Friday, January 25, 2013

Rishi Coffins

I covered the topic of "Rishi" coffins in a post a while back, but I wanted to take a more detailed look at these coffins.

Rishi coffins were used from Egypt's Second Intermediate Period through the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty. The word Rishi means "feathered" in arabic; the name was given to these coffins since they all have feathered decoration on them.

Over the next couple of posts I will be looking at the Rishi coffins of the Second Intermediate Period. The Eighteenth Dynasty examples were commonly used for royal burials (see the coffins of Tutankhamen for example). The Second Intermediate Period examples are used for both royalty and for commoners.

There are two schools of thought regarding what the feathered decoration on these coffins meant. Earlier archaeologists thought that the feathers represented the outstretched wings of Isis and Nephthys as they protected the deceased. More recently, some scholars have claimed that the feathers were meant to show the deceased as a "Ba" (the human-headed bird that the Egyptians thought the soul of the deceased would take the form of).

Unlike the coffins of the Middle Kingdom, rishi coffins are anthropoid in form. These coffins are unusual not only because of the feathered decoration, but because they almost always represent the deceased wearing the "Nemes" headdress that was previously reserved for the king. More about this in the next post when we discuss the examples of these coffins in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum.

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