Students will discuss the artistic characteristics of the Mummy Case, describe natural resources found in ancient Egypt and in their local area or state, and create a natural resource collar made from materials found in their local environments.
Intended Age GroupElementary (grades K-5)
Length of LessonOne 50 minute lesson
Standards AreaSocial Studies
Students will be able to:
- examine the artistic characteristics of the Mummy Case;
- locate Egypt on a map of the world and identify some defining features of the country;
- describe natural resources found in ancient Egypt and in their local area or state; and
- create a natural resource collar made from materials found in their local environments.
- Display the Mummy Case and invite students to look carefully and share what they observe. What do they notice about the Mummy Case? What colors do they see? What are three big parts on the case? What is in each part? How are the parts arranged? Where do you see repeating patterns?
- Share with students that the Mummy Case was created by an unknown artist in ancient Egypt around 332–302 B.C. Have students locate Egypt on a world map. Share some quick facts about Egypt (e.g., geography, climate, languages, natural resources, government, history) by distributing or displaying information from appropriate websites such as the World Factbook on Egypt.
- Have the students examine the Mummy Case closely and look for different natural resources represented on the case. Remind the students that natural resources include both living things (e.g., forests, animals) and non-living things (e.g., land, water, minerals). Record observations on chart paper or (interactive) white board.
- Ask the students: What natural resources are portrayed on the Mummy Case (e.g., lotus flowers, birds, jackal)? What natural resources were used to make the case (e.g., cedar wood, gold)? Why do you think the Mummy Case has these objects on it? How did the artist(s) portray and use natural resources from the area in which they lived? Refer to the About the Art section for more information.
- Invite the students to think about and share aloud the different living and non-living natural resources that can be found in the local area or state in which they live. Record the students’ ideas on a large piece of chart paper or (interactive) whiteboard.
- Have the students look at the Mummy Case again and closely examine the flower collar. Tell the students that elaborate flower collars were worn for special events and were often placed around the neck of the mummy inside the case. You may want to show the students a photograph of an actual ancient Egyptian flower collar from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- Invite the students to create collars using flowers or other natural resources from their local environment. An inexpensive approach for this activity would be to have each student cut a piece of poster board in the shape of a collar (or you may want to prepare the collars ahead of time), then have the students glue the different natural resources onto the poster board. You may also choose to use the Egyptian Collar template that we use at the Denver Art Museum. Encourage the students to use patterns like the ancient Egyptians did, such as alternating rows of natural materials.
- When students have finished their creations, be sure to display their work in a prominent place in the classroom.
- Piece of poster board and glue for each student
- Natural materials from the local environment, such as flowers and leaves, for creating natural resource collars
- Large piece of chart paper and colored markers or (interactive) whiteboard on which to record students’ ideas
- Map of the world, visible to all students in the classroom
- Internet access to helpful websites such as:
- World Factbook on Egypt
- Real Floral Egyptian Collar from the Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Egyptian Collar template from the Denver Art Museum
- About the Art section on Mummy Case
- One color copy of the Mummy Case for every four students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen
- Social Studies
- Ask questions, share information and discuss ideas about the past and present
- Analyze historical sources using tools of a historian
- Become familiar with United States geography
- Become familiar with World geography
- Recognize similarities and differences about regions and people using geographic tools
- Understand people and their relationship with geography and their environment
- Visual Arts
- Observe and Learn to Comprehend
- Relate and Connect to Transfer
- Envision and Critique to Reflect
- Language Arts
- Oral Expression and Listening
- Research and Reasoning
21st Century Skills
- Critical Thinking & Reasoning
- Information Literacy
About the Art
Who Made It?
We don’t know who made this case, but we do know that it was made for a man who was thought to be living in Egypt during the 3rd century B.C. Mummification—preserving a person, and in some instances, animals, for the afterlife—was commonly practiced in ancient Egypt. After bodies were mummified, they were placed inside special cases like this one that served to protect the body. This case was carved out of rare cedar wood, which suggests that it was made for a person of high status in Egyptian society. Once the construction of the case was complete, artists painted symbols and hieroglyphs, or “sacred texts,” onto its surface. In the Ptolemaic [TALL-uh-may-ick] period (332–303 B.C.), when this case was made, there was an increase in realism in Egyptian art. There is distinct modeling in the face on the surface of this case, but we don’t know whether those who made the image intended for it to represent a portrait of the deceased, or a more generalized visage.
What Inspired It?
