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Wooden inner-coffin of Irtyru

  • Hand-coloured engraving by C. Vandergucht, 1737

    Hand-coloured engraving by C. Vandergucht, 1737


Length: 199.200 cm

Bequeathed by Col. William Lethieullier

EA 6695

Enlightenment: Classification

    Wooden inner-coffin of Irtyru

    Memphis, Lower Egypt, 26th Dynasty, around 550 BC

    The Museum's first mummy

    The British Museum acquired its first mummy and coffin in 1756 when William Lethieullier (1701-56) bequeathed most of his collection of Egyptian artefacts. Until then the Museum contained relatively few Egyptian objects, most of these being small pieces from the collection of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), from which the British Museum was founded in 1753.

    Lethieullier, who came from a wealthy family, had travelled to Egypt in 1721-22. It is not known exactly where he went, but he certainly collected many objects from Saqqara. These included this coffin and the mummy it contained, which were shipped back to England on the Dove in 1722. The mummified body was of Irtyru, a man who is named in an inscription on the coffin. Various gods are also represented, including the sky-goddess Nut and below her a scene in which Irtyu is judged before Osiris and Thoth.

    After his return Lethieullier joined the Coldstream Guards, rising to the rank of Lieutenant-General by the time of his retirement in 1752. He continued his antiquarian interest throughout this time, joining the Society of Antiquaries of London in 1724. The mummy and coffin were clearly important pieces in Lethieullier's collection, since a coloured engraving was made of it and in 1727 Lethieullier allowed Alexander Gordon to prepare an essay on the coffin.

    K. Sloan (ed.), Enlightenment. Discovering the (London, The British Museum Press, 2003)

    M.L. Bierbrier, 'Travels with his Mummy', British Museum Magazine-2, 43 (Summer 2002), pp. 31-33


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    On display: Enlightenment: Classification

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