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Funeral Masks


The Egyptians had yet another way to make sure the ka could recognize its own body. After the mummy was wrapped, a mask was fitted over the head and shoulders. The faces on these funeral masks resembled those of the dead, so soul could identify the mummy as its own. Funeral masks were made out of solid gold (like King Tut's), wood, or cartonnage (a material similar to papier-mâché). Wooden and cartonnage masks could be painted or gilded with gold— the look of solid gold at a fraction of the price!

Cartonnage mask

Coffins and sarcophagi

To ensure a mummy’s safety, an Egyptian embalmer could place it in one or more coffins. The earliest coffins were boxy and made of wood. Their decoration was usually very plain, with just some hieroglyphs and a pair of wedjat eyes painted at the head end. The wedjat eyes allowed the mummy to “see” into the world of the living. As time passed, the decoration became more elaborate. Images of gods, hieroglyphs that spelled out protective prayers, and pictures of amulets covered almost every square inch of these coffins.

Wooden coffin

In later times, Egyptians began to make anthropoid (or mummiform) coffins. Whether you call them anthropoid or mummiform, both words mean “human shaped.” Like funeral masks, mummiform coffins had faces that resembled the person inside for easy recognition. Many of these were made of cartonnage because it was cheap, light, and easy to work with. Some were gilded with gold as well. These coffins were heavily decorated with hieroglyphs and pictures of gods and magic symbols to protect the mummy on its way to the afterlife.

Images typically found on a mummiform coffin include: falcons, jackals, vultures, winged suns, scarab beetles, lotus blossoms, amulets (including shens, ankhs, djeds, tets, and wedjats), hieroglyphs, bas, and gods connected to the afterlife (such as Osiris, Anubis, Isis, Nephthys, the four sons of Horus, Thoth, and Nut). Look closely at this coffin and see what you can spot!

And for even more protection, some mummies were placed in a sarcophagus. A sarcophagus is a large coffin made of stone or gold. Sarcophagi were expensive, so only pharaohs and queens, viziers, priests, and other important and wealthy people were buried in them. Like regular coffins, sarcophagi were either boxy or mummiform.

Quartzite sarcophagus originally made for Hatshepsut but used by Tuthmosis I instead. By HatshepsutSarcophagus-ReinscribedForHerFather_MuseumOfFineArtsBoston.png: Keith Schengili-Roberts derivative work: JMCC1 [CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Mummiform sarcophagus

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