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Mummy Cases

The beauty and attention to detail that so typified mummification received its full complement in the cases into which the bodies entered their final rest. It is almost a tragedy that the cases are so beautiful. For centuries, the intricacy and delicate splendor of the cases led to their unrivalled status as objects of desire. After thieves made off with them, they suffered shoddy transport, improper storage, and made to suffer untold dignities – the mummies themselves were, at one point, pulverized and taken as medicine!

With the advent of scientific methods towards the end of the eighteenth century, the classical world received the honor long due to it. The appreciation of the beauty of the mummy cases elevated their status to art, and preservation and restoration became the dominant concerns. It soon became apparent that mummification and all the other rituals surrounding the death of an ancient Egyptian had many meanings. The ceremonies were much more than a desire to exit this world gracefully, or to have one last ostentatious show of wealth. The joy they would provide the dead once they made it through the Hall of Judgment was the reason the deceased choose them before his death.

The case was inlaid with rich hieroglyphics; these were often spells to ward off evil spirits or bad omens. Wrapped in linen, the cases had an exaggerated human form to approximate the body, and markings on the case lid often depicted the role that the deceased played in life.

Pleasing the eyes and the sensibilities was of paramount concern when choosing cases. Preparing for the afterlife called for much care and thought; much more than the body went into the afterlife. Ka, the term for a sort of body double, accompanied the corpse “beyond” and could bring it back to life. Making and painting the cases often called for a portrait of the deceased, though by no means was it supposed to be an exact likeness. This was important since not only was the Ka eternal -- the dead person’s name and even his shadow were deathless. Ba, another body spirit, assumed the mien of a hawk. This close identification with animals is a hallmark of ancient Egypt. The colors and patterns of mummy cases are distinct reflections of their natural surroundings, as well as a way to show deference to their gods and goddesses.

The various and often harrowing experiences of daily life must have led the ancients to seek a way in which they might finally attain peace. By exiting this world so artfully, so elegantly, so sumptuously, they prepared for an afterlife in which the serenity they sought in life finally arrived.

Did you know?
DjedEach year the Egyptians notched a palm branch, so this symbol represents the passage of time.

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