I am a Tombstone Tourist: someone who loves to wander cemeteries. I find it akin to visiting a museum: an opportunity to enjoy rarely seen sculpture, intricate carvings, and amazing architecture, all in a tranquil outdoor setting. This blog is about cemetery culture, art, history, issues of death, and genealogy - subjects of current relevance. I usually find something that intrigues me and makes me want to dig deeper. Care to join me? Read on...
ancient funerary boat was discovered two years ago in Egypt, near Cairo, but
the find was just announced Monday by Egypt’s Antiquities Minister.
2013, an excavation team unearthed the ship and also discovered human remains
at the Abusir site where fourteen pyramids are located.
archaeologists were clearing a mastaba, or ancient tomb, at the Abusir South
Cemetery, when they discovered human remains believed to be more than 4,500
years old. Officials believe the remains belonged to a distinguished resident
since the Abusir site was where Egyptian kings of the Fifth Dynasty were
Site of Barque
were continuing their excavation when they unearthed parts of a 59-foot barque-type boat- a
highly unusual find due to the boat’s size. The ship was uncovered near the
tomb’s southern wall and had been lying on rocks, covered by the desert sands
for thousands of years. According to the antiquities ministry statement, the
boat indicates the "extraordinary social position of the owner of the tomb.”
Czech archaeologist said “boats of such a size and construction were reserved solely for top members of the society, who usually
belonged to the royal family.”
not of the royal family, this person held an extraordinarily high social position,
someone who had solid connections with the reigning pharaoh, archaeologists
to the Egyptian Ministry, pottery discovered in the boat is much older than the
Fifth Dynasty, possibly going back to the Third or Fourth Dynasty. It is
believed that the boat is also of that era.
to the Egyptian Ministry’s statement, "The wooden planks were joined by
wooden pegs that are still visible in their original position. Extraordinarily,
the desert sand has preserved the plant fiber battens which covered the
the boat is still mostly intact, researchers expect to learn more about how Ancient
Egyptians built their watercraft and how the ships were used in funerary
believe that the funerary boats were barques; ships having three or more masts,
used to transport the dead to the afterlife. Pharaohs and members of the royal
families were entombed with barques built especially for their
final journey. Ancient Egyptians believed that the deities traveled through the
sky in barques. (The Milky Way was thought to be a waterway, like the Nile
last such Egyptian ship was discovered in 1954. One of the oldest and largest of the ancient
boats was unearthed at the foot of the Great Pyramid of Giza.The Khufu boat, so called because it was
built for Khunum-Khufu, the second pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty, was a 143 feet
long funerary boat crafted from cedar. The ship is being
reconstructed at the Giza Solar Boat Museum
at the Abusir Pyramids began in 2009. The site is located south of the Pyramids of
Giza. The excavation will continue until sometime in the spring.
(Apologies for the delay in this post, I was in Lexington, but my blog copy was not : )
Women have always been the expressers of emotions. We are the ones who oversee the major passages that occur in life – the births, the marriages, the sicknesses, the deaths, each with its own rituals that women have performed for eons. Death, in every culture, has always had many special rites and women have had the distinct responsibility of attending to that province.
In ancient Greece, women mourners performed the funeral dirge at a person’s death.
In ancient Rome, female mourners would be hired to keep long vigils while the body lay in state and then accompany it to its final resting place.
In ancient Egypt, women hired as mourners followed the funeral procession, wailing loudly. They were also depicted on the tomb walls.
In ancient Israel, women were the ones who prepared the body for burial, as we have though the ages, in all cultures.
In Ireland, women mourners would keen over the body. This keening was more of a poetic nature set to a vocal wail while the women would rock or clap.
In China, women mourners are still hired today to show respect for the deceased and to help guide the grieving emotions of those attending.
Known as professional mourners, wailers, criers, weepers, keeners and carpideiras, these women were hired to lament the deceased with loud weeping, wailing, hair-pulling, clothes-tearing, even tambourine and chest beating, depending on the dead’s status and the amount of money invested in the mourning. This was done to encourage others to join in with organized, rhythmic expressions of grief. In some countries, a hired mourner expressed all of the grief that the family could not bring themselves to do in public.
Demonstrative mourners were hired to attend the funeral services, to weep and chant. The funeral procession not only bore the deceased to their final resting place, it also was a public display of their status in life. Hired mourners would take part in the procession, wailing and grieving, in an organized manner, as benefited the standing of the deceased.
Hired female mourners are depicted throughout literature. From the Iliad to the Bible to Shakespeare, women have held the role of lamenter and griever. Even in the cemetery, it is the women who stand over the graves, heads bowed, faces bearing sorrow and anguish, silently lamenting someone’s passing.
Professional mourners were used in Europe until the early nineteenth century, when they were replaced by the funeral mute. The funeral mute was someone with a sad, melancholy face, dressed all in black, who would stand near the door of the home or church during the funeral to express grief. They would walk behind the horse-drawn hearse, with a grieving, albeit, silent face.
The professional mourner and the public display of such emotions fell out of favor with the Catholic church and they began to suppress them. Female mourners were replaced by religious figures such as priests intoning similar elegies and dirges, leading chants and funeral hymns, and heading up the religious procession to the burial grounds. In today’s contemporary world, funeral directors and undertakers have taken on the role as professional mourners, organizing the grieving process for families and leading the way to the cemetery. The only thing missing from our modern funeral mourners are the appearances of grief, and the tears.
Today in China, Taiwan, Brazil and Africa, female mourners are still hired to wail and grieve for the deceased. But, during the past century, the world has changed its views regarding the vocal lamenting of grief and death. We have become a quiet, stoic society. The tradition of the professional mourner has almost died out. But the statue of the female mourner, I suspect, will always be there watching over us with saddened and sorrowful eyes.