Examining Cryptic Grave Goods: What Are the Ancient Egyptian Funerary Cones?
Funerary cones are a type of funereal object from ancient Egypt. It is well known that the ancient Egyptians were extremely concerned about the afterlife, and that they did all they could to provide for the dead. Funerary goods were buried with the dead to provide protection and sustenance in the afterlife.
Amulets and magic spells, for example, protected and aided the dead in their journey through the Underworld, whilst little figurines called shabtis could be magically animated to perform tasks for the dead in the afterlife. Other common items buried with the dead include jewelry, pottery, furniture and food. Some funerary goods, including the funerary cones, are, however, less well known.
Making Funerary Cones
Funerary cones are made of fired Nile mud, and are most commonly found to be in the conical shape, hence its name. Nevertheless, there are also funerary cones of other shapes, though these are understandably less common. Other shapes include pyramidal, horn-shaped, trumpet-shapes, double-headed and triple-headed cones (only one example of each is known at present), as well as cone-imitated bricks.
By far, the area in Egypt that has yielded the most number of funerary cones is in the Theban Necropolis in Upper Egypt. Other sites where funerary cones have also been found include Abydos, Naqada, Dendera, Tod and Armant. It may be pointed out that these areas are relatively close to Thebes, and therefore may have adopted this practice from there.
Egyptian funerary cones of Mentuemhet with hieroglyphic script 650 BC. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
On each of the funerary cones, one can find the name of its owner (usually an official serving a pharaoh) and his title. These are stamped onto the face of the cone, which has an average diameter of between 5-10 cm (2-4 inches). The presence of the names of officials and their titles provides a tantalizing ‘Who’s who’ in ancient Egypt, specifically during the 18th Dynasty, from which the majority of funerary cones are dated. Funerary cones from other dynasties have also been found, though in much smaller quantity.
Location and Purpose of Funerary Cones
Some examples of titles (found on cones in the Petrie Museum) include: “overseer of the royal harem, 'father-nurse', chamberlain, overseer of cattle”, which may belong to an official by the name of Ahmose, who served during the reign of Hatshepsut / Thutmose III, “king's messenger in all foreign lands, overseer of the hill-country on the west of Thebes, chief of the Medjay”, which belonged to someone by the name of Dedu, who served Thutmose III / Amenhotep II, and “overseer of the priests of Upper and Lower Egypt, high priest of Amun, overseer of the fields of Amun, steward of Amun, overseer of the granaries (of Amun), overseer of the treasury”, which belonged to Mery, an official of Amenhotep II.
The funerary cones were originally placed on the outer walls of tombs, above the entrance. Evidence supporting this assumption comes from the ancient Egyptians themselves. In the wall paintings of some tombs, for example, the cones are depicted as being placed in this location. Additionally, depictions can be found on certain papyri as well. This is also supported by archaeologists, who report that the funerary cones were found to be in the place shown by the ancient Egyptians.
Nonetheless, there is an instance where funerary cones were found to be located in the court of a tomb, rather than above its entrance. As these cones were found to have been placed neatly side by side, it is assumed that these were in situ. Therefore, there was more than one place for the funerary cones to be positioned.
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Funerary cone from Merymose's tomb, Egypt, Thebes, baked clay. Merymose was the viceroy of Kush under Amenhotep III (18th dynasty). Musée de Mariemont. (CC0 1.0)
It is not entirely clear what the funerary cones were used for, and various hypotheses have been put forward over the years. Some, such as Champollion, suggest that the cones simply served as some sort of labels for the deceased.
Others, such as Petrie, are of the opinion that the cones were symbolic offerings. Amongst others, it has been speculated that the cones were architectural ornaments, architectural material to reinforce the entrance wall, solar symbols, and even phallic symbols. No one knows for certain what the cones were used for, but they were obviously of importance to death rituals for some time.
Featured image: Funerary cones. Photo source: (CC BY-SA 2.0 FR)
By Wu Mingren
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