The Colleges’ Mummy

Egyptian Late Period
Mummy and Coffin of Daughter of Official, 320 b.c.e.
Painted wood
Gift of Mrs. John Archer Silver, wife of Professor Silver

This mummy and coffin were presented to Hobart College in 1896 by Mrs. John Archer Silver, wife of a professor of history at the Colleges. The mummy came to Professor Silver through Frederick Courtland Penfield, consul-general in Cairo. It was discovered in a cemetery associated with a Ptolomaic temple at Akhmin on the eastern bank of the Nile, northeast of Abydos, in 1894.

Ptolemy I distinguished himself as a trustworthy troop commander under Alexander and during the council at Babylon, that followed Alexander’s death, he proposed that the provinces of the huge empire be divided among the generals. He became governor of Egypt then its king and secured Egypt’s borders against external enemies. He won over the Egyptians by restoring their temples, which had been destroyed by the Persians and made gifts to the Egyptian gods as well as to the Egyptian nobility and priesthood. He also founded the Museum (Mouseion), a common workplace for scholars and artists, and established the famous library at Alexandria. Ptolemy II constructed the famous lighthouse on the island of Pharos, off Alexandria, which was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The last pharaoh was a woman – the famous Cleopatra VII Thea Philopator. Her attempts to maintain Egypt’s independence and renew its glory were doomed. All the great civilizations of the ancient Mediterranean world were now submitting to the indisputable power of Rome.

During the Late Period, the reemergence of a centralized royal tradition that interacted with the relatively decentralized network inhertited from the Third Intermediate Period created a rich artistic atmosphere. Stylistic patterns suggest a complex interplay of influences less hierarchically determined by the temporal power of the king than in previous periods, with the result that the choices of patrons and artists are more recognizable. A taste for realistic modeling of features of nonroyal persons emerges, while attention to the naturalistic modeling of flesh and bone in human and animal depictions reaches new heights. Mortuary rituals continued to be observed in more or less the same way they always had been, and the religious beliefs of Egypt were maintained.

One of the most important objects purchased, whether for royalty or other elites, for a tomb was the coffin. Its purpose from the earliest times was the protection of the body, preserving it from deterioration or mutilation. A sarcophagus was also usually provided to hold the coffin in the tomb. In their preparation for rebirth after death, particularly later in the New Kingdom, the wealthy ancient Egyptians might prepare themselves by purchasing a sarcophagus (possessor of life), a coffin (the bound mummy, or “that which begets”), and an inner coffin or mummy board (the egg). In fact, coffins and coffin walls were decorated from a very early date. The anthropoid coffin became standard with a very distinctive style during the Second Intermediate period. Like mummification, they also provided an image, or qed (form), of the deceased that could house not only his corpse, but also his spirits. In the early 19th Dynasty, a new type of mummy board and lid was used. It depicted the deceased as a living person, dressed in festive garments, with the hands of men placed on the thighs, while those of women were pressed to the breast and holding a decorative plant. Some of these lids were fashioned in stone for the anthropomorphic sarcophagi of high officials. During the Late Period, from about the 26th Dynasty and later, wooden coffins have similar shapes. The flat lower part of the coffin serves merely as a support, not a container for the mummy, because it was now covered by a much more convex lid.

Smith, Grafton Elliot.  Egyptian Mummies. London, New York: Kegan Paul International, 1991. DT62 .M7 S6 1991

El Mahdy, Christine. Mummies, Myth and Magic in Ancient Egypt. London, New