3D reconstruction I. Requirements, finding sources and brief history

We now have our primary source (the artefact) as digital 3D object to build upon. The next step is to search for comparable artefacts (same or similar time and region) so that we get clues and an idea how the final reconstruction has to look and don’t have to work with just our imagination in an empty 3D space.

“Even if you follow the rules [of reconstruction], the only certain thing about any reconstruction drawing is… that it is wrong. The only real question is, how wrong is it?” 

James 1997, 25.

Following this statement, we have to achieve a transparent workflow to show our uncertainties and give others a chance to follow our decisions, opening the door for an academic discussion like we are used to with footnotes and citations in papers.

Our primary source is the previously generated 3D scan of the coffin lid fragment. For the secondary sources we have to a quite extend several coffins and coffin lids findings in Northern Upper Egypt. We have to first examine if our fragment could fit into these findings and then if there are common features of Northern Upper Egypt coffins of the 22nd to 25th dynasties we can rely on as sources for our reconstruction. The most extensive recent study on these types of wooden coffins were made by John H. Taylor in 2009 (see below).

In Egypt a major shift in power and structure happened at the end of the 20th dynasty and the New Kingdom with the death of Ramses XI and the beginning of the Third Intermediate Period (around 1069 BCE; see also Taylor 2010, 220f. for a political overview). This was also marked with a change in the burial tradition: stone sarcophagi were no longer used and with the 22nd dynasty, the previously used highly decorated yellow wooden coffin (esp. Theban Elites) were discarded and replaced by much less elaborated decorations. Also, the full cartonnage body container around the mummy was introduced (see. Cooney 2015, 285).

Taylor sums up the 21st dynasty coffins style as following:

In the 21st Dynasty […] the vast majority of the evidence for elite burials comes from Thebes. […] All the examples are anthropoid cases, brilliantly painted in polychrome on a yellow or white ground, with a strong yellow varnish. The hands are represented crossed on the chest and often holding djed and tit amulets. […] the surfaces are divided into rectilinear compartments and densely filled with detailed vignettes and groups of divine figures and emblems […] Interior as well as exterior surfaces are routinely painted […].

Taylor 2009, 376 on Background: the New Kingdom and the 21st Dynasty

Between the 22nd and early 25th Dynasties the contrast in the design of the coffins between Southern Upper Egypt and Northern Upper Egypt and to the ones used in the 21st Dynasty is rather drastic:

Theban elite burials of the 22nd to early 25th Dynasties usually comprised one or two anthropoid wooden coffins containing a cartonnage mummy-case. The wooden coffins skilfully reproduce the shape of the mummy and have a sculptured, three-dimensional quality. The head and projecting footcase are carefully modelled, but (with a few exceptions) arms and hands are not represented . The decoration of these outer coffins sometimes features figures of deities in registers and compartments […] but often the adornment consists of little more than single lines of inscription on the lid and the coffin case and a large figure of a goddess on the interior. The background colouring is often black, yellow or reddish, but frequently the natural colour of the wood is left exposed.

Taylor 2009, p. 378 on 22nd to early 25th Dynasty: Southern Upper Egypt

The burials typically comprise one or two anthropoid coffins of wood […]. The decoration of the coffins is restricted to the exterior and usually to the lid alone. Here the only parts regularly decorated are the face, the wig, the collar, the hands, and a central inscription, sometimes with decorative borders and often with a recumbent jackal above.

Taylor 2009, p. 379 on Northern Upper Egypt and Delta coffins, 22nd to early 25th Dynasty

Also, these Northern Upper Egypt coffins are often rather simple or ‘crude’ made with partially garbled inscription which often led Egyptologists and archaeologists to date these coffins in Ptolemaic or Roman eras (Taylor 2009, 379).

Whereas the wooden coffins from southern Upper Egypt were carefully sculpted, reproducing the shape of the mummified body from head to foot, the modelling of the human form on the northern coffins was done in a simpler fashion. Only the head, shoulders and hands were distinctly represented. The coffin lids are generally flat, with only thin strips of wood attached along the outer edges to create a slight concavity, and they lack the carefully shaped, protruding foot-case which is typical of coffins from southern sites.

Taylor 2009, p. 386 on Conspectus of Stylistic Features of Coffins from Northern Upper Egypt

These information give us a strong hint that our coffin lid fragment could fit into the Northern Upper Egypt coffin-types from the 22nd to 25th Dynasties: hands are visible and if you look closely at the (worn) surface, just the wig, the collar between the lappets of the wig, the back of the hands and the face are decorated. These can be supported further with more details.

Image provided by Sebastian Hagenauer, University of Cologne


K. M. Cooney (2015), Coffins, Cartonnage, and Sarcophagi, in: M. K. Hartwig (ed.), A Comapnion o Ancient Egyptian Art (Chichester), 269–292.

S. James (1997), Drawing Inferences. Visual Reconstruction in Theory and Practice, in: B.L. Molyneaux (ed.), Cultural Life of Images. Visual Representation in Archaeology, (Oxfordshire), 22–48.

J.H. Taylor (2009), Coffins as evidence for a ‘north-south divide’ in the 22nd-25th dynasties, in: G.P.F. Broekman/R.J. Demarée/O.E. Kaper (edd.), The Libyan Period in Egypt. Historical and cultural studies into the 21st-24th dynasties: Proceedings of a conference at Leiden University, 25-27 October 2007 (Leiden), 375–415.

J.H. Taylor (2010), Changes in the Afterlife, in: W. Wendrich (ed.), Egyptian Archaeology (Chichester), 220–240.

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