|What were in those small cases anyway?|
When the Tut exhibit came to Atlanta a couple of years ago, I lingered over the exquisite black and white photos of Howard Carter’s discoveries at the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory, where I am a docent.
I always paused at the photo of the tomb’s antechamber, with its jumble of dismantled chariots and gilded couches pushed haphazardly against the wall.
What was in all those small mummy cases stuffed under the gilded lion couch? Oh man, I thought, please tell me that they are not stuffed with the bodies of small children sent along with the pharaoh into the afterlife!
They were not, thank goodness. Instead, they contained sides of mummified beef. So, you know, if the pharaoh wanted a steak, his servants needed only to travel to the antechamber instead of slaughtering one in the parallel world of eternal life sometimes called the Field of Reeds.
Not everyone was rich enough to stuff a tomb with food. (In fact, not everyone was rich enough to have a tomb at all. By the Ptolemaic era, folks were standing their mummified relatives in the corners of rooms. But that’s a different post.)
It turns out that in the Field of Reeds, rich and poor alike got equal plots of fertile land–and presumably farm animals–that would sustain them forever. Everyone tilled their own plots.
But the rich would consider no such thing. (Work? What’s that?) So they stuffed their tombs with food and beer. Because they could. And because they didn’t want to dirty their hands by actually working. They must have figured that between what they brought with them and the offerings made to them by grieving family members, they’d be flush for eternity.
Fascinating right? But here’s the thing that almost slipped right by me. The Egyptian afterworld gave everyone an equal plot of land, no matter their class or station. It was a democratic afterworld! (Starting from the New Kingdom on, anyway.)
It didn’t matter whether you were a poor peasant or a rich noble, everyone got the same amount of fertile land to call his or her own. The rich, of course, tried to make themselves “more equal” by finding ways to avoid tilling their fields.
Still, what a remarkable thing–a democratic afterlife! Was this he first instance of an afterworld conceived as such? Why would a people so rigid, hierarchical and conservative–with their rule-by-kings politics–imagine an afterworld where everyone had equal resources? Where they influenced by other cultures? Which ones? Whom did they influence in turn?
If I had all the time in the world, I would throw myself into trying to find answers to these questions. But I don’t (carpool starts tomorrow!). And my WIP is calling. Plus, I have to get the word out about my current and upcoming books.
But if anyone knows more about this unique detail of Egyptian afterlife, I’d love to hear it!
Source: Handbook to Life in Ancient Egypt by R. David.