The Lunch Box of Priestess Henutmehyt, Her Eternal Workers, & Her Final Demise

Provision of food for eternity was a primary goal of tomb owners in ancient Egypt.  The tome of Henutmehyt, a chantress of Amun, was certainly no exception.  She was a high-ranking lady of the later New Kingdom, as the objects of her tomb attest.

Nested coffins of Henutmehyt, Thebes, 19th Dynasty c. 1250 B.C. Source: British Museum.

An item of particular interest from the tomb is a food box containing ducks and joints of, probably, goat meat – all individually mummified and wrapped.

 This box is made of expensive sycamore wood, coated with resin. The black colour of the resin is associated with the Afterlife, and with rebirth. The box contains a large amount of meat. There are four whole ducks, and several joints of meat, possibly from goats. All these pieces have been individually mummified and wrapped.

The inclusion of meat offerings in the tomb was the prerogative of kings and members of the royal family. It is very unusual to find it associated with the burial of a private individual such as the priestess Henutmehyt.

Shabtis – Eternal Workers in the Tomb:

To assist in the provision of food, agricultural work, and other manual activities, tombs contained small statues called Shabtis.  Their occupations were generally written on them, as can be seen in the following, which shows the shabtis of Henutmehyt.

Shabti box and figures of Henutmehyt, Source: British Museum

During the New Kingdom (about 1550-1070 BC), the number of shabtis to be included in a tomb increased considerably. The miniature coffins in which [these figures] had been kept became large boxes, decorated with funerary scenes. One of the scenes on the box of Henutmehyt [above] shows her adoring the sons of Horus, who protected the internal organs of the deceased. This motif is perhaps more suited to the decoration of canopic chests.

The other scene shows the deceased offering a tray of food to Hathor of the Sycamore Tree. This is returned by the goddess, who also supplies a libation (liquid offering), symbolic of purification. Henutmehyt wears the flowing robe, long wig and lotus flower that was fashionable when she lived.

Faience is the material most commonly associated with shabti figures, though Spell 6 of the Book of the Dead specifies that they should be made of wood, as these are. Although all the figures are similar, there are small differences in details such as the treatment of the necklaces and bracelets. Some are inscribed with the full version of the spell to activate the figures to carry out agricultural work, while others have only an abbreviated version.

Final Demise of Henutmehyt:

Following burial tradition, the vital organs of Henutmehyt (intestines, lungs, stomach liver) were mummified and placed in four canopic jars:

Box containing the four canopic jars of Henutmehyt. Source: British Museum

When the internal organs were removed from the chest cavity during mummification they were embalmed separately and wrapped. Until the end of the New Kingdom (about 1070 BC), the internal organs were placed in four jars, known as canopic jars. In later times they were returned to the chest cavity, or sometimes placed between the legs of the mummy., though canopic jars were still provided as they were considered an essential part of a good burial.

These examples are typical of canopic jars of the later New Kingdom. From the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty (about 1295 BC), the lids were in the shape of the heads of the Sons of Horus, who protected the organs. Each can be identified by his head, and by the inscription on the front of the jar. In this case the features on the head and the inscription is carved and filled with white pigment to make it stand out.

Painted wooden canopic jars from a later period – 25th Dynasty, c. 700 B.C. the four Sons of Horus. Here the god Qebhsenuef (intestines) is shown with a jackal head; Duamutef (the stomach) as a falcon head; Hapy as baboon-headed (the lungs), and Imsety (the liver) with a human head. Source: British Museum

 The condition of her lungs is interesting, for it is quite similar to that of persons here in central Africa (and other non-industrial regions) where a life of inhaling smoke of fires for cooking and for keeping warm are imprinted on the lungs, which often suffer from some form of irritation or congestion:

The contents of her canopic jars show that she was elderly when she died. Her lungs show evidence of illnesses associated with old age, including oedema (congestion) and anthracosis, a build up of carbon deposits.

Source for above entries: J.H. Taylor, Studies in Egyptian antiquity, British Museum Occasional Paper 123 (, 1999).

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About diana buja

Picture from a recent training of veterinarians and vet technicians upcountry. I discuss in French with some Kirundi and have also a Kirundi translator to help with technical aspects ... Blog entries are about Africa, as well as about the Middle East and life in general, reflecting over 30 years of work and study in Africa and the Middle East – Come and join me!
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One Response to The Lunch Box of Priestess Henutmehyt, Her Eternal Workers, & Her Final Demise

  1. Pingback: The Lunch Box of Priestess Henutmehyt « NotionsCapital

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