Pottery: Transforming Ancient Egypt’s Funerary Practices

Pottery has been an important way of creating materials since for over 16,000 years (Violatti). Many archaeologists find different forms of pottery in their excavations. They use it as a way to date the sites. The reason for many forms of pottery are found in excavations is due to pottery being extremely durable, thus withstanding many environmental changing, in addition to being abundant, allowing many different types of people to acquire the material. The earliest evidence of pottery was found in Japan, dating back to 16,500 – 14,920 years ago (Violatti). In Egypt, pottery has been found to date back to 10,000 years ago. In ancient Egypt, many people used pottery as part of funerary practices, in the form of canopic jars, chamber decorations, and offering trays.

Canopic jars were used by the pharaohs and elite to house the organs of the deceased. The heart is usually put back into the body after being cleaned in order to continue with the soul to the afterlife. The rest of the organs are placed in four different jars, each housing a different organ, with one of the son of Horus being drawn on the front of each jar as a form of protection. Horus was the god of the sky and known as the protector of Egypt by the ancient Egyptians. The organs that were placed in each of the jars included the “lungs, liver, intestines, and stomach that were removed during mummification” (Teeter, 358). These jars accompanied the mummified body in the tomb, which was part of a larger shrine.

Images of canopic jars taken at the Rosicrucian Museum in San Jose, CA 

In addition to canopic jars, tiles made from pottery were used to decorate the walls of the tomb. Large amounts of effort was put into the decorations of the tomb, especially at Deir el Medina, also known as the “Valley of the Kings”, where multiple pharaohs were buried. Many tombs were covered in prayers and spells from the Book of the Dead in order to assist the deceased through the transition of the afterlife. However, others had walls covered in different colored tiles to beautify the tombs. Greens and blues were used to replicate grass and reeds. The tombs were considered the very last resting place for the body of the pharaoh; thus, the tombs were required to be beautiful and have extensive work put into it in order to be an appropriate eternal burial ground for the pharaoh.

Image of ceramic tiles from Tombs of the Pharaoh taken at Rosicrucian Museum in San Jose, CA

Lastly, pottery was used to create offering trays and altars for the gods. In order to assist the pharaoh’s transition into the afterlife offering trays and altars, in addition to spells, were placed in the tombs. Family and those who worked under the pharaoh were able to come and place offering in the tomb in order to please the gods. In the Early Kingdom, the pharaoh was seen as the only link between the people and the gods. In order of the people to please the gods, they had to go through the pharaoh and please him. In order to do this, many placed offerings in the tombs of the pharaoh, including food and various purification liquids.



Images of a offering tray and an altar taken at the Rosicrucian Museum in San Jose, CA

As seen, pottery was an extremely important aspect of the funerary practices of ancient Egypt. In order for many of the practices to have been established, pottery was required. Throughout the time of ancient Egypt, pottery was able to transform. It began with limestone pottery and eventually evolved to ceramic pottery, involving firing the materials at extremely high temperatures in a kiln. The transformation allowed the people to change and add or remove parts of their funerary practices. Through pottery, archeologists today are able to date excavation sites and determine the purpose of various rituals of ancient Egypt.





Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power: An Unlikely Story

In ancient Egypt, it was uncommon for a woman to hold significant power. Although there were a few royal women during the 18th dynasty, such as Queen Ahhotep, who was Ahmose’s mother and regent, who held a military and protective role in Egypt, and Tetisheri, who was the grandmother of Ahmose and has a shrine in Abydos with Ahmose’s complex, most Egyptian women did not hold any substantial role. However, in the 18th dynasty one women held a powerful role and was able to gain a considerable amount of power and a significant amount of support in a short period of time. Hatshepsut was the daughter of King Thutmose I and was married to her half-brother, Thutmose II, a concubine’s son. With Thutmose II, she had her own daughter, Nefrure (Cooney, 3). There were indeed female pharaohs before Hatshepsut; however, none of the reigns of the earlier female rulers lasted as long as that of Hatshepsut, and none of their legacies were as noteworthy as that of Hatshepsut. Although there is evidence in the types of strategies used by Hatshepsut to gain power, it is unclear whether the use of religion or gender played a stronger role in garnering support from the people.

