Making a Living Off the Dead: Body Brokers in Ptolemaic Egypt

“I have not damaged the embalming” (P. Hawara 4 a = TM 41383 and P. Hawara 4 b = TM 41384). These are the words of a hypothetical oath that would have been made by an ancient Egyptian body broker named Achomneuis on March 11, 220 BCE, before the god Tesenuphis. Achomneuis had a contract to bury the husband of a woman in the village of Hawara in the Fayum. He was required to take an oath that he would fulfill his duties for the safe handling of the body as well as its transportation and interment in the necropolis. For these tasks he would have been paid, and in turn he would have used a portion of his proceeds to pay the necessary fees to the local authorities to legally transport and bury the dead. In Ptolemaic Egypt (332–30 BCE) there was big money to be made by the living off the dead. A massive funerary industry helped fuel sectors of the state economy through associated fees and taxes. These body brokers were priests known as “seal-bearers of the god,” “embalmers,” or “water pourers.” The activities of these priests can be partially reconstructed from the archives they left behind documenting their business dealings. The contract for Achomneuis, as well as his client’s quitclaim attesting to his successful fulfillment of the husband’s burial, are still preserved as part of a large collection of texts known as the Hawara Embalmer’s Archive. Papyrus documents from several families of these embalmers are held in the OI (Oriental Institute Hawara Papyri) and are displayed as prominent examples of Demotic texts in
the Joseph and Mary Grimshaw Egyptian gallery.

Read the full article coauthored with Brian Muhs on the OI website: Oriental Institute News & Notes 251

Using layered images in Adobe Photoshop to produce highly accurate drawings of traces of ink on the surface

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