Box Coffin and Rope

Old Kingdom

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 103

The earliest receptacles for the human body were large lidded baskets made from bound reeds (rather than woven fibers) or pottery containers. Before long, craftsmen began to fit short pieces of lumber together with a variety of carpentry techniques to make wooden coffins to fit the body in the contracted position that was common into the early part of the Old Kingdom. This early example was made from the wood of the tamarisk, a tree common to the Nile Valley. The sides, lid, and floor are constructed of narrow planks held together with tenons. These were slipped into a channel in the frame to form housing joints and the frame was then pegged together. An earth-toned plaster was applied to the exterior surface to smooth over imperfections in the wood and fill the spaces between the planks.

The long sides of the coffin are enhanced with a niched pattern meant to imitate a palace facade and thus identify the coffin as the house of the deceased. The lid is vaulted, as became traditional for many outer coffins and sarcophagi; this represents the roof of the per nu, the national shrine of Lower Egypt. The accompanying rope could have been used to lower the coffin into the tomb or to secure the lid to the box.

Box Coffin and Rope, Wood (tamarisk), pigment, fiber

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