Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Docent Note: A Glossary of Terms, To Live Forever: Egyptian Treasures from the Brooklyn Museum

by Kathleen Durham

AMDUAT A New Kingdom funerary text which names the friends and allies to be found in each of the twelve hours of the night. It translates as “That which is in the Underworld”, and serves as a guide for the soul.

AMULET A small sculptured object which can be worn as a charm, but more importantly, is bound into the wrappings of a mummy. The ankh, wadjet-eye, tyt, Bes, scarab are some of the amulets which are placed on the mummy to heal and protect.

ANTHROPOID COFFIN A coffin shaped like a human being with an idealized portrait of the deceased with wig or headdress. Often richly decorated with scenes of the afterlife and the gods. The coffin would be placed in one or more protective sarcophagi.

BALDACHIN A canopy placed over a sacred or honorific place, such as a throne or altar

BOOK OF THE DEAD Compilations of various spells, prayers and incantations to help the soul of the deceased navigate past dangers in the netherworld. Originally they were chiseled onto walls of royal tombs, but eventually they were made available to well-off people in the form of papyri. These scrolls were often rolled up and placed between the legs of the mummy.

CALCITE A crystalline form of limestone used in sculpture.

CANOPIC JARS Four jars, often of calcite, used to store internal organs removed from the deceased in the mummification process. The jar with a jackal head stopper stored the stomach, a baboon stored the lungs, a falcon the intestines, and a human the liver. They were often called the Four Sons of Horus.

CARTONNAGE Linen soaked in plaster, modeled and painted to create mummy masks.

CHERT A compact rock consisting of a microcrystalline quartz.

CROOK AND FLAIL Osiris and the Pharaohs are generally shown with a shepherd’s crook to show that he is shepherd of his people, and a flail, a hinged tool used for harvesting grains, to signify Pharaoh’s role as provider for his people.

DESCRIPTION DE L’EGYPTE A 20-volume work developed by a corps of artists, technicians, geographers and architects brought by Napoleon in 1798. Still used today as reference and especially for those monuments and artifacts which have been destroyed.

DJED COLUMN A column with a wide base and four horizontal bands at the top. It is said to represent the backbone of Osiris. It stands for stability and strength. Often painted on the inside of coffins where body would lie. As an amulet it is placed on the throat of the deceased. Also associated with the creator god Ptah, ‘the Noble Djed’.

DUAT The Egyptian Land of the Dead. Regarded as similar to Egypt in climate and nature. Duat is located under the earth. At night the Duat is illuminated by the Sun God Re as he travels through.

ENCAUSTIC A painting technique using pigments mixed with hot wax as a medium. Popular in Egypt, Greece and Rome. (See mummy Demetrios)

ENNEAD A Greek word for a group of nine gods—Atum, Shu, Tefnut, Geb, Nut, Osiris, Nephthys, Isis, Seth.

FAIENCE A glazed ceramic technique that produces a smooth, lustrous, impenetrable texture. A fairly inexpensive way to produce quantities of beads or shabtys.

FALSE DOOR A stone imitation of a real door which only the deceased could use. They alone could ‘walk through’ the false door to receive the offerings left for them. As time went on, it was possible that priests and family could forget to leave offerings. For this reason the doors were often carved with depictions of food offerings.

FUNERAL PROCESS A series of rituals including, processions, incantations, dances, animal sacrifice. The process begins with the delivery of the corpse to the Hall of Embalming and ends with the final ceremony in the tomb. The body was carried on a boat in a canal or on land on a sledge, accompanied by professional mourners and priests. The coffin was shaded with a baldachin. After the seventy day mummification process, the funeral procession visited ritual stations on the way to the tomb. At the tomb the ritual Opening of the Mouth was performed (see Peseh-Kef below), the canopic jars and furniture were brought in, the tomb was sealed and offerings were left for the deceased.

