New Study Finds That Ancient Egyptian Pot Burials Were Not Just For The Poor

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Jan 04, 2017 12:37 PM EST

A recent study has made new discoveries on the ancient Egyptian pot burial practice. Egyptian burial is a common term for the ancient Egyptian funerary rituals concerning death and the soul's journey to the afterlife.

Egyptian burial rites were practiced as early as 4000 BCE and reflect this vision of eternity. The earliest preserved body from a tomb is that of so-called 'Ginger', discovered in Gebelein, Egypt, and dated to 3400 BCE.

According to historians, eternity was the common destination of every man, woman and child in Egypt but not "eternity" as in an afterlife above the clouds but, an eternal Egypt which mirrored one's life on earth. The afterlife for the ancient Egyptians was "The Field of Reeds" which was a perfect reflection of the life one had lived on earth.

The burial rights are believed to ensure immortality after death, the rituals include mummifying the body, casting magic spells and burial with specific grave good thought to be necessary in the Egyptian afterlife, such as jewelries, food, games and sharpened splint. This belief became well known throughout the ancient world via cultural transmission through trade.

In ancient times, many people including Egyptians buried some of their dead in ceramic pots or urns. However, it was previously thought that the pot burials were for children from poor families, but at least in ancient Egypt, the practice was not limited to children or to poor families, according to the new analysis.

Ronika Power, a Bioarchaeologist and Yann Tristant, an Egyptologist from Macquarie University in Sydney, reviewed published accounts of pot burials at 46 burial sites, most of which are near the Nile River and dating back to 3300 B.C. to 1650 B.C., according to Nerdrage News.

More than half of the burial site contained the remains of adults. Pot burials were less common than expected for children. Out of 746 children - infants and fetuses interred in various kinds of burial container, 329 were buried in pots and 338 were buried in wooden coffins despite the scarcity and cost of wood. Others were placed in baskets or containers fashioned from materials such as reeds or limestone.

An infant was found in a pot containing beads covered in gold foil, in the tomb of a wealthy governor. Other pot burials held myriad goods such as gold, ostrich eggshell beads, ivory, clothing or ceramics. The deceased were either placed directly in the urns, or the pots were broken or cut to fit the bodies, according to Science News.

The researchers now propose that the bereaved deliberately chose the containers, in part for symbolic reasons, as the hollow vessels, which symbolize the womb, may have been used to represent a rebirth into the afterlife. They published their findings in the December Antiquity.

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