The Coffins of King Tutankhamun
The Coffin is usually defined as a “chest” in which a body is buried but to distinguish it from the sarcophagus it can be also defined as the container nearest to the mummified body. Thus the sarcophagus is the outermost container in which the body of the deceased will be placed within its coffin.
Development of Sarcophagi:
· The word “sarcophagus” is a Greek word, which means ‘flesh-eater’ apparently from a Hellenic belief that some stone used for body-containers, actually consumed its contents (as if the sarcophagus eats the flesh of the deceased). This is confirmed by the fact that in Predynastic times the bodies were buried in a contracted position in shallow pits in the sand and they retain their shape until now (like the famous example of the mummified body kept at the British Museum). The bodies were preserved only by means of the heat of the sand due to the hot weather. Then by around the late 3rd Dynasty, sarcophagi were introduced for keeping the dead bodies but it was discovered that the bodies decomposed (were not preserved) so in the 4th Dynasty the Egyptians thought about mummification as a means of preserving the dead bodies; so it is logic that they mummify the body then put it inside the sarcophagus which will not then eat the flesh of the deceased.
· The name of sarcophagus in ancient Egyptian language was nb anx (Lord of life) or pr anx: House of life or since the Ramesside Period mn anx: the eternal monument.
· The earliest sarcophagi recorded dated to the Old Kingdom (3rd dynasty). They were made out of stone and the lid took the shape of the ancient shrine of the North (Shrine of goddess Wadjet) or the “pr nw”. Later on, in the New Kingdom, wooden sarcophagi appeared but they were used by private people as only royalties could use stone sarcophagi. At this time, the lids took the shape of the sloping “pr wr” or the ancient shrine of the South (Shrine of goddess Nekhbet).
· Royal sarcophagi were initially rectangular in shape but soon adopted an oval, cartouche-form which continued into the Twentieth dynasty, with the exception of the Amarna Period also a very popular form of sarcophagi was the anthropoid (meaning: taking the shape of the human body. This word derives from the word ‘anthropology’ which means the science of the human body.).
· The sarcophagus of Tutankhamen was made out of yellow Quartizite and the lid made of granite painted yellow to match the sarcophagus. The lid takes the shape of the “pr-wr” and is decorated on the four corners with sculpted figures of the 4 protector goddesses outstretching their wings, which was an innovation during the New Kingdom.
Development of Coffins:
· As mentioned before, the coffin is the container in which the deceased body is put before burial and it is the nearest thing to the body of the deceased.
· Two kinds of coffins are known in ancient Egypt: rectangular and anthropoid.
· When coffins 1st appeared, they were rectangular in shape and were made out of wood. In the beginning they were short chest to contain the contracted burials, but after mummification was practiced bodies were extended and put in full-length coffins. Rectangular coffins were called by the ancient Egyptians: qrsu (qrst is used generally for ‘burial’).
· Anthropoid coffins came in use in the Middle Kingdom but became dominant in the 17th dynasty. They were made out of stone or wood or cartonnage. The ancient Egyptian name was: suht (the same word is also used for shrouds).
· From the 17th Dynasty the anthropoid coffins were decorated with a specific kind of decoration which is called the Rishi decoration, the word (Rishi) ® came from the Arabic word meaning feather. It represented the feathers of the Ba bird or goddess Isis stretching her wings to protect her husband Osiris.
· As for inscriptions, coffins had simple inscriptions of just a horizontal line then 4 vertical lines were added. Sometimes a pair of eyes was placed to link the deceased with the outer world.
· Later on, coloured coffins came into fashion such as white coffins with polychrome decorations, black coffins with yellow decorations or yellow coffins decorated with bright colours, all accompanied by extensive texts and funerary scenes (vignettes).
· From the 25th/26th dynasties, there are examples showing coffins supported by a back pillar and standing on a pedestal to make it easier to perform the Opening of the Mouth Ceremony.
The Anthropoid Coffins of Tutankhamen
Inside the quartizite sarcophagus of Tutankhamen, 3 coffins were found. The innermost contained the mummy of Tutankhamun [which is still in his tomb (KV 62) at the Valley of the Kings] covered by luxurious adornments especially the golden mask. It is now housed in a special showcase preserving it from the damaging effects of the external weather.
1. The Outermost Coffin:
It is made out of wood; gilded in some parts inside it they found the 2nd coffin. It rested on a low leonine bier that was still intact though certainly suffering from the strain of a ton and a quarter worth of weight it had endured over the prior 3,200 years. Fragments chipped from the toe of the coffin lid at the time of the burial confirm a crude attempt to rectify a design problem and allow the sarcophagus lid to sit properly. Some of these fragments were found in the bottom of the sarcophagus. The chippings revealed that the coffin was made of cypress wood with a thin layer of gesso overlaid with gold foil. The layer of gold varied in thickness from heavy sheet for the face and hands to the very finest gold leaf for the rather curious khat-like headdress. Over the Khat headdress, the cobra and vulture are attached to the forehead, and the turned up beard of Osiris is attached to his chin. His arms are crossed over his chest holding the crook and the flail (the Heka and the Nekhekh). It is decorated with the Rishi decoration. There are the figures of Isis and Nephtys outstretching their wings on either sides of the body. The underside of the foot carries a further representation of Isis kneeling on the nbw sign.
This coffin is still kept in the tomb of Tutankhamen at the Valley of the Kings inside the sarcophagus.
2. The Middle Coffin:
It is made out of wood, covered with gold sheets and heavily inlaid with coloured glass and semi precious stones: carnelian (red), turquoise (light blue) and lapis lazuli (dark blue). It represents the king wearing the Nemes headdress with the cobra and the vulture beautifully sculpted on his forehead. The upturned beard of Osiris is attached to his chin. His arms are crossed in Osiride form holding the crook and the flail. It is covered with the rishi decorations. Instead of Isis and Nephtys, there is a representation of the vulture goddess Nekhbet and the cobra goddess Wadjet depicted with the wings of a bird.
3. The Innermost Coffin:
It is made out of pure solid gold weighing about 110 kg. Its decoration is exactly similar to the middle coffin but the differences are: it’s inlaid with semi-precious stones in only a few parts and there is a further representation of Isis and Nephtys protecting the lower part of his body while Nekhbet and Wadjet protect the upper part. At the foot of both coffins there is a figure of (ISIS) kneeling on the nbw sign. The middle and the innermost coffins are the ones displayed at the Egyptian museum.