Wm. Max Miller,
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21'st Dynasty Coffins from DB320
Examine the coffins
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The Treasures of Yuya and Tuyu
the funerary equipment of Queen Tiye's parents.
Raiders of KV 46
How thorough were the robbers who plundered the tomb of
Yuya and Tuyu? How many times was the tomb robbed, and what were the thieves
after? This study of post interment activity in KV 46 provides some answers.
Special KV 55 Section
Follow the trail of the missing treasures from mysterious KV 55.
55's Lost Objects: Where Are They Today?
The KV 55 Coffin Basin
and Gold Foil Sheets
Gold Foil at the Metropolitan
Mystery of the Missing Mummy Bands
See rare photographic plates of a great
discovery from Daressy's Fouilles de la Vallee des Rois.
Unknown Man E
Was he really
Tomb of Maihirpre
Learn about Victor Loret's
important discovery of this nearly intact tomb in the Valley of the Kings.
Who were the real tomb raiders?
What beliefs motivated their actions? A new perspective on the ancient practice
of tomb robbing.
Spend a Night
with the Royal Mummies
Read Pierre Loti's eerie account of
his nocturnal visit to the Egyptian Museum's Hall of Mummies.
Audience With Amenophis II Journey
once more with Pierre Loti as he explores the shadowy chambers of KV 35 in the
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Background Image: Wall scene from the tomb of Ramesses II (KV 7.) From Karl
Richard Lepsius, Denkmäler (Berlin: 1849-1859.)
The Coffins and Canopic Set of Nestanebtishru
The well preserved mummy of Nestanebtishru
was found in her original double coffin set and appeared to be undisturbed by
thieves. This latter fact persuaded Reeves to conclude that DB 320 had been the
original burial place of Nestanebtishru. However, in spite of the fact that tomb
robbers had not plundered them, the coffins had been damaged in an
unusual fashion. The outer coffin is
liberally splattered with a tarry black material that obscures most of its
inscriptions and decorations. The inner coffin and coffin board, to a lesser
degree, also sustained similar damage.
Some writers explain this mysterious tar-like substance by saying that the coffins had
intentionally been coated with bitumen. But black
bituminized coffins had not been in style since the 18'th dynasty and
it is hard to understand why such an anachronistic form of treating a coffin
would be reverted to by those responsible for interring the daughter of a 21'st
dynasty Priest-King. Also, the black material is not
carefully or uniformly distributed on the surfaces of the coffins as it certainly would have been had it been intended as a decorative element. Perhaps, prior to her death, Nestanebtishru had planned on
donating her coffins for use by another person, and they had been in an early
stage of preparation when she herself had died. The tarry material--if it indeed
is bitumen--could have been placed there to serve as a kind of base for a fresh
coating of gesso upon which new inscriptions and symbolic motifs would have been
painted for a different owner. Nestanebtishru's unexpected demise would have
halted such preparations for donating the coffins since she herself suddenly needed them.
However, it is difficult to understand why no attempt would have been made at
this point to "tidy things up" by redecorating the coffins in an aesthetically
pleasing manner for their original owner. It is also especially difficult to interpret the appearance of the tarry substance on gilded areas of the coffin. Photographs of the outer coffin lid clearly show the unidentified black material on portions of the gilded face mask, neck, earrings, and hands, all costly decorative elements that would surely not be covered over as part of modifying the coffin for use by another individual.
Edward Loring considers the possibility that the black material had been applied to the coffins and coffin board in an attempt to consolidate and preserve their decorations after they sustained water damage. Since no signs of water leakage had been detected in DB320, Loring (contra Reeves) believes that Nestanebtishru had originally been buried elsewhere and states that other items of her burial equipment had also been damaged in ways that could not have occurred in DB320. The foot end of the coffin shown in the C.E.S.R.A.S. photo below left (which provides a full view of the outer lid) appears unusually faded and washed out, and looks as though it could have been exposed to water. If Nestanebtishru had initially been interred in her own tomb, perhaps water had entered through a crack in the ceiling like the one that had developed in KV55 and this (rather than the plundering of her original burial) had necessitated her relocation to DB320.
