Note Accompanying a Mummy

SB I 2639 (ÄM 11851)


Two women, a baker and a mummy? What was their relationship? Whose mummy is it? The text on this unusual wooden tablet raises many questions, only a few of which can be answered. But at least it seems to be about the transport of a mummy to the place of burial. Two women play a special, if unclear, role in this.

It was an ancient Egyptian custom to label mummies with a small wooden tag that provided information about the deceased. They have at least one hole through which a string could be pulled to attach the tag to the mummy. Some mummy labels also included freight instructions for the mummy, giving information about costs, places of dispatch and destination, and details of transport. Tying such wooden plaques to mummies is a custom that appeared in Egypt from the 1st century AD at the latest and remained common in the following centuries.

The wooden tablet presented here is among the earliest evidence of these texts and is dated on the basis of its palaeography to the period of the transition from the Ptolemaic period to the Roman period, i.e. to the 1st century BC – 1st century AD. It was found in the necropolis of Akhmim, the ancient Panopolis, and acquired by Robert Forrer for the Berlin collection in 1894.

This wooden tablet is only fragmentarily preserved. A larger piece of wood with two to three lines of text is probably missing at the top. A part could also be missing at the pierced handle. In addition, the Greek of the text is very faulty. Therefore, it is difficult to interpret. The text begins by stating that something is to be taken to the capital of the Panopolites, Panopolis. What is being transported has not been preserved in the text, but was probably mentioned in the missing part of the same. Only on the basis of the external shape of the tablet can one assume with some certainty that it was about a mummy. The name of the deceased is thus unfortunately also lost. After that, a Thatres is named, who is the daughter of Thaesis. About her we learn that she is to be found within the city walls. Whether the mummy is now to be handed over to her remains open. However, it is very likely, since she is named directly after the location. Further instructions are given in the remaining lines. The recipient of the tablet is to ask Melas the baker where Thermouthis lives, who is the wife of Pagorasis. In the last line he is urged to hurry.

What connection there was between these two parts of the text and thus also between the persons mentioned remains unclear. All the persons mentioned are only known from this text. However, it can be assumed that Thatres and Thermouthis had a personal relationship with the deceased, even if it can no longer be determined what kind it was. All in all, this wooden tablet is thus probably less to be described as a mummy label than as a mummy accompanying letter.

This Note Accompanying a Mummy was on display in the special exhibition „Akhmim – Egypt’s Forgotten City“.

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