It is clear that the effort to attain an immortality which is merely a
ghostly continuation of life on earth must reflect the general development
of Egyptian culture,—especially the advance in arts and crafts. One of the
most striking examples of this fact is the introduction of metal working
mentioned above and the consequent placing of both flint and copper in the
grave, —the division of grave furniture into practical objects and
ceremonial objects, which is the foundation for the use of symbolic
objects in later times.
The advance in arts and crafts not only suggests new ideas of the
necessities of the spirit, but it provides the necessary technical skill
for the more effective satisfaction of all the needs of the dead. This
takes, first of all, the form of supplying a place for the burial, which
furnishes greater security to the body and a better communication between
the living and the dead.
From the First Dynasty, say from 3300 B.C. down, as soon as the
Egyptian had mastered the use of mud-brick and wood, we gain the certainty
of an idea which could only be guessed at in the primitive period. A place
is provided above the grave at which the living could meet the spirit of
the dead with periodical offerings of food and other necessities.
In the life after death, spirit food and drink, once used, ceased to be,
just as in life on earth, and had to be renewed from day to day, lest the
spirit of the dead suffer from hunger and thirst. One of the great
developments of the first six dynasties looked to the provision of these
The invention of writing was immediately utilized. About the beginning
of the First Dynasty writing was invented for administrative and other
practical purposes. Gravestones, bearing in relief the name of the dead,
were set up in the offering places of the kings and court people. These
were probably reminders for use in some simple formula recited in
presenting the periodical offerings. As the Egyptians became more familiar
with the use of writing, the offering formula was written out in full,
enlarged and modified.
Sculptures, both relief and statuary, in every stage of their
development, were used as magical accessories to the offering rites.
So, also, the whole history of Egyptian architecture was reflected in
the tomb; for every advance brought about some change in the form or
structure. In fact, the whole development of the form of the Egyptian tomb
depended on the development of technical skill. The same funerary
functions are served throughout. As all the great artisans were at the
command of the king, all the great technical discoveries and inventions
were first made in his service. But every permanent gain in knowledge was
a benefit to the race and utilized by the common people. So, for example,
the skill acquired in stone-cutting, during the construction of the great
pyramids, was utilized a little later in producing rock-cut tombs from one
end of Egypt to the other.
The functions of the grave remained the same. Yet with the changes in
form resulting from the growth of skill, modifications in the funerary
customs crept in.
The mud-brick tombs of the early part of the First Dynasty, like the
pre-dynastic graves, had only one chamber, limited in size by the length
of logs obtainable to form the roof. The growing desire for ostentation
found a way to enlarge the tombs by building them with a number of
chambers. The burial was placed in the central chamber and the burial
furniture in the additional chambers. In this way the separation of the
furniture and the actual burial was brought about.