Corn Mummies

It is now October which means that mummy costumes, pumpkins and the rustling of corn mazes might be out to calling you? Last October I explored curses. So, I thought I would combine two autumnal themes into this week’s blog and a look at corn mummies and Osiris beds. It might not sound like these two types of objects might be connected but read on and I hope to show you how

Figure 1: Coffin and corn mummy with Osiris mask, Late Period–Ptolemaic Period https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/570755

What is a corn mummy?

First, what is a corn mummy I hear you ask. A corn mummy refers to a type of anthropomorphic funerary object made from a mixture of soil and grains of barley which is then usually wrapped in linen bandages and given a wax face-mask[1]. These mummies usually measure 35-50cm in length and along with the small face mask are usually placed into a small falcon headed sarcophagi (Figure 1,2). Sometimes the mummies where also given a royal sceptre, erect phallus, atef crown or the white crown of Egypt and are usually assumed to refer to the god Osiris (Figure 3).

Figure 2: Corn Mummy from Greco-Roman Period, 332 B.C.E.–330 C.E. https://learn.ncartmuseum.org/artwork/grain-mummy/

The origin of the corn mummy can be traced to the Middle Kingdom. As it was during this period that Osiris began to be linked to fertility and the growth of corn[2]. A spell in the coffin texts talks to associating the resurrection of the dead with sprouting barley. In the spell ,associated with becoming Nefer the god of corn, the text reads ‘I die and I live. I am Osiris. I am emmer. I will not perish”[3]. A later section describes barley growing on the ribs of Osiris. The personification of grain and resurrection are intertwined with Osiris as new life springs from Osiris[4]. Although the origins of the corn mummy can be traced back to the Middle Kingdom surviving examples date between the Third Intermediate Period and the Roman Period[5].

Figure 3: Ithyphallic figure of Osiris composed of corn wrapped in resinous bandages with a gilded beeswax mask .https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/Y_EA60745

Corn mummies where not placed in tombs of individuals, which is different to an Osiris bed which I will explain a little later. Rather it appears that the production of these corn mummies are linked to the mysteries of the cult of Osiris itself[6].  It is believed that corn mummies were made in connection with annual festivals such as Khoiak. The details of these festivities are described through an inscription at the Temple of Hathor at Dendra in which they are explained in great detail[7].  Priests began preparing corn mummies on the twelfth day of the month of Khoiak (mid-October to mid-November), mixing mud, grain seeds, and water from the flood into two gold moulds shaped like a mummified being[8].

This inscription also describes that these corn mummies where not the only effigies of Osiris that where produced but one of three; the first of Sokar Osiris, second Osiris Kehnty Ementu and finally the divine members of Osiris[9]. The second effigy is more relevant to corn mummies but also another connect object the Osiris Bed.

An Osiris Bed what’s that?

Figure 4: The wrapped life size corn mummy in the tomb of King Tutankhamun http://www.griffith.ox.ac.uk/perl/gi-ca-qmakedeta.pl?sid=82.10.154.156-1633268221&qno=1&dfnam=288-p2024
Figure 5: The Unwrapped Osiris bed of King Tutankhamun now in the Cairo Museum. https://www.blackgate.com/2017/03/22/king-tuts-treasure-the-items-you-dont-usually-see/
Figure 6: An example of Late Period example of an Osiris brick. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/553820

