Were Ancient Egyptians Obsessed With Death?

The thing that interests me about archaeology is its focus on culture. Coming into this class, I had a totally different perception of archaeology; I had this notion that it’s all about digging out artifacts and trying to figure out when they were used and establishing a chronology for them. Talking about how the subject of archaeology changed in the 20th Century in class made me realize that not only is the field of archaeology diverse, but also culture-oriented.

What has intrigued me so far is the discussion about the Giza Necropolis located on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt. It is quite interesting that the ancient Egyptians dedicated a lot of time, resources and vast pieces of land to build tombs, cemeteries, The Great Pyramids and the Valley of the Kings. While the bodies of kings and pharaohs were mostly mummified, those of the average Egyptians were  buried in a shallow grave in the sandy desert. Mummification was a long and expensive process therefore, it makes sense that it was majorly reserved for the kings and pharaohs. They were buried along with their riches and other possessions (believed to have been used in their afterlife), and a lot of rituals and prayers were also involved.

Also, it is believed that apart from the elaborate burial customs of the ancient Egyptians, many of their deities were associated with death. An example is Osiris, the king of the dead. Considering the number of tombs, cemeteries and the mummies discovered in ancient Egypt, it would be easy to conclude that Egyptians are fascinated by death.

However, there has been a lot of evidence pointing to the fact that Egyptians’ obsession with death is a misconception and that they are, in fact, passionate about life. One possible explanation for the numerous findings of tombs and most burial sites is that these structures were built in Egypt’s sandy desert. Since this environment is non-corrosive, it is possible that they were preserved for a longer time compared to other structures.

Furthermore, the fact that the Egyptians paid a lot of attention to preservation of the dead bodies suggests that they believed in life after death. Basically, they focused on ways to ensure the continuation of the soul, for example, by storing food, wine and other possessions in the tombs. It is believed that over three thousand five hundred items were recovered from the burial of King Tutankhamun. Also, the decorations on the walls of the tombs portray scenes of life. An example is King Tutankhamun’s tomb which is described as having a vibrant yellow color and drawings of him and various gods. Interestingly, the ancient Egyptians never cremated their dead – for in doing so, they would have destroyed the afterlife of the deceased.




2 thoughts on “Were Ancient Egyptians Obsessed With Death?

  1. This post was very interesting to me! I really enjoyed how you took a misconception of the Egyptians culture and in turn made it a very light and hopeful. I would have had no clue that the reason the Egyptians build these massive pyramids in the desert so that they would last! I think that the reason that they come off as being obsessed with death is because you hear about these huge graves and mummies and you usually do not connect that they have one all of this because they want that person to live forever in the afterlife.
    The reason that most people do not connect to living eternally may be because of religion. Western culture is mostly centralized about Christianity, and so they believe that everyone either goes to heaven or hell when they die and that they do not take anything from the physical world with them. Yet in Egyptian religion, they think that what they are buried with is brought with them. I have read about how some people were buried with their mummified cats or pets. And pharaohs were buried with their servants! That concept might be very foreign to western culture and so this could be why people misconstrued about them being obsessed with death.
    I am actually taking an IAH class that is centralized about the culture of death and dissection. We have learned about how in the Middle East, some countries do not allow their medical students to dissect cadavers when they are learning about human anatomy because of their cultures beliefs. And so this hinders their learning abilities. And we also learned about how when medical schools in Britten started to steal bodies from the graves in order to have cadavers to dissect. So instead of grave robbers just stealing jewelry from the decease, they started to steal the actual dead person! So in an interesting way, I really connected with that you wrote about.

  2. Very nice and thorough post! It definitely appears that the ancient Egyptians had a fixation, if not an obsession, with death and the afterlife. Going as far as to bury the boats used in pharaohs funeral processions shows that they truly wanted to set the ruler up for the afterlife and their new role as a deity. It seems like they were not as focused on death and dying as much as the afterlife and remembering those who contributed to society and were big figures in the culture. Just the fact that the pyramids are extravagant and glorified tombs, so impressive that they are called a wonder of the ancient world, shows the fascination the Egyptians had with the supernatural and the spirit world.
    Seeing the image of the the tomb structure and graveyards surrounding the pyramids really cemented the importance of a righteous and respectful burial in Giza and Egypt. Noblemen got themselves buried as close to the pyramids as possible so that they might be uttered in the same breath as the once great pharaohs. Also seeing the outlines of the walls that meant to keep people out of the prestigious burial ground further the notions that where you died, how you died, and who you were when you died play almost, if not more, of an important part in how one is remembered. It is sad that looters and grave robbers could be selfish enough to desecrate the remains of those who worked so hard to be remembered in a dignified manner. It is almost sick to picture somebody carrying out a mummified corpse just to sell it off and make some dirty money.

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