Egyptian Wood Sarcophagus
Period: Middle Kingdom, circa 2035-1668 B.C.
Material: Painted wood
Dimensions: 178 cm x 42 cm
With Galery Palamedes, Switzerland, prior to 1970, Ex- collection J.-L. Vigne, Switzerland, 1970’s; Ex-private collection, Switzerland.
The five wooden pieces presented here form both side panels, head and foot boards, and the bottom of a sarcophagus from the Middle Kingdom, which is probably to be dated to the 12th Dynasty. Only the lid is missing for the coffin to be completed.
The set is rectangular in shape, composed of thin boards, painted in ochre and assembled with wooden pegs some of which are still in place. The inscriptions are in light gray while many details of the objects represented are polychromatic (white, brown-red, yellow, black). The specifics of the text allow us to determine that the most likely origin is the region of Asyut in Middle Egypt, where the totality of the closest related sarcophagi was found: actually, the texts appearing on these examples mention both the town of Maden and very special deities like Imy-khenty-nnirty, Her-tep-snouef, Mery-moutef and Renenoutet.
Each wall consists of two horizontal lines and eight vertical columns of text, that surround the funerary offering scenes painted on the yellow-ochre background. On the decorated panel on the right, a beautiful pair of Oudjat eyes are painted: a) to the left, a table on which three large baskets containing vases that recall footless amphorae with conical lids; under this table, one can make out small servants bringing animals (a gray goose and a gazelle); b) the central panel represents the deceased dressed in a gray strapped dress, adorned with a black tripartite wig. She stands upright in front of a rich table of offerings including pieces of meat and poultry, bread from two boxes and a palmette; the woman holds a lotus flower and raises her other hand towards the offering table. The other long panel (C) is decorated with three offering scenes: a) on the right, a table with five vases (three globular ones imitating granite alternating with two more slender ones painted in white) that seem connected by circular wires. Under this table there is a fan, a mirror case and two small vases; b-c) the other two scenes are more repetitive and each feature eight kneeling servants presenting unidentified small gifts.
The text of the long panel C, shows the name of the deceased; here is a translation (lines 1-2): Offering given by the king to Anubis, on his mountain, master of the mouth of the cave, who is the master of the sacred land (consisting of) a sarcophagus in his tomb in the necropolis of the west (for) the blessed with the great god, Ka(y)t. Offering given to Re, master of the sky on his thrones, for Geb with Nut, for Shu with Tefnut, for the Beloved of his mother, for Him who is at the head of his brothers, offering to Osiris. The name of the owner, a woman called Ka(y)t seems to be unattested in other texts, but might be completed as Kayt-iqeret (Kayt the excellent, as it reads further into another line).
The other texts describe offerings made to different deities (Osiris, Atum, Isis, Seth, Nephtys, etc.) some of which pose identification problems. Other inscriptions describe in detail the objects painted on the wood and belonging to the furniture. This funeral set is in an exceptional state of preservation and presents a group of religious texts that are of interest for our understanding of the religious practices of the Middle Kingdom.
BEY KAMAL A., Fouilles à Deir Drouka et à Assiout (1013-1914) in Annales du Service des Antiquities Egyptiennes 16, 1916, pp. 71ff.
JORGENSEN M., Catalogue Egypt I (3000-1550 B.C.). Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, 1996, n. 38, pp. 102-105.
On the town of Maden, see:
GAUTHIER H., Dictionnaire des noms géographiques contenus dans les textes hiéroglyphiques, Vol. III, Cairo, 1928, p. 26.