Egyptian Coffins: Exploring the carpenter's craft





Saturday 22 April 2017
2.00 pm
Venue Oakwood Centre



Public Lecture:
Egyptian Coffins: Exploring the carpenter's craft By Dr Geoffrey Killen

The first part of the afternoon will discuss the role of the Egyptian carpenter who worked at Deir el-Medina as part of a team to manufacture a range of privately commissioned funerary products. From a huge corpus of ostraca (these are limestone flakes on which ordinary Egyptians made written notes); we have records of their activities including a number of illustrated ostraca which display the range of wooden products made including coffins. These ostraca are tally records of work to be paid for, others are design and construction documents showing quality marks for the item produced and information regarding those individuals who were responsible for the manufacture of coffins. Aspects of timber procurement and processing will be discussed together with assembly techniques and methods of working wood.

The second part will examine how coffin design developed over 4000 years. It will discuss early burial boxes made from cleaved timber planks and the first attempts to manufacture simple rectangular coffins using copper tools. This led to those elaborate rectangular cedar and sycomore fig coffins found at a number of Middle Kingdom sites.

Experimentation in the manufacture of simple anthropoid coffins cut from solid trunks of timber were not always successful which resulted in the design of such coffins being modified. Developments continued to a stage were coffins manufactured during the Third Intermediate Period were constructed from many pieces of timber, some parts reused from older coffins and cleverly hidden under layers of paint and varnish. The secrets of their construction can only be established by CT scanning, which displays those remarkable skills ancient Egyptian carpenters possessed.

Geoffrey Killen is a leading wood technologist and Egyptologist who studied Design and Technology at Shoreditch College, a Constituent College of the University of London before being awarded his BA (Hons). He gained his Ph.D. at the University of Liverpool, where he specialised in Ramesside woodworking. He has studied the collections of Egyptian woodwork at most of the major museums including the Egyptian Antiquities Museum, Cairo.

He has lectured and given practical demonstrations of ancient Egyptian woodworking processes and techniques in the United States of America and Britain. Geoffrey has written four major works on his specialism as well as being a contributor to Nicholson and Shaw's: "Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology" and Redford's: "The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt". He has also published a number of articles in Festschrifts, books, journals, magazines and papers in conference reports.

He has also led in the field of experimental archaeology where making and using replica woodworking tools and equipment has generated and tested archaeological hypotheses. His practical work is now displayed together with those original artefacts in several British museums. He recently contributed to the Fitzwilliam Museum's "Death on the Nile" exhibition, creating a number of replica coffin parts using a range of replica woodworking tools. He provided illustrations for the exhibition catalogue and wall display panels; he also participated in the conference, led a session at the coffin workshop and gave a lunch time talk that accompanied the exhibition.


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