The Dead and the Living Interacting Through Text: An Inscribed Funerary Cone

By Valentina Pasquali

Within the entire span of the history of research in Egyptology, very few words have been spared for funerary cones. Crude, unpolished, often uncoloured and barely inscribed, funerary cones have been the object of very little study.

For the purposes of this research, however, the characteristic presence of an inscription and the suggested placement of this type of object in front of tombs convey an attempt to communicate; owing to that, the funerary cone listed as ECM6090 in the Eton College Joseph William Myers Collection, which has been reproduced below as a rotating 3D image (© IAA University of Birmingham), constitutes a perfect example.

The standard size for a funerary cone is about 10-15 cm long and 7-8 cm in diameter;1 with its 21 cm of length and 9 cm of diameter, ECM6090 is slightly above the average, clay-made, cone-shaped, with inscribed hieroglyphs applied in raised relief on the front and neatly divided into four rows. In contrast to examples where the impressions were quite carelessly applied, the inscription on ECM6090 is perfectly centred and easy to read. The cone is also still intact; the majority of them had their tails broken or sawed off, to be more easily transported.2

Although funerary cones are quite poorly understood, the regular presence of an inscription suggests a communicative purpose. The disposition of the hieroglyphs and the type of text represented can show important variations; from a simple name of the deceased, accompanied by his titles, to complicated inscriptions surmounted by representations of solar barges and displaying praise to the dead or prayers to the gods.3

They were likely to have been part of the decoration of non-royal tombs, inserted in rows into the plaster above the tomb entrance. The inscribed, flat surface would have been pointed outwards, forming a frieze.4

Funerary cones were generally made of solid clay; although hollow cones have also been found. Finger and hand marks are clearly distinguishable on their rough surfaces, and these can clearly be seen on ECM6090. The cones were probably held on one end while the matrix was applied to the other, and fired afterwards. Hieroglyphs could be in sunken or raised relief, and when mistakes occurred a second stamp could cover the first one, creating an overlap difficult to read.5

The number of cones used in funerary architecture was incredibly high; there were usually about three hundred of them for each tomb, and it has been suggested that the higher the number, the greater the possibility that the deceased’s name was read and spoken, therefore ensuring him eternal life.6 His achievements, and thus his place within the Egyptian society, usually preceded his name.

The shapes of funerary cones might also have been connected with their use within funerary architecture. Their employment in structures such as pyramids and tomb enclosures’ walls could have raised the need for cylindrical, bell-shaped, brick-like and wedge-shaped types, as well as the eponymous cone-shaped variety.7 Although the majority of the surviving cones display the natural colour of fired clay, some of them retain traces of red, white, blue, black, ochre and yellow paint.8 The existence of one or more funerary cones belonging to the same owner implies the presence, somewhere, of a tomb;9 therefore, studies have been made to match cones to extant burials.10

The usage of funerary cones reached its peak during the Eighteenth Dynasty, as a particularly significant feature of Theban funerary architecture. Nevertheless, the first cones, large and uninscribed, can be dated back to the Eleventh Dynasty,11 and their use continued until the Twenty-sixth Dynasty.12

Although funerary cones were usually restricted to the Theban area, a small number have been found at sites including Reizeiqat, Armant, Naqada and Abydos; very few examples have also been discovered as far as Nubia.13

Translation of ECM6090



2-TranslitOsiris, the wcb-priest(1) who is at the front of Amun

Deputy in the house of Amun

Khaut, justified(2)

His beloved sister(3)

Chantress of Amun

The lady of the house


(1). Wcb: as a verb, it means to be pure. Placed at the beginning of this sentence, it works as its subject, in the form of a participle acting as a noun: ‘the one who is pure’, a priestly title.14

(2). Khaut is the personal name of the deceased; this is why the following hieroglyph, partly eroded on the right end of the funerary cone, was restored as the determinative of a seated man of rank holding a flagellum.15 The name of Khaut is also followed by m3c-ḫrw, ‘true of voice’ or justified, an epithet given to the deceased as he passed the Judgment of the Dead.16

(3). Mr(.t).f was taken here as a perfective passive participle, where the feminine .t, necessary to agree with sn.t, had been omitted.17

(4). The almost illegible final hieroglyph was restored as the determinative of the seated woman, placed after the name of the lady of the house.18 The spelling of her name as it can be seen on the cone, however, might have been a contracted version, probably due to the restricted surface available; the same sparing use of space can be detected in the missing determinatives after the god’s name and Tamut’s titles. Possible alternatives might have been Tadimut (T3-di-Mw.t) or Tanetmut (T3-n.t-Mw.t).

