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The 'false door' in ancient Egyptian tombs

From very early in their development, Egyptian tombs contained a central focus where the living could make offerings and the spirits of the deceased could emerge and partake of them. The typical form of the false door evolved out of the 'palace façade' of the mastaba tombs of the élite in the Early Dynastic period (about 3100-2613 BC). The external sides of these tombs consisted of a series of alternate panels and recessed niches. The false door was effectively a narrow stepped niche surmounted by a rectangular stone slab-stela.

The false door began as a small west-facing niche, which then developed to include a square or rectangular panel on which the owner was shown receiving the offerings. A few surviving false doors incorporate a life-size relief figure of the deceased stepping out of the niche. By adding door jambs below or beside the panel, the niche developed into a 'false door'. The Egyptians soon realised that the jambs and lintels of a stone door were excellent places to inscribe texts, and many examples show a doubling or trebling of the number of these elements. However, the concept of a door was not forgotten and numerous examples show carved bolts across the centre of the 'opening'.

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British Museum collections, £12.99

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