1887.1.481 .1 1887.1.481 .2 1887.1.481 .3 1887.1.481 .4 1887.1.481 .5

Mummified human [.1], lying in inner painted wooden coffin [.2], with inner painted wooden coffin lid [.3]. Outer painted coffin base [.4] and outer painted coffin lid [.5].

Place details: AFRICA. Egypt / West Thebes Sheikh Abd El-Qurna. Local Name: Unknown. Materials: Wood Plant / Pigment / Textile / Human Body Part / ?. Processes: Painted / Mummified / Carved / ?. Dimensions: Max L [.1] = 1650 mm Max L [.2] = 1750 mm Max L [.3] = 1750 mm Max L [.4 approx] = 2030 mm Max L [.5 approx] = 2030 mm Field Collector: Unknown When Collected: 1868 - 1869 Other Owners: H.R.H. the Prince of Wales [Edward VII] 1869 to George Rolleston Oxford University Museum of Natural History PRM Source: Oxford University Museum of Natural History Acquired: Transferred 1886

KEYWORD: Mummy Wrapping / Coffin Box / Mummy Wrapping / Lid / Human Body Part / CLASS: Death / Physical Anthropology / Ritual and Ceremonial / Box / Religion / ?.

Publications history, trails & websites: Published as PRM postcard. Reprinted in 2001 with the following caption: 'PITT RIVERS MUSEUM, UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD. Detail of the painting on the inner lid of the coffin of Irterau, daughter of Esamenopet, from Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, West Thebes, Egypt. The painting represents Nut, a protective goddess, with outstretched falcon wings. The coffin dates to the 24th dynasty (720–650 BC). It was excavated in 1868 or 1869 and presented to the University of Oxford by the then Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) in 1869. Accession number: 1887.1.481. © Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford (86).' [JC 21 8 2001]

Trails - This object appears in the trail 'Unseen masks of the Pitt Rivers Museum' (current from March 2005) [RTS 15/4/2005].

Mentioned on page 14 of C. V. Anthony Adams, ‘An investigation into the mummies presented to HRH the Prince of Wales in 1869’ Discussions in Egyptology 18: 5–19 (1990) as one of the 19 mummies listed by Moss and Porter (on pages 67-74 in Topological Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Reliefs, and Paintings: I The Theban Necropolis, Part 2, Royal Tombs and smaller cemeteries, 1964), as having been "presented to the Prince of Wales and distributed by him to Brit. Mus., Cambridge, Dublin, Edinburgh, Oxford, other institutions and his friends"[...] "16. Two coffins of Irterau [hieroglyphs] , daughter of Esamenopet [hieroglyphs], woman, in Oxford, Pitt Rivers Mus., Coll. Misc. xi. 83"' [HH 27/05/2010] See also Aston, D. A. 2009. Burial Assemblages of Dynasty 21-25: Chronology, Typology, Development (Contributions to the Chronology of the Eastern Mediterranean 21, Vienna). [AS 06/09/2010]

This object features in the Museum's audio tour produced in 2010. Transcription as follows: “This case is dominated by the mummy and coffins of Irterau, a young Egyptian woman who was buried at Thebes, now modern Luxor, more than 2500 years ago. The name Irterau was common at the time but it is possible she was the wife of a high-ranking government adviser or the daughter of a priest. We know she was not royalty as the skin on her face would then have been painted gold not yellow.

The Museum labels in the case describe the process of mummification and the iconography painted on the coffins, which were related to ancient Egyptian beliefs about death, and the reunification of soul and body in an eternal afterlife. This idea of new life emerging is reinforced by the Egyptians’ name for the inner coffin - suhet - which was also the word for ‘egg’. However, just as interesting is Irterau’s second history, of the time her remains were discovered and came to the Museum.”


"Irterau was presented to Oxford University by Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII of Britain) following his visit to Egypt in 1869. It was first cared for by the Natural History Museum next door and transferred to the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1886. In fact, for more than 30 years it was thought the body was male until x-rays established that it was female.

Edward had spent his entire adult life as heir apparent since his mother, Queen Victoria, reigned well into old age. He became known as the ‘playboy prince’, spending his time and fortune on socialising, gambling and shooting. The Queen strongly disapproved of her son’s extravagant lifestyle and, after the death of her husband Prince Albert in 1861, urged him to do his duty by visiting parts of the world on behalf of the Royal Family. In 1869 he set off for Egypt with his wife, along with an entourage and more than 30 servants, chefs and laundrymen. Among the party was a reporter from the Times newspaper who noted in his diary that the Prince’s private steamship was stocked with 3000 bottles of champagne and 4000 bottles of claret. They travelled from Cairo down the Nile as far as Sudan then returned to Cairo before continuing on to Turkey and the Crimea.

1869 was in fact an extraordinary year for Egypt. The Suez Canal opened and the British travel agent Thomas Cook escorted the first tour of the country. For Europeans living in Egypt and rich Egyptians it was a year of balls, banquets, operas and crocodile hunts. Prince Edward’s visit confirmed that it was, without doubt, the destination of anyone with style and money.

Leading the royal party was Colonel Edward Stanton, a leading British diplomat in Egypt. He organized a dig during the visit to coincide with the Prince’s wedding anniversary, which resulted in a ‘miraculous’ find of more than thirty mummies. The Prince was told it was the tomb of Nitoqret (Nitocrit), a princess and Divine Wife of Amun, who reigned in Thebes for more 50 years in the 7th century BC. However, there are several problems with the story.

