The Coffin of Bakenmut- shows the splendor and greatness of the ancient Egyptian civilization, and how it was able to preserve its heritage and arts for thousands of years

April 4, 2024

Deep within the confines of the British Museum lies an artifact of profound historical significance – the Coffin of Bakenmut. This exquisite piece of ancient Egyptian funerary art hails from the 21st Dynasty, around 1000 BC, and was discovered in the city of Thebes, modern-day Luxor. The coffin, with its intricate detailing and inscriptions, offers a fascinating glimpse into the beliefs, rituals, and craftsmanship of the ancient Egyptians.

The Coffin of Bakenmut

Historical Background

The Coffin of Bakenmut dates back to the Third Intermediate Period of Egypt, specifically the 21st Dynasty, approximately 3,000 years ago. Bakenmut, the owner of the coffin, was a priest and a chantress of Amun, one of the most powerful gods in ancient Egypt. The coffin was discovered in Thebes, the city of Amun’s principal cult. Thebes, known today as Luxor, was one of the most important cities in ancient Egypt, serving as the capital during the Middle and New Kingdom periods.

The Coffin of Bakenmut

About the Artifact

The Coffin of Bakenmut is a prime example of the intricate craftsmanship of ancient Egyptian artisans. It is made of wood, covered with a thin layer of gesso, and then painted. The coffin measures approximately 1.9 meters in length and weighs around 50 kilograms. The exterior is adorned with intricate hieroglyphic inscriptions and detailed depictions of deities, while the interior is painted with scenes from the Book of the Dead, a guide to the afterlife in ancient Egyptian belief.

The coffin’s lid is a masterpiece in itself, featuring a large painted image of the sky goddess Nut, her wings spread wide in protection. The foot end of the coffin displays a Djed-pillar, a symbol of stability, and the Ankh, a symbol of life. The materials used for the coffin were likely sourced locally, as Egypt was rich in the necessary resources, such as wood from the Nile Valley and mineral-based pigments for the paint.

The Coffin of Bakenmut

Theories and Interpretations

The Coffin of Bakenmut, like other ancient Egyptian coffins, was not merely a container for the deceased but a vehicle for their journey to the afterlife. The inscriptions and images adorning the coffin were intended to protect and guide Bakenmut in the afterlife. The presence of the Book of the Dead scenes inside the coffin suggests that Bakenmut or his family could afford a high-quality burial, indicating a certain level of wealth and status.

The dating of the coffin was achieved through stylistic analysis, comparing the art and hieroglyphs with other artifacts from the same period. The coffin’s excellent state of preservation has allowed for detailed study and interpretation, contributing significantly to our understanding of ancient Egyptian funerary practices and beliefs.

The Coffin of BakenmutImage credit:

Good to know/Additional Information

Interestingly, the Coffin of Bakenmut is not a singular artifact but part of a set of nested coffins, a common practice in high-status burials of the time. The outer coffin is currently housed in the British Museum, while the inner coffin and the mummy of Bakenmut are in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. This separation of artifacts, while unfortunate, is not uncommon due to the distribution of Egyptian antiquities among museums worldwide in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Exploring the Coffin of Bakenmut is like reading a chapter from the book of ancient Egyptian history, culture, and belief. It stands as a testament to the ancient Egyptians’ profound reverence for the afterlife and their remarkable skill in creating objects of enduring beauty and significance.