Death in Cambridge: The Egyptian bouquet


Description from the accompanying label:

These plant remains were found within the linen wrappings around Nakhtefmut’s body. Recent study has shown that the ‘bouquet’ consists of garlic cloves, pierced and threaded on to strips of palm leaf, as well as a small onion.

(Fitzwilliam Museum)

I chose to feature this bouquet because I thought that it was quite beautiful that something from roughly 890 BCE has not only survived but also shows how the concept of floral additions (or non-floral for that matter) is by no means a new phenomenon when it comes to burial rites and rituals.

The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge has lots of gorgeous artefacts, some of which I will feature in future posts on this blog. I highly recommend that you visit it as it is a wonderful place with a huge range of collections from around the world.

The main image in this article was taken using an iPhone in low lighting. The bouquet is far more beautiful in real life.



3 thoughts on “Death in Cambridge: The Egyptian bouquet

  1. Beautiful. Is garlic a regular feature of any funeral rites, to your knowledge? I think of the connection with deterring vampires, of course, but also Hermes giving Odysseus an herb that scholars think is probably garlic in The Odyssey – that’s not a transparent connection with death, but Hermes is the god who led souls into the underworld, and the herb did prevent Circe’s magic from transforming our hero into a pig. I know garlic appears in ancient magic now and then, I’ll have to go back to see if appears in connection with death at all. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Hi, thanks for commenting and I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

      I did a quick bit of research about this as I found your question really interesting. Apparently garlic was a really important part of Ancient Egyptian life and the pyramid builders were given it as part of their food rations due to the belief that it would aid endurance and strength. They also used it medicinally in other ways. Given the fact that many Egyptian tombs were fully equipped with items for the afterlife, including clay slaves and chariots, it wouldn’t surprise me that the use of garlic in this case was both medicinal (giving the deceased strength in the afterlife) and potentially a rather subtle demonstration of that individual’s wealth, given that Herodotus wrote about how much money the Egyptians spent on supplying garlic for the pyramid builders (it was a lot!) and there are other sources that say you could buy a healthy slave with a certain quantity of garlic, showing how valuable it was for the living, therefore it probably would have been just as significant for the dead and rituals surrounding death and burial.

      Interestingly, clay representations of garlic have been found in Egyptian tombs as have actual garlic cloves were found in Tutankhamen’s tomb.

      Garlic has a surprisingly (to me at least) rich history with a lot of cultural lore (and lots of appearances in literature etc.), especially that surrounding the warding off of evil spirits, across the globe as well as a huge emphasis on its medicinal properties. All in all a fascinating yet humble little thing.

      Do let me know if you find anything further. I found a few journal articles (as in not random website without citations!) which were quite interesting too:

      • Thank you, this is so interesting! I hope to look more into this soon – a quick search earlier didn’t yield much, but I’ll give it a bit more time when the semester is done.

        On a tangentially related note, this made me think of one of my favorite academic Classics books ever, Emily Vermeule’s ‘Aspects of Death in Early Greek Art and Poetry’ – seems like a volume readers and writers of this blog might enjoy, and it’s pretty readable for a scholarly text, as she’s a beautiful writer (although, as I recall, she doesn’t translate the Greek).

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