Rather that highlight one particular artifact in this Death in Cambridge post, I wanted to show several. I think these items really show how the Egyptians engaged their dead in the burial process.
First up: the eyes
These are an absolutely fascinating addition to the Egyptian box coffins and the accompanying labels describe that the motif is used so that the deceased can see out of the coffin. This is just one of many instances where the dead are seen as an active part of the process.
Next: the Shabti
According to the signage, shabti (shawabti or ushabti) were small figures that were placed in tombs to ‘answer the call’ to perform various tasks on behalf of the deceased such as tilling or irrigating the land.
There are a wide assortment of types, such as the ones pictured, ranging from wooden to limestone version, with one even made out of faience which is a type of crushed quartz which is then glazed.
Following on from there: The burial of Khety
These wonderful (if a bit blurry…working with an iPhone here) figures were found in the burial tomb of Khety in 1903. The models are carrying out a mixture of tasks, such as running a granary and butchery in order to provide food and drink for Khety in the afterlife. Just off to the left-hand side, there are boats waiting to take Khety on a trip up the River Nile.
Finally: don’t lose your dead!
We’ve seen the stock image that represents a morgue a thousand times. A random pair of feet with a toe tag on them, making sure the deceased does not become separated from their documentation. This is by no means a new thing. The Egyptians used toe tags too, to ensure that their dead are accounted for.
These small wooden tags have the parentage, titles and age of the deceased written on them in demotic Greek and Egyptian. The ones pictured were for a pair of women. Tags were used to identify the deceased as cemeteries were often some distance from the family home of the deceased and so mix-ups could happen. So, definitely not a modern phenomenon by any stretch as these wooden tags date from around 30 BCE to 200 CE.
All of the items featured here are housed in the Fitzwilliam Museum as part of their extensive Ancient Egypt collection. I highly recommend a visit.