The first inscriptions found in an ancient Egyptian tomb, date back to the Pyramid Age, and are now referred to as the Pyramid Texts. This gives an idea of what the ancient Egyptians expected the Afterlife to be like – which was that the king was expected to join the gods who lived among the stars and to become one of the stars himself.
By the end of the Pyramid Age and the time of the Late Old Kingdom, the idea of the Afterlife had changed. The king was no longer associated with Osiris as a god of the stars, but with Ra, Lord of the Sun. As a solar deity the king sailed with Ra every day across the sky in the solar barge (boat). In all the texts, no mention is made of any other living person apart from the king – not even his wives and children.
In the Middle Kingdom during the Eleventh and Twelfth Dynasties people who could afford it, were buried in brightly painted wooden coffins. The so-called Coffin Texts were written on the inner walls of the coffins, but the walls of the burial chambers were left bare. The next step in the New Kingdom was the Book of the Dead where magic spells were written on papyrus rolls to provide a safe journey for the soul of the deceased. At first, these papyrus rolls were wrapped inside the mummy bandages or placed in the tomb, but the Eighteenth Dynasty placed the rolls inside hollow wooden statues in mummiform shape.
A very important ritual described in The Book of the Dead was the ‘Opening of the Mouth’ ceremony to restore the powers of sight, hearing and speech, i.e. to bring the dead body back to life. This ritual was based on the legend of the gods Osiris and Horus where Horus (as the son) performed it for his father (Osiris). This ritual, as well as the 'Weighing of the Heart' ritual can be seen painted on the wall of the Egyptian Room in the Iziko Slave Lodge.
The ‘Weighing of the Heart’ ritual happened in the Hall of Judgement. Here the heart was weighed against the figure of the goddess Maat, the embodiment of justice, truth, and cosmic order, or her emblem, the ostrich feather. The jackal-headed Anubis checked this process while beside the scale was the monster, Amenti, waiting to gobble up the heart of the sinner. If the heart was judged righteous, the deceased was free to join Osiris in eternity.
Another important development occurred in the tombs of less rich people during the Middle Kingdom. Models were placed in the tomb with the deceased and most popular being model houses made of pottery. Offerings were represented in the forecourts of these model houses. This was called a soul-house and was intended to provide food and a house for the ka, the life force of a man. The ka born within him as a twin, but was not released to have a separate existence until after his death. The ba is the soul or spirit of a man able to leave the mummy and take many forms, but most often represented as a human-headed bird.
Another type of model was a boat. Model boats appear quite frequently in Middle and New Kingdom tombs and their purpose was to ferry the dead person through the underworld on Osirian pilgrimages.
The Northern wall of the Egyptian Room in the Iziko Slave lodge. The mural is a depiction of the mural found in Tutankamens tomb.
Model boats were used to ferry the dead person through the underworld. The above model boat can be seen on display at the Luxor Museum in Egypt. (c) Iziko Photo Archives.