Egyptologists use many different terms relating to coffins and funerary equipment, so in this post I’m going to define a few of the most common for you. The terms we use for Mummy 1770 will come near the end of this post.


Before I get into where you should put your mummy there is one key thing; a mummy has preserved skin tissue covering the underlying bone (Asru from the Manchester Museum is a good example), a skeleton is the exposed bone with no soft tissue over the top. Some mummies can become skeletons (through poor preservation) but skeletons cannot become mummies.

mummy of asrukhnum-nakht

The mummy of Asru from the Manchester Museum (Left) and the Skeleton of Khanum-Nakht from the Manchester Museum (Right)

A mummy can be wrapped, when the linen bandages are still intact, and when there are no wrappings, this can either be because the body has been unwrapped (although of course this is not something that the ancient Egyptians ever intended to happen to their dead), or tissue preservation has occurred through ‘natural mummification’(particularly evident in prehistoric Egypt, but this is by no means limited to the Egyptian culture).

Now that we have looked at the types of bodies you might come across we should go through the different types of coffins and wrappings the Egyptians used.


The boxes that have been found containing the Egyptian dead have generated a lot of different words, in various attempts to distinguish the between the different shapes, sizes and particularly materials in which they have been made.

Pot burial: Towards the end of the prehistoric period in Egypt, rather than simply being buried in the sand, bodies began to be given protection. There are particularly good examples from Badari, where huge pots made of Nile clay have been found holding human remains. The example below is from the Petrie Museum in London.


Pot Burial from Hememieh, near the village of Badari,, photo from The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archeaology at UCL

Reed coffin: Reed coffins are exactly what the name suggests, they look like large lidded baskets but they were used during the Early Dynastic period to bury the dead (in the flexed position), just like the pot burials, providing the body with protection from scavengers.

reed coffin

Early Dynastic coffin made of woven reeds, Manchester Museum

The first wooden coffins were used for elite burials, with the body still curled up, but by the end of the Old Kingdom, Egyptian coffins were looking more like, well, Egyptian coffins!

Box coffin: Box coffins are decorated rectangular wooden coffins. These coffins were the first layer of protection for the mummy, and were often decorated with false doors (through which the soul could leave and enter), eyes (so the deceased could see out) and hieroglyphic inscriptions, including the deceased’s name and lists of food offerings.

Body / anthropoid coffin: This type of coffin first appeared in the Middle Kingdom, and as the name suggests, it is in the shape of a human body. The mummy is placed into this coffin, which in turn can be placed into a box coffins. The anthropoid coffin usually has a stylised, young face; this means that the face on the coffin doesn’t always look like the mummy inside used to.

box and body coffins

The Two Brothers box and body coffins, Manchester Museum


Nested coffins: During the New Kingdom, the burials of the very wealthiest people included multiple, nested coffins. These coffins are anthropoid in shape and sit one inside the other, like Russian dolls. Most coffins of this type are made of wood – unless you are looking at the coffins of royalty where you see gilded wood or pure gold as in the case of the innermost coffin of Tutankhamun.

The coffins are typically decorated with hieroglyphics and traditional funerary scenes which represented the Egyptians views of the world.

nested coffins

Coffin set belonging to the temple singer Tamutnofret, composed of an outer coffin, an inner coffin and a “mummy-cover”, Thebes, Louvre, Paris (Photograph: Réunion des Musées Nationaux)

Sarcophagus: Now this is a word you hear a lot when people talk about mummies, the thing is, not all Egyptian coffins are sarcophagi. This word comes from Greek, and translates literally as ‘flesh eating stone’, usually referring to a type of limestone thought to dissolve the body (and you thought my guide to mummification was gross!), therefore the term sarcophagus specifically refers to a coffin, either box or anthropoid in shape, that, importantly, is made from stone.

Sarcophagi date back to the Old Kingdom, and by the New Kingdom, anthropoid coffins would be placed inside the sarcophagus as a final layer of protection for the mummy. The sarcophagus would be covered in hieroglyphic inscriptions and depictions of the gods both inside and outside, and the anthropoid sarcophagi would have a portrait carved head of the person inside.

