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Our Global Neighbours: The Colour of Afterlife

By: Dr Stan Florek, Category: Science, Date: 05 Jun 2014

How ancient Egyptians netted themselves blue for eternity.

Egyptian Amulet: E39786

 © Australian Museum

Our Global Neighbours is a blog series containing stories from and about cultures around the world.

The highlight of an ancient Egyptian's life was ultimately their death and burial, followed by the journey into the afterlife. Longing for perpetual existence side by side with the gods was a powerful motivation to make this transition successful.

The final journey to the underworld was a perilous one. Not only did various tests and judgments have to be passed, but there was no second chance in securing eternal life — if a person failed, he would be consumed and cease to exist forever. The ultimate goal was to reach a perfect blissful place called the Field of Rushes.

But first a poor soul must undertake a journey through the underworld. It goes via the Final Hall of Judgment where forty-two divine judges deliver their verdict. Then there is weighing of the heart. If all goes well, a person is allowed entrance to the afterlife in the Field of Rushes, if not he is devoured and cast into darkness.

With an intense desire to secure an ever-lasting place in the afterlife, ample time, effort, and creativity was mastered in preparing for death. Some of the preparations included colour and form. Thus intricate faience nets were fabricated and placed over mummies.

The nets were typically made of turquoise blue tube or bugle-shaped beads strung together to form a rhombus, or diamond pattern. Decorated with the Four Sons of Horus and a winged scarab, their placement over mummies added an extra layer of protection to a person’s organs and soul. These nets were used during the Egyptian New Kingdom period (664-525 BC) but this tradition could be much older. Their luminous colour represents the light of immortality.

To amplify the helpful colour, the walls of tombs were made of faience as well, and so were amulets and figurines of animals, scarabs and human forms to assist in the difficult journey.

Prepared by Natalie Cassaniti and Stan Florek

Explanation:

BC (or BCE) – means Before Common Era, and indicates the years counted back from the first year of the Western Calendar. For example, in 30 BC Rome conquered Egypt and Cleopatra took her own life.