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Egyptian coffin (detail)The Fitzwilliam Museum houses over two hundred coffins and coffin fragments from ancient Egypt. Technical investigation of about 120 have been carried out so far, focussing in 2014–15 on coffins which were featured in the Death on the Nile exhibition. Of the most complete coffins, most have been the subject of preliminary study but further analytical work is still required. This mainly involves VIL and UV imaging, and some pigment/paste analysis. Further work is also required in investigating painting techniques.

Substantial work has been carried out on textual and iconographic aspects, but this requires further amplification, and the Roman plaster masks await study. Considerable archival work has been undertaken, which has, in the process, enhanced our understanding of the formation of the Egyptian collection as a whole, but further work is still required to complete the process.

The Project’s most significant results at present highlight the widespread re-use of wood – not only in the New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period, but also earlier, in the Middle Kingdom. This raises important questions about the attitudes of the Egyptians to this practice and the need to distinguish between the re-use of wood from an old coffin and the wholesale re-working of a coffin. Attitudes may have been different to both of these. The findings from this research is already having an impact on our understanding of the materiality of tomb robbery: it has been long known that the types of objects stolen from tombs in Thebes during the late 20th/early 21st Dynasties included coffins but our understanding of the reasons for this and how this type of theft was carried out requires some revision.