Auckland comes alive with the world of the dead

Published: Wed 9 May 2007 09:50 AM
Auckland comes alive with the world of the dead
Egypt: Beyond the Tomb
The mysterious and enchanting world of Ancient Egypt is brought to life on May 25, when Egypt: Beyond the Tomb opens the Auckland Museum’s Winter Programme.
This extraordinary international touring exhibition follows the story of Keku, an Egyptian woman who lived 2700 years ago, as she makes the perilous journey through the underworld. Drawing on over 200 ancient Egyptian burial treasures from animal mummies to a magnificently decorated sarcophagus (coffin), Keku’s story offers a fascinating insight into the mysterious death rituals of this age-old civilization.
The story begins on the east banks of the Nile where the sun god begins his daily voyage across the sky. It is here, in the land of living, that Keku prepares for death by collecting special objects to place inside her tomb to assist her spirit in the afterlife. Magical powers provided by amulets and spells offered protection from the dangers of the journey. The most common of these was the heart scarab which was placed over the heart to protect it from being lost - as without the heart the deceased could not pass final judgment and enter the afterlife. The journey also demanded that the spirit be well versed in spells and passwords to enable successful navigation and communication through the treacherous obstacles and challenges presented by the underworld. The Book of the Dead complete with up to 200 spells (number dependant on wealth) was vital to the completion of this journey.
Keku also considered the nourishment and comfort of her spirit by providing other items such as food, clothing and the essential shabtis (Miniature servants made of stone, wood, or clay that could be called on to carry out any hard work that the deceased may be instructed to perform by Osiris; god of the underworld).
With preparations in place Keku is now prepared to end her time in the land of the living and with death take her place as an immortal in the afterlife. It is in this, the final preparation phase, that perhaps the most fascinating of the rituals was performed in order for the spirit to return and claim the life-force of their physical body. Mummification and embalming techniques were used to preserve the corpse so the spirit could recognize its body, without which it would not be able to live forever in the afterlife.
The first step in the mummification process was the removal of all internal organs with the exception of the heart. Considered to be the centre of knowledge and emotion, the heart was usually left untouched inside the body. The lungs, stomach, liver and intestines were embalmed separately and stored in canopic jars. These organs were preserved so the dead person could eat and breathe in the afterlife. Not deemed necessary for the afterlife, the brain was removed with a large hook inserted through the nose cavity and thrown away.
Once the organs were removed a salt compound was used to dehydrate the body. After approximately 40 days of dehydration the body was then drained of excess fluids and stuffed with linen, sand or sawdust. Herbal preparations and resins were then applied before the body was finally wrapped in bandages and shrouds. Wealthy families, like Keku’s - would then add further adornments to further protect the body in its travels.
The corpse was then placed inside the inner coffin, designed to protect the physical body and the spirit in the afterlife. Much detail was afforded to the painting of the head on the outside of the coffin, which served as a mask to provide the ideal face for use in the afterlife and to aid the spirit in recognition of the body. The inner coffin was also covered with spells and prayers from the Book of the Dead, important religious symbols, and scenes of various gods and goddesses associated with death, protection and the underworld.
Only those from the upper classes could afford an outer coffin, which was used to protect the more highly decorated inner coffin. Hieroglyphs in the centre column of the lid identify Keku as the owner of the coffin and also tell us her title and the names and titles of her parents.
Following the conclusion of this highly ceremonial and lengthy embalmment process (approximately 70 days) Keku’s corpse is ready to be collected for burial. A funeral procession complete with relatives, hired mourners, dancers, musicians and priests delivers her body to the burial chamber where elaborate rituals and spells are performed by priests to prepare Keku for her journey through the underworld.
On this dangerous journey Keku’s spirit will have to contend with gods, strange creatures and gatekeepers. Using spells from the Book of the Dead, amulets and inscriptions Keku will finally reach Osiris and the Hall of Final Judgment. It is here that she will plead innocence against any wrongdoing in her lifetime as she stands before 42 divine judges. Keku then process to the second part of the judgment process where her heart is weighed against the feather of the goddess Ma'at.. If the scales balance, the test has been passed and Keku will welcomed them into the afterlife by Osiris. If the heart was found to be heavier than the feather, it was fed to Ammut, the 'Devourer', and the soul was cast into darkness.
Reaching the end of her long journey Keku finds home in the paradise named The Field of Rushes - a reflection of the real world she has left behind complete with blue skies, rivers and boats for travel, gods and goddesses to worship and fields and crops that needed to be ploughed and harvested.
By following Keku’s individual experience through this amazing journey from the land of the living through the underworld to the afterlife; visitors to Egypt: Beyond the Tomb will learn about the rituals, beliefs and values that paint a vivid picture of one the most captivating civilsations of the ancient world.
Egypt: Beyond the Tomb has been developed by the Australian Museum and the National Museum of Antiquities, The Netherlands. It will be accompanied by a full programme that of public events offering a full range of activities for all ages. Highlights include the Ancient Egypt Parade, Make-up demonstrations, Making of a Mummy Show, Adult Egyptian Nights, screening of Cleopatra (starring Elizabeth Taylor) and a comprehensive lecture series.
For more info on exhibitions and public events visit the news and media section of the website
EGYPT: Beyond the Tomb opens to the public from May 25 – August 12 at The Special Exhibition Hall, Auckland Museum.
PRICE: Adults $12, Children $6, Concession $9, Family Price ( 2 adults,2 children) $30

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