Friday, February 19, 2016

Middle Kingdom Mummy Masks

Fig. 1 - Death Mask of Wah
Fig. 2 - Death Mask of Wah
Fig. 3
     Most of us are familiar with the fabulous gold death mask of King Tutankhamen from the Eighteenth Dynasty. Surely it is one of the most famous, and beautiful, objects know to man. But the average Egyptian could not aspire to being buried with such a wonderful work of art. In the early Middle Kingdom non-royal personages sometimes had more modest death masks. They were usually made of wood and cartonnage with painted details. Two such masks are shown here.

     Figures one and two show the mask of a nobleman named Wah who was buried near the tomb of Meketre at Thebes and whose funerary equipment is now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Wah was apparently not major nobility, but his mummy was extremely well wrapped and had some interesting jewelry on it. His death mask has a broad collar painted on it, as is typical. There are a couple of interesting things about this mask that help date it. The rectangular false bear that extends down from the chin is one of them. The other is the beard and mustache that Wah wears. Facial hair was not commonly shown among Egyptian men in ancient times, but it does appear fairly often on Middle Kingdom masks.

     A similar object from the same time period, now in Hildesheim but found in Asyut, shows the deceased with the inevitable broad collar and, once again, facial hair similar to that found on Wah's mask. This man also wears a single stranded bead necklace around his neck above the broad collar and has an interesting diadem painted around his forehead. The portion of the diadem that is at the exact center of his forehead is decorated with two birds (vultures representing the goddess Mut I think).

     Similar examples of these types of masks can be found in other museums around the world and they seem to have been rather common at the beginning of the Middle Kingdom.

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