Funerary Practices of Middle Class Egypt – 4.5 Centuries Ago

The burial chamber of an Egyptian official who lived up to about 4,500 years ago was unsealed recently, revealing some valuable insights into the funerary practices of the middle class. Pharaonic funerary practices are well-known, though there are still doubtless many things we don’t know, but the practices of non-ruling classes is far less known.

This particular tomb was located last year in Abusir near Cairo, where a 5th and 6th dynasty cemetery resides. The occupant was named Neferinpu and while he wasn’t in the elite-class, he also wasn’t poor by any means. Described by the archaeologists who discovered him as a “politician,” Neferinpu’s tomb was located behind a mud brick wall in a previously known burial chamber about 33 feet below ground and “packed with offerings and personal effects.”

Miroslav Barta, an archaeologist from Czech Republic who led the excavation remarked that intact burials of upper-middle class officials such as this one are rare and the information provided is a wealth that transcends that of gold and silver, which wasn’t found.

Inside the 6.5-foot by 13-foot space, the team found dozens of ceremonial artifacts, including 10 sealed beer jars, more than 80 miniature limestone vessels, a small perfume jug, and plates and cups for symbolic offerings of food and drink.

Also present were four flat-bottomed vessels known as “canopies,” which were used to store internal organs removed during the mummification process.

Beneath the lid of the sarcophagus, the mummy, which was wrapped long before preservation methods were perfected, was badly decomposed.

The body was inlaid with hundreds of Faience beads, and the official’s walking stick, about 6.5 feet long and decorated at the tip with small pieces of gold, was buried at his side.

The sarcophagus also contained a wooden scepter, which Neferinpu would have held in his left hand as sign of his seniority, said Tarek El-Awadi, an official with Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) and chief inspector at Abusir.

“It gives you nice insight into the strata of Egyptian society,” said Salima Ikram. “It gives you a sense of the people who are not a part of uppermost echelons and what was considered customary, proper, or appropriate for someone of that rank,” she added.

4,500-year-old tomb sheds light on burial customs of ancient Egypts middle class