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A Corn Mummy Decoded


The Journal of the Walters Art Museum 63 (issue year 2005; published 2009) 5

As part of the reinstallation of the Renaissance and Baroque galleries of the Walters Art Museum in fall
2005, one room was created in the style of a Northern
European aristocrat’s chamber of wonders and another as his
private study. The installation includes ancient Egyptian
objects: bronze figures of deities, private sculpture, amulets,
a Roman period female child mummy,1 and a “corn mummy”
in a coffin with the head of a falcon.

M U M M I E S , S P U R I O U S M U M M I E S ,


Egyptian artifacts,
especially human
and animal mummies,
were popular elements
in princely chambers
of wonders during
the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries
but also in the more
focused study collec-
tions of artists, scholars,
and physicians.2 From
the seventeenth century
through the nineteenth
century, Egyptian mum-
mies were in great demand
as exotica; in addition
to genuine mummies,
numerous spurious mum-
mies came into collections.
Not all, however, were
contemporaryproducts created

for a credulous European market: spurious mummies were
being produced centuries earlier by the Egyptians themselves.
From the end of the Late Period through the Greco-Roman
Period (ca. 380 B.C.– A.D. 395) donations of mummified
sacred animals were a popular way of making merit. If the
embalmers and priests did not have the requisite animal in
stock, they often choose another and altered the exterior to
simulate the appearance of the desired animal. Some
“mummies” contained no body within the wrappings;
they could nonetheless be magically transformed into
“genuine” mummies through a ritual that secured the
protection of the donor and ensured divine support.

Another kind of
spurious mummy is the
so-called corn mummy,
also called “Osiris
mummy” or “grain
Osiris figurine.” 3 All
three terms describe a
specific type of object:
a three-dimensional
humanlike figure,4 made
from a mixture of mud,
sand, or clay, and grain
or seeds, and wrapped
in linen bandages or a
shroud. The figures were
moistened in a special
ritual so that the grain
would germinate and
ensure the renewal of
nature and resurrection in
the afterlife.5 Beginning in

Fig. 1. Vignettes on the front of the coffin of Djed-Bast-iu-ef-ankh, ca. 2nd
century B.C., Hildesheim, Roemer- und Pelizaeusmuseum (inv. no. 1954)

Page 2

the late Third Intermediate Period (the second half of the
eighth century B.C.) a specific subcategory of corn mummies
emerged: figures placed in hawk-headed coffins. After the
figure had been formed, a coating of oils, resins, wax, and
gum was applied to the bandages or cover shroud to more
closely simulate a genuine mummy. Elements such as
faces, hands, the Atef- or Hedjet-crown, the divine beard,
or royal insignia modeled in beeswax (which could be
painted or gilded)6 or, more rarely, in gold or silver,7 were
often attached to the figure. Some examples have an
attached phallus formed from the same components as the
mummy figure. Many of the wooden hawk-headed coffins
terminate in plinths so that figure could be displayed
upright during the ritual; some are supported by a back
pillar. Inscriptions or vignettes with representations of
deities appear in some examples. The mummy figures
were sometimes accompanied by small figurines of the
four Sons of Horus, or alternatively, four small balls bearing
the names or wax faces of these gods, as well as names of
other protective deities.8 Scarabs and cobra serpents made
of wax were also placed in the coffins.

Representations of and references to corn mummies
have been found on coffins of genuine mummies (fig. 1),
and the process of their manufacture during the Khoiak
festival, as well as their subsequent burial, is described and
depicted on temple walls.9 The most extensive information
about the ritual comes from the two late Ptolemaic roof
chapels of the Temple of Hathor at Dendera,10 as well as a
shorter account in the Osiris chapel on the roof of the
Temple of Isis at Philae.11



The corn mummy displayed in Walters Art Museum’s
chamber of wonders is a long-term loan (IL.2004.13) to
the museum from a private collection in Maryland. The
present owner purchased it in 1996 in Washington, D.C.,
as part of an estate; the deceased former owner reported
that her husband “had brought it back into the United States
in the 1940s, after doing work in the country of Egypt.”12

The circumstances and exact place of the acquisition in
Egypt, however, are unknown. It is difficult, moreover, to
determine the place of the object’s manufacture due to a
lack of comparable excavated material,13 and the closest
parallels also lack excavation records. Given the lack of
information about the work’s provenance, conclusions
about the corn mummy’s authenticity, origin, dating, and
meaning can be established only by detailed investigation
of the object itself and related examples.


