Vintage 90’s Egyptian Sarcophagus Box from the Museum Store Company
A sarcophagus (plural sarcophagi) is a box-like funeral receptacle for a corpse, most commonly carved in stone, and usually displayed above ground, though it may also be buried. The word “sarcophagus” comes from the Greek σάρξ sarx meaning “flesh”, and φαγεῖν phagein meaning “to eat”; hence sarcophagus means “flesh-eating”, from the phrase lithos sarkophagos (λίθος σαρκοφάγος), “flesh-eating stone”. The word also came to refer to a particular kind of limestone that was thought to rapidly facilitate the decomposition of the flesh of corpses contained within it due to the chemical properties of the limestone itself.
Ancient Egyptians believed in an afterlife, and the sarcophagus was to be the eternal dwelling place of those within it. The sarcophagi of pharaohs and wealthy residents were elaborately decorated with carvings and paintings. The earliest sarcophagi were designed for the pharaohs of Egypt and reflected the architecture of their palaces. Egyptians believed that remembering a person’s name would ensure that he or she would live on in the afterlife, so a sarcophagus also typically included the name of the person or people buried within. External decorations might also record the accomplishments of the deceased. Sarcophagi also typically included a list of food offerings, a door for the soul to pass through, and eyes so that the decedent could continue to view the world. Eventually, sarcophagi were carved to look like the person within, following the curve of the mummy’s body. Sarcophagi might hold more than one coffin. They often had pitched roofs. Beginning at the end of the thirteenth century, sarcophagi were put on sleds or runners so that they could be more easily towed to the cemetery.
The sarcophagus was an important part of an elaborate burial process. Ancient Egyptians believed that they would live on in an afterlife. They prepared a dead person for this afterlife by embalming the body and wrapping it in linens, a process known as mummification. The body was then placed carefully into a mummy case—a box that fit between the mummy and the coffin. The coffin would then be placed within the sarcophagus. Sometimes, the sarcophagus served in place of a coffin.