Maintaining a connection with the dead in ancient Egypt

In ancient Egypt the dead the living maintained a connection to the dead through a mortuary chapel and offerings.

Ancient Egyptian coffin painted with winged serpent

Ancient Egyptian coffin painted with winged serpent
Photographer:  © Australian Museum

One way in which the dead remained connected to the world of the living was through the mortuary chapel. Their spirit, or ka, was able to access this space through the tomb’s false door and take up a physical form by inhabiting a statue of the dead person. This allowed the ka to accept the food, drink and other essentials that visitors placed on the nearby offering table.

Every ancient Egyptian would hope that their tomb would be well maintained and their spirit looked after when they died. However, should the living cease to make offerings to their spirit, the tomb decorations, inscriptions and objects were designed to ensure they would still be well supplied in the afterlife.

For most of the history of ancient Egypt, it was typical for the mortuary chapel and tomb to be situated near each other. This tradition changed in the New Kingdom, when the rulers of the 18th Dynasty started to bury their bodies in hidden tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Their mortuary chapels were built elsewhere. This trend became popular with other wealthy Egyptians and it wasn’t until the Late Period that mortuary chapels and tombs were again built close to each other.

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Tags mortuary chapel, offerings, life after death, ancient Egypt,