Fig. 2a. Walters IL.2004.13: Interior of falcon-form coffin with corn mummy

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The core of the Baltimore corn mummy (figs 2a, b) was
formed of a mixture of clay, mud, and seeds and wrapped
horizontally in linen bandages. Plant fibers were used to
stabilize the face within the wrappings. A coating of oils,
resins, wax, and gum was then applied to the entire figure.
The figure’s beeswax overlay (fig. 3) was formed in a mold,
painted with blue and black pigment, and placed on the
mummy. The height of the figure is 45 cm (equal to one
small Egyptian cubit), the maximum width 13.5 cm, and
the maximum depth 13.9 cm. The corn mummy itself
is poorly preserved; most of the resinous coating is gone,
as are portions of the beeswax attachments. The upper layers
of the bandages have been partially removed, and the brittle
coating is lost or shattered as a result (see fig. 4). Fragments
of the coating are preserved on the chest and above the
left shoulder; smaller fragments are visible between the
remains of the wrapping underneath and beside the
corn mummy in the coffin. The wax face-and-crown
attachment has sustained damage, and later repairs are
evident. The tip of the nose is crushed or deformed, and
an irregular break runs horizontally across the face. The
head of the Uraeus-serpent, the twofeathers that originally
flanked the central part of the Atef-crown the beard,

as well as parts of the jaw and neck, are broken off. Parts
of the feathers and of the beard were found in the debris
beside and above the head. Some unidentified forms,
perhaps made of wax, remain in the wrappings. Traces of
green pigment (malachite) have been found on the surface
of the mask; it is therefore likely that the mask was
originally painted green.

The Sons of Horus figures were molded from the same
clay or mud mixture as the corn mummy and coated with
wax (see fig. 5). Their height ranges between 4.5 and 5 cm.
One of the four figures (probably the baboon-headed
Hapi) that would have accompanied the corn mummy in
its coffin is lost. The feet of the human-headed figure of
Imseti were broken off and had migrated to another area
of the coffin; a fine horizontal hairline crack in the wax
coating extends over the upper section of the leg, and a
small hole is visible in the center of the back. The jackal-
headed figure of Dua-mut-ef has one repaired break
through the waist and cracks in the associated wax coating;
the tip of the left ear and the left part of the figure’s face,
including the snout, are missing (fig. 5). The hawk-headed
figure of Qebeh-senu-ef, located beneath the corn
mummy, was not removed from the coffin; an x-radiograph
indicates that it is intact.


Fig. 4. Walters IL.2004.13: Corn mummy with wax mask removed. Fig. 5.
Walters IL.2004.13: Front and left side of wax-coated figure of Dua-mut-ef.

Fig. 2b. Walters IL.2004.13: Interior of falcon-form coffin with corn
mummy. Fig. 3. Walters IL.2004.13: Front and back of wax mask.

Fig. 2b

Fig. 3
Fig. 4

Fig. 5

Page 4

Later, the damaged nose and the break across the figure’s
wax face were repaired, as was the break in the figure of
Dua-mut-ef. (This probably took place in the 1930s or
1940s before the sale of the object in Egypt.) In 2005, the
wax fragments of the lower side of the jaw and neck, as
well as a major part of the beard, were reattached in the
conservation laboratory of the Walters Art Museum, and
Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy and x-radiography
analyses of the object were undertaken (fig. 7a).15 More
recently a computed tomography scan was done in the
Department of Diagnostic Radiology of the University of
Maryland Department of Medicine (fig. 7b).16


