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Burial customs: cartonnages

Cartonnage is the term used in Egyptology and Papyrology for plastered layers of fibre or papyrus, flexible enough for moulding while wet against the irregular surfaces of the body; the method was used in funerary workshops to produce cases, masks or panels to cover all or part of the mummified and wrapped body. The plastered surface gave an even ground for painting motifs with greater stability than was possible with a linen shroud.

Sometimes cartonnage is compared with papier mache, but there is no pulping of the substrate, whether papyrus or linen: instead, smaller or larger sections of linen are cut to shape, and layered, and the plaster applied over the top. The method of preparation preserves the sections, and for this reason papyrus cartonnage is a prominent source of well-preserved manuscript sections.

There are four principal periods of use of cartonnage, each with distinct ingredients and effects:

  1. In the early Middle Kingdom, mummy masks might be made from plastered linen; by the mid-Twelfth Dynasty workshops were producing longer masks covering the upper body, and there were eventually mummy-cases (in wood) enveloping the whole body.
  2. In the Third Intermediate Period the innermost coffin of elite burials was replaced by a mummy-case made in cartonnage (linen and stucco). These mummy-cases, often also simply called 'cartonnages' were brightly painted. They are no longer in use by the Late Period.
  3. In the Ptolemaic Period, from the reign of Ptolemy III, to the very beginning of the Roman Period, perhaps no later than the reign of Augustus, cartonnage elements and masks were produced from old papyrus scrolls; during this period, many masks and elements were also being produced with linen in place of papyrus
  4. In the Roman Period mummy masks and decorated pieces placed on the mummies were being produced from thicker fibrous material supporting a thicker layer of plaster.

two pieces of cartonnages of the 22nd Dynasty
(click on the images to see a larger picture)

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Cartonnage pieces of the Ptolemaic or Roman Period, some of them might belong to mummy masks.

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cartonnages from Rifeh | mummy masks


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