New archaeological discovery in Alexandria, Egypt - 12 Jul 2018

Black sarcophagus found in Alexandria July 2018, photo was made available by the Egyptian ministry of Antiquities

Mummy masks: Undoubtedly the mummy mask we are all most familiar with is the golden mask of Tutankhamun, these masks are usually idealised images of the person beneath. The use of gold on the masks represents the golden skin of the Gods also as gold doesn’t tarnish it was also associated with eternal life. Due to these beliefs gold was almost exclusively reserved for royalty and the higher nobility.


Those who couldn’t afford to have their masks made of solid gold had to make do with mask created from cartonnage. If you could afford it, you could have your mask gilded (by applying gold leaf) so your mask would also represent the skin of the Gods – at a slightly less extortionate cost.

mummy mask

An example of a gilded mummy mask, Manchester Museum

Cartonnage: Now I mentioned ‘cartonnage’ just then, this is a term used to describe layers of papyrus, linen or other fibres that were plastered and moulded into a variety of shapes. when the cartonnage was dry it provided an even surface suitable for intricate decoration. There were a variety of uses for cartonnage including; mummy masks (which could then be guided or painted), slippers as seen in mummy 1770, and foot cases as seen on the two Roman mummies on display at Manchester Museum. This material was also used for mummy cases, which are often simply referred to as ‘Cartonnages’, these are typically the innermost coffins of elite burials, especially during the Third Intermediate Period.


The mummy mask and slippers of Mummy 1770 showing the different uses of cartonnage.


Faiyum portrait mummies: By the Roman Period of Egyptian history, coffins had lost their significance, and the mummy-shape was achieved by the use of resin and elaborately designed and constructed patterns of wrappings, but most recognisable by the very Roman-looking and individual portraits, rather than the stylised and idealised depictions of the Pharaonic period.

mummy portrait

Mummy Portrait, Ancient Worlds gallery Manchester Museum


Curator’s Diary March 2018: Flowers reunited with mummy of Perenbast -Reblog from @egyptmcr

Collaboration between Egyptology collections is vitally important to increase our understanding of life, and death, in Ancient Egypt. This blog from Dr Campbell Price is a great example of two museums working together to reunite Perenbast with the flowers that were originally buried with her.


Egypt at the Manchester Museum

It is something of a love story: a man and woman (perhaps husband and wife) buried together for almost 3000 years. Their small tomb chamber at Dra Abu el Naga, on the west bank of Thebes, was excavated by W.M. Flinders Petrie’s workers in 1908-1909.

Both individuals were provided with a single coffin, Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figure, and boxed shabtis. In a trend particularly prevalent during the Third Intermediate Period, floral material was left on both mummies. As part of the finds division system, one mummy (belonging to a temple singer named Perenbast) and her associated objects were sent to Manchester and those of her companion (‘Mr Perenbast’) sent to Bristol.

Some 10 years ago, while working on their new Egyptian gallery, Bristol Museum World Cultures curator Sue Giles recognised that their mummy had been provided with several flowers covered in black resin – when there was no resin on…

View original post 234 more words

The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead

Today we will be discussing the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead –  This ‘book’ was an important part of the Egyptian beliefs surrounding death and the afterlife.

The term ‘Book of the Dead’ is very much a modern Western invention, with a more literal translation being, ‘Spells of Coming Forth by Day’ – but that doesn’t lend itself to a catchy phrase in a film now does it?

Book of the dead

A replica of The Book of the Dead featured in The Mummy (1999). Image courtesy of Stelter Creative Woodworks (via

And although we call it a book, it isn’t necessarily what we would recognise as a book today, it’s more like having all the answers to your final year exam … if your final year exam was death and the afterlife that is!

If it’s not actually a ‘book’, what is it?

The best way to describe it is as a collection of spells and illustrations – these are all intended to help the person who owns the book make it safely from the Duat (the realm of the dead) into the Field of Reeds (the Egyptian afterlife). No two copies are exactly the same – there are so many spells, or chapters, to choose from you never end up with the same collection in every version.


Book of the Dead of the Priest of Horus, Imhotep (Imuthes), ca. 332–200 BC. From The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Some copies are tailor-made for a specific individual, but these special copies would have been very expensive, only the wealthy would be able to get such a specific item. There were cheaper options available for people, these were pre written and had gaps where the person’s name was filled in when they bought it.

Where did it start?

The Book of the Dead developed from the use of ‘Pyramid Texts’ in the Old Kingdom, these were spells or “utterances” written on the walls of the burial chamber inside the pyramids, or on the huge stone sarcophagi. The oldest examples date back to as early as c. 2400 BC, and at first were for the Pharaoh alone. By the end of the Old Kingdom pyramid texts were also being used by regional governors and other men of high status.