1. Iconography, Colors, and Materials
The figure in the coffin represents a human mummy, with
a conical extension on its head. The beeswax attachment
forms the iconic elements of the head section17: the human
face, the white Atef-crown,18 with Uraeus-serpent and
green plumes,19 and the divine beard. The beard and beard
straps, the lids of the eyes, and the brows are accentuated


The case and lid of the coffin itself were carved out of
a single piece of wood (possibly sycamore), smoothed, painted
with black, yellow, and blue pigment, and gilded. The lid
(fig. 6) and the case are held together and aligned by six
matching rectangular mortises (three on each side) that are
joined by wood strips (see figs. 2a, b). The dimensions of
the coffin are length 49.5 cm, width 15.2 cm, and depth
15.2 cm. The mummy itself fits comfortably in the coffin,
with a space of 1.3 cm around it. The lid of the coffin is in
good condition; minor surface losses and abrasions are evident,
as is a large crack in the bottom of the plinth and another
small one on the right side. Part of the blue paint of the
hawk’s mustachial band on the proper left cheek is lost,
exposing the white ground. Minor losses have occurred in
the black of the beak and the gilded face. Some dark spots
are visible on the gilding in the outline around the beak,
and the collar and borderlines of the upper wig are faded.
It may have been a yellow or red (?) color (possibly orpiment).

The mummy figure and the coffin were evidently
disturbed on several occasions. At an unknown date the
coffin was opened and the coating,14 and parts of the wrap-
pings and wax attachments were damaged or destroyed.

Fig. 6. Walters IL.2004.13: Exterior and interior of lid of falcon-form coffin Fig. 7a. Walters IL.2004.13: X-radiograph of the corn mummy in its case.
Fig. 7b: Walters IL.2004.13: Computed tomography scan of the corn
mummy in its case

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with green pigment; the pupils of the eyes are highlighted
in black. It is not possible to determine whether there were
additional attachments, such as hands bearing regalia.
Nevertheless, the human, mummiform shape of the body,
the Atef-crown, and the divine beard, as well as the green
color, which symbolizes renewal and resurrection,20 clearly
identify the figure as an image of the god Osiris.

The three surviving accompanying figurines of the
Sons of Horus (see fig. 8) are identifiable by their heads.
Each has a mummiform body, but Dua-mut-ef has a
jackal head, Qebeh-senu-ef a hawk head (identifiable
only on the x-radiograph above the mummy’s right
shoulder under a fragment of the resin layer [see fig.
7]),21 and Imseti, a human head; the ape-headed Hapi
is missing. The disposition of the figures around the
corn mummy is not original; it was disturbed when
the mummification coating was removed to search the
wrappings. The figures were probably arranged in pairs
and placed according to the cardinal directions observed
in Egyptian human burials: Imseti and Dua-mut-ef near
the feet (east), Qebeh-senu-ef and Hapi near the head
(west). The function of this group of divinities (known
also as the Sons of Osiris) was to protect the body of
the deceased Osiris and to assist in his resurrection,22

and as a consequence to care for the deceased.23 The
close relation between the mummification ritual for the
human deceased and the corn mummy ritual for Osiris
as part of the divine Khoiak festival accounts for the
association of these figures with the corn mummy.24

The case and lid of the anthropomorphic coffin are
black, as are the eyes and the beak of the hawk’s head; the
face is gilded, the outlines of the tripartite wig and the collar
between the lappets are yellow (a substitution, probably as
an economy, for gilding), and the mustachial/postocular
stripe combinations on the hawk’s cheeks are blue. The color
black was associated with fertility and the resurrection of
Osiris, as well as with magical power.25 It was the color of
night and the underworld, as well as of Anubis, protector
of the deceased and god of mummification.26 Gold or yellow
represents eternal divinity and imperishability,27 and blue
both the heavens and the primaeval flood, and, by extension,
life and rebirth.28

The design of the eight-row Wesekh-collar comprises
four rows with dots, alternating with three rows in a zigzag
motif, and at the bottom, a single row with a petal pattern.
The collar’s design may be more than simply decorative;
the motifs may have associations with the sun, the flooding
of the Nile or the primaeval flood, and, more broadly,
renewal. The Wesekh-collar itself had a protective function,
and is sometimes displayed on corn mummy coffins with
hawk’s head terminal.29

