Quest For Immortality: The World Of Ancient Egypt @ National Museum of Singapore

February 24th, 2010 14 Commented

During the Chinese New Year holidays, I went to the National Museum of Singapore with my family to witness The World of Ancient Egypt exhibition. Many typical Chinese may think that it’s quite weird to visit the dead (mummies) within the fifteen days of Lunar New Year. But, I’m quite okay with it, no superstitions involved here. In fact, I find it rather exciting. :)

Due to conservation and preservation of the artifacts, the lights are kept at minimum when used with most of the objects. So, you may see some grainy photos in this post. This is the entrance to the exhibitions. Some may find the place eerie and creepy due to the very dimmed lighting.

Let’s start of with some information about Egypt which I gathered from the exhibition.

Quest for Immortality — The World of Ancient Egypt

The ancient Egyptians believed that a human being was composed of several elements essential to survival. These comprise the shadow and the name — which was believed to embody one’s identity, physical body and heart — and the non physical ka and ba. The ka, a spiritual “double”, took in nourishment in the tomb and enabled the individual to live after death. The ba could separate from the body, giving the deceased freedom of movement, but would perish without having a preserved corpse to return to.

Death was thus regarded not as the end of human existence, but as a necessary transition to a new state of being. Survival after death was believed to depend on the preservation and maintenance of these elements. All the Egyptians’ funerary preparations, including mummification, the construction of tombs and the provision of offerings, were directed to this end, enabling the dead to achieve akh — the ideal state of immortality where one dwells eternally in the realm of the gods.

Now, we’ll look at the various exhibited artifacts and sculptures.

Bust of a goddess

Granodiorite | Ptolemaic Period, 200-50 BCE | Origin unknown

The long, ‘Libyan’ locks of hair are commonly found in sculptures of goddesses and queens from 200 BCE. A hole in the top of the head suggests that a metal emblem (perhaps cow’s horns supporting the sun disk) was once attached.

[Click on the image(s) for the larger version]

Lion devouring a bull

Greywacke | Late Period 30th Dynasty, 350 BCE | Origin unknown

This remarkable sculpture may have been a cult statue placed in a temple where the priests conducted ritual acts. The lion may represent the lion god Miysis, the principal deity of Leontopolis in the eastern Nile delta. Its victim the bull is represented on a smaller scale.

[Click on the image for the larger version]

Statue of goddess Sekhmet

Granodiorite | New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, 1410-1372 BCE | Karnak, Thebes, Upper Egypt

Derived from the ancient Egyptian word sekhem (powerful), this lion-headed goddess is an aggressive deity who accompanies the king during war and helps him overcome his enemies. Her hands are shown resting flat on her thighs; her left hand is holding the ankh sign, which symbolizes life.

Serapeum sphinxes

Limestone | Ptolemaic Period, 300-250 BCE | Saqqara Lower Egypt

A sphinx has a lion’s body and a king’s head — an expression of the king’s power as equivalent to the strength and might of a lion. The symbol can be found from the Old Kingdom through to the final phase of ancient Egyptian history. The sphinxes shown here depict a Ptolemaic king.

Sphinx of Amenhotep III

Limestone | New Kingdom, 1390-1352 BCE | Origin unknown

This statue portrays the king as a sphinx, with facial features in the exaggerated style which came to predominate during his reign. The royal cartouches engraved on his chest contain elements of his title: his throne name “Neb-maate-re” on the left and his birth name “Amen-hotep heka waset” (ruler of Thebes) on the right.

Elephant statue

Rose granite | Ptolemaic Period to Roman Period, 332 BCE – 395 CE | Probably Alexandria, Lower Egypt

During the Old Kingdom elephants could be hunted in Egypt, but over time these animals moved further south. The sculpture is shown in a walking posture to represent motion. There are only two other known large Egyptian elephant statues: one in Aswan, the other in Rome.

