Dealing with the Dead in Ancient Egypt

Dealing with the Dead in Ancient Egypt

The Funerary Business of Petebaste

Koenraad Donker van Heel


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An intimate look at the true story of the funerary business of a Theban mortuary priest 2800 years ago as unearthed by an ancient papyrus
Petebaste son of Peteamunip, the choachyte, or water-pourer, lived during the first half of the seventh century BCE in the reigns of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty Kushite kings Shabaka and Taharqa and was responsible for the comfortable and carefree afterlife of his deceased clients by bringing their weekly libations.

But Petebaste was also responsible for a wide range of other activities—he provided a tomb to the family of the deceased, managed the costs of the personnel and commodities, and took care of all necessary paperwork, while also tending to the gruesome preparation of the mortal remains of the deceased.

Drawing on an archive of eight abnormal hieratic papyri in the Louvre that deal specifically with the affairs of a single family, Donker van Heel takes a deep dive into the business dealings of this Theban mortuary priest. In intimate detail, he illuminates the final stage of the embalming and coffining process of a woman called Taperet (‘Mrs. Seedcorn’) on the night before she would be taken from the embalming workshop to her final resting place, providing fascinating insight into the practical day-to-day aspects of funerary practices in ancient Egypt.


Koenraad Donker van Heel:
Koenraad Donker van Heel is lecturer in Demotic at Leiden University. He is the author of Djekhy & Son: Doing Business in Ancient Egypt (AUC Press, 2012) and Mrs. Tsenhor: A Female Entrepreneur in Ancient Egypt (AUC Press, 2014).