The Quest for Immortality: Treasures of Ancient Egypt

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Sarcophagus of Khonsu Sarcophagus of Khonsu
Nineteenth Dynasty, c. 1270 BC
stuccoed, painted, and varnished wood
The Egyptian Museum, Cairo

Click the image for a full view

ALAN SHESTACK: This magnificent sarcophagus once contained two nesting coffins and the mummy of Khonsu, son of the important official Sennedjem.

The images on the sarcophagus relate to the Book of the Dead, a set of spells intended to help the deceased on the perilous journey through the underworld.

Let's look at the central image. There, you'll find Khonsu's mummy. It's being prepared for burial by the jackal-headed god of embalming, Anubis. At the left, two human-headed birds representing the souls or personalities of Khonsu and his wife look on.

The register above shows two lions back to back. The twin peaks between them are the sign for the horizon, with the disk of the sun rising from it.

BETSY BRYAN: And you see the deceased Khonsu worshipping in front of these lions. These lions are the horizon. But, facing backwards and facing forwards, they are, for the Egyptians, also yesterday and tomorrow.

AS: Khonsu's sarcophagus sits on the sled that brought it to his tomb, probably dragged by oxen across the desert sands.

BB: There would have been a great procession for someone such as Khonsu, friends and family carrying his belongings, his linen chest, his jewelry boxes, his canopic chest containing his viscera in a long, long procession that went probably from near the river bank all the way across the fields and then onto the desert edge, and up into the tomb.

AS: The other side of the coffin includes a vivid image of a god whose black skin symbolizes the fertile black silt of the Nile valley, and below, another image of Khonsu and his wife.