Statue of god Imi-khent-wer

Greywacke | New Kingdom, 19 Dynasty, 1295 – 1186 BCE | Probably the area around Memphis, Lower Egypt

This status is the only known depiction of the god Imi-khent-wer (sometimes associated with the creator god Ptah). The back of the statue is formed by an obelisk-like pillar with an inscription column naming the deity and the statue’s royal donor, Weser-maat-re.

Statue of the god Horus and King Horemheb

Limestone | New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, 1323 – 1295 BCE | Origin unknown

Horemheb was believed to be an earthly incarnation of the god Horus. He is depicted as nearly life-sized, sitting next to Horus. Horus, the god of the sky or sun, is depicted with a human body and the head of a falcon.

Colossal head of a king

Coarse nummulite limestone | Ptolemaic Period, 332 – 222 BCE | Probably Alexandria, Lower Egypt

This head of a Ptolemaic ruler, wearing the nemes headdoth with the uraeus snake, was part of a large standing statue, probably about 4 meters high. It could have been part of a pair that stood in front of a temple at Alexandria. The deep eye sockets were probably once inlaid with another colored material.

Relief fragment from Sharuna temple

Limestone | Ptolemaic Period, 305 – 285 BCE | Sharuna, Middle Egypt

Sharuna temple was one of many cult sites built by the Macedonian Greek Ptolemy I Soter to legitimize his rule as successor to the Egyptian kings. Ptolemy also assumed the title of pharaoh and adopted the ancient Egyptian religion.

[Click on the image for the larger version]

Relief fragment with a cartouche of Seti I

Limestone | New Kingdom, 19th Dynasty, 1295 – 1186 BCE | Origin unknown

Seti I was the second king of the 19th Dynasty and the father of Ramesses II. His throne name of Men-maat-re, which is inscribed in both cartouches (name rings), means “eternal is the truth of Re” The cartouche was believed to provide magical protection around both the throne name and the king’s birth name.

Stele belonging to Djed-her

Wood, paint | Late Period, 26th Dynasty, 620 – 560 BCE | Probably Thebes, Upper Egypt

A popular symbol of protection among artists of the Late Period, the winged sun disc with hanging uraeus snakes is painted on the top part of this stele. The inscription underneath it mentions the gods Re-Horakhty and Atum. The lower half shows the owner of the stele, Djed-her, on the right.

Tomb stele for Keti and Senet

Painted limestone | Middle Kingdom, late 11th – 12th Dynasty, 2055 – 1900 BCE | Origin unknown

The sisters Keti and Senet are depicted standing opposite each other at a sacrificial table. The table is set with the heads of two cows and a goose, with cucumbers, bread and other sacrificial offerings. Underneath the table is a libation vessel and flask.

Cult basin belonging to Shepses-ptah

Limestone | Old Kingdom, 6th Dynasty, 2345 – 2181 BCE | Giza, Lower Egypt

This basin was part of the mortuary chapel of Shepses-ptah. Offerings and liquids were placed or poured on the basin during funerary rites. His name is inscribed on the upper margin of one of the narrow sides.

Offering table

Limestone | Roman Period, 30 BCE – 337 CE | Origin unknown

Offering tables or basins were placed in mortuary chapels from the Old Kingdom onwards, for food and drink to symbolically feed the dead. These tables were decorated with ornamental elements, inscriptions and symbolic representations of offerings, such as the four breads and a recess (possibly representing a bowl) on this table.

False door belonging to Init

Limestone | Old Kingdom, 6th Dynasty, 2345 – 2181 BCE | Probably Saggara, Lower Egypt

False doors were placed in mortuary chapels to establish a connection between the worlds of the living and the dead. They allowed the spirit of the dead to move between the chapel and the tomb to receive offerings. The name and title of Init, the tomb’s owner, are inscribed on the frames.

Nut offering water to the ba

Limestone | Ptolemaic Period, 332 – 30 BCE | Origin unknown

The relief shows Nut, the goddess of the sky, offering water to the human headed ba bird, which represents the personality or soul of the dead person. It could leave the body after death, but needed to be reunited with the body to ensure continued existence in the afterlife. This relief is probably from a tomb.

