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Egyptian Funerary Archaeology - 20 Credits (HS2376)

Course Description

To the layman the Egyptians can seem obsessed by death.  However, this is not really the case, rather they were concerned to live forever.  This course examines the measures they took to achieve eternity –to make their names live forever.

The module examines the development of funerary monuments over time for royal, elite and ‘common’ members of society and examines our sources of information for each of these.  Particular attention is paid to the lacunae on our knowledge, gaps which apply especially to the common people of ancient Egypt whose burial places have enjoyed little attention from archaeologists.

As well as the burial places of these groups the course looks at the furnishings of the tombs of various periods and the religious literature – such as the Pyramid Texts, Coffin Texts and Book of the Dead – which can be used to inform our knowledge of funerary practices.

The individuals themselves are also a focus of study and the development of mummification is examined and related to changes in coffin form and tomb development and furnishing.

Credits: 20

Availability of module: Available every second year

Prerequisites: N/A

Necessary for: N/A

Tutor: Dr Paul T. Nicholson

Teaching methods

20 one hour lectures


2500 word essay (40%)

30 minute class test based around visual images from the course and reading (10%)

1 hour exam (50%)

Summary of course content

Study/Research Skills For Egyptian Archaeology
Introduction to the key literature for studies in Egyptian Archaeology generally and for funerary archaeology in particular.  Special emphasis will be placed on materials available at Cardiff.  This session will form the essential background for essays and further reading.

Obsessed With Death?
Why do we seem to know so much about Egyptian funerary practices?  How did the Egyptians themselves view death?  How do we interpret the material culture associated with death?

Origins Of Mummification
Egypt’s earliest mummies. 

The Development of Tombs
The earliest tombs and their function.

The development and purpose of the pyramid over time.

The Afterlife
‘A boon which the King gives’ : the importance of the King in the afterlife.  The Pyramid Texts, Coffin Texts and Books of the Dead.

More On Mummification
Later mummification.

Coffins And Sarcophagi
The coffin as a house for the body.

Tomb Furnishings
Funerary furniture and offerings.

Non-Elite Burials
Evidence for the burials of the ‘common people’ especially as revealed by the most recent work at Tell el-Amarna

Sacred Animal Cemeteries
The mummification and burial of Egypt’s Sacred Animals.

Learning outcomes                            

  • communicate ideas and arguments effectively, whether in class discussion or in written form, in an accurate, succinct and lucid manner.
  • formulate and justify arguments and conclusions about a range of issues, and present appropriate supporting evidence.
  • an  ability to think critically and challenge assumptions.
  • an ability to use a range of information technology resources to assist with information retrieval and assignment presentation.
  • time management skills and an ability to independently to organise their own study methods and workload.
  • work effectively with others as part of a team or group in seminar or tutorial discussions.

Suggested book purchases

Shaw, I. and  Nicholson, P.T.  (2008) The British Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum.

And any or all of:

Dodson, A. and Ikram, S. (2008) The Tomb in Ancient Egypt. London: Thames and Hudson.

Ikram, S. (2003) Death and Burial in Ancient Egypt. London: Longman.

Ikram, S. and Dodson, A. (1998) The Mummy in Ancient Egypt.  London: Thames and Hudson.

Spencer, A.J. (1982) Death in Ancient Egypt. Harmondsworth: Penguin

Suggested preparatory reading    

Dodson, A. and Ikram, S. (2008) The Tomb in Ancient Egypt. London: Thames and Hudson.

Ikram, S. and Dodson, A. (1998) The Mummy in Ancient Egypt.  London: Thames and Hudson.