The combination of the hawk’s head and the mummified
“body” in this context alludes to the necropolis and afterlife
deity Sokar or Sokar-Osiris. Inscriptions on other examples
of hawk-headed corn mummy coffins strongly suggest this
identification,30 but the iconography may relate to other
deities as well. Inscriptions on corn mummy coffins from
Tehna el-Gebel do not mention Sokar but contain a part
of spell 15b of the Book of the Dead with a hymn to
Re-Harakhte-Khepri.31 Although the absence of inscriptions
makes certainty about the iconography elusive, the color
of the coffin supports the identification with Sokar, as does
the mention of the creation of a corn mummy together with
a Sokar figure32 as part of the annual Khoiak celebration.33

The materials that compose the corn mummy itself
represent the fertile land, with its potential for annual
renewal; they also allude to Osiris as god of fertility, vegetation,
death, and resurrection, and ultimately to the transition
from life to death.34 The coating of resin, gum, wax, and
other components was necessary for the preservation of the
“mummy,” but it also had a magical value,35 protecting the
connection between this world and the afterlife. The use of
resin for the production of heart scarabs, which were believed
to support the deceased in the Court of the Dead, had the
same purpose, as did the use of wax for the attachment
comprising the face, crown, and beard. Wax was understood
as a supernatural material with creative power, related both
to creation and to the sun.36 All these materials, together with
the combination of black and gold (respectively, fertility
and divinity) for the coffin, strengthened the ritualistic
and magical power of the corn mummy.

2. Typological Considerations
Despite extensive research on corn mummies, it remains
difficult to determine the date and provenance of many
examples because of missing or inadequate excavation records.


Fig. 8. Conjectural rendering of the Sons of Horus from IL.2004.13.
The figure of Hapi (second from left) is missing from the case.

Page 6

Typological comparison may be helpful in such cases. The
noteworthy typological aspects of the corn mummy in the
Walters Art Museum are: (1) the wrappings with a separate
mummification layer; (2) the beeswax attachment, comprising
a face, an Atef-crown, and a divine beard, with details painted
in green; (3) the presence of figurines of the Sons of Horus;
(4) the black coffin with a small plinth; (5) the gilded face of
the coffin, and (6) the absence of inscriptions or representations
on the coffin.

The excavated parallels closest to this combination of
characteristics are from Tehna el-Gebel,37 but most examples
with this provenance have a yellow coffin (a few are black with
yellow or white details) with a blue (rather than black) wig, and
they carry texts and vignettes. The wrappings of the mummy
figure are soaked with coating, and the mummies themselves
are ithyphallic. A newly identified comparable group may
originate from the Fayum region. It is characterized by a black
coffin, a beeswax or gold mask, and an inscription with
Pyramid Spell PT 368.38 Examples from Thebes (Wadi
Qubbanet el-Qirud) El Sheik Fadl, and Tehna el-Gebel differ
markedly from the corn mummy at the Walters. However,
neither the Tehna el-Gebel nor the so-called Fayum group
seems to have sufficient points in common with IL.2004.15
to warrant classifying it in either of those two groups.
Therefore, it seems likely that IL.2004.13 comes from
another necropolis. Unfortunately, typological comparison
does not help establish more precise dates because the
comparative pieces themselves are not securely dated.

3. Style
The body of the corn mummy is a highly simplified form
with areas corresponding to the head, torso, and legs rendered
in balanced proportions. The wrappings are horizontally
arranged, and what survives of the coating shows evidence of
having been smoothed. The face of the beeswax attachment
is round, with full cheeks and chin. The eyes have lids
accentuated with color, long and slim eyeline extensions,
as well as slightly downward-tilting inner corners. That the
left eye of the figure is larger than the right one may be due
to the instability of the wax and the repair of the horizontal
crack. The long, color-accentuated brows begin high above
the root of the nose and continue to the temples in a sloping
line. The nose is small and has a slim bridge; the mouth is
unpronounced with very slightly lifted corners. Green hatch
lines, broadening toward the ears, define the beard straps;
the beard itself is slender in comparison with the straps and
has a green painted plait pattern. All green painted parts
are defined by thin, black outlines (brows, lids, straps) or
structure lines (beard). The center of the white painted
Atef-crown is unusually large in comparison with the face
and the broken-off, green-painted, flanking feathers. The
head and shield of the cobra are raised in moderately high

relief and flanked by a double loop winding of the body; the
slender tail undulates very slightly to the top of the crown.

