Ivory headrest

From the tomb of Gua, Deir el-Bersha, Egypt
12th Dynasty, 1985-1795 BC

Deir el-Bersha is one of the major provincial cemeteries known from the late First Intermediate Period (about 2160-2040 BC) and Middle Kingdom (about 2040-1750 BC). The burial of Gua was discovered by illicit diggers. It seems to have been in the forecourt of the tomb of the provincial governor, Djehutyhotep, whom Gua served. There are fragments of Djehutyhotep's tomb in The British Museum.

This wonderful ivory headrest (they were normally made of wood or stone) was found with the coffin and other goods, and was purchased for the museum by Ernest Wallis Budge. The headrest was used to support the head of the deceased. The support for the arch of the headrest is in the form of an 'Isis knot', clearly alluding to the role of Isis in protecting her husband Osiris, and thereby the deceased person.

Even when the practice of placing a headrest in the tomb had died out, in the Third Intermediate Period (about 1070-664 BC), small headrest amulets were placed in the mummy wrappings to support the deceased person magically. However, it seems that the full-size headrests were not only used under mummies, but also in daily life (uncomfortable as it may seem to us), as some examples appear to show signs of wear.

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More information


H. Willems, Chests of life (Leiden, Ex Oriente Lux, 1988)

S. Quirke and A.J. Spencer, The British Museum book of anc (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)


Height: 15.300 cm
Length: 18.400 cm
Width: 5.100 cm

Museum number

EA 30727



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