Architrave fragment belonging to Kai-nefer

Limestone | Old Kingdom, late 6th Dynasty, 2200 BCE | Giza, Lower Egypt

Found near the tomb of a man named Kai-nefer, this fragment depicts the tomb owner on the left wearing a wig, wide collar and half-length kilt. He holds a long staff as a sign of honor. The inscription is a formula asking the god Anubis for a good burial.

Thoth as an ibis

Wood, silver, stucco, glass | Late Period, 600 – 500 BCE | Origin unknown

Thoth was the god of wisdom, maker of laws and chief scribe to the gods. He was also a guide and helper to spirits traveling in the underworld. Thoth was depicted as an ibis, baboon or as a man with the head of either of these animals.

[Click on the image for the larger version]

Standing winged Isis

Bronze | Late Period, 664 – 332 BCE | Origin unknown

This figurine represents Isis as a protective goddess. One myth describes Isis fanning her husband Osiris with her wings, reviving him after he is murdered by his brother Seth.

Lion-headed goddess with obelisk

Bronze | Late Period to Ptolemaic Period | Origin unknown

This is probably Sekhmet, the goddess of war, destruction and misfortune. She was a daughter of the sun god Ra, hence the obelisk and solar deity, and wife of Ptah. Statues played important roles in rituals designed to appease her.

Mummies of two crocodiles (the photo only shows one though)

Mummy, linen | Late Period to Ptolemaic Period, 400 – 30 BCE | Origin unknown

Crocodiles were the most common reptile to be mummified and were raised in temple lakes specifically for this purpose. They were sacred to Sobek, a god of fertility and water.

Mummy of a cat

Mummy, linen | Late Period to Ptolemaic Period, 400 – 30 BCE | Origin unknown

Cats were scared to the goddess of Bastet and millions have been found buried in cemeteries at Saggara, Thebes and Bubastis. The cat’s nose is visible as the outer bandages are missing.

Painted bowl

Faience | New Kingdom, 1400 – 1300 BCE | Origin unknown

This bowl with its brilliant blue-green glaze represents a pond with lotus flowers and buds. It symbolizes life emerging from primordial waters.

Next, let’s look at the human mummification section to gain an in-depth understanding about it.

Journey to the Afterlife

Ancient Egyptians believed in the possibility of attaining eternal life after death. As the treatment of the dead in ancient Egypt was designed to prepare and equip the deceased for all time, the material favored for making burial items or building tombs were those that would last, particularly stone and precious metal. The body was mummified for the same reasons, so it would last for eternity.

Chest of Life

The coffin was the most important burial item in an ancient Egyptian tomb. Besides giving physical protection to the corpse, it provided magical assistance for the deceased and promoted the continuation of life. The magical associations of the coffin developed over the centuries and influenced its shape and decoration.

Early rectangular coffins imitated the paneled exterior of the royal palace, emphasing the coffin’s role as a house of the deceased. From the late Old Kingdom (2686-2181 BCE) to Second Intermediate Period (1650 – 1550 BCE), the coffin’s surfaces replicated the internal walls of the burial chamber, with appropriate decoration. Later rectangular coffins imitated the appearance of a shrine, reflecting the links between the deceased and major deities such as Osiris.

From the New Kingdom (1550 – 1069 BCE), the most popular form of coffin was the anthropoid or mummy-shaped type, made from wood, stone, cartonnage or occasionally precious metal. This could serve as a reserve body should the mummy perish, or as an image of the deceased with divine attributes. It was also regarded as a cocoon or ‘egg’, in which the deceased lay ready to be reborn into the afterlife.

The Layering of Linen

Cartonnage is a cardboard-like material used by ancient Egyptians in a manner similar to how papier-mâché is used today. Is was constructed from layers of linen, moistened and stuck together using a paste. This was coated with stucco (lime plaster or gesso), then molded into various shapes and left to dry. Finally it was painted or gilded.

