Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Mummies: Life after Death in Ancient Egypt

 
 Renate Germer

With Contributions by
Hartwig Altenmuller
Karl Heinz Hohne
Hannelore Kischkewitz
Jens Klock

Prestel Books
Munich
1997
ISBN 3-7913-1804-7

This book was created in conjunction with an exhibition of the same name held at the Museum Fur Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg (January 24- April 20, 1997) and at the Roemer-und-Pilazaeus-Museum, Hildesheim, (June 22-November 30, 1997).

There is no doubt the book is very pretty being large though not heavy and filled with lots of pictures including 6 pages at the beginning of the book of old familiar engravings of 19th century Egyptian sites. I have to be honest this is my third attempt at this book as about a year ago I found a bookmark indicating I had forgotten I was reading, a subsequent reading also got only a little way in.

The book begins with a chapter on mummification with the various elements required for the procedure with lovely coloured photos of the various instruments to do the job. At this point the author presents amulets for the protection of the mummy through the underworld to insure resurrected in the afterlife as an Osiris.

The pictures of the amulets are beautiful, yes beautiful amulets, but also the presentation of the amulets as well as the pictures taken of the artifacts are special. The drawing of the fully wrapped mummy of a 21rst Dynasty member of the Theban royal family found in the "Kings Cache" is interesting as is also on the opposite page, an image of the mummies removed garland from its unwrapping.

The author is on to the rituals that along with the mummified body and the amulets were required to complete the mummies journey. The final ritual in front of the tomb where "the opening of the mouth" ceremony took place is to revive the propped up mummy's ability to eat and breath in the beyond.

The magnificent. 900 B.C., 21rst-22nd Dynasty cartonnage case of Pabasa is an excellent example of the spells which in past periods decorated the walls of the tomb but here cover the case from head to toe with a dark green background, stunning! We are on to shabti's including an image of the shabti of Ipy, in which Ipy holds his ba bird but for the most part the shabtis pictured are of first rate and are pretty standard for the elite of society.

Artifacts are presented from tombs which were included in the graves that's presence acts as a connective nature of assimilating the tombs occupant with Osiris. The purpose of the canopic jars is brought out especially with pictures that demonstrate an excellent range of jars and one which bore an error inscription.

The late period painted terracotta is a very interesting and unusual example but for me the elegance of the 30th Dynasty wood shrine for the viscera of Hornedjitef was a most dignified enclosure. We turn to animal mummies bedecked with their cults complete with veneration and forgery.

The image of the gilded wood Ibis head with atef crown from the Ptolemaic period is timeless in its fragmentary beauty. The dog mummy is an interesting intact example, though slightly crude, containing the remains of three dogs within.

At this time we are presented with the Middle Kingdom burial which included some standard first class burial models, these of which are both unique with their presentation like many other objects enhanced by the amazing photo's used to represent the exhibition.

However in this chapter it must be the images of the mummy of Inemaakhet which I admired most as the rarest of objects on the subject of Middle Kingdom mummies complete with his mask. The three coffins of Peniu of the Third Intermediate period, c. 800 B.C. are explored with a usual outer coffin in mummiform style bearing no decoration other than its carved face and plain wig while Peniu's middle coffin is also of wood with polychrome decoration.

The decoration on the lid include both inscriptions and images of gods in a most delicate and refined nature, quite unusual. It in the innermost coffin we find the mummy of Peniu wrapped in a cartonnage case created from a mold typical of the 22nd Dynasty.

The case is painted yellow with decoration picked out in white and details of various coloures, it is yet a standard case for the dynasty, which are almost always very beautiful though in Peniu's case it differs from many others by his black hair and skin. The book moves through to the Roman period with a number of outstanding coffin ensembles and masks but the subject of the dearly departed is really only met with the 2nd century A.D.coffin of a child with his head raised as he is reborn in the afterlife.

The portraits from the Roman period, often referred to as "Fayum portraits" is put forward in the late development of burial practices along with x-rays which have accompanied many of the mummies the authors have chosen to exemplify.The chapter closes with the extraordinary mummy case of a boy named Paynakht from the end of ancient Egyptian history though sadly the mummy of the boy is lost.

The second part of the book is the ancient Egyptian mummy in Europe from cheery party games to obverse medical remedies beginning with the Lubeck apothecary mummy which may be Germany's first Egyptian mummy with a restoration of the mummy being recorded in 1651 A.D. By 1812 the mummy's coffin and mask had disintegrated and a new coffin was built and painted including a painted shroud for over the fragments of linen still covering it, which to this day still remain with the mummy.

The mummy again became of note when x-rays showed that the Lubeck mummy was covered with dozens of amulets representing one of the largest assemblages of amulets still in situ on an ancient Egyptian mummy in Europe. As curiosities mummies continued to fascinate though I have to wonder what Empress Josephine felt when she received the female head depicted in the Description de l' Egypt?

We are on to the sideshows of the 19th century and the finding of tombs full of ancient pharaohs including the remarkable discovery of the well preserved body of the great Pharaoh Rameses II. In the third part of the book we are on to the modern science of mummies.

I really dislike the reconstruction of how a mummy looked based solely on its skull the information obtained is highly suspect when the skull cannot display skin colour, form of ears, nose, hairstyle, scars or whether said individuals habits such as a raised eyebrows, sneer, or crooked smile. Any number of these variants may drastically alter the misleading reconstruction.

A web address in the book very nicely 16 years later still works, on a virtual mummy which was for this exhibition meant to be interactive with the audience giving a simulation of the mummy being unwrapped. As the book comes to a close the reader finds themselves being introduced to two more Greco-Roman period mummies each with their own story to tell.

The Appendix is on the restoration of a cartonnage case in a very delicate condition, sadly no colour picture is given for the mask. The book closes with a map and a chronology complete with interesting snippets of text on each period.

It is funny that a book I had such a difficult time getting into was so good, I guess timing is everything? The pictures were first rate but the collection of mummies chosen for the exhibition is probably one of the most beautiful collection of mummies ever put together.

A book that I will be in no hurry to put back in the bookcase rather I will leave it out on a table so my guests can look through what I found to be a quality publication in "Mummies: Life after Death in Ancient Egypt".

Notes:

1). Virtual Mummy

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