Mummy of Hornedjitef

Contributed by British Museum

Inner coffin of the ancient Egyptian priest Hornedjitef. © Trustees of the British Museum

Image 1 of 4

This is the mummy of Hornedjitef an Egyptian priest who was buried in a coffin, within a second, outer coffin. Examining his body using CAT scans and X-rays revealed that he suffered from arthritis and osteoporosis suggesting he was a mature man when he died. The embalmers have placed four packages inside his torso, probably his lungs, liver, stomach and intestines. He lived over a thousand years after Tutankhamun and Ramesses the Great at a time when Egypt was ruled by Greek kings.

Why did the Egyptians mummify their dead?

When ancient Egyptians like Hornedjitef died they believed they were setting off on a journey from this world to the afterlife. The process of mummification, spells and elaborate coffins enabled them to travel to the next world. This coffin is decorated with images of gods and extracts from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. A figure of the sky goddess Nut is painted on the interior of this coffin. This symbolically locates Hornedjitef in the womb of the goddess, ready to experience rebirth.

In medieval Europe, Egyptian mummies were ground to powder to be used as medicine.

Learning from the people of the past

The bodies of people from the remote past rarely survive as anything other than nameless bones. The ancient Egyptian priest Hornedjitef is an exception.

Because of their custom of preserving the dead body through mummification and recording the name in writing, many ancient Egyptians are among us today in museums, with skin, hair, fingernails and identities all intact. We can even see the faces of the great kings who ‘made history’, noticing that behind their heroic portrayals in sculpture there were real people with familiar human strengths and weaknesses.

Looking at a mummy is a powerful and emotive experience, one which can transport us back instantly through thousands of years, making us feel close to them. Yet at the same time we are aware of how different their lives must have been from our own.

Beyond these startling encounters, Egyptian mummies have much to teach us. Sealed within their wrappings and painted coffins, they are a storehouse of information, most of which was never recorded in writing. Modern scientific techniques allow us to look beneath the wrappings and to gather this evidence about life and death – how long people lived, what they looked like, what illnesses they suffered from, how they died, how they were mummified.

In this way we can picture Hornedjitef as a man of mature years, enjoying a privileged life as a ‘servant of the god’, yet suffering from the discomforts of arthritis like any modern man. The writings on his coffins also tell us when he lived and reveal the religious beliefs and knowledge of the world which learned men had at that time, including lists of stars which reflect the birth of the science of astronomy.

The learning process does not stop. When Hornedjitef’s tomb was discovered in the 1820s the hieroglyphic script had just been deciphered. Much of what is written on his coffins was still a mystery then, but now we can read it all. And after we are gone, he will still remain, unchanged, revealing more about his world as science finds better ways to gather the answers to its questions.

How exciting it would be to know what our successors might learn from him a hundred years from now.

John Taylor, Curator, British Museum

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Comments

  • 3 comments
  • 1. At 09:37 on 7 August 2010

    Failed moderation

  • 2. At 10:53 on 22 October 2010, Miles Hodgkiss wrote:

    What is most significant to me about the objects in this section is the vastness in the time span between the stone axe and the Kamet (Egyptian) sarcophagus. No other section in the series covers such an incredibly long time span in the history of Homo sapiens sapiens.
    So very much of our essential (unconscious) story is lost to our modern intelligence because we have come to rely almost entirely on the recorded word. And so little work is done with those people such as the San people of southern Africa and the tribal peoples of the Amazon basin and the remaining forest dwellers who our logging companies relentlessly abuse that if we are not careful the chance to rediscover ourselves and our truest meaning in time and space will be lost to existence for ever.
    Now that attempts are being made to begin education within the womb I think the world has finally gone completely insane. Rather than take this approach has anyone wondered why they themselves are unable to remember being a baby? Perhaps if we worked from that angle and worked on recovering our memories we might discover where we are going so wrong such that for most people the period is too awful and too painful and too distressing to want to retain a memory of it. Is this the real truth of where civilisation has brought us? It has brought us to self ignorance. Just the exact opposite to what all our religious founders told us in the beginning. ?Know thy self.?
    The recorded word has brought us the coffin and filled our lives with hope, war, despair and occasionally humorous relief. But in the tedium of the repetitive lifestyle of modern slavery we have almost entirely lost the innocent memory of a life eternal; the joy of being naked; the empathetic affinity with ?mother? nature; our boundless borderless enquisitiveness and above all our capacity for being free and spontaneous.
    No objects how so ever made valuable can replace that Ian. And no museum can record its absence either.

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  • 3. At 11:31 on 19 November 2010, Hairy_Slime wrote:

    This is a comment on AHOW generally.
    The information on AHOW is fragmented and labyrinthine to download.
    Why not make the entrance to the site a list of the objects, which, when clicked upon shows the whole text, with embedded pictures, and with a hyperlink to play the sound whiles showing a slideshow ? all downloadable in one piece.
    And why not make the icon a picture of the object itself?
    I?m sure this would not take up more of the BBC?s time than the present fragmented approach.

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About this object

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Location

Thebes, Egypt

Culture
Period

3rd Century BC

Theme
Size
H:
194.5cm
W:
60cm
Colour
Material

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