HEART The heart was the only major organ which was left in the body during the mummification process. The brain was taken out and thrown away, and the major organs were stored in canopic jars. It was believed that the heart had knowledge and emotion. In the afterlife the heart was weighed against a feather to determine the fate of the deceased. Inscriptions were written on scarab amulets placed on the body, asking that the heart not testify against the deceased!

KOHL Finely ground antimony sulfate, a black powder used as eyeliner for men and women. Some say it was to avoid glare of the sun or to ward off infection.

MASTABA A flat-topped one-story structure with sloping sides over an underground tomb.

NATRON A natural salt that occurs in a dried lake bed in the delta, today called Wadi Natrun. Primarily sodium chloride, but about 17% sodium bicarbonate. It absorbs the body fluids in the mummification process, resulting after around 40 days in a stable shell no longer affected by decay.

OFFERING TABLE Food and drink and other offerings were placed on tables or stands for the deceased by priests and/or family. Even a sacred mummified bull would have an offering table!

PARTS OF THE BODY A living body is known as a khat, a dead body is a sah. The parts of the person aside from the body itself are: the ka: a spirit double, born when the person is formed on the potter’s wheel. The ba, was in the form of a human-headed bird which could travel in and out of the tomb and could consume offerings. The person’s shadow and his name combined with the ba and the ka to make a perfect spirit, known as the akh, for the life in the next world.

PESEH-KEF A ritual implement used in a crucial step of the funerary process, the Opening of the Mouth. When the coffin arrives at the tomb, it is held upright while an officiating priest, usually in an Anubis jackal mask, touches the tool to the mouth and other parts of the body to ‘reanimate’ it in the afterlife.

PHARAOH In New Kingdom Thutmose III was first to refer to himself as ‘Pharaoh’, a term that means ‘great house’.

PYRAMIDION A pyramid-shaped block set as the finishing element on an obelisk or a column, or as an independent tomb sculpture.

SARCOPHAGUS The outer rectangular or oval stone container in which a coffin and mummy were placed. Less expensive sarcophagi could be of wood, terra cotta or wicker.

SCARAB Named for a beetle which pushes around a ball of dung containing its eggs. When the eggs hatched, the Egyptians thought it was spontaneous generation, and likened it to the appearance of the sun at sunrise. Also known as Khapri (Khepri).

SENET A very popular board game with thirty squares and pawns in various shapes. The rules are unknown, but it is believed that the goal was to reach the end of the board and the Kingdom of Osiris.

SHABTY (also Ushabty) A mummiform statuette placed in tombs to perform work on behalf of deceased in the afterlife. Often there were thousands in a wealthy tomb. An ideal was to have 365 shabtiess, plus 36 more to serve as overseers. A less wealthy person could have 40 shabties, 30 to do the work and 10 to supervise.

SISTRUM An ancient Egyptian percussion instrument with a loop of metal set in a handle, fitted with loose crossbars which make noise when shaken.

STEATITE Soapstone, a form of compressed talc. Often used as a base for faience.

STELA A stone slab placed vertically, a monument. Generally incised with inscriptions and reliefs. Used originally in First Dynasty, to individualize a tomb with the name of the deceased.

TEKENU A bundle carried on a funerary sledge or barque, resembling a wrapped body. Sometimes it is covered with an animal skin, sometimes wrapped in linen and bound with red cord. It may represent a fetus being reborn in next world.

TERRA COTTA A medium made from clay fired over low heat and sometimes left unglazed.

TYT Often translated as welfare, eternal life, resurrection. Associated most with Isis. It resembles a knot used to secure garments of the gods. As early as Third Dynasty it appears with ankh and djed column. Also known as Blood of Isis, used as a funerary amulet of red stone or glass.

WADJET EYE In the shape of a human eye with falcon markings. It represents the eye of the god Horus which was torn out by the god Seth and was restored by Thoth (or Isis). It is used in amulets to represent healing. In the mummification process it is placed in the mummy wrappings over the site of the incision, to heal it. It is often painted on coffins as a protection, but also so the deceased can see out.