A Third Intermediate Period coffin from Thebes donated by the Royal Exeter Memorial Museum.
The coffin in the collection is an inner coffin. At this time each mummy had two coffins, one outer and one inner in the same style. The mummy also had a cover shaped and decorated like the coffin lids, this is called a ‘mummy board’. Such coffins also have a thick layer of resin based lacquer applied to the exterior. It is thought that this lacquer (which is also apparent on some wooden shabtis) made the coffin appear shining and thus god-like.
The style of the coffin is a typical 21st Dynasty type being yellow with crowded scenes. At this date tomb building had almost ceased at Thebes and so instead of placing depictions of the afterlife on tomb walls, depictions were put on coffins. Such scenes display both solar and Osirian beliefs surrounding the afterlife and include a number of motifs not hitherto seen.
The name on our coffin is that of Iw-s-m-hes.t-mwt. We would be very grateful for any information regarding this lady. We know of a shabti which seems to have belonged to her (Glenn Janes 2002. Shabtis a Private View, 64-65). A shabti in the British Museum (EA 33966) also seems to have been one owned by our singer. Additionally a papyrus in the Brooklyn Museum (37.1801 E) also belongs to this lady and deals with the seventeenth chapter of the Book of the Dead.
This coffin was presented to Exeter Museum by the Rev. Robert Fitzherbert Fuller in 1819. Fitzherbert Fuller was a relative of the infamous ‘Mad Jack Fuller’ who had himself buried under a pyramid at Brightling, Sussex . The Reverend was also distantly related to Sir Francis Drake.
Rev. Robert Fitzherbert Fuller was born on 11 Aug 1794 in East Grinstead, Sussex . He was ordained a priest at Brase Nose College, Oxford in 1819 and was rector of St Bartholomew’s, Chalvington from 1833 to 1848. On 16th October 1827 he married Maria Ursula Sheffield. He died on 22 Aug 1849 in Leamington, Warwick .
Little is known about how the coffin came to be in the possession of Rev. Fuller. As Niwinski (1988, 21) states: ‘in the first two decades of the 19th century the fashion for collecting ancient Egyptian monuments reached its apogee” with many coffins in Thebes being sold to collectors. In those days the removal of Egyptian artefacts from Egypt was virtually unrestricted. It is likely that the Rev. Fuller, like other gentlemen of his day, purchased this coffin on a trip. Robert Morkot of Exeter University has made study of the coffin’s history and believes that Rev. Fuller visited Egypt with Sir Joseph Stratton and Captain Bennett in 1817. There the famous Giovanni Belzoni opened a ‘mummy pit’ for them. It is noticeable that he donated the coffin to Exeter Museum the same year as he was ordained a priest.
The coffin then lay in Exeter Museum. In the 1970s Professor Gwyn Griffiths from the Department of Classics and Ancient History at University of Wales Swansea was carrying out research on the Egyptian afterlife and particularly the weighing of the heart. This coffin came to Gwyn’s notice. In 1982 it was brought back to Swansea .
The coffin was in terrible state of repair. However, with the help of a grant from the Council of Museums in Wales, it was conserved by Archaeological Conservation Laboratories in the School of History and Archaeology University of Wales, Cardiff (Watkinson and Brown 1995). The coffin returned to Swansea in 1994.
The coffin has been briefly published by Kate Bosse Griffiths (Bosse-Griffiths 1991, Remarks concerning a coffin of the 21st Dynasty Discussions in Egyptology 19, 5-12). The conservation of the coffin has also been published (Watkinson and Brown 1995) and a booklet published by Egypt Centre staff in 2013 can be downloaded here. A more extensive publication, particularly regarding the otherworld scenes, is planned by the Egypt Centre.
Scenes on the coffin include:
Bettum, A. 2004. Death as an Internal Process. A case study of a 21st Dynasty coffin at the University Museum of Cultural Heritage in Oslo . Online publication accessed 25.6.2008, http://wo.uio.no/as/WebObjects/theses.woa/wa/these?WORKID=20317
Bosse-Griffiths, K, 1991. ‘Remarks concerning a coffin of the 21st Dynasty’, Discussions in Egyptology 19, 5-12.
Morkot, R. 2016. ‘Eaten by maggots: the sorry tale of Mr Fuller’s coffin’ in C. Price, R. Forshaw, A. Chamberlain and P. Nicholson (eds.), Mummies, magic and medicine in ancient Egypt. Multidisciplinary essays for Rosalie David (Manchester), pp. 355–68.
Niwinski, A. 2006. The Book of the Dead on the Coffins of the 21st Dynasty. Sonderdruck aus Totenbuch-Forschunen. Gesammelte Beiträge des 2. Internationalen Totenbuch-Symposiums Bonn , 25. bis 29. September 2008. Backes, B., Munro, I. and Stöhr, S. eds. Wiesbaden : Harrassowitz.
Watkinson, D. and Brown, J. 1995. The Conservation of the Polychrome Wooden Sarcophagus of Praise Mut. In Brown, C.E., Macalister, F. and Wright, M.M. Conservation in Ancient Egyptian Collections. Papers given at the conference organised by the United Kingdom Institute for Conservation, Archaeology Section, and International Academic projects, held at London , 20-21 July 1995. Archetype Publications, 37-46.