are covered with rows of gods and elaborate collars, and are profusely inscribed with extracts from the Book of the Dead; the mummies inside them have gilded masks and are usually covered with a network of glazed faïence bugle beads, upon which are laid figures of Nut and the four children of Horus in smaller bead work. These coffins belong to a class which has little in common either with those of Memphis or Thebes. Favourite scenes on coffins from the XXIInd to the XXVIth dynasties are the weighing of the heart, and the soul visiting the body.
After the XXVIth dynasty the art of coffin making Decay of degenerated, and as a result the examples of this period facture of known to us exhibit rough and careless work, the scenes of coffins. the weighing of the heart, etc., spread right across the cover, and the inscriptions show that the copyist had very little or no knowledge of their meaning. On the other hand very handsome coffins, in the form of a man, in granite and basalt, became fashionable, and the high polish and beauty of the cutting of the figures, inscriptions, etc., show that although the art of mummifying was decaying, and the national religion of Egypt changing, attempts were made to imitate ancient art in its best forms.
Under the Ptolemies and Romans the forms of coffins and their decorations altered very much. Coffins are now made of thin pieces of wood, and are usually rectangular in shape, and the inscriptions upon them, like those on coffins of the earlier dynasties, are rarely extracts from the Book of the
Dead Sandals, pillows, red pottery, and papyri were often Græco buried with the dead at this epoch. Stone coffins, covered Roman
with figures and inscriptions, are also common, but they are coffins and their found chiefly in Lower Egypt. In the early centuries of decoration.
our era, the decay of the art of making coffins followed that of mummifying, and the coffins are large, badly shaped and ugly, the inscriptions upon them are copies of old formulæ, but so carelessly written and so full of mistakes that they are unintelligible. The custom of laying mummies in old tombs increased greatly, and chapels, serdâbs, pits and sarcophagi-chambers were alike used for piling up mummies by hundreds and thousands; and one single roll of papyrus or parchment laid in a tomb contained the names of all those who were buried there. This was practically the end of the Egyptian system of mummifying and burial. Within a hundred years of the preaching of Christianity at Alexandria by St. Mark, a large part of the population of Egypt had become Christian; the resurrection of the body of Christ made the Egyptians hope for the resurrection of their own bodies, and though they could not eradicate from themselves all traces of their old belief, they abandoned gradually the making of their dead into mummies, and were content to lay their bodies in the earth, wrapped in linen cloths only, to await revivification.
Coffins of all periods were closed by dowels, let into cavities in the sides and cover, through which pegs of wood were driven; these were covered with plaster and painted, and were thus invisible.
Sarcophagi of the
Egyptian sarcophagi are made of black or green basalt, granite, agglomerate and limestone. During the first six dynasties they are rectangular, and the cover is either flat like a plank, or vaulted. Running round the edge of the