The Wcb-priest and the Chantress of Amun

Despite its brevity, the text just examined nicely fulfils its communicative purpose, and is rich in information. The nature of this succinct inscription is apposite to the limited surface available which does not allow for any long narrative, but is, nevertheless, sufficient to report what was evidently considered essential: the names of the people involved and their titles.

Khaut, the protagonist of this short text, is identified as an osiris and as justified, further placing this inscription in a funerary context. Osiris and the concept of justification/vindication were strongly linked, seeing as the deceased aspired to have both his physical integrity and his social status restored as his godlike counterpart.19 As Horus had to prove himself in front of a tribunal in order to vindicate Osiris’ throne, the deceased had to declare himself worthy in order to become part of Osiris’ following. After death and the perils that he would have had to avoid in order to reach the Judgment Hall, his heart would have been weighed, and would have sunk further with each lie he had spoken. If the heart had been heavier than Maat, symbolized by a feather, it would have been devoured by a monster. If his heart was light, then the deceased would have been ‘justified’; he would have acquired the name of Osiris.20 Having being declared justified, therefore, Khaut is placed as victorious after the Judgment, and a member of Osiris’ following.

Khaut is also identified as a wcb-priest, which was the most common priestly title amongst temple personnel. It was also the lower level in the priestly hierarchy: the ‘pure ones’ were involved in the secondary aspects of the cult, such as carrying the sacred barge;21 an activity to which was probably linked his title of ‘the one who is in front of Amun’.

This title could also be combined with other professions,22 and Khaut presents a good example of that: in addition of being a wcb-priest, he is also deputy in the house of Amun. This title expressed subordination to another official, but whose name is typically not provided;23 the title was also usually connected with the administration of the temple estate.24

The second person mentioned on ECM6090 is a woman, Tamut. Her position in Khaut’s household is ambiguous; although the inscription defines her as ‘his beloved sister’, from the mid-Eighteenth Dynasty onwards sn.t could be employed on monuments to replace m.t, ‘wife’.25 This particular meaning for the word sn.t would find additional support in the use of the title nb.t pr, ‘lady of the house’, which seems to have been related to married women during the New Kingdom.26 The exact extent of duties, responsibilities and authority that would accompany this particular title is difficult to define; male figures generally occupy a preeminent position in family depictions, and in written text the brief title was probably deemed as sufficient. However, it is likely that the lady of the house was involved in core activities within the household, such as baking, brewing and cooking, and possibly also weaving, grain storage, animal husbandry and craft production.27

The second title given to Tamut was šmcy.t n(.t) Imn, ‘chantress of Amun’. The presence of women in temple rituals is attested as early as the Old Kingdom,28 and the use of this particular title from the Middle Kingdom.29 Deriving from šmc, which means ‘to sing’ or ‘to clap hands’, the bearers of this title are often shown in the act of singing or clapping their hands;30 they are also usually women, although male šmc are also attested.31 Therefore, the most likely context where šmcy.wt could have been found was in the performance of music during public worship and processions, although they could have also been involved in temple and funerary rituals.32

The use of this title for female priestesses increased dramatically through the New Kingdom and the Third Intermediate Period, becoming as common as ‘lady of the house’; this adjustment was probably due to the relegation of women to a secondary role within the temple administration, such as the position of chantress, and the formation of a full-time male priesthood.33 Moreover, in the New Kingdom the accessibility to this title was amplified; not only noble women had šmcy.t to accompany their names, but also wives of simple wcb-priests.34

Finally, the choice of the god to serve was largely dependent on the location; therefore, women living at Thebes were almost exclusively involved with the cult of Amun.35

Other Contexts for Khaut

Despite its uniqueness within the Eton Myers Collection, ECM6090 is not the only one of its kind in the world.

