Egypt: Funerary Cones (Funerary Stamps)

Funerary Cones

(Funerary Stamps)

by Jimmy Dunn writing as Mark Andrews

Funerary Cones

Artifacts, often in a conical shape made of fired clay bearing stamped funerary text on their circular face, are generally referred to as funerary cones. Though only (about) two sets of these objects have been found in situ, we believe they were inserted as a frieze, with the stamped face exposed, above the doors of Middle and New Kingdom (particularly the 18th through 26th Dynasties) private tombs. These funeral objects were produced for both men and women.

Wiedemann published the first real study of these stamped objects in 1885, which was followed by an additional systematic corpus of the objects by Daressy in 1893. However, a corpus of facsimiles compiled by Norman de Garis Davies and M. F. Laming Macadam, known as A Corpus of Inscribed Egyptian Funerary Cones, published in 1957, provides the key reference source for their study today.

Funerary Cones

While the Theban necropolis has yielded most known funerary cones, they have also been discovered in a few other locations including as far south as Nubia. The stamped text typically bears the names and titles of the deceased person, often including additional biographical data and epitaphs. Any number of cones might exist for any one person, and they provide us with a considerable amount of the information on many non-royal ancient Egyptians.

The cones may have been used for a variety of functions. Egyptologists suggest that they may have been used to identify the tomb owner (almost like a modern cemetery marker, as an ornamental memorial, as a boundary marker or even as a symbolic offering of bread or meat. Others believe that they may have been used as a symbolic tomb seal, and may been intended to provide protection. Even the stamped, conical end of the cone has been interpreted in several ways. Some believe it represents symbolically the the ends of roofing poles, a form of visitors' card, simply a decorative element, or possibly even the shape of the sun disk.

Funerary Cones

In reality, the use of these cones is complicated by their variety. While we generally refer to these stamped objects as cones, they could be rectangular, wedge-shaped, flat or bell shaped, and at least one example took the form of a double-headed cone. Their width, length and thickness could also vary considerably, and some of the cones were even hollow. Cones are often found that were painted in various colors, mostly consisting of red, blue or white. But in ancient Egypt, these colors could indicate different materials, including bread, meat, pottery and the red glow of the sun.

In fact, some Egyptologists suggest that the investigation and handling of artifacts referred to as funerary cones has not met the same standards as other pottery items. In fact, collectors and even well known Egyptologists have sometimes mutilated funerary cones in order to preserve only the text, without regard to the objects original shape. Even Petrie admitted to this practice, stating that:

"as the inscriptions are all that is really required, the bulk of the cone was removed, either by sawing, if soft, or breaking, if hard. Thus with a very small loss, I reduced a collection of over 250 to a more manageable bulk. "

The earliest of these cones, have been dated to the eleventh dynasty, but have no inscriptions. Some were very large, measuring some 53 centimeters (20 inches) in length, but their size decreased, particularly during the New Kingdom. They seem most common from the reign of Thutmose I, but apparently their used declined during the Ramessid period.

Funerary Cones

While funerary cones are mostly associated with the West Bank at Thebes (modern Luxor), they have also been found at Naga ed-Deir and el-Deir north of Esna. Though the tombs they reference have not been discovered, they was probably located in those general areas.

Also, Middle Kingdom tombs at Rizeiqat, Armant, Naqada and Abydos have yielded uninscribed cones. However, beyond these few other cones, none have been found outside of the Theban necropolis.

Most of the cones come from painted, as opposed to sculpted tombs, and conform to the Theban funerary traditions. They may have been thought to be particularly suited to rock cut tombs. They have been discovered in various sections of the Theban West Bank, and are particularly notable in the tombs at Sheik Abd-el-Qurna, dating to the eighteenth dynasty, but are notably mostly absent at Deir el-Medina, where only one example has been discovered.

One of the facets of Egyptology that funerary cones indicate is that their are many more tombs to be discovered. Some of these tombs may be lost to us forever, but currently there are more than four hundred funerary cones that are not immediately assignable to a known tomb at Thebes.






Reference Number

Ancient Gods Speak, The: A Guide to Egyptian Religion

Redford, Donald B.


Oxford University Press

ISBN 0-19-515401-0

Egyptian Religion

Morenz, Siegfried


Cornell University Press

ISBN 0-8014-8029-9

Gods of the Egyptians, The (Studies in Egyptian Mythology)

Budge, E. A. Wallis


Dover Publications, Inc.

ISBN 486-22056-7

Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, The

Shaw, Ian


Oxford University Press

ISBN 0-19-815034-2