Model of a funerary boat

Middle Kingdom, late Dynasty 11 – early Dynasty
2010–1961 B.C.

Findspot: Egypt, Deir el-Bersha, Tomb 10, shaft A (Djehutynakht)


Length x width x height: 100 x 19 x 38 cm (39 3/8 x 7 1/2 x 14 15/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


On View

Stanford and Norma Jean Calderwood Gallery (Gallery 119)


The Ancient World



While late Old Kingdom tombs had included limestone statuettes of people engaged in chores such as food preparation, a new development occurred during the First Intermediate Period and Middle Kingdom. Now, models made of wood, a less costly material, were manufactured in large numbers and placed in the burial chamber to furnish provisions for the deceased in the afterlife. In symbolically providing for the tomb owner’s needs, the models functioned in much the same way as painted scenes of these activities did on the walls of tomb chapels.

The tomb of Djehutynakht contained what may be the largest collection of wooden models ever discovered in Egypt. At least thirty-nine of them, including these four, represent scenes of food production and crafts. Upon opening the tomb, however, archaeologists discovered that robbers had ransacked it in antiquity, possibly on more than one occasion, throwing the models haphazardly around the small burial chamber. Only through years of research and restoration are they being returned to their original configuration. The models vary greatly in quality, and many of them were mounted on pieces of wood recycled by the artists from old boxes or chests. The colorfully painted figures nevertheless convey a liveliness and energy that give us a sense of the bustling activities of Egyptian daily life. They also demonstrate innovative poses and subjects that would never have been attempted in the more formal sculptures that represented the tomb owner and his family.

Toward the end of Dynasty 12 a change occurred in Egyptian burial customs for reasons that remain unclear. Although model boats continued to be placed in tombs, the scenes of crafts and food production disappeared permanently from the repertoire of funerary offerings. At approximately the same time, early versions of shawabtys, mummiform figurines intended to serve on behalf of the deceased in the afterlife, began to become more common in burials.

Along with a collection of wooden models representing scenes of daily life, Djehutynakht equipped his tomb with a fleet of more than fifty-five model boats, the largest collection known from a single Egyptian tomb. Several types of craft are represented, including funerary vessels, boats for traveling, ships for troop or freight transport, hunting and fishing boats, and kitchen boats of the sort that would have accompanied a Middle Kingdom official and his entourage on voyages up and down the Nile. Although they vary in size and quality, all of Djehutynakht’s boat models are constructed in the same fashion, with the hull carved from a single piece of wood, while the cabins, masts, other fittings, and crews were made separately and attached with pegs.

Wide-hulled funerary vessels, like the example seen here the made of papyrus bundles lashed together, transported the deceased either to a cemetery across the Nile or to the sanctuary of the god of the afterlife, Osiris, at Abydos. Models of such vessels were painted white with reddish lines representing the bindings. The prow and the upright, inward-curving stern of this example terminate in rosettes imitating papyrus umbels, and the pair of eyes on the prow were believed to provide magical guidance in steering the ship clear of obstacles. On the deck, a canopy encloses the bier that would have held the mummy of the deceased. The two figures bent over at one end of the bier represent priests offering incense and recit-ing funerary prayers before the body. The figure seated at the stern was responsible for navigating by means of the pair of steering oars attached to stanchions. In the forward section, a crew of sailors had to maneuver the sail, now missing on the model, and a lookout was to watch for sandbars and other hazards.


From Deir el-Bersha, tomb 10, shaft A (tomb of Djehutynakht). May 1915: excavated by the Harvard University–Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; assigned to the MFA in the division of finds by the government of Egypt. (Accession Date: March 1, 1921)

Credit Line

Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition