For the first time since his death in 1322 BCE King Tut’s face was seen in early November when he was unwrapped in Egypt. King Tutankhamun has fascinated the masses since his intact tomb was first discovered on this day in 1922. Below, in an excerpt from the Handbook to Life in Ancient Egypt by Rosalie David, we learn why tombs were so very important in ancient Egypt.
Importance of the Tomb
Because tombs and temples were built of stone, evidence relating to burials and sate religious customs has survived better than evidence relating to domestic buildings, which were constructed primarily of mud brink. This tends to present an inaccurate and partly misleading view of Egyptian society, perhaps placing undue emphasis with its preoccupation with death and preparation for the afterlife. Nevertheless, funerary beliefs and customs were obviously extremely important and influenced many of the concepts and developments of the civilization.
Central to Egyptian mortuary practices was the belief that life continued after death. Although this at first applied only to the king, it was assumed by the Middle Kingdom that all worthy people could aspire to individual immortality. That classes maintained somewhat different views about the location of the afterlife and what they would experience there, but everyone planned to prepare a burial place that had the function not only of protecting the body but also of providing a location to which the owner’s free-roaming spirit could return to obtain sustenance.
The Egyptians believed that the burial site was a home for the spirit, and in the mastaba tomb this idea was developed so that the features of a house–reception area, bedroom, storerooms–were reproduced. Indeed, the dead were believed to have the same needs as the living–a home, possessions, and food and drink. These were supplied for the deceased by means of tomb, funerary goods, and a funerary offering ritual.
The provisioning of the tomb was also regarded as essential to the owner’s continued existence after death. A man’s heir was expected to bring food and drink to his tomb on a daily basis to feed his spirit (ka). His descendants inherited this obligation to bring the offerings to the tomb chapel and present them to the owner by means of the funerary ritual. Accompanied by the recitation of prayers, they were offered on a flat altar table. It was believed that the essence of their sustaining qualities would be absorbed through the mummy or the owner’s statue on behalf of his spirit.
This obligation, however, became a burden to later generations. As tombs grew increasingly neglected, it was feared that the ka would experience starvation. Other means of securing a food supply were sought, and a ka servant was often employed. This priest had the duty of presenting the offerings, and the tomb owner set aside an area of land in his estate from which the produce would supply perpetual offering for his tomb and also payment for the ka servant and his descendants who inherited this commitment. Again, however, duties were often neglected, and the Egyptians resorted to magic.
Wall scenes within the tomb re-created a pleasant hereafter for the deceased and included representations o food production (harvesting, butchering, brewing, and baking) an offering rites. They were later augmented by states and models that were shown engaged in similar activities. All these inanimate figures would, it was believed, be activated by a special ceremony carried out at the funeral. Once the life force entered them, they would be able to serve the owner. There was also an offering list inscribed within the tomb that provided an eternal substitute menu for the deceased; this was intended to lessen his reliance on food brought by relatives or the ka servant.