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'Opening of the Mouth' objects

In the 1998 season we found a number of objects in the burial of Senneferi which we did not understand. Archaeologists often use the term 'ritual object' to describe something they do not understand , but here we think we now begin to understand these pieces, and they do seem like real ritual objects. Here they are:

adzes adze text

They are made of elephant ivory, now very decayed; they are very fragile. On the curving narrow face of both is the beginning of a Htp di nzwt formula (not in the photo), while on the opposite face of one is the longer text shown here, and on the top of the other the shorter text.

I wish to thank René van Walsem of Leiden University for suggesting the following interpretation of these objects in June 1999.

The first text reads: nw n Ab wr HkAw rn.f, 'an adze of ivory whose name is wr HkAw', and the second nw imy-wt, 'an adze (called) imy-wt'. It would appear that both texts give names of adzes used in the Opening of the Mouth ritual, and they appear in a list on a relief from the late 18th dynasty tomb of Merymery at Saqqara, now in Leiden (Inv. AP.6). As the objects we have found are made of ivory, perhaps they are real implements which were buried with the deceased, or perhaps used in the burial ritual and then forgotten and left in the burial chamber? No parallels to them are known, which renders a precise explanation of their form and presence here uncertain.

The two other adjacent photos show other angles taken in 1999. The upper shows a fragment of the curved back of one adze, and the other the profile of one of the heads. You can see that they do (with imagination) look like the hieroglyph adze glyph.

adze handle

adze head

The Opening of the Mouth ritual was part of the process of bringing the deceased back to life. We believe that, before the mummy was placed in the tomb, the eyes and mouth were ritually opened, using a variety of spells and implements, so that the dead person could see and breathe again. This scene is shown in a number of tomb paintings and Book of the Dead papyri; it was also performed on statues and wall reliefs in temples.

What is really interesting is that there are other objects which might be related to these two:

opening mouth implements opening mouth ostrakon

TT57The photo on the left shows at the top a wooden model of a leg of meat, a khepesh, while the wooden item in the middle is clearly an elongated finger. The item at the bottom looks very much like the end of a censer. Scenes in the Opening of the Mouth ritual employ these three items, and so we wonder whether these are more items which belong with the ivory adzes. The broken item on the right is a potsherd, decorated on both sides with sketches of male figures before mummies; this is exactly like the scenes of the ritual of the Opening of the Mouth as seen on tomb walls, including in TT99. Perhaps this sherd was part of a guide for the ritual?

At the right is a photograph of a scene containing lots of Opening the Mouth implements outside the tomb of Khaemhat in Thebes (TT57).

© Nigel Strudwick 1997-2014