Rationale of Burial

In “Changes in the Afterlife,” Taylor (2010) provides an excellent analysis of the changes seen in mortuary traditions of the Third Intermediate Period, especially concerning the ideological significance of a reduced distance between the pharaoh and other elites and between the realm of the dead and the living. But he overlooks two possible stimuli for some of the mortuary changes seen. Taylor notes the presence of sepulchral administrators, but de-emphasizes a key connection between these administrators’ roles in repurposing tombs and changes in corpse treatment and grave goods. He may also overlook the significance of a weak, decentralized state on the royal mortuary tradition.


A number of changes are noted regarding treatment of the body and associated grave goods (and, I would say, associated structures): 1) viscera were less likely to be placed in canopic jars, resting inside the body or inside the wrappings instead; 2) a proxy statue was not placed in the tomb – the paint that would have adorned this stature is instead applied directly to the body; 3) pyramid texts or inscriptions which had previously been carved on the tomb walls are found on the sarcophagus; and 4) amulets replaced other (bulkier) daily-life and nourishing grave goods. All of these suggest a concentration of focus on the body and its trappings, likely related to the movement of bodies. Taylor suggests that these changes represent “a change in the significance attached to funerary provision, rather than a simple response to economic pressure” (2010, p. 237).

I would suggest that the significance of each of these elements is not necessarily greatly changed, but its the way each is effected is altered. This may be due to Egyptians’ awareness of how common it was to move bodies or remove them from their tombs. The logistics of keeping the dead (and their space-occupying tombs) that had piled up over the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms became overwhelming, and Taylor notes the employment of officials who oversaw reuse of tombs. If the living were aware of this practice (as they surely were), it would make sense to prepare against such an eventuality in one’s own afterlife. Per the ideology of ancient Egypt, centralizing all of the most essential ritual parts on the body could counter the potential damage done by removing a body from its tomb long after burial.

Weak State

Taylor refutes a simple economic explanation for the simplification of mortuary treatment during the Libyan dynasties.  The circumstances of elite burial, as Taylor points out, are exceptional, and should not be used to represent the entire culture (2010, p.223). Commoner burials change little during the Third Intermediate Period. He posits that Libyan rulers took on the trappings of Egyptian ideology without a deeper understanding of the belief system behind it. However, it is best not to totally discount the influence of economic factors, since Egypt was also functionally fragmented during the 21st and 22nd Dynasties, with Libyan rulers seated at Tanis and religious leaders at Thebes (Bard 2007, p. 274). Therefore, to a certain extent, it is unsurprising to see diminished royal burials. A lack of centralized power and state infrastructure would mean an inability of royals to fund monumental tombs. This was also seen in the First and Second Intermediate periods.


Bard KA. 2007. Introduction to the archaeology of ancient Egypt. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.

Taylor J. 2010. Changes in the Afterlife. In: Wendrich W, editor. Egyptian Archaeology. Oxford: Blackwell Pub. p 220–240.

Grave Goods

One of the topics from this past week that I have enjoyed reading about and listening to in our class lectures has been the grave goods. I love that it is possible to determine ascribed verses acquired status just from the goods that were left beside an individual.

In our reading we learned that the number of grave goods included in a burial increased through time. One of the burials that I found interesting was the one of the nine year old boy from the MAO IV. His was considered to be one of the richest burials, which indicated that his status was ascribed to him from his family, and that he did not earn his status throughout his lifetime.

The practice of burial with grave goods is still common. Individuals are buried with their finest jewelry and in their nicest clothes. Some people even decide that they would like to rest eternally with their stash of baseball cards! Whatever is deemed worthy enough to be brought to the next life, whatever it may be.

When I attended Michigan Archaeology Day this past weekend at the Michigan Historical Center in downtown Lansing, I learned a little bit more about Egyptian culture regarding grave goods. The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology from the University of Michigan had an interesting booth about Egyptian archaeology. In a previous post I wrote about ushabtis statues that Dr. Bob Brier spoke about at the AIA talk and this past weekend I was able to handle a replica statue at the booth! They were much smaller than I imagined, only a few inches tall. That was surprising to me because they are supposed to come back to life to serve the mummy in their next life. Are they supposed to grow to full human size when the next life appears? Maybe I am just over thinking this, but I would have thought they would have been bigger, unless they are just the symbolic representation of the figure that will appear to serve the mummy. What does everyone else think?