Role of Religion in Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power

Similar to other leaders of Egypt, Hateshepsut’s role in power began with her role in religion. She initially was the “God’s wife of Amen” who was required to fulfill certain religious obligations, such as awakening Amen in the morning and giving offerings (Cooney, 7). Being the God’s wife of Amen was an influential role in Egypt due to how important Amen was to the people. Amen was the god who created all beings and after whom all other gods were made. There were many temples dedicated to Amen at the time and if Hatshepsut did not fulfill her role as the God’s wife, all “creation would stop” (Cooney, 14). Although Hatshepsut did not initially become a pharaoh, she assisted her husband in making many decisions regarding Egypt, such as “which families to avoid, and how to make his mark as a monarch” (Cooney, 6). Due to prior experience in roles such as being an advisor to her husband and being one of main priestesses in Egypt, Hatshepsut was aware of the significance of religion on the daily lives of the people. In order to be accepted as a king, she had to prove why she was chosen for the role through religion. As a result, Hatshepsut made many temples. She linked temple-building to “marking herself as the chosen one” (Cooney, 148). By building many temples, mostly out of stone, Hatshepsut was able to connect herself to the gods by proving her devotion. In ancient Egypt, people believed that by continuously worshipping the gods through temple building, giving offerings, and performing rituals to ensure the gods are satisfied, they would be protected so no evil could approach them. One of the major roles of the Pharaoh was to have a strong, deep connection to the gods in order to protect all people under the Pharaoh from harm. In addition, Hatshepsut claimed to have been “the daughter of Amun-Re” who was sent specifically from the gods “as [a] guardian of Egypt, [and] protector of nobles and commoners” (Lichteim, 26). Thus, in order to protect the people, temple building in addition to restoration of older temples was essential to show the people that the gods were content with her role as leader.  In addition, Hatshepsut was able to gain access and acceptance to kingship by building a funerary temple and depicting herself as “an external Osiris king after death” (Cooney ,166). Osiris is the god of the underworld, who helps pharaohs cross from the life on earth to the afterlife. By presenting herself as Osiris, Hatshepsut indicates that she herself is a god and will live among the gods after death.

Image of a statue of seated Hatshepsut. Hatshepsut is depicted in  male attire but feminine body shape. Image via Metropolitan Museum 

Role of Gender in Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power

In addition to ensuring the people accepted her from a religious point of view, Hatshepsut also had to ensure the people would take her seriously as their ruler. In order to prove herself, Hatshepsut had to find ways for people to look towards her as a real, true king; one who was chosen by the gods to deliver messages to the people. To be taken seriously, Hatshepsut had to portray herself as a man. She claimed to be as “mighty [as] the son of Nut” and “rule [the] land like the son of Isis” indicating that she indeed will fulfill her duties as a man, not a woman (Lichteim, 28). In ancient Egypt, people believed that men were more powerful than women due to the man’s ability to produce seed from which new life is born and being able to protect one’s family from outsiders. In addition, Hatshepsut states that she “[wore] the red crown” in addition to the “white crown”, which are parts of the outfit of the male pharaoh (Lichteim, 28). Hatshepsut understood the realities of being accepted as a king – realties that included being unable to change kingship to follow her gender by birth and instead forced to change her gender in order to conform to Egyptian thought of kingship. In addition to the clothing and ruling style being similar to that of a male ruler, Hatshepsut’s statues also became more male over time, eventually coming to the point where all her statues were masculine. Initially, the statues of Hatshepsut included “some masculine elements to her feminine figures” (Cooney, 154). However, over time the statues began “including a stronger chin, nose, and brow” in addition to having skin that was painted “both a yellow and red pigment”, highlighting the transformation into solely masculine features on the statues (Cooney, 155). The reason for the transformation was to ensure the people did not view Hatshepsut as having any of the weaknesses associated with women at the time.  In psychology, there exists the concept of the repetition principle, which states that if something is repeatedly seen or heard, it becomes more accepted and persuasive. By only having masculine statues, people would be able to forget that Hatshepsut was a woman and solely view her as a man, thus taking her seriously as a ruler.

