The Left Side
The decoration on this side of the coffin depicts the successful transition of the deceased to the next world. In the first scene, on the far left, the goddess of the west leads him before Anubis for the ceremony of the weighing of his heart, a ritual that forms part of his judgment. In the next scene, having passed this test (as the four Ma 'at feathers on his head affirm), he is presented to Osiris by the god Thoth. The subsequent scene, the god Shu separating heaven from earth, conveys ideas of re-creation and the triumph of Ma'at over chaos, just as does the passing of judgment itself. Finally, in the last scene, the deceased is shown making an offering to an enthroned falcon in a shrine, a solar manifestation of the god Osiris. Whether the Egyptians believed that the depiction of such scenes actually guaranteed the passing of the last judgment, or whether the scenes simply represented a wish on the part of the deceased, is still a matter of debate.
With the sudden, temporary near cessation of private-tomb decoration at the end of the Ramesside Period, the rich religious iconographic tradition continued on papyri and on coffins and cartonnages. The transferral of these scenes to the walls and interior of coffins may have been thought to increase their magical potency through their proximity to the mummy. Composite coffins like this provided ample space for decoration. Like an artist assembling a collage, the coffin painter chose from a wide repertoire of images, basing his selection on a few underlying themes. What may appear randomly distributed is in reality carefully arranged to emphasize basic theological beliefs. The decoration of the coffin parts seen here reads like a connected prayer or wish, not in words but in drawing.
The Coffin Lid
The decorative elements of this lid emphasize the deceased's connection with the god Osiris. The beard is curved like that of Osiris, while the floral collar with falcon terminals recalls Osiris's son and protector, the falcon god Horus. Below the collar are images of Horus, Osiris's wife and sister Isis, and other protective deities, including winged cobras. Across the chest, Osiris's mother, Nut, has spread her wings, protecting and embracing her son. In the paired registers that continue down the front, the deceased is represented in a number of scenes further emphasizing his association with Osiris.
On the interior bottom of the coffin is an image of a goddess personifying the west, the cemetery, and by extension the netherworld. Since the goddess Nut on the lid personifies the sky, the coffin as a whole represents the universe in miniature.
The Mummy Board
On this mummy board, the deceased is represented as an akh, a transfigured being who possesses the power to move about in the hereafter. He holds a tyet-sign in one hand and a djed-pillar in the other, both symbols of permanence. The deities on his bracelets, on his chest, and in the offering scenes in the paired registers down the front of the board all emphasize that he is a living presence among the gods.
The Right Side
The decoration on this side completes the story of the transition of the deceased to the next world. Emphasizing the connections between the sun god and the deceased as Osiris is the first scene's representation of a mummiform deity standing between the sun god in his solar bark and a representation of the earth. The two disks within the earth are manifestations of the rising and setting sun, and the figures within represent the twelve hours of the night. In the upper section of the next-to-last scene, the sun god is shown seated in his solar bark protected by Ma'at, Thoth, and Heqa, deities commonly associated with the protection and maintenance of cosmic order. In the lower part of the same scene, the goddesses Isis and Nephthys mourn the mummiform Osiris as a solar deity looks on radiating stars over him. Together these two scenes may represent the nightly journey of the sun through the netherworld and the attendant resurrection of Osiris, or the deceased as Osiris. In the last scene, the deceased is shown with his ba, drinking from the rejuvenating waters at the base of the Tree of Life.
A Brief History of Egyptian Coffins
The Egyptians began constructing coffins for the dead in the Early Dynastic Period (Dynasties I and II, circa 3100–2670 B.C.) The earliest Egyptian coffins were box-shaped and were decorated with architectural motifs suggesting that the coffin was in fact a building in which the deceased would reside for eternity. The accompanying illustration shows a Fourth Dynasty sarcophagus, or stone coffin, on display in another gallery. Its sides are adorned with a pattern of niches and buttresses associated with Egyptian palaces.
Toward the end of Dynasty XII (circa 1979–1801 B.C.), the first anthropoid and mummiform coffins appeared. These wooden cases consist of a top and bottom that fit securely together, enveloping and outlining the body. These new kinds of coffins reflected a shift in religious beliefs. The coffin was no longer intended merely to house the deceased but also to link him or her with the god Osiris, the judge and king of the netherworld, who is often depicted as a mummiform figure with a beard.