With the decline ‘Pyramid Age’, scribes found new surfaces for these magical inscriptions, and Egypt’s Middle Kingdom saw the rise to prominence of the ‘Coffin Texts’. Now, here’s the surprising bit, even though the name makes you think they would be found on the coffin, these texts, with new spells, incantations and illustrations, have also been found on tomb walls and papyri. As with mummification, these inscriptions were becoming a business opportunity so, as well as the Pharaoh and high status officials, other people in Egypt could now buy these texts – but only if you had enough money, they still weren’t cheap!

Coffin texts.jpg

‘Coffin Texts’; from the Middle Kingdom, outer coffin of Khnum Nakht, from Deir Rifa. Acc. No.: 4725.a-b, Manchester Museum.

The book of the dead

The Book of the Dead as we know it today first appears in the 17th Dynasty (c. 1580 BC) and was typically being written onto the linen that the mummy was wrapped in, and although at this point there were examples written on the coffin or papyrus, these are not common.

Linen bandage

Linen bandage fragment with images and text from Book of the Dead (Dynasty 30). Petrie Museum, UCL.

By the reigns of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III in the New Kingdom, the Book of the Dead was being commonly written on papyrus and individually illustrated for the user. And it is also in the 18th Dynasty that the famous image of the Weighing of the Heart (discussed below), spell 125, comes into popular use.

The hall of judgement.jpg

‘The Hall of Judgement’ from the Papyrus of Ani (frame 3). 19th Dynasty, from the Tomb of Ani, Thebes. British Museum.

By the Third Intermediate Period copies of the book were also made in hieratic, a cursive writing system, as well as cursive hieroglyphs. These were far more affordable, as they were mainly text, illustrated with occasional vignettes.

Currently, we know of 192 different spells that could be used to make up a copy of The Book of the Dead, and we know of no versions that include them all – not only would it have been too expensive, it would have been even heavier than carrying your PE bag and all your school books!

The spells covered a range of important things the owner would need to know about the afterlife, such as; giving the person control of the world around them, protecting them from things in the afterlife that may harm them, and even telling them how to avoid various traps and obstacles that may stop them on their way to the afterlife.

The final test

If the owner of the book made it past these obstacles in the Duat they would then have to pass a further test – the Weighing of the Heart. The deceased stands before the god Osiris and swears they haven’t committed any of the 42 sins on Osiris’ checklist. Their heart would then be placed on the scales and weighed against the feather of Maat (the goddess who represented truth), if you had sinned your heart would betray you – unless of course you’d thought to include spell 30B in your collection, a handy little insurance policy to guarantee you passed the test! (It gets a little complicated, doesn’t it?)

If the scales balanced you would find your place in the afterlife but if not, the demon Ammit, or Ammut, the ‘devourer’ (who you can see in the papyrus above), would eat the heart, without which the owner couldn’t enter the afterlife.

So, having a copy of this book would allow the owner to make it to the afterlife in relative ease to enjoy eternity. This was well worth the high price to many ancient Egyptians.


A brief guide to ancient Egyptian mummification

The methods the ancient Egyptian used to preserve their dead were developed and adapted over more than 3000 years. The brief timeline below charts the, often messy, evolution of the physical process of mummification. Watch out for future posts exploring aspects of mummification in more detail!

The word “mummy” originates from the Arabic word mumia meaning pitch or bitumen. This is thought to be a reference to the blackened appearance of Egyptian mummies, and the black tar-like substance that comes from the ‘mummy mountain’ in Persia.

Egypt’s earliest mummies were preserved through ‘accidental’ or ‘unintentional’ mummification. In the Predynastic Period (c.5300-3000 BC), the dead were buried, usually in the foetal (flexed) position, in a shallow pit in the sand. Grave goods included reed mats, pottery bowls, beaded jewellery and animal skins. The grave was filled with sand and sometimes capped with a limestone marker. The dry conditions resulted in some bodies mummifying without the artificial preservation we are familiar with.

Naturally preserved mummies are found at all periods of ancient Egypt history. This man dates to the Predynastic Period. He was found at Gebelein and is currently on display in the British Museum. ©Trustees of the British Museum.