Image of  a kneeling statue of Hatshepsut. Hatshepsut is depicted in male attire as well as male body.  Image via Metropolitan Museum

Role of the Sed Festival in Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power

Lastly, Hatshepsut was able to use the Sed festival as a way to link her rule to that of her fathers in addition to linking her to the religion. The Sed Festival took place after “thirty years of continuous rule” although Hatshepsut had only ruled for fifteen as a reagent and king (Cooney, 159).  In total, however, including the rule of her father, husband, and Thutmose III, it did indeed make up thirty years of continuous rule. It required years of planning and preparation in order to create new temple structures, monumental stone architecture, and obelisks. It was a way for kings to renew their perspectives on their rule and start over. Through the festival, Hatshepsut created stories about her birth, one in which she was born from the union of the god Amen-Re and her mother, Ahmes (Cooney, 163). Through this birth, Hatshepsut was able to show that she contained the “royal spirit” right “from her first moment of existence in her mother’s womb” due to having a father who was a god (Cooney, 163). As a result, Hatshepsut could validate her rule with the support of the gods, by claiming she was destined for rule since conception. In addition, she showed that “[her father’s] successes were hers as well” which “designat[ed] her as his true heir” (Cooney, 161). Hatshepsut was able to use this jubilee to remind people that she was a descendant of a king, which authorized her power. It was the first time that Hatshepsut claimed to be the rightful descendant, the true son, of her father. She also took the opportunity to display herself “as a father figure to Thutmose III” (Cooney 162). By presenting herself in such a manner and reminding the people of her evident male lineage, she was able to “remake her public image” as that of a male and allow people to forget the image of her as a woman (Cooney, 162).


Image of the Temple of Hatshepsut (in 1912) at Deir el Bahri. Image via Metropolitan Museum

As seen, both gender and religion play a larger role in assisting Hatshepsut gain significant power in Egypt. Many times, both factors overlap in their effects, as seen in the Sed Festival. Gender and religion were also required in combination for Hatshepsut to gain enough momentum and support to leave her legacy. To distinguish which one is stronger in assisting Hatshepsut establish herself is own is difficult and nearly impossible. Religion played a critical role in the everyday lives of people, in which gender roles were firmly established. Similarly, within gender roles there were crucial religious obligations of each sex.  Hatshepsut was able to use both factors efficiently and effectively to garner strength for her reign and leave a legacy unlike any before. A legacy that continued well beyond her reign and is still spoken about today.







Can Glorification Lead to Obsession?

According to Merriam Webster, the definition of an obsession is stated to be “a persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling” .(Merriam Webster)  However, I feel as through the term obsession means much more. For me, obsession means a fascination with an idea or object where one’s entire day or life is spent revolving around the idea; where people are willing to do and sacrifice anything for the idea. However, when an “obsession” becomes common in everyday society, it is not termed an “obsession” anymore but instead becomes normalized and regular thought. When the first smartphones and computers came out, those who could afford them were “obsessed” and would never leave them. However, in current day almost everyone has a smartphone and rarely are people willing to go without them for even one hour. Throughout history, the things people were fascinated with changed over time. In the 1800s, people became “obsessed” with finding gold and would travel great distances, sometimes across the entire United States, in attempts to strike rich. But later, when this became normalized thousands of people were seen traveling across the United States in attempts for the same dream. In terms of ancient Egypt, however, the ancient Egyptians thought very highly of the afterlife. They viewed their life in this world as a mere stepping stone to the luxurious and carefree world of the hereafter; one in which they would live amongst the gods through their connection to the king, or Pharaoh. The story of a Dispute Between a Man and His Ba exemplifies this thinking in describing a dialogue between a man and his ba, or soul. In ancient Egypt, the ba is thought to leave the body at death and live in the afterlife. However, in order for a person to enjoy the afterlife, their ba must be with them at the time of death. The story is about a man who wants to accept death immediately, but his ba threatens to desert him if he does. From the story of a Man and His Ba as well as other ancient texts including Coffin Texts and the Harper’s Song, I gained the perspective that the ancient Egyptians glorification of the afterlife developed into an obsession, as seen through the building of great tombs, the feeling of captivity in the current life,  and the idolization of the sun-god Re. An obsession that initially began amongst the elite class of ancient Egypt but eventually spread to the common man.

