Ancient Egyptian Grave Goods

Usually when people think of Ancient Egyptian graves they think of tombs, and the riches associated with them. A lot of people don’t realize that it didn’t start out like that at all. Well off the street anyway. Mortuary practices in any culture never fail to interest me. Yes, it’s a little dark but I’ve always been drawn to such things. Plus the Ancient Egyptians had such elaborate mortuary practices that I couldn’t resist looking more into them or more specifically the grave goods that were put with the dead. These help to emphasize the values the Egyptians placed on the afterlife and the social inequality that graves and what they contained expressed.

People usually associate Egypt with tombs of grandeur for the dead. For early Egypt, this is definitely not true, most people were actually commonly buried in sand pits that were dug into an oval shape. So, naturally there weren’t any grave goods to really talk about. From 5000-4100 B.C. in an area that’s known as Merimde Beni Salama, it was discovered that the dead were buried with no burial goods but the bodies were wrapped in animal skins or mats, being laid on their right side in a fetal position, with their head facing south and facing north to northeast.  Occasionally grave goods such as pots were found in the graves but never frequently. Eventually these graves dug in the and progressed to containing pottery and sometimes a small pillow placed under the head of the deceased. As time passed cemeteries eventually formed and social inequality could easily be seen. The emphasis on the afterlife starts to become more prevalent in the Egyptian culture.

The Ancient Egyptians buried what they believed important items with their dead. These could range from everyday items that were important to the individual to what they would need after death. Sometimes even servants would be buried with the deceased in the Predynastic and Early Dynastic Period. However, thankfully this didn’t get a strong foothold in the culture. In the Amduat (underworld) land was given to the deceased by Ra. Naturally, nobles and royals wanted nothing to the with actual work.  They wanted to take their servants with them. This is one of the reasons why there was the creation of  Shabti, small human figurines that represented who would do a certain task in the afterlife for the deceased. They first started to appear in tombs at the beginning of the Dynastic and continued to appear into the Ptolemaic Period.

There are many more examples of Ancient Egyptian grave goods. As mentioned in class, utilitarian objects were often buried with the deceased. Such as cosmetic palettes, stone tools, jewelry (somewhat rare to find) and of course lots and lots of pottery.  There have even been isolated burials with ibex horns, however I couldn’t really find much on ibex horns associated with ancient Egypt. For the most part the resources commonly agreed that the Egyptians had as symbolic connection between the Nile and the antelope.


2 thoughts on “Ancient Egyptian Grave Goods”

  1. I think your post and the topic of grave goods is really interesting, especially when you talked about the importance of grave goods in differentiating social inequality in ancient Egyptian society. I think it is particularly interesting that power and prestige was characterized by grandeur, the amount and quality of grave goods, and the occasional servant even as early as the Predynastic and Early Dynastic periods; if you compare that with present day American mortuary practices, the ancient Egyptians don’t seem so strange, and Americans can be seen as odd.

    Modern American society dictates a hierarchical social order based on wealth, power, and prestige. These characteristics can be seen in various facets of life, but also through mortuary practices. The deaths of high ranking members of society are celebrated through flowers, trinkets of sentimental value, and generally much pomp and circumstance (for an easy example, just remember Michael Jackson’s funeral). Middle and lower classes also commemorate the dead with objects of sentimental or monetary value. Generally, the deceased is buried in dressy, nostalgic, or favored clothing to allow the dead to lie comfortably in death. Flowers are offered, goods are put into the coffin with the deceased, and donations are made in the deceased’s name to charitable organizations.

    If you compare modern American mortuary practices with ancient Egyptian mortuary practices, it is clear that there are glaring differences. I don’t necessarily think it is easy to compare the two, since it implies an overgeneralization of the respective practices, however, I do feel that there are certain similarities between the two. Both can be characterized by the amount and the quality of grave goods provided as an offering, the condition of the burial site, and the wealth and prestige a decedent had in regards to the treatment he or she received. They also can vary depending on the societal values and expectations surrounding the treatment of the dead; in both cases, this could vary depending on geographical location. In any case, ancient Egyptian mortuary practices are fascinating; I just don’t believe that they are all that different from what we practice today in America.

  2. It is interesting to see how the mortuary practices have evolved from pre-dynastic Egypt to the era of the great pyramids. You might say it seems a tad bit morbid to be fascinated with such things but I will say you’re definitely not alone in finding an interest in such things. It is pretty cool to see how much we can learn about social stratification all the way back to the times of pre-dynasty Egypt up to the more modern times.

    One thing I find interesting and I wonder if there will be better reasoning deduced in the future is the particular placement of the body within the grave. What could be the reasons to have them face specific directions? What were the factors that led to them being considered the elites in a much less stratified society? These questions may not be answered in full detail for years to come if ever, but it is an interesting question to think about.

    As for being buried with goods in the afterlife and being those of elite status, I find it especially interesting that the ritualistic activities of burials still stood as something super important even way back then. What were the reasons that could have led to a much more grandeur method of burials for the elites and political leaders of the Egyptian world? All of these questions may be completely rhetorical or unanswerable, however, they do allow the mind to wander and thing of interesting shifts in societal values at the time to lead to such reasons and changes.

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