Death on the Nile: Uncovering the Afterlife of Ancient Egypt
23 February – 22 May 2016
Free to all
The museum kicks off a year of bicentenary celebrations with an exhibition of its remarkable collection of Egyptian coffins.
A set of coffins belonging to Nespeawershefyt – known as Nes-Amun – was one of the very first gifts given to the Fitzwilliam collection in 1822. To this day they remain one of its highlights; not only are they among the finest examples in the world but they survive in an incredible state of preservation.
In preparation for this celebratory exhibition, the museum arranged for the coffins to be studied with X-radiography so as they could glean a deeper understanding of their production. Amazingly, researchers examining the surfaces found evidence of 3,000 year old fingerprints – an indicator that the craftsmen moved the lid of the inner coffin before the varnish had dried. Other human touches include secret repairs, mistakes in drawing that had been covered up in paint and even a practice doodle on the underside of the box.
As part of the project the inner vessel was also sent for CT scanning. The resulting images revealed that it consisted of a multitude of wooden pieces that had been cut, patched and spliced together, and at least one of the sections had been taken from an older coffin – not uncommon at a time when wood was a rare commodity.
From these incredible new findings the museum has been able to create digital reconstructions of how its coffins were made. A selection of artefacts from the British Museum, the Louvre and its own Egyptology collection are also on display.
As was standard practice in Ancient Egyptian culture, Nes-Amun commissioned these coffins himself and they were made during his lifetime. When he died however, he had risen considerably in rank and – as revealed by the X-radiography studies – the boxes had to be re-inscribed with his new titles.