A Burial in Ancient Egypt

After the elaborate mummification procedure had come to an end, the mummy inside its coffin began its final journey to its tomb - it house for eternity.

The story of the burial depends upon records left by royalty, courtiers, high officials and those wealthy enough to be able to afford a grand burial, little is known of the burials given to the ordinary Egyptians.

The day of the Funeral

Friends, family and professional mourners would gather at the home of the deceased, here they would begin the long procession to the tomb carrying items to accompany the deceased in the Beyond, and to show their grief.

female mourners from the tomb of Ramose TT55

Special items of the deceased were also taken to the tomb - these may have been personal items which had been a favourite or had been used as part of their professional career.

It was also at this time that the important funerary items such as the Canopic Jars and Ushabti were carryed to the tomb. A statue of the deceased was also part of the procession, accompanied by the Sem-Priest (identifiable by his traditional panther skin), and then the mummy itself.

Slowly the funeral procession would make its' way to the banks of the Nile, here boats would ferry them across the river - the mourners would take the first boat, the second boat would take only the mummy, Sem-Priest and two female mourners (representing Isis and Nephthys), other boats would take any remaining mourners as well as servants and grave goods.

The Wabet

On crossing the Nile the funeral procession made its way to the 'Wabet' - additional purification may have taken place here (if the body had never been returned to its family, then the full mummification proceedure may have been performed here). Now the mummy began the final stage of its journey, the journey into the cemetery of the dead.

The Muu dancers - these strange dancers would met the funeral procession somewhere along its way and then perform a strange ritualistic dance, although the dancers were both men and women some dances could only be performed by men.

The Opening of the Mouth Ceremony

At the entrance to the tomb, the mummy was raised to an upright position, the Sem-Priest would then speak the words of ritual while lesser-ranked priests would purify the coffin with water and incense. At this point a 'adze' was raised to the lips of the face of the coffin / mummy - the adze was raised in this way twice, then a forked instrument (a Pesesh-Kef) a knife or wand touched the mummy - this was very important! - Now the senses of the mummy were magically restored - an ox was then slaughtered and one its forelegs offered to the face of the mummy (with the possible reason of restoring the sexual powers ofthe deceased).

The opening of the Mouth ritual could have more than a hundred episodes - such as: Lustrations, Fumigations, Repeated Anointing, Touching of the face with an Adze and so on. A priest might also sink into a trance to go in search of the deceased to return them to their body.

The Offering Ritual

Once the ceremonies outside the tomb had been completed, Lector Priests (usually three or four priests) would then recite an Offering Ritual at the false door of the tomb - it was the purpose of the Offering Ritual to make certain that the Ka of the deceased had sustenance for etnerity, and also to cause him/her to 'become an akh'. It was either or during this Offering Ritual that the coffin / sarcophagus was finally placed inside the tomb along with the grave goods, once all had been completed the priests left the tomb, sweeping the floor as they left. Outside the mourners shared in a funeral feast in honour of the deceased, they would feast upon meat from cattle which had been slaughtered especially for the funeral.

The family of the deceased would return to the tomb as long as they were able, or as long as the deceased was remembered, to leave offerings - in this way the Offering Ritual would be reiterated, and the would ensure the the KA would continue to enjoy the Afterlife (an annual festival - 'Feast of the Valley' - would see the living cross over the river to visit the tombs of their deceased, the feast would include feasts and festivals and for a short while the dead would be amongst the living once more).

Possible reasoning behind the use and shape of the adze and foreleg of an Ox.

As noted above, during the Opening of the Mouth ceremony both an adze and foreleg of an Ox were placed against the lips of the coffin / statue of the deceased, it has been noted that there is a similarity in shape between both these objects and the constellation of the Great Bear (Ursa Major):

Left: the constellation of the Great Bear interpreted as an adze (top) and as the foreleg of an Ox (bottom)

above the use of an adze in the Opening of the Mouth ceremony

This use of the Great Bear constellation may hint at the location of the realm of the dead - in some conceptions, the ancient Egyptians placed the location of the Afterlife in the region of the circumpolar stars. (An article which covers this theory in more detail is by Ann Macy Roth and may be found in JEA 79).