Life After Death

As the course progresses it becomes more and more apparent that the ancient Egyptians were enthralled and bewildered by the concept of death.  Over the past several weeks Ethan has discussed several of the seemingly infinite Egyptian practices relating to death and the mortuary context.  Specifically in this week’s lecture, the discussion focused on pottery and vessels.  It was stated in class that there is a big distinction between household and mortuary vessels, at least in the Badarian Period (Ethan Watrall, class lecture 10/2/2012).  Household vessels were typically rough ware ceramics that, while functional, did not display the intricate designs and shapes of mortuary vessels.  In the many pictures that we viewed during class, it was very apparent that vessels created specifically for the mortuary context displayed a higher degree of craftsmanship and appeared to be richer in design and symbolism.  This brings me to the question of why ancient Egyptians believed that the dead should be placed with goods of seemingly greater material worth than the individuals that were still living.  When linked to earlier discussions of the Egyptian practices of mummification and rituals specifically enacted to unify the deceased with their soul, it becomes evident that the life thereafter was more important than the life Egyptians lived in this world.  This is particularly interesting when considered from an archaeological perspective because archaeology studies material culture.  Because of its focus, archaeology is particularly well suited to interpret the mortuary record. And as luck would have it, the mortuary record is incredibly telling for ancient Egypt.  As we have seen throughout the semester, the ancient Egyptians wanted only the best interred with their dead.  Therefore, grave goods represent what these people wanted to have in the afterlife, once their souls came back to life.  Archaeologists are left with the items that have cultural and religious significance at the individual level, but also for the population at large.

1 thought on “Life After Death

  1. Your statement about the ancient Egyptian dead being buried with the more complex and better crafted ceramics is not a surprise to me. I believe that in some respects our culture continues to do the same thing. We usually do not bury our dead loved ones in sweatpants and a t-shirt – it is usually a nice suit or an outfit that they would wear to church. I admit this is based upon my Catholic upbringing where we were taught that at the end of the world our bodies would be reunited with our souls and could be different for other faiths. I think the concept behind these practices of the two cultures is similar – it is in preparation for the afterlife. In both cases, modern and ancient Egyptian times, the common religious belief is that the afterlife is it. There is no after-afterlife. Of course you want your loved ones (and yourself for that matter) to have the nicest possessions with them for all eternity.

    I agree with you that these mortuary goods are much easier to explain when examining multiple lines of evidence about the Egyptians concept of the afterlife. The rituals of mummification, the prayers in the Book of the Dead, and the construction of tombs all point to the incredible importance of this second eternal life.

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