This week we are going to talk about a child buried in the Mortuary Temple of Mentuhotep II in Deir el-Bahri. Her relationship to the king is not entirely known, but her name was Mayet, meaning “The Cat.”
Mayet (alternatively spelled Miiut or Miit) probably lived during the rule of Mentuhotep II from 2061 to 2010 B.C.E. in the Middle Kingdom. Her relationship to the royal family is not known, but since she was buried within the mortuary temple, it can be assumed that she was a close family member to Mentuhotep II.
It is generally assumed that she was a young daughter of the king who died unexpectedly, but the Brooklyn Museum cites that she was a wife of the King. This is unlikely as she was probably around five years old when she died, which would be extraordinarily young for the wife of a king. As I said her name means “the cat,” and her name is written with the hieroglyph of a cat!
Her burial was found intact in the back of a columned structure in the center of the complex. Here there were six burials with shrines, which were discovered in 1921 by the American expedition by Herbert Eustis Winlock. Five of the burials belong to other royal women with the titles of King’s Wives. These were Ashait, Henhenet, Kawit, Kemsit, and Sadeh. Unfortunately, Mayet’s burial did not contain any titles, not even King’s Daughter, which leads to confusion about her relationship with the royal family.
Check out this article about the discovery of the tombs of these Queen’s and Mayet’s tomb!
Her coffins were found at the bottom of Pit 18. She was buried in three coffins, one made of limestone and two wooden coffins. The outer limestone coffin was inscribed with a simple offering formula. It was also much bigger than required, which suggests that it was not originally made for her small size. This implies an unexpected death and the use of someone else’s coffin. The stone sarcophagus was seemingly left in the tomb in Deir el-Bahri.
The outer wooden coffin is located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art ( 26.3.9a-b). This coffin has several offering spells on each of its sides and a pair of magical eyes on one side, which would allow the deceased to see when priests made offerings to them.
The inner coffin (and preseumably her body?) is located in the Brooklyn Museum (52.127a-b) and made of cypress and fig wood. It is also inscribed with a simple offering spell and decorated with a pair of magical eyes on one side. There is also evidence that the names within the offering spells had been altered to spell Mayet’s name. This is direct evidence of the use of someone else’s coffin.
Within the wooden coffin, the body of the girl was found wrapped in linen and adorned with a mummy mask. The embalmers added substantial padding to her feet and her head to make the mummy look longer and fit within the adult size coffin. It is unclear if the body is currently with the inner coffin in the Brooklyn Museum, as I could not locate any pictures of the mummy or the mummy mask.
Check out these awesome 3D models of her coffin by Indiana University!
There are several linen markers found within the coffin, which are located in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (22.3.4-22.38). These are short inscriptions written in ink on the corners of large sheets of linen. Some mention the names or titles of high officials, to whose estate the linen may have belonged to or who were possibly overseeing its acquisition or production. Other marks say nfr meaning good, which refers to the quality of the fabric.
One inscription (Above, 22.3.7), which came from a sheet of linen (22.3.6) that was laid inside her coffin, mentions the steward Henenu, who may have been the same person depicted on a different stela at the MET (26.3.21a,b).
There is evidence that the tomb was robbed in antiquity, but the looters did not open the sarcophagus. This is lucky because there are several beautiful necklaces found on the mummy. All of her jewelry are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Five necklaces were found around the neck of the mummy. Her necklaces are some of the finest jewelry that survives from this period. The drilled stone beads are very tiny, making this a technically brilliant manufacture. The necklaces are made out of beads (22.3323) and amulets (22.3.324), carnelian (22.3.321), and gold (22.3.320 and 22.3.322).
Inner coffin – Wikimedia Commons – Unknown Author
Inner coffin -Brooklyn Museum
Necklaces – MET
Image of mummy in coffin – https://www.klinebooks.com/pages/books/43305/h-e-winlock/excavations-at-dier-el-bahri-1911-1931
Excavation Images – Bulletin of the MET 1921