The proportions of the slender coffin are well balanced.
The gilded, oval face of the hawk is in low relief, the brows
and beak more prominent, and the circular outlines of the eyes
executed in raised relief with a small incision representing
the inner corners. The eyes and beak are painted black; the
outer corners of the beak end in fine curved lines. The
mustachial/postocular stripe combinations are painted in
blue, with fine black outlines. The zigzag structures of the
upper ends of the postocular stripes were painted free hand,
possibly to give them a more natural appearance. The
slightly raised, yellow borders of the wig are very regular,
unlike the pattern of the collar between the lappets, which
is a little more irregular, especially the alignment of the row
dividers and the dot pattern.


Some parallels to the corn mummy on loan to the Walters have
been documented,39 as have three extremely close examples.

The first was acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts,
Houston (acc. no. 2006.280, fig. 9). With the exception of
recent changes in ownership, the provenance of the Houston
corn mummy and coffin is unknown. From 1982 to 1995
the ensemble was in the Ernst Haas Collection and offered
with Charles Ede Limited, London, in 1995. From 1995 to
2005 it was part of the Benson and Pamela Harer Collection
in the United States and then offered by the Benson Harer
Family Trust with Christie’s New York, 9 December 2005,
Sale 1691, Lot 25 (catalogue, 42– 43). The Houston
mummy-figure is made of mud, sand, grain, and linen,
and has a beeswax mask, painted in green, white, and black,
as well as a mummification coating. The coffin is carved
wood, painted with black and yellow pigment, and partly
gilded. The measurements of the coffin are as follows:
length 48.9 cm, width 16.5 cm, and depth 14 cm.40 The
height of the mummy is about 45– 46 cm.

The second example belongs to the Ägyptisches Museum
und Papyrussammlung in Berlin and is on long-term loan to
the Poznan Archaeological Museum (fig. 10). The ensemble
was discovered in storage at the Ägyptisches Museum, lacking
an inventory number or other records of its entry into the
collection. The provenance is thus unknown, as is the date of
its entry. An x-radiograph of the mummy figure taken in 2000
indicates that it is composed of mud or sand and wrapped
linen. No coatings or attachments are preserved on the mummy
figure, but remains of a black resinous substance are visible
on at the bottom of the case’s interior. The exterior of the
coffin is painted with black and yellow pigment and partially
gilded; the length of the coffin is 49.5 cm and the width
16.8 cm; the height of the mummy is 42 cm.41


Page 7

The third example is a coffin of a corn mummy in the
Staatliche Museen Kassel, inv. no. V125.41.42 The provenance
of the coffin is unknown; it was purchased by the museum
in 1991 from the German art dealer Roswita Eberwein.
The wooden coffin is painted with black and yellow pigment
and partially gilded. The length is 49.5 cm, the width 17 cm.
The corn mummy itself has been lost; an ancient falcon
mummy that occupies the case is a modern replacement.

The fourth example is in the Museum der Brotkultur,
Ulm, inv. no. 0-755.43 The provenance of the coffins and
corn mummy is unknown. The wooden coffin has a pitch
coating and is decorated with yellow pigment; the hawk’s
face is partially gilded. The mummy figure is formed of
earth, grain, and linen; its face is covered by a dark beeswax
mask with Atef-crown, Uraeus serpent, and divine beard.
The length of the coffin is 48 cm, the width 18 cm.