The Pyramids

When most people think of Egypt, they immediately associate it with pyramid building. Pyramids in ancient Egypt were built as tombs for the Pharaohs, or kings, in ancient Egypt. They were viewed as stairways to heaven to connect to the gods in the afterlife. The greatness of one’s tomb was associated with the type of afterlife they may have. As mentioned in the story of a Dispute Between a Man and His Ba, the man planned to build a “tomb, whose burial a survivor tends” (165), showing the ba that it will be taken care of after death and trying to persuade his ba to allow him to die. After death, people were assigned to tombs to take care of them, including cleaning and removing the sacrifices and offerings others placed. By having someone take care of the tomb, the ba would have an easier transition to the afterlife, by being able to have food through its journey and sacrifices to offer the gods once in the afterlife.

Image of the Great Pyramids, which served as tombs for various Pharaohs of ancient Egypt, such as Khafara and Khufu (Image via LifeScience)

Establishing Their Legacy

In addition, through the building of great tombs, the obsession with the afterlife and establishing one’s own legacy is seen. Pharaohs spend their entire lives planning, directing, and commanding people to build these large monuments. They wanted to ensure that not only the gods but also the regular people saw everything they had accomplished in this life and to ensure they would be remembered after death. By establishing a legacy and being remembered after death, the Pharaohs felt more confident about being amongst the gods in the afterlife, as they did their “duty” in their life on Earth and had proved themselves to the gods. Having the Pharaohs build large tombs is also similar to how people in current day establish large companies in their names and donate large sums of money to companies in order to be remembered as well. Establishing a legacy allows one to ensure that they will never be forgotten and that they will have been able to fully establish their purpose in this life.

Image of the Sphinx, which served to protect Khafara and his pyramid and part of the establishment of his legacy (Image via Guardian’s Sphinx)

Transition from Obsession to Common Thought

Within funerary temples, like the pyramids, people would often write “coffin texts” on the walls. Coffin texts were an adaptation of pyramid texts from the Old Kingdom to the Middle Kingdom. They would be written on or inside the coffin and often include spells that protected the deceased after death and model the life they hoped to live in the hereafter. The text states that those “who knows [the] spell, [they] will be like Re”(133). Re was the sun god in ancient Egypt who was thought to have created everything. The statement emphasizes who it was not just the pharaoh who was able to enjoy a luxurious afterlife, but anyone in the society who believed in this ideology. The coffin text showcase how the initial concept of glorification began with just the pharaohs but eventually spread to the common man. What initially began as an “obsession” amongst the higher elite eventually turned into normal everyday thought. It no longer remained an “obsession” but instead just became a part of common reality.

Image of a coffin text, containing spells to assist and protect the deceased in life after death (Image via The Oriental Institute)

Embracing Death

Unlike current day where people want to ensure they lived their life to the fullest and many fear death, in ancient Egypt people embraced death whenever it came in addition to living their life on Earth to its fullest. The Harper’s Song is a poem where the main concept was death and the narrator tries to reassure the person to whom the tomb belongs to of his goal in the afterlife. The song states that “death is a kindly fate” and that people should “make [a] holiday” after deaths in addition to “[doing] things on earth as [their] hearts command” (197). These statements highlight the view of ancient Egyptians willing to embrace death due to the adoration of the afterlife; as people saw it, what was the point of this life if one will eventually be able to live with the gods and have little to no responsibilities later on? In addition, the ancient Egyptians wanted to be sure that the life they lived on Earth was worth living and that although grief after death does occur, people should not be too taken aback by it; as it will occur and instead be celebrated as the decreased are moving onto a better life.


As seen, the glorification of the afterlife lead the ancient Egyptian Pharaohs being obsessed with the hereafter as seen through the pyramid building and The Dispute between a Man and His Ba. However, once this view became normalized, it no longer remained an obsession due to perforating into common, everyday thought which was seen through the Coffin Texts and the Harper’s Song.  Some ancient Egyptians wanted to spend their entire lives ensuring they would be worthy of living amongst the gods in the afterlife, while others were willing to cut their lives short to attain the riches and luxuries of the afterlife sooner. Although these views may seem odd and obsession-like to people in current day, it was just regular life to the ancient Egyptians. It is similar to how in current day, some people are willing to do anything to get a certain name-brand bag, including stealing. To the ancient Egyptians, this want of name-brands may have also been viewed as an “obsession”. The main difference is views in common society. What may be normalized in our society was not to the ancient Egyptians and it is our responsibility to appreciate the differences in societies and learn how to understand them from the perspective of the ancient Egyptians.