Mummy cases offered physical protection from animals and other intruders, as well as a more spiritual form of protection. Hieroglyphs were painted on both the inside and outside of the case, providing prayers for protection and praise for the individual in the afterlife. Curiously, the Egyptians had standard prayers that they would use, and the text here was not unique to the individual for whom this case was made.
Many ancient Egyptian symbols of death and rebirth are painted on this mummy case. Below the falcon collar is Nut [noot], the sky goddess and mother of Osiris [oh-SIGH-russ], god of the underworld and symbol of resurrection and immortality. It was believed that Nut swallowed the sun each evening and gave birth to the sun each morning. Because of her connection to the solar cycle, she became a symbol of resurrection and rebirth. On either side of the base of the coffin are images of Anubis [uh-NOO-biss], the god of mummification. Anubis is usually represented with the head of a jackal and the body of a man, but is shown here as a full jackal. Anubis is the guardian of the cemetery; he attends to and protects the mummy in his or her tomb. Anubis would also oversee the ritual of embalming (preparing the body to be wrapped).
In ancient Egypt, the beard was seen as an attribute of several of the gods. Although real facial hair was not often admired, Pharaohs (divine rulers) would wear false beards to signify their status as a living god. The false beard on the DAM’s mummy case does not signify that this is the mummy case of a pharaoh, but that the deceased wanted to be associated with Osiris, who also wore a false beard in his role as ruler of underworld. False beards were often braided, signified here by the lines slanting inward in the same gold and green colors as the wig.
Although physical appearance was of great importance to the Egyptians, this was not the sole reason for the use of makeup. Eye makeup was also used for spiritual, magical, and therapeutic purposes. The Egyptians used a mineral called kohl to outline their eyes. Some believe that with this makeup, Egyptians were attempting to associate themselves with the cat, a variety of which were honored in Ancient Egypt. Cats represented beauty and prosperity, among other things. It is also said that the kohl would protect the eye against common infections.
Covering the mummy’s chest is a collar consisting of 16 rows of flowers, petals, and leaves with three different patterns. One row is composed of upside-down lotus flowers and buds. The next row is made up of another flower that seems similar to a daisy. It is hard to tell whether the third pattern represents a type of flower or leaf, or just a design. At each end of the collar is the head of a falcon, which was a symbol of Horus, the god of the sky and a symbol of divine kingship. He is also the god of order and justice, and he protects the deceased in this mummy case.
Lotus flowers grew along the Nile and were symbols of life and regeneration. At night, they close their blossoms and submerge themselves under water. In the morning, they emerge and open once again. Because of this pattern, lotus flowers became a symbol of the sun, with its daily cycles, and of creation and rebirth.
The lower portion of the mummy case is covered with a hieroglyphic inscription. (The word hieroglyph means “sacred text.”) Most funerary inscriptions include spells and prayers that come from the Book of the Dead. The text often asks the gods for protection of the deceased on his journey to the afterlife. On the front of this coffin, the text is written primarily as though the owner of the coffin is speaking. At one point, he says to the gods, “May you rescue me from the aggressors who are in this land of the righteous! May you give me my mouth so that I might speak with it! May you give me my inheritance in your presence…”
There are a number of birds on the DAM’s case, most of which are found in the form of hieroglyphs. There appear to be, among others, a sparrow, an ibis, a desert owl, and a duck.
Below the falcon collar, Nut’s wings are symmetrical, meaning that if you were to draw a vertical line down the center of her body, her wings would be the same on either side. Her wings resemble the cloisonné technique, an enameling process in which shapes are created with a thin metal wire and then filled with colored enamel powder. When heated to a certain temperature, the enamel powder melts, forming a solid area of color. The wire used is often gold, which is the color that outlines the individual feathers of Nut’s wings. Her green clothing is also outlined in gold to separate it from the feathers that surround it.
People and animals were commonly depicted partly in profile and partly from other views. Notice how the lower half of Nut’s body is in profile, while her arms are spread so that her collarbone and wings are facing the viewer. Also, though her face is seen from the side, we see her eye as though we are looking at it from the front.
The hieroglyph ankh, meaning “to live”, was the sign of eternal life in Ancient Egypt. It was a very powerful symbol and can be seen among the other hieroglyphs on the case.
The was scepter was a sign of authority and power and is meant to signify the well-being of the mummy. On the DAM’s case, two was scepters are placed back to back, alternating with the ankh symbol.