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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Winged heart scarab, c. 400-200 BC

Ancient Egyptian beliefs about the afterlife endured for more than 3,000 years. Over time, the religion grew more complex, as did preparations for the grave. This page explores some objects found in tombs. Their purpose was to provide spiritual and physical support needed for smooth passage to eternity.



Egyptian mummy and coffin, 150 BC - 50 ADEgyptian mummy and coffin
150 BC - 50 AD

Meet a Mummy

This image depicts the mummified body of a man who died 2,000 years ago.

In Egyptian belief, the gilt mask identified him as immortal, and the djed pillar, scarab, and Canopic gods painted on the papier maché cartonnage eased the transition to eternity. Egyptian tradition tells of gods with lapis lazuli beards, and the blue band at the chin links the deceased with divine Osiris.

Egyptian tombs included many kinds of ceramic and stone vessels to ensure eternal supplies of food, drink, and scented oil.

Alabaster vesselAlabaster Vessel Egyptian alabaster vessels
c. 3150-2195 BC

Wrapped around the mummy's neck, beads helped restore breath through the symbolism of their colors. Blue, green and black called up water, sky, vegetation and youth. White, yellow and red beads stood for sun, light, fire, and blood.

Blue and green faience beads in this broad collar necklace below resemble turquoise and lapis lazuli gemstones. Faience is made from crushed quartz.

faience necklace Faience necklace 332-30 BC

A shabti is a small human figure representing a person who would perform a given task for the deceased in the afterlife. The shabtis on the lower left wear wigs and jewelry like living people. But, as workers in the afterlife, one of them holds a hoe and the other has broken hands that show it once carried a hoe, too.

The lower right shabti and its coffin belonged to Ameneminet, a worker with the title "the one who hears the call," from the Deir el-Medina artisan's village near the Valley of the Kings.

Shabti
1292-1190 BC
Shabtis Shabtis
1292-1190 BC

Offering table
Offering tray
1800-1400 BC

Bread and leeks represented on this offering tray were meant to provide food for the deceased. The curved calf leg hieroglyph symbolized strength, and the instrument on the right side opened the mouth so the dead could speak and eat again.

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