During late Pharaonic times (664 – 332 BCE), cartonnage was used to make inner coffins for mummies, a time-consuming and expensive process. It was molded to the shape of the body, forming a one-piece shell, and decorated with geometric designs, deities and inscriptions from the Book of the Dead. During Ptolemaic times (332 – 30 BCE), a simpler method was adopted: the mummy would be covered with four to six pieces of decorated cartonnage, attached to the outer mummy wrappings. These separate sections of cartonnage consisted of a mask covering the head and shoulders, a pectoral, an apron for the legs, a foot casing and sometimes coverings for the rib cage and stomach.

The head mask was constructed by molding the cartonnage over a wood block mold. Earlier masks have facial features similar to those found on Pharaonic coffins and sometimes feature a winged vulture or scarab. Later examples were more life-like and even show the hairstyles and jewelery of the time.

Vessels for Internal Organs

As the aim of mummification was to transform the body for its new existence rather than to maintain it as it had been in life, internal parts of the body could be removed without endangering a person’s chances of survival in the afterlife. The organs were treated differently according to their importance. The lungs, liver, stomach and intestines were singled out for special treatment, perhaps because of their links to nourishment. These organs were dried and anointed with sweet-smelling ointments, before being wrapped in linen and stored in special vessels called Canopic jars.

The contents of the jar were placed under the protection of four minor gods called the Sons of Horus. They were stored in their own chest, which was drawn on a sled behind the sarcophagus in the funeral procession. Even when the internal organs were not removed or were placed back into the mummified body, a set of jars was often still placed in the burial. This is thought to indicate the importance of the jars, not just as containers but as magical protection for the organs.

Four canopic jars

Calcite, painted | New Kingdom, 19th – 20th Dynasty, 1295 – 1069 BCE | Origin unknown

These canopic jars show traces of images and text in black paint. Three jars show the dead worshiping Osiris, while the text contains prayers to Osiris and the four sons of Horus. The lids bear the latter’s shapes — falcon-headed Qebehsenuef (intestines), human-headed Imsety (liver), jackal-headed Duamutef (stomach) and baboon-headed Hapy (lungs).

Bringing the Dead to Life

Scientific and technological advances mean that it is now possible to gain enormous amounts of information from mummies without the usual physical and ethical problems associated with studying human remains. Mummies can be examined using techniques such as CT scans, MRIs, X-rays or endoscopic cameras. In some cases, soft tissue can be removed from the mummy without causing much damage. The information recovered is bringing the dead to life in ways never thought possible. The details uncovered include the gender, age and health of a person, how they were mummified and whether objects were included beneath the wrapping. Biological information on DNA, genes and diseases can also be revealed through analysis of the soft tissue.

X-ray of Mummy of Pe-de-ese

This x-ray reveals Harris Lines on the shin bone. These form in bones during the early stages of life — when the bones are still growing — and are caused by stress, disease or poor nutrition.

[Click on the image for the larger version]

X-ray of Mummy of Nes-Khons

X-rays and CT scans reveal two other bodies contained within the covering and placed between her legs. These were two infants who died just before or after birth, and may have been twins.

[Click on the image for the larger version]

Mummy mask belonging to Aset-em-akh-bit

Linen cartonnage, stucco, gilded | Ptolemaic Period, 332 – 30 BCE | Origin unknown

As the dead had to be recognised in the afterlife, the linen-wrapped corpse was fitted with a mummy mask showing the idealized features of the deceased. Usually the masks were made of cartonnage, a material consisting of linen stiffened with plaster, and were often gilded to achieve a godlike form.

Protective Charms

Amulets were extensively used both in daily life and for the benefit of the dead. They were believed to confer protection against harm or danger, and to equip the wearer with divine powers or attributes. Their effectiveness resided in their shape, color, material, and in the ritual acts and speeches which accompanied their use. Some of these texts were incorporated into the Coffin Texts and the Book of the Dead, and were inscribed on the amulets themselves.

