Egyptians and the Afterlife

How do we know (or perhaps what is the evidence) that items found in ancient Egyptian burial sites or pyriamids were put there so that the deceased would be able to use them in the afterlife? Did they not discover that such items were never moved? For that matter, I’ve read that the reason Egyptians mummified the deceased was so their bodies would be well-preserved and ready to go in the afterlife. What is the basis for this belief?

They wrote down many of these beliefs:

Except, sometimes, they were removed. We know this was done by tomb robbers, but maybe they didn’t know that.

In “The COmplete Valley of the Kings” the author suggests that one of the generals at the end of the New Kingdom set a few of the priests to systematically plunder all the tombs they could find to finance his wars. Many of the mummies were carefully checked over, bracelets, armbands, necklaces, other jewelry were carefully cut out of the bandages, then the mumy re-wrapped and labelled. There were a few caches of these found in the 1800’s and early 1900’s where the “used mummies” were collected.

I guess the quetion is, to what extent was this considred symbolic rather than real - after all, the “solar boat” at Giza was left as a giant jigsaw puzzle (tie it all together with ropes to get a real boat). Apparently there’s a second one they have left undisturbed in the other pit. It would not float without being caulked, but there’s no supply of that.

Thanks for the info and link. I’d heard of the Book of the Dead, or at least was familiar with the name. I had no idea it had to do with ancient Egyptians. But I’ve gotta say, I didn’t find anything there that directly addressed the dead Egyptians use of artifacts that were left with them in their graves. I know it mentions the shbati statuettes, but I’m really looking for the use of more utilitarian items.

From Ancient Egyptian burial customs I find this:

It’s footnoted, but I can’t find the book anywhere online. If my hunch is correct, the book won’t offer much proof of this assertion. Other links I’ve found are similar.

Now, knowing next to nothing about any of this, I could be completely wrong, but I certainly wouldn’t expect to find indisputable proof that the items found in tombs or pyramids were actually left there for use in the afterlife. But I would hope to find more than just mere supposition. In thinking about this in the past, admittedly without doing any research, I often fancifully imagine that the first person to really study such things came up with the idea, and those that followed just sort of nodded their heads and said, “Yeah, that sounds pretty good, we’ll just go with that!” :slight_smile: Today it’s still common, at least in my family, to bury a loved one with some of his cherished possessions, such as a watch or harmonica in my grandfather’s case. None of us, even the most religious, think he will ever actually need those things again though! Is this not also a reasonably likely possibility with the ancient Egyptians, that perhaps they did it more as a way to assuage their own feelings of grief, and that they didn’t really believe th?

Exactly - I recently saw some of the afterlife servant statuettes referred to in Darth Panda’s wiki extract, and there’s no way they’d be any good as literal servants - they’re tiny, sometimes poorly made, figurines, which would have to be mere representations by necessity.

Yes, symbolic like my grandfather’s watch and harmonica.

The “shabti” or figurines are meant to represent servants available to the deceased in the afterlife. There are thousands of them, since they were not worthwhile for the original tomb robbers to steal and each royal tomb seemed to have dozens of various quality from exquisite to rough-shaped. Typically they are about a foot tall, so obviously more symbolic than anything, unless the Egyptians has Gulliver in Lilliput dreams…

Also, there were about 4 or lifesize “Tut” statues in his grave; so obviously they were not all meant to be the animated Tut in the future, since his mummy was there too.

I don’t recall reading anything about how the guts were supposed to get from the canopic jars into the mummy at the time of awakening, so I’m inclined to believe they felt things were symbolic - that the Ka and Bha would fly out of the tomb to unite in the afterlife, not a lot different than our Christian concept of the soul.

If you’re a Martian and this is your first trip to earth, you may very well see our world this way.

If you grew up on earth, could you explain how you see any difference whatsoever between modern symbolic religious belief and the Egyptians’ symbolic religious belief? As an example, could you explain the objections religions have made to cremation over the centuries, on the grounds that a body needed to be whole in the afterlife?

From your comments I can’t figure out what you’re really asking. True religious believers believe that the symbolic makes it true - that’s the basis for transubstantiation, e.g. The Egyptians believed that in the same way as believers in every other time and place in recorded human history. Are you doubting that? If so, why and how? If not, what is your question?

I very well might think the same thing, if for instance I discovered my grandfather’s body. But I would be wrong. But in your example I would not be concerned so much with what a Martian thought, but what the evidence is that he thought that way. Did the idea just occur to the Martian, or did he find some actual evidence to support it?