An identical cone was mentioned as far back as 1887 by W. M. F. Petrie,36 but unfortunately the famous archaeologist was less than precise when explaining how and where he obtained this object; he merely commented that he ‘steadily collected them [funerary cones] from the Arabs’.37 Eight cones belonging to the same type were reported by H. M. Stewart as part of the Petrie Collection, although only one of them was complete.38

This type was also listed by G. Daressy in his Recueil des cônes funéraires,39 and it was catalogued as no. 465 by N. De Garis Davies and M. F. L. Macadam in their Corpus of Inscribed Egyptian Funerary Cones.40 No. 1004 of the collection of the Institute d’égyptologie de l’Université de Strasbourg appears to be another example of this series, bearing the same inscription and Khaut’s name as its owner.41

Moreover, Khaut might be the owner of a white limestone pyramidion dated back to the Eighteenth Dynasty, no. 707 in the British Museum collection; his name and his title (idnw m pr Imn) are both present.42 His tomb, however, is yet to be identified.


Despite the brevity of its inscription and its crude appearance, it is now possible to infer that ECM6090 was probably part of the decoration of a Theban tomb; that it belonged to a man called Khaut, wcb-priest and deputy at Karnak, who married a woman called Tamut, chantress at the same temple. Different authors translated a different version of her name; Petrie chose Tamut,43 while Daressy and Davies-Macadam preferred Tanetmut.44

The geographical location can be pinpointed through the relatively exclusive use of funerary cones in the Theban area, and the employment of both Khaut and Tamut at the service of Amun, whose main temple was located at Karnak.

In addition to that, this funerary cone was used to convey a precise message, branding the entrance of Khaut’s tomb and giving precise information about its owner. Inserted above the opening, one or more rows of identical cones bearing Khaut’s name would have allowed visitors to identify who was buried within the tomb, his closest associations and their positions throughout life.

Through a brief text and what was clearly considered a cheap object, Khaut declared his name and his role to whoever was able to read his inscription, and after more than three thousand years he has made himself known again.


1. Dibley & Lipkin 2009: 3.

2. A practice quite widespread at the beginning of the twentieth century. See Petrie 1887: 23.

3. Dibley & Lipkin 2009: 8, 16.

4. Dibley & Lipkin 2009: 4.

5. Dibley & Lipkin 2009: 1-2.

6. Dibley & Lipkin 2009: 16.

7. Dibley & Lipkin 2009: 2, 4-5.

8. Dibley & Lipkin 2009: 3.

9. Manniche 2001: 565.

10.  Dibley & Lipkin 2009: 12-4.

11.  Winlock 1928: 3-58.

12.  Dibley & Lipkin 2009: 16.

13.  Manniche 2001: 566-7; Dibley & Lipkin 2009: 6-7.

14.  Gardiner 1957: 270.

15.  Gardiner 1957: 447.

16.  Gardiner 1957: 50-1.

17.  Gardiner 1957: 276-9.

18.  Gardiner 1957: 448.

19.  Smith 2008: 2.

20.  Assmann 2005: 74-5.

21.  Sauneron 2000: 70.

22.  Haring 1997: 223.

23.  Haring 1997: 236.

24.  Haring 1997: 372-3.

25.  Robins 1993: 61-2.

26.  Roehrig 1996: 13.

27.  Robins 1993: 99-101.

28.  Galvin 1984: 42-9.

29.  Onstine 2005: 25.

30.  Onstine 2005: 4-5.

31.  Onstine 2005: 78-80.

32.  Onstine 2005: 11-9.

33.  Robins 1993: 145-8.

34.  Onstine 2005: 31.

35.  Onstine 2005: 34-7.

36.  Petrie 1887: plate XXIII, n. 89.

37.  Petrie 1887: 23.

38.  Stewart 1986: 47.

39.  Daressy 1893.

40.  Davies & Macadam 1957.

41.  Heyler 1959: 91, plate XIV.

42.  British Museum 1909: 155; Porter & Moss 1964: 836.

43.  Petrie 1887: 25.

44. Daressy 1893; Davies & Macadam 1957.


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