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Ancestor cult in Ancient Egypt

The cult of the dead is prominent in ancient Egypt, but generally involves a person securing an afterlife either for themselves or for immediate relations: there is less evidence that ancestors from earlier generations received special attention. Objects connected with an ancestor cult mainly date to the New Kingdom (about 1550-1069 BC), specifically to after the Amarna Period. 'Ancestor busts' (busts representing a deceased person) have been found mainly in Deir el-Medine, but are also known from other places. Some excavated examples were found in the entrance part of the houses. Here there must have been a special space dedicated to a cult for the dead members of the family. The most monumental examples are two fine busts inscribed one with the name of the father and invoking the god Shu, the other with the name of the mother and invoking the goddess Tefnet: the reference to the two deities implies that each bust represented the two lines, male and female, right back to the dawn of creation - in Egyptian myth, Shu and Tefnet are the first son and daughter of the creator, the sun-god Ra.

Another late New Kingdom object category is the stela with person identified in hieroglyphs as Ax iqr n ra (akh iqer en Ra) - 'excellent spirit of Ra'. These stelae show the deceased sitting on a chair smelling a lotus flower. They are also dedicated by members of the family.

ancestor busts
(click on the images to see the context)

from Gurob
UC 16030, ancestor bust from Gurob UC 16031, ancestor bust from Gurob

(click on the images to see a larger picture)
UC 16549,  ancestor bust UC 16550,  ancestor bust UC 16552,  ancestor bust

Akh iqer en Ra stelae

UC 14354, stela

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