False doors are a common element within Egyptian temples of the New Kingdom dedicated to their ancient gods

False doors

False doors are a common element within Egyptian temples of the New Kingdom dedicated to their ancient gods, as well as much earlier mortuary temple dedicated to the deceased and within the tombs themselves. They represented thresholds that allowed gods or the deceased to interact and link with the living world, and are most commonly associated with offering rituals. However, in New Kingdom temples they were also associated with the so-called "hearing" chapels, or chapels of the "hearing ear", which were usually located at the very rear of many temples directly behind the sanctuary in the outer walls of the temple structure. These "hearing ear" chapels gave those outside the temple access to their gods.

The false door is one of the most common elements found within Egyptian tomb complexes and is almost always present in decorated tombs. Hence it is also one of the most important architectural features, and they are found in both royal and non-royal tombs complexes, beginning with Egypt's Old Kingdom. They are called a "false door" because spiritual entities of the deceased were believed to have the ability to pass through the door, though for the most part it had no ability to open or close as a normal door.

The false door was intended to allow the deceased a link between the living and the dead so that, perhaps most importantly, he would receive sustenance from the land of the living.

Often called a Ka-door, they were frequently made of a monolithic piece of fine limestone that was then painted red with black spots probably to imitate granite, a good example of which is found in the tomb of Seankhuiptah in the Teti cemetery. However, in the tomb of Hesire and in other rare instances, they might also be made of wood. Interestingly, was false doors were almost always completely fixed, in the case of Hesire, and perhaps in a few other rare, early examples, they may have been furnished with moveable wooden panels.

The typical form of the false door probably evolved out of the "palace facade" external architecture of the Mastaba tombs of the elite in the Early Dynastic period.

False doors were really not copies of real doors, bur rather a combination of an offering niche and a stela with an offering sable scene. They often possess one, two or even three pairs of jambs leading to a central niche. Above the niche there was often a rounded element called a drum, that probably represented a rolled-up woven curtain. A panel on which the tomb owner is depicted at an offering table, together with an inscription of the traditional offering formula, is frequently present, surmounting a lintel that extends across the jambs. In addition, a pair of outer jambs and an architrave then forms a frame around the door. From the middle of the 5th Dynasty, one also finds several new elements to a false door. These include a torus (rounded) molding and a cavetto cornice, both elements deriving from a door constructed of plants and representing a frame bound with fiber and a palm cornice.

In front of the false door there was often built an offering slab in the shape of a hetep symbol, representing a loaf on a mat. Here food and drink were placed for the Ka of the deceased. These were also most commonly made of fine stone, and frequently included a number of depressions used as dishes and basins. These elements might also have depictions in relief of a loaf of bread and occasionally other items such as a goose or an ox head. These slabs were certainly used for real offerings to the deceased. However, these offerings were probably later redistributed among priests and necropolis workers.

Most of the elements of the false door are usually inscribed with the name and titles of the owner, and frequently adorned with his figure. In some cases, there is also a statue of the owner in the central niche, and for example, in the the tomb of Neferseshemptah in the Teti cemetery, there was an engaged, standing statue in each of its outer jams and a bust statue in the central panel instead of the more typical offering table scene.

False doors were most typically placed on the west wall of the main room in the chapel, known as an offering chamber. In some instances, there were two false doors affixed to the west wall, with the southern one serving the tomb owner while the northern door was meant for his wife. However, in some instances of mastaba design, there might actually be one false door for each member of the family buried in the tomb, usually located near the shaft leading to their respective burial chambers.