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Burial customs: mastabas

Egyptologist use the Arabic word 'mastaba', meaning 'bench', for the massive rectangular structures found above many tombs in Saqqara, Gizeh and other places. They often have rooms for offerings inside which are decorated with reliefs or paintings. In the Old Kingdom (about 2686-2181 BC) they had a separated room 'serdab' in which one or more statues of the tomb owner and his family were placed. The earliest mastabas are found at Tarkhan, Saqqara and Gizeh. They are structures decorated with a palace facade. They did not have any entrance.

early mastabas:


In the Second Dynasty the facade of the mastabas became simpler. There are now two false doors at the east outside. They might have been decorated with a stela showing the tomb owner sitting in front of an offering table. In the Third Dynasty these false doors developed to small chapels with elaborate decorations.

Mastaba of the Third Dynasty
Mastaba of the early Fourth Dynasty

In the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Dynasty (about 2600-2181 BC) the rooms inside of the mastabas became more complicated. There are some mastabas with many relief decorated rooms.

there are not many mastabas of these types in Digital Egypt;
but compare

Mastabas are mainly attested at Saqqara and Gizeh, but must have been common in the Old Kingdom (about 2686-2181 BC) at many other places. Many mastabas in Saqqara and Gizeh are build in stone. The mastabas in the provinces are mainly build in mud brick. Mastaba at certain places (Abydos) are only known from fragments of reliefs, which might come from them.

mastabas at Elkab

Old Kingdom mastabas at other places:
Denderah (Petrie 1900a/Petrie 1900b)
Edfu (Seidlmayer 1990: 59-63)
Naga ed-Deir (Reisner 1932)
Thebes (Arnold 1976)

complete list: Kessler 1982


Mastaba in the First Intermediate Period

Mastabas have often many shafts. The chapel becomes smaller. The decoration is reduced, often to just a false door and inscribed door lintels and jambs (the development is described by Seidlmayer 1990: 399-412).


Mastabas in the Middle Kingdom (about 2025-1700 BC)

There are now two primary types of mastabas.

mastaba with interiors rooms
solid mastabas with exterior decoration

After the Middle Kingdom the tomb type mastaba disappears.

further reading:

  • Kaiser 1998 (on the development of the earliest mastabas)
  • Reisner 1936 (the development of the tomb architecture from its origins to the beginning of the Fourth Dynasty)


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