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W920Mask decorated with gold leaf. Gold was symbolic of the flesh of the gods. The mask has spell 151a of the Book of the Dead running as a band around the head. The spell states that the dead person’s face be like the gods. For example the left eye would be the nine gods. The same spell is found on the famous golden mask of Tutankhamun.

This mask is made of cartonnage, that is linen and gesso (plaster). It is covered in gilt. Mummy masks such as this were often coloured with gold gilt because of gold’s symbolic importance. The shiny nature of the metal was paralleled in the shiny nature of the justified dead and imbued the deceased with the same quality of shininess. Gold is also an eternal metal which does not tarnish.

Notice the wedjet eye on the forehead.

There is also a damaged and faint inscription running as a band around the head. This is part of Book of the Dead 151a. The bit above the brow can be translated as: ‘Your right eye is the Evening Boat and your left eye is the Morning Boat; your eyebrows are as the Nine Gods….’. Each part of the body was associated with a different god, the body became deified after death. However, the correspondence of the body parts with these particular deities goes back to Coffin Text 531, which, like Book of the Dead 151a, only deals with the head. This spell explains the need to have a ‘beautiful face’ (nfr Hr) among the gods. Nfr, as well as being translated as ‘beautiful’ has connotations of newness. This might explain why the gods Ptah and Osiris, who are often mummiform, is called nfr Hr (Lüscher, 246) the idea of newness, is often reinforced by the colour green.

The text replaces the ‘crown of justification’, a wreath, often shown on mummy masks. The rest of the spell describes the features of the deceased in godlike terms; your brow as Anubis, hair as Ptah-Sokar, etc. Making the deceased into a mummy was likened to making it into a god, and gods, of course, had qualities of eternal gold. This text is occasionally found in the New Kingdom, e.g. on the mask of Tutankhamun, but makes a return in the Late Period.

For information of the Crown of Justification see Christian Riggs 2005, The Beautiful Burial in Roman Egypt. Art, Identity and Funerary Religion pages 81-83.

For parallels to the wreath text see Tamás Mekis 2012, The Cartonnage of Nestanetjeretten (Louvre AF 12859; MG E 1082) and its enigma. Bulletin de L’Institut Français D’Archéologie Orientale, 112, pages 243-273.

For an explanation of the mask spell see: Taylor, J. H. 2010 The Mummy in the Tomb in J. H Taylor ed. Journey Through the Afterlife. Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, London: British Museum Press.108-109; Nyord, R. 2009. Breathing Flesh, Conceptions of the Body in the Ancient Egyptian Coffin Texts. Museum Tusculanum Press 520ff.

For deification of body parts see: DuQuesne, T. 2002. La deification des parties du corps. Correspondances magiiques et identification avec les diex dans l’Égypte ancienne. In Koenig, Y. eds. La magie en Égypte: à la recherché d’une definition. Actes du colloque organise par le musée du Louvre les 29 et 30 septembre 2000. Paris: Louvre.2 37-271.

For information on Coffin Text 151 see Lüscher, B. 1998. Untersuchungen zu Totenbuch Spruch 151 Wiesbaden: Harrossowitz Verlag.

Other Book of the Dead Items in the Egypt Centre