ancient egyptian mummy coffin

© Plymouth City Council (Arts and Heritage)

Looking good for a 2,700 year old lady!

When you’ve worked in a Museum and Art Gallery for over eight years you get used to seeing works of art and intriguing objects. Sometimes you forget how lucky you are to spend each day surrounded by things with such amazing histories.

One of the objects that never ceases to fascinate me is the inner mummy coffin that was on display in our ‘Ancient Egypt’ gallery. This was a small but interesting space that featured a selection of objects collected by archaeologists between the 1830s and 1920s.

We actually have two mummy coffins in our collections – but due to their age and fragility we only displayed one at a time.

Both coffins are beautifully decorated and date from around 700BC. They originally came from Western Thebes, the capital of Ancient Egypt (now the site of modern-day Luxor).

It’s likely they were discovered at the same site. They were imported to England in the 1830s by Thomas Garrard, City Treasurer of Bristol.

One of our coffins belonged to a Priest called Iyhat. The photograph shows our coffin that belonged to a Lady called Tairy.

The hieroglyphic inscriptions on Tairy’s coffin tell us that her parents were called Ashery and Denitenbastet.

Unfortunately, her mummy is no longer contained inside. In the Victorian era mummy unwrapping parties were quite commonplace. We believe her body was unwrapped at an Egyptology lecture held in Bristol in 1834.

I visited the Red Sea area in early 2008. While I was there I went to the Valley of the Kings in Luxor where I saw the mummy of famous Egyptian Pharoah, Tutankhamun.

Tairy’s inner mummy coffin actually has something in common with that of ‘King Tut’. The way her arms lie parallel to one another is similar to him and is quite unusual. On most mummy coffins the arms are usually shown to the sides or not at all.

Both Tairy’s hands are shown in relief and this is another distinctive feature. Her right hand is relaxed while her left hand is clenched. We believe it once held some kind of emblem. She has blue, red and yellow bracelets on her wrists and a blue and yellow striped wig.

Tairy and Iyhat’s coffins are mysterious objects – but perhaps that’s what people love about them the most. Whoever they were, and however they made their way to Plymouth, they both provide us with a glimpse into one of the world’s most fascinating and ancient civilisations.

Jo Clarke, Marketing and Programme Development Officer. This article was first published on 25 March 2014.