Wooden coffin with the remains of a skeleton

From Tarkhan, Egypt
1st Dynasty, around 3000 BC

An early Egyptian coffin

In Predynastic Egyptian burials (that is before about 3100 BC), the body was placed directly into the sand, sometimes in a mat or basket. The body became naturally desiccated (dried out) due to the hot climate and dry sand. At the time this natural preservation of the body was observed and incorporated into religious beliefs about death. It remained a characteristic feature of funerary practice and belief throughout Egyptian history.

During the First Dynasty (about 3100-2890 BC), wooden coffins were introduced. This example is made of slats of local timber. These early coffins are much shorter than those of later periods (such as the coffin of Gua, also in The British Museum). The body inside was laid in a contracted position, with the knees drawn up to the chin. This was the same position as that of the earlier burials. Full length coffins, with the body laid straight out, did not appear until the Old Kingdom (about 2613 BC).

However, the wooden coffins separated the body from the drying effects of the sand. The soft tissue decomposed, leaving only a skeleton. Artificial preservation, by the process of mummification, was first introduced in the Old Kingdom (about 2613-2160 BC).

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Wooden coffin with the remains of a skeleton

Wooden coffin, from Tarkhan, Egypt, around 3000 BC


More information


W.R. Dawson and P.H.K. Gray, Catalogue of Egyptian antiquit (London, 1968)


Length: 91.200 cm
Width: 56.200 cm
Height: 48.500 cm

Museum number

EA 52888


Gift of the British School of Archaeology in Egypt


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