Examining coffin reuse in the Third Intermediate Period
Project DirectorKara Cooney
AffiliationUniversity of California, Los Angeles
The UCLA Coffins Project’s ongoing work on ancient Egyptian coffin reuse in the context of the Bronze Age Collapse (especially during the 21st Dynasty) is timely given current discussions about social crisis and collapse. Cooney’s extensive coffin reuse work is a wide-scale systematic examination, concentrating on large collections of coffins in museums and research institutions. To date, Cooney and her team have examined over 300 coffins in 26 museums and research institutions in 24 cities throughout the United States and Europe. This project has engaged her for the last ten years, and she has been able to demonstrate that even when all economic conditions pointed towards abandoning funerary materiality, human beings continued to demand and produce crafted objects in the hope of manufacturing social prestige and religious efficacy. This was done even if it drove ancient Egyptians to taking ancestor mummies out of body containers and reusing them. Coffins are social documents, and Cooney uses these objects to elucidate human reactions to social collapse and economic scarcity.
This project contributes the first systematic analysis of coffin reuse in ancient Egypt, both synchronically and diachronically, as well as providing a longue durée case study for larger crisis studies research. Cooney’s analysis thus far shows a reuse rate of over 60%, a rate of coffin reuse so high as to suggest the normalization of the recommodification of funerary arts, at least during times of crisis. Her research in Egypt took place in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo as well as the Museum of Mummification in Luxor, focusing on the documentation and analysis of coffins from the Deir el Bahari Royal Cache (Theban Tomb 320) and the royal cache found in the tomb of Amenhotep II (Kings Valley 35). Most of the coffins she has examined have not been removed from their vitrines in decades, let alone analyzed or properly documented. As this work moves into further analysis of the data collected, Cooney’s project will offer new opportunities to share the data digitally with scholars across the globe and facilitate collaborative study of ancient Egyptian coffins.
American Research Center in Egypt’s Antiquities Endowment Fund (funded through USAID); UCLA Academic Senate; UCLA Faculty Diversity and Development; Ahmanson Research Funds through Cotsen Institute of Archaeology; Cotsen Institute of Archaeology; Berlin, Germany, Ägyptisches Museum; Bristol, UK, City Museum and Art Gallery; Brussels, Belgium, Musée Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire; Cairo, Egypt, Egyptian Museum; Copenhagen, Denmark, Copenhagen Nationalmuseet (Dr. Anne Haslund-Hansen); Copenhagen, Denmark, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek (Dr. Mogens Jørgensen); Cortona, Italy, Museo dell'Accademia; Edinburgh, UK, National Museums of Scotland; Exeter, UK, Royal Albert Memorial Museum; Florence, Italy, Museo Archeologico (Dr. Maria-Christina Guidotti); Houston, TX, USA, Houston Museum of Natural Science; Leeds, UK, City Museum; Leiden, Netherlands, Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (Dr. Christian Greco); Liverpool, UK, World Museum, National Museums Liverpool; London, UK, British Museum (Dr. John Taylor); London, UK, Petrie Museum; New York, NY, USA, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Paris, France, Musée du Louvre (Dr. Heléne Guichard); Stockholm, Sweden, Stockholm Medelhavsmuseet (Dr. Fredrik Helander); Swansea, UK, The Wellcome Museum; Turin, Italy, Museo Egizio (Dr. Eleni Vasilika); Vienna, Austria, Kunsthistorisches Museum (Dr. Regina Hoelzl); Warrington, UK, Warrington Museum & Art Gallery; Musei Vaticani, Vatican City (Dr. Alessia Amenta)
André J. Veldmeijer & Erno Endenburg (Photos/Processing Figures)