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Although coffins and sarcophagi did a pretty good job of protecting the mummy, the greatest safeguard against bodily damage was the tomb itself. The most elaborate tombs are the pharaohs' pyramids, but other tombs were underground or carved out of the sides of cliffs.

The first tombs were plain-looking flat-roofed buildings called mastabas. They were positioned near each other like houses in a neighborhood. This arrangement was a “city of the dead,” or necropolis. Then, someone got the idea to stack a smaller mastaba on top of a larger one, and then an even smaller one on top of that. This was called a step pyramid and it eventually inspired the construction of the bent pyramid and the traditional perfectly geometrical pyramids like those belonging to Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure. Even the Nubians to the south liked pyramids— in fact, there were more pyramids in Nubia than in Egypt! Nubian pyramids were smaller and more pointed than Egyptian pyramids.

A big pyramid was a pretty impressive grave marker, advertising the importance of the person inside. Unfortunately, this also attracted the attention of tomb robbers. These thieves would sneak into the pyramid shortly after burial and steal the goods left for the deceased, often even hacking apart the mummy to get the jewels inside. Hopefully the life-like funeral mask and coffin would be an effective substitute for the destroyed mummy!

Later on, the Egyptians decided to stop making pyramids and instead carved their pharaohs’ tombs in the sides of the cliffs in an area of southern Egypt called The Valley of the Kings. It was very difficult to get to these secret places so it was hoped that the mummies would be safe from tomb robbers.

What's in the tomb?

A person's favorite possessions would be placed with them in the tomb to let the mummy be prepared for the afterlife. King Tut must have really enjoyed his afterlife- he was provided with hunting weapons, senet game boards, chairs, make-up, food, statues, sandals, clothes, couches, models of boats, and lots more!

Sometimes a statue modeled after the deceased would be placed in the tomb with the mummy. These “ka statues” served as an emergency back-up, to make sure the ka had a substitute body in case something ever happened to the mummy.

Some items needed for the afterlife: alabaster head rest, senet game board, bronze mirror, sandals, faience oil jar, kohl (eye make-up) container with applicator.

Also placed in the tomb were small statues called shabtis. The Egyptians believed these figurines would serve as their workers in the afterlife. Hieroglyphs on the shabtis spelled out magical incantations that were supposed to make them come to life, ready for work. In the early New Kingdom, one shabti seemed to be enough to guarantee an easy afterlife. But by 1000 BC, Egyptians were being buried with 401 shabtis: one for each day of the year, plus 36 supervisor shabtis to keep the rest of them working!

A whole troop of shabtis! By Serge Ottaviani (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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