Egyptians were buried in recycled coffins


UK – Fitzwilliam Museum’s exhibition shows how tomb thieves stole materials from older coffins to make new ones

Eternal rest could last a surprisingly short time in ancient Egypt.

Surprising research, revealed for the first time in an exhibition opening next week at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, exposes that many were buried in new and decorated coffins, patched together from pieces of older coffins; some made only a few generations earlier.

“How long did immortality last? This research raises many interesting questions which we can’t yet answer,” said curator Helen Strudwick. “Did people know, when they chose their coffins, that they were secondhand? Were recycled coffins cheaper?”

The raw materials can only have been obtained by tomb robbers, who most likely would have removed the original occupants, whose families would have paid a large sum for the coffins and the painted inscriptions promising a good afterlife.

Most Egyptian tombs found by archaeologists have been robbed at some point. It had been assumed that the thieves were targeting the gold jewellery and gemstones and other precious objects buried with the dead. The new research raises the intriguing possibility that the coffins themselves were as valuable as any of the contents.

Read the rest of the article by Maev Kennedy at The Guardian

The exhibition Death on the Nile runs at the Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge from 23 February to 22 May and entrance is free.