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The latest issue shows how the ancient Egyptians prepared for life in the hereafter through a new exhibition at the Rijksmuseum in Leiden—the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities.
High on the wish-list for any ancient Egyptian was a well-stocked tomb, a richly-decorated coffin and a few favourite things to take to the grave. The Egyptians didn’t view this as a preparation for death, however. This was preparation for life—eternal life.
Part of the exhibition is the outer coffin of Panesy (pictured), a priest of the Temple of Amun at Karnak around 730 B.C. This was during Egypt’s 22nd Dynasty, a time when Karnak’s priests became increasingly powerful, eventually having the audacity to proclaim themselves kings, at least in the area around Luxor.
Although today black is associated with mourning and sadness, this coffin’s colour was about hope. To the Egyptians black meant new life. Each year the country’s farmland would emerge from the receding floodwaters of the Nile, bearing a fresh layer of dark, rich, fertile silt. So important was the annual inundation for their survival that the god of the Underworld, Osiris, was called the ‘black one’ and could be depicted with black skin to emphasise his link with fertility and rebirth.
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