The function of a mummy mask

Egypt at the Manchester Museum

Acc. no. 7931. Early New Kingdom.

A mummy mask provided protection – both physical and magical – to the head of the mummy. Masks were introduced in the First Intermediate Period (c. 2181-2955 BC) and were used until Roman times (30BC-395AD). They show the deceased in an idealised form, like a god who has triumphed over death. The use of gilding on masks of the wealthy symbolises the golden skin of the gods.

Spell 151 from the Book of the Dead – the ‘Spell for the Head-of-Mystery’ – makes the function of the mask explicit:

Anubis speaks, the embalmer, lord of the divine hall, when he has placed his hands on the coffin of [the deceased] and equipped him with what [he] needs: ‘Hail, O beautiful of face, lord of vision, whom Ptah-Sokar has gathered together and whom Anubis has upraised, to whom Shu gave support, O beautiful of face…

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