The Early Dynastic Period (c.3000-2686 BC) saw changes in burials for royalty; their bodies placed in underground tombs, sometimes lined with mudbrick. This change in conditions prevented natural mummification, and the Egyptians started to artificially preserve bodies using resin-soaked bandages.

Throughout the Old Kingdom (c.2686-2160 BC), the Egyptians experimented with different methods and materials to preserve the soft tissues, including resin or plaster-soaked bandages moulded to the body. The earliest evidence of preservation using natron, a naturally occurring salt found in the Delta region, and of evisceration, the removal of the organs – which were then stored in Canopic chests or jars – comes from this period.

The Middle Kingdom (c.2055-1650 BC) was the first time that mummification wasn’t limited to the royal family. Wealthy members of society could now be mummified; the increased number of clients led to experimentation with different methods. One of the biggest changes was the removal of the brain, usually done through the nose.

2 Brothers canopic jar (1).png
The canopic chest and jars belonging to Nekht Ankh, a 12th Dynasty mummy found at Rifeh can be seen on display in The Manchester Museum. © The Manchester Museum.

Some of the most well-known mummies in museums today come from the New Kingdom (c.1550-1069 BC) , when the techniques had been perfected. The process was documented by the historian Herodotus:

  • The body was cleansed and purified then sent to the embalmers workshop.
  • The brain was removed via the nose, and the organs removed via a cut in the left side.
  • The body was stuffed with linen packets to absorb moisture.
  • The packets were removed, the body stuffed with natron, and the outside of the body covered with powdered natron for 40 days.
  • The natron was removed and the body rinsed and dried then painted with a resin and beeswax mix. Hot resin would sometimes be poured into the body to prevent decay.
  • The body was wrapped in linen, fingers and toes wrapped individually, larger strips were used for the arms and legs. Large linen sheets were used for the torso; the ends of the strips were stuck down with hot resin. Sometimes the wrappings or shroud were painted.
The lifelike appearance of 21st Dynasty royal mummies, such as Queen Ahmose Nefertari, show the sophistication of the embalmers art during this period (after Smith 1912, Plate VII)

These methods developed into a desire to maintain the lifelike preservation of the body during the Third Intermediate Period (c.1069-664 BC). This was achieved by stuffing materials including sawdust, sticks, linen, fat and mud between the skin and the muscles. These attempts did not last though and the focus moved away from the mummy to the wrappings themselves.

Late Period (664-332 BC) mummies are rare, giving an incomplete understanding of the process at this time. The outer wrappings formed complex patterns, but the linen closer to the mummy was stuck down with resin. If the organs were removed they were sometimes put back into the body in resin-soaked packets. Some Late Period mummies are made up from body parts from several different people and some have limbs missing.

During the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods (332 BC- AD 395), embalmers focused more on the outward appearance of the mummy. Linen was wrapped around the body in intricate patterns and often decorated with gold-leaf. There was also increased use of resin filling the body cavity and over the mummy wrappings. A distinctive feature of Roman Period mummies was the addition of a portrait on board or linen.

Mummies from the Roman Period are very distinctive in appearance, often having elaborate bandaging and funerary masks. This is mummy no. 1766 from the Manchester Museum who was found in the Fayoum region of Egypt. © The Manchester Museum

The growth of Christianity, and later Islam, in Egypt led to the decline of the traditional Egyptian burial custom of mummification that had begun over three millennia earlier in the Predynastic Period.

Becca Horne

Who was Manchester Mummy 1770?

Mummies and skeletons are studied so that we can find out about the life of that person, as well as learning about what a particular society or period of history was like. Manchester mummy 1770 has been studied probably more than many other ancient mummies, so what have the studies carried out so far told us about her?

Manchester mummy 1770 is a young girl who was about 13 years old when she died. She lived during the Ptolemaic period of ancient Egyptian history (332 – 30 BC), when Egypt was ruled by Macedonian or Greek rulers.

The cartonnage found with Manchester mummy 1770 did not provide her name

The name of many Egyptian mummies can be found in hieroglyphs on the bandages used to wrap them or on their coffin. Mummy 1770 had no coffin when she came to Manchester and there was no name on her bandages, so we do not know what her name was. Because of this she is known as Manchester mummy 1770 – the number is her museum record number.