An Osiris bed is a piece of New Kingdom royal funerary equipment that consists of a wooden frame in the form of Osiris which was filled with river silt and sewn with seeds of barley[10]. Like with the corn mummies the germination and growth of the grains symbolized the act of resurrection and triumph of Osiris over his adversary Seth. In total there have only been seven Osiris beds found including in the tomb of King Tutankhamun which is virtually life size measuring 190cm tall[11](Figure 4 ,Figure 5). It has been suggested that an inspiration for an Osiris ben may have been from the ancient Egyptians observing pigs trampling seed into the ground and that seed later sprouting. This would further the Osirian connection as the pig was associated with Seth and the seeds with Osiris.  The myth of Osiris then being encapsulated in this object with Seth’s initial defeat of Osiris and his then subsequent rebirth[12].  A possible later development from these larger versions are ceramic bricks which boast a hollowed-out figure of Osiris (Figure 6). New Kingdom texts from the 18th Dynasty describes how the Osiris bed’s function. Describing on the eighteenth day of the growth month of the inundation was the day of watering the barley and the day of spreading the bed for Osiris Neferhotep, a ritual that would be repeated daily for 80 days until the 25th of the month[13](Figure 7). Like the second effigy described at Dendra as part of festivities associated with Khioak the effigy of Kentey Enemtu being watered until germination considerably resembles the Osiris beds as described in the tomb of Neferhotep[14]. In the Theban Tomb-chapel of Neferhotep, dating to about 1300 BC, there is recorded for Flood Season month 4, day 18 ‘day of watering the grain and spreading the bed for the Osiris Neferhotep from this day until day 25[15]. These objects are closely linked to corn mummies through a number of similarities both wrapped in linen bandages, filled with sand/earth and the addition of barley. Linking these objects strongly to Osiris exploiting his connection with grain and rebirth.   

I hope you enjoyed this week’s blog all about this curious group of objects some example I found surprisingly creepy …the eyes on figure 2. What shall I explore next?

Figure 7: Grain sprouting from the body of Osiris taken from a coffin detail in the Fitzwilliam Cambridge. Gods and Goddesses page 122

References

[1] Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P., 2008. The British Museum Dictionary Of Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press Page 81

[2] Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P., 2008. The British Museum Dictionary Of Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press Page 81

[3] CT IV 168b-c and CT IV 169g-h

[4] Manifestations of the Dead in Ancient Egyptian Coffin Texts Phd Thesis Page 104 Accessed 03/10/2021 https://livrepository.liverpool.ac.uk/2002779/1/LandborgAnn_Feb2014.pdf

[5] Enany Abir,  ‘A Corn-Mummy from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo’, in Journal Of Association of Arab Universities For Tourism and Hospitality Volume 15 – December 2018 (pp52-62) Page 53 https://jaauth.journals.ekb.eg/article_54007_b9708671dc37509324efa6413732c0a0.pdf

[6] Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P., 2008. The British Museum Dictionary Of Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press Page 81

[7] Enany Abir,  ‘A Corn-Mummy from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo’, in Journal Of Association of Arab Universities For Tourism and Hospitality Volume 15 – December 2018 (pp52-62) Page 53 https://jaauth.journals.ekb.eg/article_54007_b9708671dc37509324efa6413732c0a0.pdf

[8] https://learn.ncartmuseum.org/artwork/grain-mummy/

[9] Enany Abir,  ‘A Corn-Mummy from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo’, in Journal Of Association of Arab Universities For Tourism and Hospitality Volume 15 – December 2018 (pp52-62) Page 53 https://jaauth.journals.ekb.eg/article_54007_b9708671dc37509324efa6413732c0a0.pdf

[10] Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P., 2008. The British Museum Dictionary Of Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press Page 239

[11] Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P., 2008. The British Museum Dictionary Of Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press Page 239

[12] Shaw, I. and Nicholson, P., 2008. The British Museum Dictionary Of Ancient Egypt. London: British Museum Press Page 239

[13] Enany Abir,  ‘A Corn-Mummy from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo’, in Journal Of Association of Arab Universities For Tourism and Hospitality Volume 15 – December 2018 (pp52-62) Page 53 https://jaauth.journals.ekb.eg/article_54007_b9708671dc37509324efa6413732c0a0.pdf

[14] Enany Abir,  ‘A Corn-Mummy from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo’, in Journal Of Association of Arab Universities For Tourism and Hospitality Volume 15 – December 2018 (pp52-62) Page 53/54 https://jaauth.journals.ekb.eg/article_54007_b9708671dc37509324efa6413732c0a0.pdf

[15] https://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt/ideology/khoiak.html

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