Foundation acquires Egyptian mummy mask |

Foundation acquires Egyptian mummy mask

John Perry, faculty member emeritus Lake Tahoe Community College

The accompanying picture shows a 2,300-year-old Egyptian mask for a mummy. It was intended to be sewn to a shroud and was made of baked faience ceramic beads at the beginning of Dynasty XXXI. That was when Alexander the Great’s Hellenistic successors began their three centuries of ruling Egypt. It was a very interesting and dynamic period during which Egypt’s ancient traditions received a veneer of Greek language and culture from the numerous Ptolemies and Cleopatras.

The earlier Egyptians had the oldest recorded beliefs concerning an afterlife for humans, a concept that has influenced most subsequent cultures. Belief in an afterlife became a dominant theme in Egypt and many of their energies were spent preparing for it. We theorize that this began with their observation that seemingly dead, dry plants revived during the Nile’s annual floods. Human bodies desiccated and were preserved by the scorching sands of the deserts; then they look brown and somewhat similar to the dried plants. Egyptian priests taught that under the right circumstances the bodies of humans could return to life just as the plants did. The same was thought to be true for other animals, also. Needless to say, the priests manipulated this to assure themselves great power and wealth. To aid the prospects of achieving an afterlife they developed elaborate stories, expensive procedures and complicated funereal rituals. Mummification of the body was a major part of these processes. It usually involved removal of all inner organs and 10 weeks of soakings, bathings and magical rituals. Then the body was firmly bound with strips of cloth in accordance with legends about their god Osiris. Only priests could do any of these things, of course.

If you can forgive an aside, that is part of what makes movies about vengeful, walking mummies so wonderfully amusing. T he arms of real mummies were bound to their bodies, their legs were bound together, all the internal organs from their midsections were removed to canopic containers, and they rarely had brains left in their heads. Brains were usually discarded as unimportant because back then Egyptians believed that thinking was done by the heart. it would take quite some magic spells to overcome that array of problems – but of course they did believe in all sorts of spells, superstitions and divine interventions. If you have studied real mummified bodies, however, the idea of them ever walking again requires a truly remarkable stretch of the imagination.

Now, let’s work back toward the subject of this face mask and its use. Two aspects of life were thought to depart from the body at the time of death. They were represented by bird symbols and were called the BA and the KA. The BA had to leave the body and go for judgment by the gods. If the gods allowed the BA to return to the body that was a major step toward achieving an afterlife. Of course, if the gods saw fit to feed your BA to the great crocodile Sobek that ended all prospects for an afterlife. Fathoming the wishes of the gods was difficult even with expensive help from priests.

The KA needed to remain with the mummified body at all times. To keep the KA contented there in the tomb it had to have all the right symbols, provisions and artifacts lest it become bored, lost or distracted. KAs had notably poor attention spans. They tended to wander forgetfully and the KA was essential to any future life, also. Consequently, the tombs needed vast arrays of food, beverages, games, tools, weapons, jewelry and representations of the deceased person to keep the KA available. During the several millennia when mummification was practiced many ways were used to portray the deceased for the KA. Beaded masks such as this were one variety of mummy portrayal that was popular during the Ptolemaic period. Eventually it would be nice to have several types of mummy portraits for our classes to compare; this is a beginning.

To conclude our story, KAs still loved to participate in parties and holidays in the tomb. If they were to be kept near the dear departed they needed to have generous shares of all foods, beverages and treats. Then they wouldn’t be tempted away. Uncharitable skeptics sometimes suggest that the priests helped KAs enjoy such things. No matter, none of the foregoing would have completely solved the complexities of achieving an afterlife. If the BA and KA both survived, then it was still necessary for SA to be administered to the body when the gods decided that the time was right. SA was the divine fluid of immortality. Alas, the gods never revealed its formula – even to their beloved priests. Attempting to find SA led humans to experiment with every imaginable fluid. You will know that they found it when you see mummies sauntering among us.

Such items and customs are discussed in Ancient World Humanities, History of Western Civilization, archaeology and art history classes at Lake Tahoe Community College.

This recent acquisition was purchased with private funds as are all of the Perry Foundation’s holdings at LTCC. Appropriate donations are welcome and should be tax deductible.


Two fine concerts deserve mention and recommendation.

-At 7:30 p.m. Feb. 16 organist Nicolas Kynaston will perform in the Great Artists Series at Trinity Episcopal Church in Reno. Remember that many organizations helped to establish Nevada’s largest pipe organ in Trinity Church and it is intended to be for the enjoyment of the entire community. Everyone is cordially welcome

Kynaston is a world renowned soloist and recording artist who has held such prestigious positions as organist at Westminster Cathedral in London and the Megaron Concert Hall in Athens. He has toured Europe and the United States with numerous times, and has won many honors. He recorded for EMI, Philips, Decca and several other with great success. He also has performed extensively on radio, TV and with major symphony orchestras. Don’t miss an opportunity to hear such an accomplished artist.

Kynaston will perform works by Johann Sebastian Bach, his son, Carl Philipp emanuel Bach, Max Reger, Karg-Elert, Marcel DuPre and Cesar Franck. For ticket information call the University of Nevada, Reno at (775) 784-6847.

-Another choice opportunity will be a performance at 8 p.m. Feb. 24 by Chorovaya Akademia, a 16-member Russian male chorus. They will perform a capella in Westminster Presbyterian Church in Sacramento. Westminister Church was chosen for its wonderful acoustical resonance. It is located at 1300 “N” Street near the State Capitol.

Russian choral music has centuries of grand, sweeping history and we are promised “rich harmonies…replete with deep bass parts that you feel in your molars.” The first part of their program will be traditional liturgical music composed by Tchaikowsky and Rachmaninoff. After intermission they will sing Russian and European selections including folk songs and works by such composers as Borodin, Saint Saens and Schubert. The Washington Post described their singing as “the loveliest sounds made by human beings” and the Los Angeles Times added that it was an octave lower than most other groups, “a mighty Russian sound.”

Most members of Chorovaya Akademia are graduates of the Moskow and St. Petersburg Conservatories of Music. They formed their group as opportunities presented themselves during the failing days of the old Soviet government. Since then they have made recordings, toured the world and earned great recognitions. One was the grand prize at the World Championship of the Performing Arts in Los Angeles.

The University of California, Davis, is presenting Chorovaya Akademia as part of the First Northern Bank Concert Series. Adult tickets are $27, tickets for students and children are $13 and there is no special senior rate. Information and tickets are available at (530) 752-1915.

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