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Sarcophagus



Sarcophagus of Tutankhamon.
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Sarcophagus of Tutankhamon. From National Museum, Cairo, Egypt.

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Lycian sarcophagi. From Kale, Turkey.

In Ancient Egypt, the outer stone container of a deceased. The term is also used for cultures outside Egypt, in many cases this is a matter of imitation of Egyptian custom. Sarcophagi became very common in Lycia.
The article deals with coffins and sarcophagi alike. The distinction between the two is only slight. The body of the deceased was placed in the coffin, while the coffin or coffins again were placed in the sarcophagus. For the Egyptians there appears to have been minimal distinction between the two types of containers and a sarcophagus may well be called the "outer coffin". Coffins and sarcophagi had the same function: to protect the corpse and serve as a house for the ka. The same applied to styles and iconography, coffins and sarcophagi used the same.
The word comes from Greek "sarx" and "phagien", meaning "flesh" and "to eat", combined, "flesh-eating".
The earliest burials of Egypt used no sarcophagi or coffins. The earliest coffins were baskets or simple constructions made from wood, around the crouched corpse. Long into the 4th Dynasty a new form of coffin came in use, shaped as a vaulted house. Also, elongated coffins became common. During the First Intermediate Period decorations became increasingly important, while first in the Middle Kingdom extracts of the Pyramid Texts had become a central part of the decoration, called Coffin Texts.
From the 12th Dynasty, anthropoid coffins gradually came into use, the shape identified with Osiris. This would remain the rule through the remainder of Ancient Egyptian history.
During the Third Intermediate Period, coffins together with papyri and stele had fully replaced walls of burial chambers as carriers of the magical decorations believed to be important for the deceased.
Although the sarcophagus and coffin should protect the corpse, the opposite was the effect. The sand into which earlier bodies were placed, protected better. As a matter of fact, the introduction of coffins caused the invention of mummification, the mummification bringing about the process that the sand otherwise would have provided.




By Tore Kjeilen