No records came with mummy 1770 either, so we don’t know exactly where in Egypt she was found. It is however likely that she was found by the Egyptologist, Sir William Flinders Petrie. At the time when mummy 1770 was found, Petrie was digging at a site called Hawara in middle Egypt so she likely to have come from there.


One of the gold nipple amulets found during the unwrapping

There is nothing to suggest that mummy 1770 was someone of great importance during her lifetime. The process of artificial mummification used to produce a mummy was an expensive and time consuming process. However, by the Ptolemaic period mummification was becoming more easily available to the middle classes as well as the upper classes of ancient Egyptian society. Mummy 1770’s body was not prepared using the most elaborate type of bandaging and her mummification was poor. She was however buried with gold nipple amulets and finger nail covers, suggesting she was not a commoner.


The X-ray of mummy 1770’s chest and abdomen revealed the presence of a calcified guinea worm. This is the small white spot near her spine

Mummy 1770 was also found to have guinea worm disease – this is caused by a parasitic worm that can be caught from drinking contaminated water. This disease is still found in some parts of Africa today but it is not as common now as it would have been in ancient times. Guinea worm disease could have made mummy 1770 feel sick and feverish and cause pain in her joints and legs.

Eventually guinea worms try to leave the person they have infected by breaking through the skin on their feet which can be very painful. We do not know if this happened to mummy 1770 as she did not have any lower legs when she was found. It is impossible to tell whether her lower legs were amputated before she died because of this disease or whether there was another reason for this.

The Unwrapping of Manchester Mummy 1770

In June 1975 a very rare event took place at The University of Manchester – the unwrapping of an ancient Egyptian mummy. Before an audience of scientists and experts, the Manchester mummy project team unwrapped and dissected Manchester mummy number 1770. The team who unwrapped mummy 1770 consisted of specialists in Egyptology, pathology (human disease), dental studies, radiology, entomology (the study of insects) and microscopy. They were led by Rosalie David, the then curator of Egyptology at the Manchester Museum.

Slide 028

The Museum had started a project a few years earlier to study the mummies in its collection and many of the mummies had already been x-rayed at a nearby hospital. A lot had been learned about each mummy – their age when they died, whether they were male or female, the diseases or broken bones they had during life and how they were mummified, ready for the Afterlife.

The ‘Mummy Project’ team carrying out these studies decided that they would go on to autopsy one mummy to study it in great detail and to use what they found to develop a non-destructive way of studying mummies in the future.

Mummy 1770 from the Manchester Museum collection had been chosen for unwrapping and further study because she was very poorly preserved. Her bandages were loose and very fragile and the x-rays showed that her skeleton had become jumbled up underneath the bandages. She did not look like a ‘normal’ mummy beneath her bandages as she did not have very much mummified skin left – she was mostly a skeleton. This had happened to her a long time before she came to Manchester, probably whilst she was still in her tomb in Egypt.


Over several days, the layers of bandages were gently removed from the body exposing three pieces of cartonnage – a head mask, chest piece and slippers. The body was then studied in sections, with a lot of samples being taken for different types of scientific study. Insects were found between the different layers of bandages – the study of these told the mummy project team that mummy 1770 had been dead for quite a while before she was mummified. This helped to explain why she was poorly preserved.


Each bone of her skeleton and any remaining mummified tissue was carefully collected and recorded, even down to very tiny scraps. Looking at the skeleton confirmed that the mummy was a girl and that she was around 12-13 years old when she died. A mystery was also discovered during the autopsy – mummy 1770 had no lower legs when she was mummified. She had been given false feet made of reeds by the embalmers to make sure she could walk again in the Afterlife. It was impossible to tell what happened to her lower legs, although there have been lots of suggestions over the years!

Mummy 1770 continues to be studied today, using a range of scientific techniques. We don’t have all the answers about who she was, what life was like for her and how she died but each new study reveals something new about this mysterious mummy.

Welcome to the Unwrapped project blog!

Follow the Unwrapped Project team as we investigate how and why mummies were created and the ways in which mummies can be studied. We will be exploring what can be learnt from the scientific examination of mummies and also carrying out new research into one particular Egyptian mummy – Manchester mummy number 1770. This mummy was studied in the 1970s in a rare example of a scientific unwrapping and autopsy of an ancient mummy to be carried out in the UK.

We will be using new techniques to learn more about the life and death of mummy number 1770. The results of our studies will be posted on this blog as the project progresses.

You can also follow the project’s progress on Twitter @Unwrapped1770