Funerary amulets were placed on the mummified body before wrapping and also between the layers of wrapping. Their position on the body was often directly related to the function which they were intended to fulfill. Items of jewelery also incorporated amulets, which could by themselves provide protection.

Of course, I didn’t manage to cover the entire exhibition in this post. I suggest that you visit the museum before this exhibition ends to discover more and experience it! personally would be enlightening.

National Museum of Singapore Official Website

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14 responses to “Quest For Immortality: The World Of Ancient Egypt @ National Museum of Singapore”

  1. mikiwank says:

    Nice and great article. Congratulation ! ;D

    ps: would not you forgotten Yugi Oh ? ;)

  2. rockleelotus says:

    wow you covered quite a bit, did you find the answer to immortality? lol
    these sculptures a quite big, comparing to the people i see in a few shots. the dim lighting does give a creepy feeling, nice ambiance ^^; and the mummy x-ray is a very interesting sight! very cool exhibit.

  3. GREW says:

    Hehe nice ^^
    But since I’m half Egyptain I know some things.
    I even saw the Pyramids every year too when I’m visiting Egypt.

    Nice shots and cool explantions. Nice post.

  4. moemoekyun says:

    orz the only thing I remember when seeing this egyp was Yu-gioh card >_<
    I really tempted to touch one of them maybe I will cursed ^^

  5. divinelight says:

    nice coverage.
    I like the museum but rarely go to one.

    oh yeah, do we really may take photos in museum?

    • softz says:

      It depends on the museum policy actually. e.g Taking photos are okay in The Lurve Musuem but it’s a NO NO in Uffizi Museum.

      By right, as long as you don’t use any flash, it should okay to take photos. Flash may degrade the artifacts or paintings (my wife is a conservator, she explained all these to me ;))

      However, some museums prohibit photo-taking because many visitors, by default, use the flash. They don’t seem to know how to turn the flash off.

  6. Xine says:

    Very interesting. I would have visited the museum when we were there last November (for the AFA09) but then I saw the date on the first pic and it just started Dec. 22. ^^;

  7. Lylibellule says:

    Lylibellule is late… i lost the pace it seems ^^

    Another post on a big subject you perfectly covered. Egyptians civilization always fascinated me. So much think to discover without mentioning what we don’t know yet.
    I visited the Louvre in Paris in the Egyptian section. I would loved to visit this exposition you were lucky enough to visit.
    Thanks again for sharing this with us. :)

  8. Katsura-chan says:

    Wow that’s a huge amount of work to gather all those information !
    I remember visiting an Egyptian exposition in Bruxelles when i was young but i’m more fascinated in Egyptian historical path rather than their arts and constructions achievements.
    It’s a very interesting civilization to me but nor for their pyramids, tombs and such.
    I have big Egyptian fans in my family ha ha maybe i’m bit bored of it because of them :p
    Anyway, amazing post, great great job :)

  9. chubbybots says:

    Ah so your wife is a curator :D That explains all the history related stuff you post even from your korean trip haha!

    Nevertheless great thorough and in depth coverage! I won’t use flash to take pictures of these relics, I actually prefer the ambient light in the exhibition, adds more ‘history’ to the look haha!!

    Wonder if hundred of years down the road will a Saber nendo pop up as a relic :D

  10. Yi says:

    The statues and artifacts look really beautiful. It must have been an amazing display and really fun to see them irl.
    I love the statues of Sekhmet and Horus.
    I also liked the layers of linen display… A bit creepy but also very cool.
    Thanks for all the educational blurbs too!

  11. Sphinx Egypt says:

    The image of the sphinx is a depiction of royal power. Only a pharaoh or an animal could be shown this way, with the animal representing a protective deity.

  12. […] is the original post: The World Of Ancient Egypt @ National Museum of Singapore …  February 24th, 2010  Krista19re   No […]

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