Another possible explanation is that the black material
covering the coffins is a discolored and hardened residue from the funerary
oils that had been poured over the coffins at the time of Nestanebtishru's
funeral. Howard Carter encountered a similar hardened layer of funerary oils
inside the coffins of Tutankhamen and had a difficult time contending with it in
his attempts to remove the boy king's mummy. It is conceivable that oils were
poured in great quantity over the coffins of Nestanebtishru and then dried,
hardened, and discolored over the passage of many centuries. This might also account for the oddly charred appearance of Nestanebtishru's coffins, which certainly look as though they had been exposed to great heat. It is well known that organic materials can spontaneously combust when saturated with linseed oil, a substance which the ancient Egyptians employed. Even in the poorly oxygenated atmosphere of a sealed tomb, enough oxygen could remain to permit a slow oxidation capable of producing effects resembling charring. But this still
leaves a mystery, for none of the other 21'st dynasty coffins in DB320 were similarly
damaged. If the practice of pouring funerary oils over coffins was common and the oils used for this purpose regularly decomposed into the kind of black tarry substance that disfigured Nestanebtishru’s coffins, then why do other coffins not appear blackened and defaced like hers? Obviously, something highly unusual happened to Nestanebtishru’s funerary equipment.
There are other peculiar features to the damage on the outer coffin that appear to be discernible in the photographs, although the actual coffin would require careful examination in order to confirm and clarify the exact nature of this damage. For example, some of the coffin’s painted decorations appear to overlay blackened areas in a few of the colored photographs taken by C.E.S.R.A.S. (See the link to the C.E.S.R.A.S. Nestanebtishru photostream given below.) This sort of damage would rule against the notion that the blackened material on the coffin had been applied to or poured over the decorations and suggests that it may originally have been a kind of primer or base layer under the decorative elements designed to help them adhere to the surface more securely.
The gilded face mask also seems to be distorted in an unusual manner. In addition to having patches of black material, the eyes of the mask appear to be slightly sunken into the sockets and are out of alignment in a cross-eyed position. The upper left side of the face sags downward to the right, and the nose looks bent, seems to be extremely pinched at the bridge, and is oddly bulbous in shape. Although the appearance of the face mask has undoubtedly been adversely effected by the presence of black patches, it seems to have sustained some other type of damage in addition to that caused by the black, tarry material. The kind of distortion it displays is suggestive of softening and partial melting. If not for the presence of smaller areas of blackening on the inner coffin and coffin board, it would be tempting to suggest that the outer coffin had been engulfed in flames that warped and twisted the gilding of the face mask before being extinguished. However, the interpretation given here of the damage apparent on Nestanebtishru's outer coffin is based solely on photographic evidence. The coffin itself would have to be closely examined in order to ascertain the actual cause or causes of the unusual damage it exhibits. (Source Bibliography:
CCR, #61033; DRN,
239.; TRC, 73.)
Source Abbreviation Key
CESRAS photos of the outer coffin of Nestanebtishru.
Black and white photo of Nestanebtishru's inner
coffin lid from Georges Daressy's Cercueils des
cachettes royales (Cairo, 1909.) Click to enlarge.
CESRAS photo of the outer coffin containing inner coffin.
CESRAS close up photo of the portrait mask on the inner coffin.
CESRAS photos of two of the canopics of Nestanebtishru, showing
Duamutef (left) and Hapi (right.)
CESRAS photos of two of the canopics of Nestanebtishru, showing
Imset (left) and Qebsenuef (right.)
The Center for Egyptological Studies of the Russian Academy
of Sciences (CESRAS) maintains an extensive collection of
online images available for public use on Flickr and has posted large size
scans of many of the photographic plates from George Daressy's historically
important 1909 work, Cercueils des cachettes royales, which are featured on this page. The above images of the
coffins of Nestanebtishru provide a valuable photographic record of these fascinating
objects, currently on display at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. More close up images of these coffin's decorations and
inscriptions may be seen by going to the
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