This is an impressive wood sarcophagus for a mummified ibis bird, rarely seen on the market.
The sarcophagus is decorated on four sides. The longer sides show identical but mirrored scenes. Within a frame of red and green a priest is offering incense to a large ibis in the centre, which is wearing an atef crown and has a feather under its beak. A winged sun disc is hovering over the ibis. A djed pillar and an Isis knot, general protective symbols, are shown behind the animal. An undulating snake above the frame also has a protective role.
On the shortest side of the sarcophagus a single djed pillar is depicted within a frame. The opposite side shows two opposing figures of Thoth, with the figure of a man and the head of an ibis, standing within a frame, wearing the atef crown and holding a sceptre.
The lid of the sarcophagus is undecorated, but has a border of a darker colour. A few holes in the lid, corresponding to holes in the side panels, mark the places where pegs (now missing) fastened the lid to the box.
The inscription over the back of the ibis reads seems to refer to the ibis, due to its positioning, but in fact belongs to the winged sun disc. It reads: "Behedty (He of Edfu), the great god, the lord of heaven, colorful of feathers". These titles tell us that the sun disc is Horus of Edfu. The way he is depicted here, with his wings in a rectangular position, is similar to that of the vulture goddess Nekhbet hovering over the king.
Interestingly, on one of the longer sides an inscription in Demotic can be found as well; this informs us about the person who dedicated the sarcophagus and also gives us a date (unfortunately incomplete). The text, translated by two specialists for Demotic, reads "Year 8, second (?) month of the akhet season, last day [...] the ibis of Djehutyiu son of Djehutysedjem".
The ibis is a representation of the god Thoth, the god of writing and wisdom, who played an important role at the judgement of the dead. Standing near the scales on which the heart of the deceased was weighed against the feather of truth (symbol of the goddess Maat), Thoth wrote down the outcome of the investigation. The feather under the beak of the ibis refers to this aspect of the god.
For Horus of Edfu as a winged sun disc and with the same titles see – a few examples out of many - the depiction of the winged sun disc hovering above the main scene on the Bentresh Stela and the accompanying inscription (Kenneth A. Kitchen, Ramesside Inscriptions Volume II (Oxford, Blackwell, 1979), § 70, p. 284-287); similarly the western thickness of the eastern door of the ambulatory in the temple of Edfu (Amr Gaber, The Central Hall in the Egyptian Temples of the Ptolemaic Period (Durham, Doctoral Thesis Durham University, 2009), p. 302-303) and the eastern side of the door frame of the eastern doorway in the central hall of the temple of Edfu (ibid., p. 441); the stela of Ankhwennefer, Louvre IM4010 (Joanna Labudek, Late Period Stelae from Saqqara. A Socio-Cultural and Religious Investigation (Birmingham, 2010), p. 308). For earlier periods see for example the poetical stela of Thothmes III (Urk. IV, 611, 3).
Late Period to Ptolemaic Period, 664-30 B.C.
Length ca. 44 cm; height 23 cm maximum to 13 cm minimum; width 20 cm maximum to 11 cm minimum.
Dutch private collection, bought from Arte Primitivo, New York in 2003; previously US private collection, late 1970s.
The longer panels were each made of two pieces of wood; the joints are clearly visible (as they have always been and were intended to be), with some remnants of glue; similarly the lid consists of two parts; the panels were connected by means of pegs; although the connections are not very tight there is no way of knowing whether the pegs are original without taking the sarcophagus apart; a few small holes in the lid and panels; a stable crack running horizontally over the largest of the two short panels; some chipping, wood splits and minor paint loss, all as shown; the bottom panel has a large hole; a label on the bottom with an inventory number, reading "K-21".