This cartonnage shows, on the right, Anubis, the jackal-headed god, weighing the heart of the deceased, an important test for entry to the afterlife. In the center are the Four Sons of Horus, who protected specific mummified organs of the body. On the left, the deceased kneels and plays musical instruments before the symbol of the god Osiris.
This mummy’s name, Gautseshenu, means “bouquet of lotuses.” The Egyptian word seshen (“lotus”) is the origin of the name Susan.
This cartonnage illustrates the combination of Egyptian with Classical art in the Roman Period: the idealized portrait includes the hieroglyph for “protection” (a symbol of Isis) as well as a wreath (in the Greek or Roman style). The red symbol on the left shoulder, which can easily be mistaken for a swastika, is actually an ancient Greek symbol for holiness, while at the bottom, the boat of Sokar (a form of the Egyptian sun god) is flanked by jackals.
Mummy of an Anonymous Man was unwrapped in the 1950s, when it was the subject of a TV show, and rewrapped in 2010 for this exhibition. Carbon-14 dating conducted in 2009 suggests that this man died between 259 and 398 C.E., confirming the third-century date suggested by the style of the cartonnage.
The initial chapters of the Book of the Dead allude to the myth of Osiris’s death, resurrection, and union with the sun god Re, anticipating the same scenario for the deceased. Here, parts of the funeral are portrayed. The priest in a leopard-skin cloak recites spells from a scroll in his hands. The seated woman mourns the mummy, held up by the jackal-headed Anubis, while the wavy line around the scene indicates purification.
This is one of the most important religious texts of the New Kingdom, in part because it is an early version of the Book of the Dead, revealing the development of all later ones. The papyrus is about twenty-five feet long, inscribed on both sides (a rare feature), and contains nearly one hundred “chapters,” almost half of the total known group of Book of the Dead texts. Several of the chapters are closer to those found in the Coffin Texts, the collection of funeral texts used in the previous period.
The texts on the recto (or front side) are written in approximately 530 columns of hieroglyphs reading down and from right to left. English translations are provided for certain key passages. Understanding these evocative texts can be challenging; even Egyptologists cannot claim with certainty that they know what some of the phrases and sentences mean. (A full translation of this Book of the Dead has been undertaken and will be published by the Museum.)
Cartonnage, linen covered with plaster and then painted, protected the mummy inside the coffin while the symbols on it helped the deceased reach the afterlife. The upper register on the front of this cartonnage shows the protective deities called the Four Sons of Horus. In the next register is the deceased in a kiosk on a bed, flanked by the goddesses of mourning, Isis and Nephthys.
The Egyptian word for mummy, sah, means “nobility” or “dignity” and denotes a divine and eternal manifestation of the deceased. According to ancient belief, the mummified body has been transformed into a home for the soul. After death, the mummy reunites with the ba-soul, which travels outside the tomb and serves the needs of the ka-soul (which receives food offerings) and the akh-soul (which represents all the parts integrated and acting together as a capable being in the afterlife).
The mummy shown here has undergone carbon-14 dating, a scientific method used to determine the date of archaeological samples. The results indicate that Thothirdes died between 768 and 545 B.C.E., supporting the Twenty-sixth Dynasty date suggested by the style of his coffin.
The Mummy Chamber
May 5, 2010
This installation of more than 170 objects from our world-famous holdings of ancient Egyptian material explores the complex rituals related to the practice of mummification and the Egyptian belief that the body must be preserved in order to ensure eternal life. On view are the mummy of the priest Thothirdes; the mummy of Hor, encased in an elaborately painted cartonnage; and a nearly twenty-five-foot-long Book of the Dead scroll. Also in the installation are canopic jars, used to store the vital organs of mummies, as well as several shabties, small figurines placed in tombs, each of which was assigned to work magically for the deceased in the afterlife. The installation includes related objects, among them stelae, reliefs, gold earrings, amulets, ritual statuettes, coffins, and mummy boards.
The Mummy Chamber is organized by Edward Bleiberg, Curator of Egyptian Art, Brooklyn Museum.
The exhibition is made possible with generous support from the Leon Levy Foundation and the Museum’s Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund.