W80 Clay Offering Tray
The dead, like the living, had to eat. There were various ways of doing this. Actual food offerings could be given. Spells could be recited in the form of ‘the offering formula’, or could be written down, as on the stelae on display in the Egypt Centre. Another way of feeding the dead was through the use of offering tables.
Clay offering tables or trays such as those above, were roughly made of Nile silt. A great number were excavated by Petrie at Rifeh (Petrie 1907) and seem to date from the late First Intermediate Period to the Middle Kingdom (2125-1650 BC). Since such items were often exposed on the surface of humble graves few have survived. However, some had superstructures to protect them. Occasionally offering tables have also been found on domestic sites e.g. at Askut (Smith 2003, 128, fig. 5.27).
The tables show various foodstuffs – often the head of a cow, a bundle of onions and bread. We have one example which shows all these. The channels were to allow libations poured over them to run off.
Petrie traced the development of food tables to the more elaborate soul houses (Petrie 1907). Some examples appear as a mixture. The example with the four staircases on display in the Egypt Centre is probably not a true soul house but may represent the courtyard or a cistern of a house. However, it has now been suggested that there is no chronological difference between the soul houses and the offering trays. (Niwinski 1984, 806-813).
The Egypt Centre has several of these. You can see them by looking at our searchable database (link on the left).
We also have one artefact which may or may not belong to this category. If anyone has parallels we would love to know.
Niwinski, V., 1984., ‘Seelenhaus’ Lexikon der Ägyptologie.
Petrie, WMF., 1907. Gizeh and Rifeh. London.
Smith, S.T., 2003. Wretched Kush. Ethnic identitities and boundaries in Egypt’s Nubian Empire. London and New York.