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Tuesday 3 September 2013

Your right eye is the Evening Boat

This rather beautiful but very damaged Ptolemaic mummy mask was put on display in the upstairs gallery in the Egypt Centre in 2009. We put it in our metalwork case to show that metal was not just about tools and weapons but also about religion. However, in the last couple of weeks a visiting researcher noticed that there might be something else interesting about it.

The mask is made of cartonnage, that is linen and gesso (plaster). It is covered in gilt. Mummy masks such as this were often coloured with gold gilt because of gold's symbolic importance. The shiny nature of the metal was paralleled in the shiny nature of the justified dead and imbued the deceased with the same quality of shininess. Gold is also an eternal metal which does not tarnish.

We had noticed that the piece also has a wedjet eye on the forehead. What we hadn't paid much attention to was something else, pointed out to us by the visiting researcher. He asked if the mask had an inscription circling the crown. We couldn't really tell from the case, and the piece is damaged. So yesterday, I got off display to have a closer look.

Aha! Our visitor was correct. This is what we saw:

Hieroglyphs could be seen- very faintly. The researcher had suggested either Book 19 or 151 of the Book of the Dead. You might just be able to see, this is part of Book of the Dead 151a. The bit above the brow can be translated as: 'Your right eye is the Evening Boat and your left eye is the Morning Boat; your eyebrows are as the Nine Gods....'.

The text replaces the 'crown of justification', a wreath, often shown on mummy masks. The rest of the spell describes the features of the deceased in godlike terms; your brow as Anubis, hair as Ptah-Sokar, etc. Making the deceased into a mummy was likened to making it into a god, and gods, of course, had qualities of eternal gold.

For information of the Crown of Justification see Christian Riggs 2005, The Beautiful Burial in Roman Egypt. Art, Identity and Funerary Religion pages 81-83.

For parallels to the wreath text see Tamás Mekis 2012, The Cartonnage of Nestanetjeretten (Louvre AF 12859; MG E 1082) and it enigma. Bulletin de L'Institut Français D'Archéologie Orientale, 112, pages 243-273.

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