Several obvious similarities and differences among these
five coffins and the four corn mummy figures are evident.
The size of all five coffins is nearly identical, as is the size of the
three mummy figures (the Berlin / Poznan figure, at 42 cm,
is slightly smaller than the other two). The material and
techniques used, especially the coatings of the Baltimore and
Houston mummy figures, appear to be very similar. The
cases and lids of the five coffins each have six slots of similar
size and placement for plugs to fit them together. The coffins
are slender, with balanced proportions, and terminate in a
small plinth. They are black, without inscriptions or vignettes,
and the hawk faces are gilded. The style of the hawk faces
is very similar, but the foreheads of the Berlin / Poznan and
Baltimore examples are high and arched, whereas the Ulm and
Kassel examples are flatter, and Houston has a superciliary
arch (see fig. 11). While the mustachial / postocular stripes
differ in color (blue or black), the shape (including the
free-hand painted upper ends) is quite similar. The yellow
collars between the yellow-rimmed lappets of the wigs vary
slightly: The Baltimore and Ulm examples have eight rows;
Houston and Berlin / Poznan, seven; and Kassel, five. The
patterns are the same, but the sequence varies slightly, and
only the Kassel example is missing the petal pattern in the
bottom row. The three mummy figures are similarly shaped
(none is ithyphallic) and the wrapping techniques are similar.
The crown of the Baltimore and Houston corn mummies
is large relative to the face. The shape and long tail of the
Uraeus serpent of the Baltimore, Houston, and Ulm corn
mummies are very similar, and the slender flanking feathers
broken off. The iconography of the face and crown wax
attachments is nearly the same; only the colors differ. While
the face of the Houston figure is painted green with black
accents, the face of the Baltimore example is unpainted with
the exception of the green accents (fig. 12). Moreover, the
style of the features in both masks is nearly identical, with
the round face, small nose and mouth, brows beginning


Fig. 9. Egyptian falcon-form coffin with corn mummy. Painted and gilded
wood, grain, earth, linen, and wax; coffin: 48.5 x 16.5 x 14 cm; mummy:
length 45– 46 cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum purchase
with funds provided by the Museum Collectors (2006.280)

Fig. 10. Egyptian Falcon-form coffin with corn mummy. Painted and
gilded wood, grain, earth, and linen; coffin: 49.5 x 16.8; mummy:
length 42 cm. Berlin, Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung, on
long-term loan to the Muzeum Archeologiczne w Poznaniu (Poznan)

Page 8

an important ritual place for Sokar, as a chthonic deity, and
in the Late Period an important place of pilgrimage for
Ptah-Sokar-Osiris. The high quality of the Baltimore corn
mummy/coffin ensemble makes a more prominent place
of origin plausible. However, corn mummies with a yellow
or golden décor and beeswax mask are also thought to have
come from the Faiyum.45

An exact dating of the ensembles must rely on typological
and stylistic comparisons alone. The time frame for corn
mummies in hawk-headed coffins extends from the late Third
Intermediate Period to the Greco-Roman period, although
the dating of both the earliest and the latest examples is a
matter of some controversy. A more precise identification of
the date and place of origin of each is hindered as well by the
absence of inscriptions or vignettes, the inherent instability
of the wax that composes the figures’ face, and the dearth of
stylistic research on Egyptian animal sculpture. Nevertheless,
the slender profile of the coffin, the balanced proportions,
and the muted colors preclude a late Ptolemaic or Roman date.
The high quality of the gilded hawk face with its carefully
modeled surface, and the human beeswax face with slim, less
curved brows, pronounced eyelids, and long, slim eyeline
extensions are characteristic of the Twenty-sixth Dynasty
(664–525 B.C.), as are the Uraeus-serpent’s shape and very
long tail with subtle undulations.46 However, the round face
and the small unaccentuated mouth may point to a slightly
later date.

