One mummy many coffins! Egyptian elite were buried in a coffin placed inside another coffin in ensembles of up to eight intended to transform the deceased from human to deity,according to a new study.
Everybody knows the ancient Egyptian practice of mummifying their dead. What is perhaps less known is that they placed the mummies inside layer upon layer of coffins, said Anders Bettum,Egyptologist at the Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages,University of Oslo.
The Egyptian coffin sets are based on the same principle that we can observe with Chinese boxes and Russian nested matryoshka dolls,where objects are nested inside each other to constitute a complete ensemble, he said.
The child king Tutankhamun (1334-24 BC) was buried in as many as eight coffins,according to Bettum. For men and women who were members of the ancient Egyptian elite at that time,three or four coffins were not unusual, he said.
According to the researcher nested coffins were not only a status symbol for the Egyptian elite. They also played a key role in the process that would link the deceased to their ancestors: to Osiris,the god of the afterlife,and to Amun-Ra,the sun and creator god, Bettum said.
The rituals and the myths that were reiterated during the seventy days that a funeral lasted are symbolically rendered on the coffins. The components of each nest,including the mummy-cover,the inner and outer coffins – reflect the Egyptians view of the world,researchers said.
Another key finding,Bettum said,is that the innermost layers of the coffin nests dating from the 19th dynasty (approximately 1292-1191 BC) were fashioned as living humans in their best outfits.
The innermost layer was the most important one,since it shows the objective of the afterlife transformation: the state of paradise to which these people aspired involved not only a mystical union with the gods; but more importantly a return to their old self.
Bettum believes that this custom served to distinguish the sacred from the more mundane surroundings. The numerous layers of coffins around the mummy functioned as repeated images of the deceased,but also as protective capsules,similar to the larvaes pupa before its transformation to a butterfly, Bettum said.