Ancient Egypt Glossary #2 – Tombs etc.

Today’s post is by Becca from the Visitor Team at Manchester Museum. We are not experts, but we are people with a passionate interest in the museum and its objects. We each bring our own insight into Manchester Museum and its collections.

For more about Egyptology, please visit the Curator’s blogEgypt at the Manchester Museum.


In part 2 of our jargon-busting series, Becca explores where the ancient Egyptians buried their dead … And see part 1 for coffins, sarcophagi and cartonnages!

Ancient Egypt Glossary #2 – Tombs etc.

In ancient Egypt, when someone died and was mummified they needed to be buried. As we have already established, keeping the dead, even if mummified, at home forever was not a good idea.  Now, hopefully this isn’t going to shatter anyone’s long-standing romantic illusions, but not all ancient Egyptians were buried in pyramids!

Pit-grave: The body is placed on the left hand side in the flexed position (foetal position) in a hole in the sand with some associated grave goods (pots, reed mats, animal skins). The hole is then covered over with sand.

Predynastic Pit-Grave

Mastaba:  A mastaba is a table or bench like structure designed to isolate the body and protect it from scavengers, usually made from mud-brick with a wooden roof. The body was placed into a wooden or clay coffin inside this structure.

Pyramid: I know that everyone knows what a pyramid looks like (if any of you are thinking of a well-known chocolate bar now I’m very disappointed!), but did you know that the first pyramid was based on the mastaba? Djoser’s step pyramid consists of 6 mastabas of decreasing size stacked one on top of the other, then clad in white limestone. Only the Pharaoh and the royal family were buried in pyramids, intended to keep their bodies safe from tomb robbers.

Djoser’s step pyramid, Saqqara.

Rock cut tombs: These are burial chambers that were cut into an existing rock formation, usually along the side of a hill. The tombs usually had a long corridor descending into one or more halls to the burial chamber.

Rock cut tomb
Simple saff or rock-cut Tomb. Gurna, Egypt

Tomb group: The Two Brothers tomb group is one of the most striking parts of the Ancient Worlds gallery at the museum. The objects and coffins themselves are not a ‘tomb’ they are a group of objects found within a tomb. The group consists of the coffins of the brothers, the canopic chest, the figures of both brothers and servants, model boats and pottery. (Below: Burial Items and Coffins of the Two Brothers taken in The Ancient Worlds Gallery, Manchester Museum)

Tomb Group of the Two Brothers, Khnum-Nakht and Nekht-Ankh, Manchester Museum

Right, that’s different burials covered, I now declare you an expert in burying the dead … but don’t actually go ahead and trial-bury anyone! Seriously, the police will come and not one of them will believe that you got this from a blog!

Rebecca Horne

For more about Egyptology, please visit the Curator’s blogEgypt at the Manchester Museum.

Read more from Becca;
Ancient Egypt Glossary #1 – Coffins etc.
Mother’s Day Special: How to make a mummy

And check out more of the Visitor Team posts about ancient Egypt:
Amelia B. Edwards – A Thousand Miles up the Nile
Being Human # 3: Experimental Archaeology – Egyptian Stone-working
The Egyptian Scarab Beetle – Dung Beetles Do the Dirty Work!


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