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Work Sarcophagus of Abu Roash
Department of Egyptian Antiquities: Religious and funerary beliefs
Sarcophagus of Abu Roash
© 2008 Musée du Louvre / Georges Poncet
Religious and funerary beliefs
This rectangular limestone sarcophagus - the oldest in the Louvre's Egyptian department - was part of the funerary equipment of a high-ranking court official during the Old Kingdom. It was discovered in a mastaba during excavations of the cemetery at Abu Roash. The box reproduces the external appearance of a monumental enclosure; the lid was never finished.
This high-quality white limestone sarcophagus consists of a monolithic rectangular box with relief decoration on its outer walls, and a convex lid which was never finished or decorated. When the sarcophagus was discovered, the box and lid were sealed together with mortar. The lid's surface still bears traces of tool-marks and of the red ink marks which served as indicators during the carving of the stone. A projecting tenon at each end of the lid made it easier to fit it onto the box.
All four faces of the box itself are decorated with a series of doors framed by projecting pilasters: three doors on the shorter sides, six on the longer. Each is topped by an openwork window. The doors are situated between bastions, each of which has three recesses and is crowned with a decorative motif consisting of two papyrus umbels. This elaborate "palace-facade" decoration evokes the walls of the Thinite Period, with their bastions and redans (salient points). A splendid example of this type of decorative stonework can still be admired at Saqqara, around the pyramid complex of 3rd-Dynasty king Djoser.
The Abu Roash cemetery
The sarcophagus was discovered by F. Bisson de la Roque, during excavations in 1923 in the underground chamber of a stone mastaba at Abu Roash - a cemetery opposite modern Cairo which constituted the northernmost site of the ancient necropolis of Memphis. The site contained tombs from the Thinite Period (mud brick structures with redan walls), the funerary complex and pyramid of 4th-Dynasty pharaoh Djedefre, as well as a number of Old Kingdom mastaba complexes.
Although this sarcophagus bears no inscription, the quality of the mastaba complex in which it was found and the proximity of the royal complex suggest that its owner was a high-ranking member of the king's entourage.
A luxury tomb
The stone sarcophagus itself indicates the deceased's high social status. Sarcophagi such as this were very rare at the time; the dead were usually buried in wooden coffins, the poorest among them being simply wrapped in matting or placed in large jars.
The sarcophagus or coffin subsequently became an essential part of funerary equipment. As it protected the corpse, it corresponded to Egyptian religious beliefs concerning the afterlife, which required the body to be preserved.
Sarcophagus of Abu Roash
Old Kingdom, 4th Dynasty (?), 2620-2500 BC
Sculpture, bas-relief, limestone
H. 95 cm; W. 127 cm; L. 261 cm
Purchased from the Service des Antiquités de l'Egypte, 1927
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