One consistent and noteworthy feature of these corn
mummy ensembles is the absence of inscriptions and vignettes
on the coffins. Several possible explanations might account
for this: (1) the figure, together with its coffin, was encased
in an inscribed stone or pottery sarcophagus (as were several
examples excavated in Tehna el-Gebel);47 (2) the coffin was
unfinished, used for an unknown but urgent reason; (3)
the burial of the corn mummy took place in a special part
of the necropolis with a chapel or another monument that
contained texts or images (or both). No conclusion as to

high above the base of the nose, eyelids accentuated with
color, and long, slim eyeline extensions. The only significant
difference is the larger size of the wax mask in the Houston
example, which covers not only the head but also part of the
chest, while the mask of the figure at the Walters covers only
the head and neck (possibly due to losses). The features of
the wax corn mummy in Ulm differ slightly. The eyes and the
mouth are larger than in the other examples. The face is
painted black and the crown in its present state has a reddish
cast. It is likely that it also was originally painted black.

The similarities between the corn mummies and their
coffins strongly suggest that they were produced at the same
time, in the same place, and by the same workshop. The cor-
relation is even more likely given the differences between these
examples as a group and other documented corn mummies.


The corn mummy IL.2004.13 and its falcon-form coffin were
produced in ancient Egypt, and there is no evidence (either
technical, material, or scholarly) to question the authenticity
of the ensemble, even though the closest parallels are similarly
bereft of excavation records. The ensemble and its direct
parallels may come from a necropolis in Middle Egypt, given
their similarities to excavated examples from Tehna el-Gebel,44

but they are not close enough to securely assign that as their
place of origin. The different proportions, the lack of texts and
vignettes on the coffins, and a slightly different mummification
technique (rather than soaking the wrapping, the coating was
applied to the upper layers of the wrappings) are essential
arguments against assigning it to the two groups, although
some of the differences may reflect a temporal distance in the
dates of their production. However, one might also consider
hypothetically a possible origin of the five examples in another
important site in Middle Egypt: for example, Abydos, the
center of the Osiris cult. Beginning in the Ramesside period
(with the cenotaph of Sety I [d. 1279 B.C.), Abydos was also


Fig. 11. Faces and collars of the Baltimore (left), Houston (center), and Berlin / Poznan (right) falcon-form coffins

Page 9


the most likely explanation among these, however, can be
made without further information on the archaeological
context of similar examples. What is certain is that these
corn mummies had a ritual function and that they were
part of the annual Khioak festival. They were made to ensure
the regeneration of nature and the renewal of gods and
mortals in the afterlife. Magic was part of the ritual, as was
the corn mummy itself: a miraculous tool that guaranteed
continued existence.

Regine Schulz ([email protected]) is curator of ancient art
and director of international curatorial relations at the Walters
Art Museum.


1. The female child mummy (IL.1990.28.3) is a long-term loan to the
museum by Goucher College, Baltimore.

2. See R. Germer, Das Geheimnis der Mumien: Ewiges Leben am Nil
(Hildesheim, 1997), 95–115; R. Schulz, “Travelers, Correspondents, and
Scholars: Images of Egypt through the Millennia,” in R. Schulz and M.
Seidel, Egypt: World of the Pharaohs (Cologne, 1997), 493–94; M.J.
Raven and W.K. Taconis, Egyptian Mummies: Radiological Atlas of the
Collections in the National Museum of Antiquities at Leiden (Brepols,
2005), 19–20. Of the extensive literature on chambers of wonders, see,
for example, E. Sardo, ed., Athanasius Kircher: Il museo del mondo, exh.
cat., Rome, Palazzo Veneto (Rome, 2001), 101–32.

3. The term “corn” in Egyptology (as in English biblical usage) designates
grain in general. Botanical analysis of a group of corn mummies in a
Polish collection has identified the grain used as emmer or barley, which
formed the basis of the most important foods of the Egyptians: bread
and beer. See K. Wasylikova and A. Jankun, “Identification of Barley
from the Ancient Egyptian Corn-mummies in the Archaeological
Museum in Cracow,” Materialy Archaeologiczn 30 (1997): 13 –15.

