Opening ancient coffins | Summary and Q&A

February 14, 2020
Harvard University
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Opening ancient coffins


Ancient coffins from Thebes are being carefully analyzed and photographed, allowing for unprecedented study and teaching opportunities.

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Key Insights

  • ⚰️ Unveiling ancient coffins from Thebes provides an unprecedented opportunity for detailed study and analysis.
  • 👥 The involvement of a team of experts and the use of advanced technologies enhances the research process.
  • 🙂 The discovery of hidden images and hieroglyphs inside the coffins sheds new light on ancient Egyptian beliefs and iconography.
  • 🎟️ This project aligns with the museum's mission to enhance teaching opportunities and improve access to disadvantaged individuals.
  • 🪡 Egyptologists worldwide can now study and learn from these coffins without the need for physical visits.
  • 👻 The research has implications beyond academia, allowing for a broader audience to engage with and appreciate ancient Egyptian artifacts.
  • ⚰️ The study and documentation of ancient coffins provide a deeper understanding of ancient burial practices and cultural significance.


(intriguing orchestral music) PETER DER MANUELIAN>>
Opening up these coffins and photographing them has been something we've wanted to do for a long, long time. These have been in vitrines, and they've only received some sporadic attention. Thanks to a generous grant from the Dean's Competitive Fund, we've been able to open up the vitrines and as... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: What is the significance of opening and photographing these ancient coffins?

Opening and photographing these coffins provides a unique opportunity for detailed study and analysis, allowing researchers to uncover previously unknown information about ancient Egyptian culture and beliefs.

Q: Who was involved in the documentation and study of the coffins?

A team of experts, including conservators, professional photographers, pigment sampling and residue experts, and wood analysis experts from University College London and Harvard's Straus Center, collaborated to document and study the coffins.

Q: What was discovered inside one of the painted coffins?

Inside Ankh Khonsu's painted coffin, a beautiful image of the sun god was found, hidden beneath a layer of dark resin. The hieroglyphs on the coffin identified the image as Ra-Horakhty, the great god and lord of heaven.

Q: What are the implications of this research?

This research not only provides valuable material for scholars and researchers but also enhances the teaching collection at the museum. Digital models created from the study can be used as teaching tools, allowing for better access and understanding of ancient Egyptian culture.


This video highlights the exciting process of opening up ancient Egyptian coffins at the Harvard Art Museum for thorough documentation and study. With the aid of a grant, a team of experts from various institutions have been able to carefully examine the coffins, revealing fascinating details and hidden artwork. The research not only benefits scholars and researchers, but also enhances the museum's teaching collection and provides access to a wider audience.

Questions & Answers

Q: What was the main objective of opening up the coffins?

The main objective was to thoroughly document and study the coffins, which had previously only received sporadic attention and were kept in vitrines. By opening up the coffins, a team of experts could examine them in greater detail.

Q: Where did these coffins come from?

These coffins originate from Thebes, which is now known as Luxor in modern-day Egypt. The distance between Thebes and Cairo is several hundred miles.

Q: Did the coffins contain any bodies or mummies?

No, none of the three coffins contained bodies or mummies. Two of them were wooden coffins adorned with beautiful painted decorations, belonging to individuals named Pa-di-mut, Ankh Khonsu, and Mut iy-iy – two men and one woman respectively.

Q: How did the team approach the process of lifting the coffins' lids?

The team proceeded with great caution and conducted the process slowly when lifting the lids of the coffins. Some previous conservation work had been carried out on the interiors of the coffins, but one coffins' interior had never been examined before. No descriptions or records of its contents existed.

Q: What did the team discover inside Ankh Khonsu's painted coffin?

When the lid of Ankh Khonsu's painted coffin was lifted, the team uncovered a stunning image of the sun god, hidden beneath a layer of dark resin. Hieroglyphs on the interior referred to the sun god as Ra-Horakhty, the great god and lord of heaven.

Q: How does this research benefit scholars and visitors to the museum?

This research has a two-fold implication. It provides valuable models and information for researchers and scholars conducting further study. Additionally, it serves as a teaching tool within the museum, enhancing the overall learning experience for visitors and promoting access to disadvantaged individuals. The initiative also helps Egyptologists worldwide to thoroughly study these coffins, which was previously impossible without personally examining them.


The process of opening up these ancient Egyptian coffins has allowed for detailed documentation and study, shedding light on previously unexplored aspects of their interiors. The research benefits both scholars and museum visitors, providing teaching tools and enhancing accessibility. Furthermore, this project aligns with the museum's mission to incorporate new technologies into their teaching collection, making it an exciting place for all to explore. Egyptologists worldwide can now delve into the intricate details of these coffins thanks to the careful examination and documentation carried out.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Ancient coffins from Thebes, Egypt have been opened and photographed with the help of a team of experts.

  • The coffins belonged to two men and one woman, with one coffin revealing a previously unseen image of the sun god.

  • This project aims to provide valuable research material for scholars and enhance teaching opportunities at the museum.

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