Tomb of Senebhenaef (D25, Abydos)

The burial in D25 belongs to Senebhenaef, the “Mouth of Nekhen”. It is particularly interesting as it contained the earliest known version of one of the spells from the Book of the Dead, as well as one of the latest known examples of a canopic jar with a human head. The excavators recovered: two canopic jars, numerous fragments of a box coffin, a beard from a mummy mask or box coffin with strips of inlaid faience, and other fragments most likely from a canopic box.

The Coffin

The coffin cannot be dated precisely, but the names and titles, the style of the coffin, the use of green paint to depict the animals, and the mutilation of those animals would support placing the coffin in the late thirteenth dynasty or early seventeenth dynasty.

Grajetzki notes that there were three distinct textual layouts apparent in the coffins of the thirteenth dynasty:

  • Coffins with a single horizontal text band around the top, two vertical lines of text at the narrow end and four vertical lines of text at the wider end of the coffin, and a pair of wedjat eyes (the type commonly found in the twelfth dynasty),
  • Coffins with four vertical columns of text on the long side, rising to as many as nine columns to allow for more detailed texts,
  • Coffins with text panels placed between the vertical columns. These panels feature excerpts from the Coffin Texts and other (so far unidentified) texts.

The Coffin of Senebhenaef is of the final type.

Coffin fragment, coffin of Senebhenaef, second intermediate period copyright Wolfram Grajetzki
Coffin of Senebhenaef, SIP, copyright Wolfram Grajetzki

The coffin appears to have been undecorated on the inside, but we cannot be sure of the external background colour of the coffin as it seems that only decorated fragments were collected by excavators (Randal-McIver and Mace).

Fragment of the Coffin of Senebhenaef copyright Wolfram Grajetzki
copyright Wolfram Grajetzki

The fragments suggest that the areas of text (with a background colour of yellow) were enclosed by a green and yellow border. Only four fragments have any other colour beyond this border – in one case red, another yellow, and in the other two black. Grajetzki surmises that the coffin had a mainly black background (as was common during the second intermediate period) with a yellow panel featuring female figures in the middle. He proposes that the red fragment may come from a second coffin, another object, or an additional red frame for the text on the columns of the long side of the coffin.

All of the images of animals on the coffin have been mutilated to render them harmless (again, as was usual for second intermediate period coffins).

Fragment of the Coffin of Senebhenaef copyright Wolfram Grajetzki
copyright Wolfram Grajetzki

The coffin features a number of texts prefaced by the phrase “djed medu” (words spoken by the god) which first appeared towards the end of the twelfth dynasty. This form of text became fairly standardized during the thirteenth dynasty, making it possible to reconstruct the textual layout of the coffin with a reasonable degree of certainty even though we only have a few fragments to work with.

It was most likely a box coffin with vertical columns of text separating panels with further lines of text. At the short end of the coffin images of two mourners are separated by a single line of vertical text. It is likely (given the space occupied by the panels of text) that there were four or five vertical columns of text on each long side.

There is also an almost complete copy of Spell 369 of the Coffin Texts.

Spell for expelling all snakes
O Rerek, go with the legs of Shu because you have eaten a mouse, the abomination of Ra; and you have crunched the bones of a putrefied cat.

This spell is almost identical to Spell 33 of the Book of the Dead, but that spell refers to Geb and not Shu, so it is clearly the Coffin Texts version that is present here. This spell also features on three coffins from el Bersheh, one from Qau el-Kebir and the coffin of Queen Montuhotep.

The coffin also features the beginning of Spell 149 of the Book of the Dead, for which there is no Coffin Text equivalent.

First mound
O Osiris, Mouth of Nekhen, Senebhenaef true of voice, it is the west of the gods, where one lives of …

This is the earliest copy of Spell 149 so far uncovered, but it is not exactly the same as the standard version which starts with “words spoken by..” and does not refer to the first mound as being “of the gods”.

This would seem to represent a fascinating stepping stone between the Coffin Texts and the Book of the Dead. It supports the idea that the development of religious texts was gradual, and that rather than the Book of the Dead replacing an entirely separate body of work, the Coffin Texts, we should view the process as a natural evolution based partly on the change in the material on which the texts were written.

As coffins became more anthropoid in form and so less able to provide a suitable canvas for large quantities of text, the Egyptians turned to papyrus to record their funerary texts – texts that given a name of their own during the reign of Hatshepsut: “the Book of Coming Forth by Day” (the Book of the Dead).

The Canopic Jar

Canopic Jar of Senenhenaef copyright Wolfram Grajetzki

The Canopic Jar (left) is formed from clay. It has a human head with a painted blue wig and wears a broad blue and red collar. The body of the jar is yellow with a wavy red pattern probably intended to imitate wood grain. There is a rectangular area of blue hieroglyphic text on a red background on the body of the jar.

While canopic jars with human heads were not uncommon during the Middle Kingdom, they are rare during the Second Intermediate Period. This is one of the latest examples datable to that period. The canopic jars give his name as Senebhenaenef which Grajetzki persuasively argues is merely a copying error and should also be read as Senebhenaef as it appears on the coffin.

The text reads…

Honoured […] before Isis, the mysterious goddess and Duamutef [this] “mouth of Nekhen” Senebhenenef, true of voice. Made by “The one of the Ten Greats of Upper Egypt”, Saimen, true of voice. Born of the “Lady of the House”, Ibia, true of voice.

  • Grajetzki, Wolfram (2003) Burial Customs in Ancient Egypt
  • Grajetzki, W. (2006) “Another Early Source for the Book of the Dead: The Second Intermediate Period Burial D 25 at Abydos” Studien Zur Altägyptischen Kultur, 34 pp.205-216
  • Grajetzki, W. (2007) “Box Coffins in the late Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period” Egitto E Vicino Oriente Vol 30 pp 41-54
  • Excavation Report El Amrah and Abydos (1899-1901)

Copyright: text J Hill (2018)
Copyright: images Wolfram Grajetzki (2006)