Tuesday, October 9, 2007

What became of all the Old Kingdom Mummies?

Lying in a case at the Egyptian museum in Turin Italy, a plain looking mummy wrapped in a huge amount of linen has his facial features and hair drawn on his wrappings in black. Its discoverers were amazed when in 1911 they discovered an intact old kingdom tomb at Gebelein, Egypt. The burials having taken place in the fifth dynasty somewhere between ca. 2494-2345 bce.

The tomb had 3 rooms with two stone sarcophagus's, the Turin mummy in question was found in a sarcophagus in the largest room of the tomb. Two others lay nearby in wooden coffins with all the provisions the three would need on their journey's.

Thirty loaves of bread and thirty jars of liquid would provide nourishment, a wooden model boat was provided for their use on the Nile in the afterlife, boxes of textiles, sandals and a headrest would provide comfort.

All this left undisturbed for almost 4500 years! I look around and ask myself" Where are all the old kingdom mummies?"

The above story is sadly a rare one for the art of mummification was not great at this period and few burials became mummies, if unwrapped the Turin's mummy would probably be little more than a skeleton under his massive wrappings.

With intruders robbing the necropolis's these mummies were unwrapped burned and cut up one by one. So out of the millions of people mummified in the old kingdom today there are only seven or eight known to still exist.

The finest example by far is Nefer found in his beautiful tomb beneath a causeway at Saqqara in the 1970's. Unlike the Turin mummy, Nefer's body was covered in wrappings with his features molded in plaster.

Harvard's exploration of the Giza plateau in the early 20th century revealed the mummy of Inti. Inti's mummy was a true mummy lying half naked at the bottom of his limestone sarcophagus (a gift from his king). Sadly when the expedition photographed Inti in 1935 he had mostly turned into a skeleton. Does that meen there are only six or seven old kingdom mummies left?

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