Coffin of Menqabu

First Intermediate Period, probably early Dynast
2140–2040 B.C.

Object Place: Egypt, Said to be from Farshut


Length x width x height: 195 x 42 x 57 cm (76 3/4 x 16 9/16 x 22 7/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Painted wood

Not On View


The Ancient World



Built to house the mummified body of an official named Menqabu, this beautifully preserved rectangular coffin features the remarkably simple but visually appealing decorative scheme that emerged during the First Intermediate Period. A single line of text around the rim of the box and another down the center of the lid contain traditional offering prayers requesting a good burial and eternal sustenance from the king and the funerary deities Anubis and Osiris. The brightly painted hieroglyphs display the crude but lively and experimental style of the First Intermediate Period, and each sign has become a vivid expression of the artist’s imagination. A feature peculiar to this period in Egyptian art is the “killing” of the glyphs portraying dangerous animals, such as the horned viper, which has been decapitated wherever it occurs in the text. Evidently, the Egyptians feared the presence of such potentially hostile symbols in close proximity to the body.

On the left side of the coffin, at the end where the head of the deceased would have rested, a white panel contains a pair of sacred wadjet eyes. Representing the eyes of the falcon god Horus, they served as protective symbols to ward off perils on the dangerous journey to the underworld. Because the body would have been placed on its side, with the face of the mummy immediately behind the panel, the eyes also allowed Menqabu to “look” out into the tomb. He would have faced east, the direction of the rising sun, because Egyptians believed that just as the sun god arose from the eastern horizon, the deceased would be reborn in the afterlife. The remainder of the coffin is painted a dark reddish brown to simulate imported cedar wood, which only the elite could afford.


Said to be from Farshut. 1903: purchased for the MFA in Qena, Egypt from Ghirgas by Albert M. Lythgoe for £15. Acquired with funds from the Emily Esther Sears Fund.
(Accession date: January 1, 1903)

Credit Line

Emily Esther Sears Fund