Today, this ancient burial chamber is known as Tomb 10A. Several of the wooden coffins found within were covered with writing and painted iterations of food, clothing, and funerary objects—almost all of it on the interior, on the surfaces closest to the deceased. The scope and content of the decoration astounded archaeologists and revealed much about how the Egyptians manifested visual representations of death, the afterlife, and funerary practices.
For the ancient Egyptians, death was not a conclusion, but rather an act of revival: With the proper assistance, the deceased could reach the afterlife and enjoy existence in that realm. But it wouldn’t be easy. “They believed reaching the afterlife would be a challenge,” explains Denise Doxey, curator of ancient Egyptian, Nubian, and near Eastern art at the MFA Boston. The writing on the coffins’ interior—dubbed the Coffin Texts—“were thought to protect [the Egyptians] against the dangers they would face en route to the afterlife,” Doxey continues. “Scenes in tombs and on coffins were intended to magically produce food, clothing and other provisions for use in the afterlife.”
In Tomb 10A, for example, images of jewelry, weapons, pillows, and even shoes find their way onto the wood. In addition, Doxey notes, the burial chamber contained the most wooden funerary models ever found in a single tomb—sculptural representations of real-life objects that would provide sustenance and more in the afterlife. As Tomb 10A revealed, the Egyptians believed a painted set of sandals would be as much help in the afterlife as actual woven ones.
But before the food and the sandals and the weapons could be used, the deceased first had to find his or her way to the afterlife—a journey rife with trials and dangers. Prior to the Middle Kingdom, Doxey says, Egyptians relied on either written texts or verbal descriptions to find their way. But in Tomb 10A, painted on the interior of one of the coffins, was one of the first known maps to the underworld: a visual diagram detailing how best to get to the afterlife. Known as the Book of Two Ways, the map was visualized as two undulating paths, replete with gatekeepers and demons one would encounter on the way to the afterlife.