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TitleMillward Mourning
TagsAncient Egypt Funeral Traditions Cultural Aspects Of Death Social Conventions
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Page 2

Rosetta 12.5.


Mourning for the Deceased: An Overview of Current Research into

the Gestures and Attitudes of Grief in Ancient Egypt

Emily Millward

PhD Candidate, 2

Year (full-time)

University of Birmingham, College of Arts and Law

The presence of mourners in ancient Egypt has certainly been attested by previous

although very briefly and with no real interpretation of the evidence that

they present. Werbrouck’s 1938 work does focus solely on the gestures adopted by

ancient Egyptian mourners, however, this is now quite outdated and again offers little

interpretation. The lack of analysis is quite surprising especially when we consider

the wide range of evidence available. This study, which forms my PhD thesis,

therefore intends to clarify what gestures and attitudes were adopted by ancient

Egyptian mourners, but will also provide an examination of why particular gestures

were used and will detail any deviation from the typical gestures of mourning that

appeared overtime.

Setting the Scene: the Funeral Procession

The funeral procession was important element of Egyptian funerary culture and

included a formulaic series of episodes. The family and friends would gather at the

home of the deceased before the body was transported to the embalmer’s workshop.

Once the embalming process (which took 70 days) was complete the funeral

entourage gathered once again to take the deceased to their pre-prepared tomb.

Depending on the location of the tomb, this episode could involve a voyage across

the Nile on funeral barges, this is particularly the case during the New Kingdom

when many kings, queens and member of the elite class were buried on the west

bank at Thebes. Once the funeral entourage had reached the tomb the deceased

would be removed from their sarcophagus one last time whilst the final funerary rites,

For brief discussions on mourners in ancient Egypt see, Bleeker 1958: 1-17, Dodson and Ikram

2005: 123, Garstang 1907: 13 and 101-102, Hodel-Hoenes 2000: 52-54, Meskell 2002:181-193, Milde
1994: 18, McDermott 2006:113-114, Robins 1993: 164, Szpakowska 2008:184, Taylor 2001: 187-189,
Tyldesley 1994: 132.

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Assmann, J. 2005. Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt. New York: Cornell

University Press.

Blackman, A.M. 1924. The Rock Tombs of Meir: Part IV, the Tomb Chapel of

Pep’onkh. London: Trench Trübner & Co.

Bleeker, C.J. 1958. ‘Isis and Nephthys as Wailing Women’, Numen 5. 1-17.

Davies, N. de Garis. 1925. The Tomb of the Two Sculptors at Thebes. London:

Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Davies, N. de Garis. 1941. The Tomb of the Vizier Ramose. London: the Egypt

Exploration Society.

Davies, N. de G. 1973. The Tomb of Neferhotep at Thebes. New York: Arno Press.

Dodson, A. and Ikram, S. 2008. The Tomb in Ancient Egypt. London: Thames &


El-Shahawy, A. 2005. The Funerary Art of Ancient Egypt: a Bridge to the Realm of

the Hereafter. Cairo: Farid Atiya Press.

Faulkner, R.O. 1936. ‘The Bremner-Rhind Papyrus: the Songs of Isis and Nephthys’,

JEA 22. 121-140.

Faulkner, R.O. 1936. ‘The Bremner-Rhind Papyrus: the Songs of Isis and Nephthys’,

JEA 22. 121-140.

Garstang, J. 1907. The Burial Customs of Ancient Egypt as Illustrated by Tombs of

the Middle Kingdom. London: Constable.

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