The Coffins of Egypt, Turin

The Egyptian museum in Turin has a Coffin gallery located at the first floor. The way the coffins are organized is stunning. I liked the way they all stand zig-zag in welcoming posture.  From the front view it feels like some artistically painted wooden statues until we peep at the sides of the wooden blocks. Then we know they are coffins. The Coffin of Butehamon welcomes us standing at the front. He was a royal scribe of 21st dynasty (1076 -1050 BC). Taba-Kenkhonsu stands next. She was a singer of 21st dynasty (1076-943 BC). The coffins are called Sarcophagus. These are used to preserve the bodies for rebirth. The Sarcophagus literally means “flesh eating”, derived from the meaning of some stones used as coffins that are thought to decompose the flesh of the corpses. In Egyptian context a Sarcophagus is a stone coffin with carvings in it to preserve the bodies. These are the third intermediate period coffins when the funeral procedure was made relatively simpler. The carving on tomb stones about the person buried was shifted to the wooden coffins. All inscriptions were made about the person on the sarcophagus.

The late period Sarcophagi are made of stones showing the artistic abilities in this period. The Sarcophagus of Ibi, 26th Dynasty (664 – 610 BC) and Vizier Gemenefherbak (664 – 525 BC) are present in a hall. Vizier Gemenefherbak was a minister responsible for justice. It is symbolized by the pendant in his neck featuring goddess Maat. In spite of the size of the stone the Sarcophagus surface is polished and detailed depicting the 26th Dynasty.

The mummies of three sisters who are daughters of Ankh-Konsu, the priest are placed in Sarcophagi. They belong to 25th dynasty.

Three sisters

The village Dier el-Madina was from 1500 BC in the west bank of Thebes. It was the home of builders, craftsmen and service personnel who did the art work of the Valley of the Kings and Queens in Egypt. They were no ordinary workers who could read and write. Cult statue of Amenhotep I who flourished during 19th and 20th dynasty (1291 -1076 BC). The statue is typical of Theban sculpture of Ramesside period featuring large eyes, aquiline nose and full cheeks. The statue is white in color instead of the red hue for the kings, showing the precious Egyptian Alabaster stone. The statue of Penmernabu holding a Ram (Symbol of Sun god) is in display. The couple statue of Pendua and his wife Nefertari is present. The Ostracon showing a dancer in acrobatic position was artistic. These are the creations by artisans of village Dier el-Madina.

The funerary Chapel of Maya was discovered in 1906 in the village Dier el-Madina a few meters from the tomb of Kha. The Egyptian wall painting was covered with fresh mud and straw. The painting was done with natural colours from minerals and vegetables (ocher for red and yellow, charcoal for black, limestone carbonate for white, malachite for blue and green) mixed with water and gum as binder.

Chapel of Maya

In the year 1906 in the valley next to Dier el-Madina a shaft was found which led to an underground tomb fully intact. This was the tomb of Kha (who was the Director of works) and his wife Merit. Kha has three coffins kept one inside the other. The inner most coffin had the mummy. The middle coffin is made of wood and gold. The inner most coffin is made of stucco gold and bronze. The coffin of Merit is made by merging designs of the middle and inner coffin of Kha. Merit’s Funerary mask made of cartonnage decorated with semi-precious stones and glass. In the room Merit’s hair wig and beauty boxes were on display. The bed and chair they used was all preserved in the tomb. Also there was a pantry with vegetables, fruits, pulses and dried meat. The scribe palette, measuring instruments and work tools of Kha was preserved for their afterlife. Even some 17 pairs of tunic clothes embroidered with monogram of Kha was discovered. A gold cubit rod given by Pharoah Amenhotep II to minister Kha is displayed in the museum.

The Egyptians preserved the dead animals too for afterlife to use when the people are reborn. The mummification process:

  • Desiccation – Salt is highly effective in drying the bodies. The body was covered with Natron (a type of salt) for 40 days to prevent organic decay.
  • Evisceration – The internal organs were extracted and preserved in special containers called canopic jars.
  • Embalming – During the embalming process the body was rubbed with oils, ointments and resins. The plant fibers were used to complete the shape of the mummies. After that they were wrapped in bandages in which protective amulets can be placed.

At the second floor the Old kingdom that dates back to 4500 years is in display. The 5th Dynasty tomb was on display. The pots, footwear and other material from the tomb of an unknown is on display.

The old kingdom tomb has false doors giving an illusion of path ways to the burial place. Some of the false doors made of stones were exhibited. The Statue of Aanen of the 18th Dynasty was very attractive. The statue depicts a Dignitary priest wearing a wig, a long gown and leopard skin. The ornament on his belt reads the names of Amenhotep III. Aanen. The inscription tells us he is an astronomer priest “One who knows the procession of the sky”.

There were rear stones from the dry river beds of Egypt. The Sarcophagus of a higher official of king Ramesses II built with pink granite was present. There was a limestone statue of Governor Wakha dated to middle kingdom around 1750 BC.

I spent some three hours in the Egyptian museum. There were lot more articles displayed. Especially the mummies, the photos of which I have not included. Because there were more beautiful things to write about. My admiration for Egyptian civilization before 4000 years has grown big and makes me say a wow! After this museum visit.

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