Which indeed I did. :slight_smile:

I wouldn’t want to offer an opinion because I know next to nothing about the Egyptians’ symbolic beliefs. But I’m not concerned with my thoughts about religious beliefs. I want to know why some people today think that, say, a wooden spoon* found in an ancient Egyptian’s tomb was there so that in the afterlife he could presumably whip up some scrambled eggs and also have something to eat it with, and what the evidence is for those people thinking that way. I don’t mean to be flippant, but that’s really what it all boils down to.

I hope the above helps, because I don’t know how else to put it.

*Yes, I admit it. This whole thing was kicked off by a rather trivial article about the wonderful wooden spoon of modern times!

One more thing, if it helps. I feel similarly about cave paintings at Lascaux. I’ve read pronouncements that authoritatively say that, of course, the paintings were made as a symbolic representation of the hunt, in the hopes that the gods would look favorably upon them in their efforts to gain sustenance. Really? How do you know that they didn’t just like having a pleasant image to look at while relaxing at home!

Because we have tens of thousands of years of similar evidence to draw on?

Not to ignore your response here, but I shouldn’t have posted this. There was no need to cloud the issue by bringing cave paintings into this.

Something I heard from the tour guides in Egypt was that the most common tomb robber was not some shadowy set of thieves in the night. It was your offspring. When the time came for the next king to start work on a tomb, the nearest ready and available source of gold and other valuable materials was Dad’s or Granddad’s tomb. A habit passed down through the ages, and hence the often over the top attempts at mechanisms to stop tomb robbing (having looted your forebearer’s tomb you would be under no illusions as to the fate that might befall yours). There also seems to be a notion of a specific future time, when the joining with the gods occurred, so that since this time had not yet occurred and the mortal remains were still in their various recepticals would not have been a surprise. This was indeed part of the logic for mummification in the first place. The remains had to hang around for a long time before the main event. There was also some notion that there could only be one special place for the risen Pharaoh, and thus desecration of the tomb’s of your ancestors would ensure that you were the one - although I would need to look this up again. The general book of the dead rituals went on for a very very long time, and some theological aspects may have evolved.

Tombs were built by anyone who could afford one. The Valley of the Nobles next to the Valley of the Kings is filled with lesser tombs. All subject to looting.

Well, it’s been a while and I’m sorry no one has pointed me to an ancient guide to Egyptian burial practices, with a section entitled “Things Your Loved One May Need in the Afterlife”. Short of something similar, my completely unfounded certainty that items found along side dead bodies were NOT necessarily intended to be used, remains intact. I’m not convinced! :slight_smile:

In “Complete Valley of the Kings” the author, Richard Reeves, points to a particular general during the end of the New Kingdom who apparently made it a industry to round up all the graves he could find in the Luxor area and loot them for gold. He quotes a series of letters from his lackeys about their “new tasks”. The wrappings for the mummies of the area were slit open to retrieve jewelry, some were even broken open looking for goodies in the (emptied) body cavity. Up until then, grave robbery had actually been something that happened surrepitiously and during times of civil turmoil when there was nobody to police the graves. At least this bunch included the high priests and they made a point of wrapping and labelling the plundered mummies. Many of the most important corpses were found in a few collective caches in and around VoK.

Of course, we hav no idea what was in most of the pyramids, since they predate the Valley of Kings tunnel tombs, and the treasures of Tut, by about 2,000 years. Presumably they were completely cleaned out by the time of the New Kingdom after 2 interdynasties times of turmoil; this was the incentive for the New Kingdom to bury their tombs and possibly hide the entrances, rather than building a giant triangular beacon with temples attached.

The sad thing is the same thing appears to be starting again. With the government in tumoil and nobody exercising strong leadership and keeping the police active, apparently looting tombs or unauthorized digs are becoming a big business; not so much for gold, but to find artifacts to sell on the black market.

Weren’t there several other cultures with similar practices? The dead are often buried or cremated with ‘riches’ to take with them.
There’s the cliche image of the viking burial complete with ship and cargo, for example. And many ancient burials - all the way back to neanderthal - discovered with sealed dishes of grain, or statuettes of various useful and ornamental items, or religious (presumably) symbols, buried in the grave with the body.

Hey now, plenty of cave-painting experts “don’t mind stating uncategorically that it’s impossible to know what the art means”, as one of them puts it in this excellent article.

These practices sound familiar. But just because items could be useful in the afterlife doesn’t necessarily mean that’s why they were left. As I’ve said before, I don’t expect definitive proof, just some evidence other than statements simply presented as fact. I’ve done a number of searches online which I won’t bother to show here, and none of them give real evidence to back up such claims. Perhaps I’ve just been searching on the wrong keywords though.

I hope I didn’t give the impression that I thought all cave-painting experts felt that way. Oh, and thanks for that very interesting and informative link.