Fig. 12. Face-and-crown attachments of the Baltimore (left) and Houston
(right) corn mummies

4. Similar terms are used in French and German: “Osiris figurine,” “pseudo-
momie d’Osiris,” “Osiris végétant” (Fr.); “Kornmumie,” “Osirismumie”
(Ger.), etc. See C. Seeber, “Kornosiris,” in W. Helck and W. Westendorf,
eds., Lexikon der Ägyptologie 3 (Wiesbaden, 1980), 744 –45; M.J.
Raven, “Corn-Mummies,” Oudheidkundige mededelingen 63 (1982):
7–38; M.C. Centrone, “Behind the Corn Mummy,” Current Research
in Egyptology 2003, ed. K. Piquette and S. Love (Oxford, 2005), 11.
Although a variety of these pseudo-mummies are documented, others
have been misidentified as genuine animal or child mummies.

5. This differs from the two-dimensional so-called Osiris beds placed
in New Kingdom royal tombs. Raven, “Corn Mummies,” 12–15.
Compartmented pottery vessels used for the “ritual sprouting” of grain
were likely Middle Kingdom precursors to corn mummies. See Centrone,
“Behind the Corn Mummy,” 24–25 (with references).

6. For painted examples, see Raven, “Corn Mummies,” 18 ff. A gilded
example is in Berlin, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin Preussischer Kulturbesitz,
Ägyptisches Museum, SMBPK, 310207 [6/66], published in W. Kaiser,
Ägyptisches Museum Berlin (Berlin, 1967), 84, no. 867. U. Fritz,
“Kornmumien aus dem Fayum? Ein Kornosiris in falkenförmigem
Holzsarkophag (Tübingen Inv. 1853a, b, c),” in Studien zur Altägytischen
Kultur 35 (2006): 110–11, fig. 9.

7. Only a few examples with masks made of gilded silver are documented.
See Raven, “Corn Mummies,” 26, no. 3 (Budapest, Szépmüvészeti
Múzeum, inv. no. 6022, illustrated in I. Nagy, Collections of the Museum
of Fine Arts Budapest, 2: The Egyptian Collection [Budapest, 1999], 113,
fig. 93); A. von Lieven, “Ein neuer Kornosiris im Abenteuermuseum
Saarbrücken,” Bulletin de la Société d’Égyptologie (Genève) 24 (2000–2001):
59–70; Centrone, “Behind the Corn Mummy,” 13–14. U. Fritz,
“Kornmumien aus dem Fayum? 103–24.

8. Centrone, “Behind the Corn Mummy,” 23.

9. The vignettes on the coffin of Djed-Bast-iu-ef-ankh (Hildesheim,
Roemer- und Pelizaeusmuseum, inv. no. 1954 (see B. Schmitz, “Sarg des
Djed-Bast-iu-ef-ankh,” in A. Eggebrecht, ed., Suche nach Unsterblichkeit
[Hildesheim and Mainz, 1990], 28–29, no. T1) display the mummifi-
cation process in several stages, including the motif of the germinated
corn mummy. Additionally, the foot of the coffin shows two scenes, one
with the figure of Sokar (mummiform with hawk head) and one of
Khenti-Imentiu (Osiris, hominin with a feather crown), created during
the Khoiak festival and mentioned in the mystery text in the roof chapels
of the Dendera temple.

10. See: E. Chassinat, Le mystère d’Osiris au mois de Khoiak, 2 vols.
(Cairo, 1966–68); S. Cauville, Le temple de Dendera, 10: Les chapelles
osiriens (Cairo, 1997); Raven, “Corn Mummies,” 27–29; M. Raven, “A
New Type of Osiris Burial,” in W. Clarysse, A. Schoors, and H Willems,
eds., Egyptian Religion: The Last Thousand Years— Studies Dedicated to
the Memory of Jan Quaegebeur, Orientalia Lovaniensia Analacta 84
(Leuven, 1998), 235–39.

11. G. Bénédite, Le temple de Philae, Mémoires publiés par les membres
de la mission archéologique française au Caire (MMF) 13 (Paris, 1893), pl. xl.

12. Stated in a letter of 15 July 2006 from the present owner to the museum.

13. See Raven, “Corn-Mummies,” 21–23.

14. The coating on the very similar corn mummy in the Museum of Fine
Arts Houston (acc. no. 2006.280, see infra) is intact and conveys an
idea of the original appearance of that layer.

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