Please note: Access to the exhibition is free on Sunday, May 19, as part of To Take Shape and Meaning Free Community Day.

Ancient Egyptian

Although comprising only 47 artifacts, the NCMA's ancient Egyptian collection represents the major periods of ancient Egyptian history, from the Predynastic (Nagada I, circa 4000–3500 BCE) to the Roman (30 BCE–642 CE) periods. The Museum’s oldest artifact is a black-topped ceramic jar that was handmade approximately 6,000 years ago. It probably served as food storage in a house or perhaps even a tomb, so that its owner would have food for the afterlife.

Egyptian, possibly from Thebes, Inner Coffin of Djedmut, circa 715—525 BCE, wood with linen, gesso, and paint, H. 71 × W. 21 1/8 × D. 7 1/2 in., Gift of the James G. Hanes Memorial Fund


All periods combined, the collection’s strength resides in funerary material, which includes the beautifully painted coffins of Djedmut and Amunred, magic servant statues (called shabtis) that would do the owner’s chores in the afterlife, and a canopic jar that once contained the mummified liver of a man named Qeny. The collection was brought together in an extremely powerful manner with the recent acquisition of the False Door of Ni-ankh-Snefru (called Fefi) (circa 2321–2278 BCE).

The false door was an important architectural element of private tombs because it served as a passageway for the ka (soul) of the deceased to travel between this world and the next. Priests, family members, and pious visitors would place in front of a false door offerings (generally bread and beer) intended to magically feed the ka of the deceased. This practice indicates that a section of an ancient tomb, separate from where the funerary belongings were sealed away, was accessible to visitors.


The remainder of the collection focuses on the many gods worshipped in Egypt, including the fierce lioness Sekhmet, the goddess of war and medicine.

Note: The North Carolina Museum of Art uses the designation BCE/CE (Before Common Era/Common Era) rather than BC/AD (Before Christ/Anno Domini) when dating its ancient collections that are not rooted in the Christian tradition. All dates prior to 664 BCE are approximate and are thus preceded by circa.

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