Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Life and death ... and the Ashmolean Museum

The nested coffins of Djeddjehutyiuefankh, a 7th century BC member of a family of Theban priests © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
The August Oxfordshire Limited Edition looks at life after death in ancient Egypt as part of its series of articles on the new suite of Egyptian galleries (Dynastic Egypt and Nubia), opening at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, UK, in the last week of November.

Life after death is what most of people think of first when considering Ancient Egypt. Certainly, visiting school parties delight in mummies, coffins, tombs, treasures, kings, curses, deities that have to be appeased.

Then there are the colourful tomb paintings, telling the stories of gods, goddesses and strange creatures on the perilous path to the afterlife.

The ‘Life After Death in Ancient Egypt’ gallery at the Ashmolean Museum, the third of in the sequence of five new Egyptian galleries opening at the end of November, will include all of these hopefully minus any curses!

Much of what is understood about life and death in ancient Egypt and their belief systems stems from studies of tomb contents and decoration: the results of a host of late 19th and 20th century excavations.

The Ashmolean has an extensive collection of funerary material, so with new displays to look forward to, it promises to be a fascinating room.

Taking centre stage, opposite the gallery entrance, is an exceptional set of nested coffins made of painted wood. They belonged to Djeddjehutyiuefankh, a 7th century BC member of a family of Theban priests.

Djed-djehuty-iuef-ankh means: Says the god Thoth, ‘May he live’.

Living during the 25th Dynasty, from 770-712 BC, Djeddjehutyiuefankh’s triple coffin was found, together with his mother’s, buried in the sacred ground of the temple at Deir el-Bahri, Western Thebes.

They were discovered by the Swiss scholar Edouard Naville, the first archaeologist to work for the Egypt Exploration Fund.

The Deir el-Bahri temple complex built by the formidable Queen Hatshepsut 700 years earlier is a vast part-rock-hewn, part-freestanding building with ramps, terraces and colonnades found within a steep semicircle of cliffs.

It is considered one of the great buildings of the world, and typically is a highlight of a trip to the nearby Valley of the Kings.

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