University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Anthropoid Coffin from Beth Shean [Object of the Day #6]

June 22, 2012

Sarcophagus from Beth Shean, (ca. 1250-1150 BCE)
Sarcophagus from Beth Shean, (ca. 1250-1150 BCE)

Anthropoid coffins are remnants of the Egyptian presence in the Levant, and date to end of the Late Bronze and early Iron Ages. The tomb in which this coffin was found probably dates to the Iron Age, sometime in the twelfth century BC.

Anthropoid coffins, made from coarse clay, resemble the human form and are roughly cylindrical, tapering from a domed top to a flat base. Some of the lids depict the deceased in a naturalistic style, and some in a grotesque style with exaggerated facial features.

Anthropoid coffins were used primarily for the burial of adult males, occasionally accompanied by women and/or children, and the burial often contained rich grave goods.

The practice of burial in anthropoid coffins originated in Egypt, and although uncommon, clay versions were used for the burials of lower-ranking individuals. The anthropoid coffins found at sites like Beth Shean were likely for Egyptian officials or army officers, although some of the deceased in the coffins may have been foreign mercenaries in Egyptian service.

Penn Museum Object #29-103-789

See this object and more like it on Penn Museum’s Online Collection Database.

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