Today’s object of the day is a new addition to the galleries. This colorful and beautifully decorated cartonnage mummy case lid is now on display in the Secrets and Science gallery.
What is cartonnage?
Cartonnage is a material consisting of several layers of linen or papyrus pasted together and covered by a thin layer of plaster and painted. (The ancient Egyptians were great recyclers.) Sometimes, with damaged cartonnage, you can see in the layers of papyrus that they reused used old papyrus documents and sometimes Egyptologists can still read the texts which are usually in hieratic or demotic. The ancient Egyptians used cartonnage to make mummy masks, coffins and other funerary items. A gilded example of a cartonnage mask is on display in the Upper Egyptian gallery.
Who was Nebnetcheru?
The case originally contained the mummy of a man named Nebnetcheru, who was a priest of the god Amun at Karnak Temple.
Nebnetcheru’s name is written like this:
Where is his mummy now?
When this mummy case arrived at the museum in 1924, it was sealed. In the 1930s, the cartonnage case was sawn open and the mummy was removed for study and display. Nebnetcheru’s mummy (E14344A) is now in the Mummy Room.
What do all of the images mean?
The entire mummy case is covered with funerary and protective imagery. On the lid of the mummy case, we can see quite a number of different funerary and protective deities including: Horus, Anubis, Osiris, Thoth, Isis, Nepthys, Taweret, and Hathor in the form of a cow.
The main scene, on the chest, shows the deceased in a white linen garment being presented to Osiris, king of the underworld, by Horus and Thoth. Behind Osiris stand his sisters, Isis and Nepthys, and an underworld deity. Several protective amulets are represented in the lowermost register. Some of the scenes are vignettes illustrating chapters of the Book of the Dead, a collection of funerary spells that were often included as grave goods – either in papyrus form, or as a text written on an object. You can see an example of a Book of the Dead on papyrus in our Mummy Room.
In the area of the legs, there is a vertical column of text containing a request for offerings. The deceased’s name and title also appear in this location.
Where is the back of the mummy case?
The Museum also has the back of the mummy case and plans to exhibit it soon in the galleries. Like the top, it too is highly decorated.
A large djed-pillar, a symbol of Osiris, decorates the back of this cartonnage case. Placed along the spine, the djed-pillar also represented stability to the ancient Egyptians.
There is an ankh, the symbol for “life”, at the back of the head. Additional decorative elements include depictions of the four sons of Horus (whose heads usually decorate the lids of canopic jars) and tyet-amulets. The tyet-amulet is also known as the “Isis knot”.
This mummy case was part of the traveling exhibit, Searching for Ancient Egypt and it appears in the catalog D. Silverman (ed.), Searching for Ancient Egypt: Art, Architecture and Artifacts (1997).
Penn Museum Object #E14344B.
See this and other objects like it on Penn Museum’s Online Collection Database.