Secrets Woven in the Past

    “Secrets Woven in the Past,” Ensign, Jan. 1991, 64

    Secrets Woven in the Past

    Discovery of the gold mummy has confirmed that there were two distinct types of burials at Fagelgamuse, near the Seila pyramid. According to Marvin Kuchar, chairman of the Department of Clothing and Textiles at Brigham Young University, the elaborate stone tombs in the hills of the cemetery, where the mummy was found, probably contained the bodies of royalty or nobility. Ordinary citizens—even from wealthy families—seem to have been buried in the sandy part of the cemetery, sometimes in mud-brick tombs or covered with branches, reeds, or woven palm mats.

    The two groups of people were also buried in different kinds of fabric. According to Professor Kuchar, the mummies buried in the stone tombs were wrapped with the “traditional mummy wrap”: Pieces of old fabric, about 8 by 10 inches each, were layered over the body until the desired shape was achieved; then the body was wrapped in narrow strips of linen wound diagonally around the body. Some, like the gold mummy, were given a gold mask.

    By contrast, some of the mummies found in the sandy areas of the cemetery were clothed simply in one or more new robes of brilliant colors and complex design. These long robes had sleeves that came to the elbow or wrist and fringe around the hemline.

    Unlike the neutral-colored linen wrap on the mummies in the stone tombs, these robes were woven from a combination of linen and brightly dyed wools. Often, the colors in the robes were a sophisticated mix of green, purple, orange, and gold, as well as of yellow, blue, three shades of red, and several shades of brown. The colors have remained clear and intense for two thousand years.

    “The colors remain bright for several reasons,” says Professor Kuchar. “The mummy was wrapped very tightly and buried, so it was free of oxygen, water, and light. Since the dyes themselves were quite stable, there would be no reason for the colors to fade.”

    The robes these individuals were buried in have what seems to be symbolic designs woven in the fabric. Among the objects represented in the designs are pomegranates, cats, and the sun. The meaning of some of these symbols—for example, the lotus blossom—is known, but the meaning of others awaits further research.

    Some of the robes also have a textured pattern woven into them. Quite common is the addition of three thick threads, evenly spaced, in the horizontal weave of the fabric to effect a slight ribbing.

    “We are not sure what this three-corded pattern represents,” says Professor Kuchar, “but we know the Egyptians believed in three heavens; possibly this pattern is representative of those heavens.”

    Two Egyptian burial coverings: brilliant colored robes of the common people (left), and traditional linen mummy wrap of royalty (above). Royalty were then buried in a coffin and tomb. (Photography by Marvin Kuchar.)