The fact that the entire dig was completed in less than two weeks raises questions about its authenticity. Also, we now know that Nitoqret’s tomb had already been discovered a short distance away. Finally, there was evidence that Prince Edward himself knew that the tomb Stanton claimed to have found had also been discovered some years before. Edward ordered all of his private papers to be destroyed on his death, but there exists a letter that he wrote to his mother on 18th March 1869:

‘We reached Thebes on the 10th (our Wedding Day) and had fireworks and illuminations in the evening to celebrate the event. We remained there the next day to see the excavations – a fine granite sarcophagus was discovered 100 feet in depth. The sarcophagus is empty as the tomb was opened 30 years ago but 30 mummy cases were also found – some good ones – and I shall bring some home with us.’

So Edward was aware that a previously excavated tomb had been brought back into service for the benefit of his visit. However, he may not have realized that most, or even all, the mummies found had been brought in from other sites and planted there. Such deception was not unusual. In 1857, the French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette had superficially hidden mummies in a pre-arranged ‘set-piece’ for a visit by Prince Napoleon. This goes to show how powerful men like Stanton and Mariette could manipulate these ancient and precious sites to impress royal visitors.

Prince Edward brought back from Egypt a pet goat and a Nubian orphan boy to serve coffee at his palace at Sandringham. The Prince was presented with 20 of the mummies but while they were stored in stables at Cairo awaiting shipment to England, one went missing and others were damaged by opportunists searching for jewellery and ornaments. This was later confirmed by the discovery of an incriminating horse-hair in one of them. Upon his return home, the Prince distributed the mummies in their varying conditions to the British Museum, university collections at Oxford, Cambridge, Dublin, Edinburgh, other institutions and for some of his friends.” (Written by Helen Hales)

References: Adams, C. V. A., ‘An investigation into the mummies presented to HRH the Prince of Wales in 1869’ Discussions in Egyptology 18: 5–19 (1990); Nail, N. H., ‘The coffins and mummies presented to Edward Prince of Wales during his 1869 Egyptian tour revisited’. Discussions in Egyptology 48: 67–79 (2000); Russell, William Howard, A Diary in the East during a Tour of the Prince and Princess of Wales, London: George Routledge and Sons (1869); Hibbert, Christopher, Edward VII: the Last Victorian King, New York: Palgrave Macmillan (2007), pp. 99–106; Douglas, O., Discover…Egypt (visitor booklet), Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford (2003); Thomas Cook History, accessed at: http://www.thomascook.com/about-us/thomas-cook-history/key-dates/; On Understanding Egypt, accessed at: http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/euro.htm; Parsons, Marie, Women in Ancient Egyptian Religion, Part II: The Divine Adoratrice and God's Wife of Amun in the Third Intermediate Period, accessed at: http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/women2.htm; Wikipedia – ‘Colonel Stanton’, ‘Auguste Mariette’, ‘Thomas Cook’ [HH 26/10/2010]

Illustrated in colour as Figure 6.7 on page 97 of 'Egypt and Sudan: old Kingdom to Late Period', by Elizabeth Frood, in World Archaeology at the Pitt Rivers Museum: A Characterization, edited by Dan Hicks and Alice Stevenson (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2013), pp. 90-114. Caption (same page): 'Figure 6.7 Detail of the outer surface of the lid of the inner coffin of Irterau (c. 700-670 BCE), an ancient Egyptian coffin set presented by the Prince of Wales to the University of Oxford in 1869 and later transferred to the Pitt Rivers Museum (PRM Accession Number 1887.1.481 .3). The set was found with some others belonging to members of Irterau's family, which are now in different museums across Britain. The detail shows the goddess Nut kneeling with outstretched vulture wings, a gesture of protection'. [MJD 27/05/2014]

Illustrated in colour on page 117 of The Pitt Rivers Museum: A World Within, by Michael O’Hanlon (London: Scala, 2014). Caption (same page) reads: '88 Lid of the inner coffin of Irterau (c.700-670 BC) (detail). Ancient Egypt, from Qurna, Luxor Length 1750 mm (whole) Donated by HRH Prince of Wales; transferred from Oxford's Natural History Museum 1887.1.481.' [MJD (Verve) 19/2/2016]

Research notes: On the interior of the lower outer coffin is a large painting of Sokar, a funerary god with a mummified body and a falcon’s head. On the stomach section of both the inner and outer coffin lids, is the goddess Nut with her outstretched wings. She was the mother of Osiris, King of the Underworld and an important protector of the dead. Nut’s flesh is painted green – a colour associated with new life and growth. This idea of new life emerging is also reiterated by the Egyptians’ name for the inner coffin – suhet - which was also the word for ‘egg’. [HH 27/05/2010]

Dr Elizabeth Frood advised that reconstructions of the group of coffins the PRM example was part of indicate that many of the coffins, including Irterau’s, belong to several generations of the family of Amenhai, and probably came from a family tomb in the Ramesseum area of the Theban necropolis (Georg Möller’s ‘Grabbungsstelle H’: Elias 1993, 135–44; Aston 2009, 252–53; Jansen-Winkeln 2009, 555–56). The name of Irterau’s mother, Nesamenopet, and her mother’s mother, Taiu[hotep/khaty?], are included on the coffin. Her husband, Amenhotep, was a son of Amenhai and owner of another of the prince’s coffins, now in Edinburgh; both Amenhotep and Irterau are named on the coffin of their son Pakapu, now in Cambridge. David Aston (2009, 253) dates the group, on the basis of style, to ca. 710-650 BC, with Irterau’s coffin dating to ca. 700-670 BC. See Elias, J. P. 1993. Coffin inscription in Egypt after the New Kingdom: a study of text production and use in elite mortuary preparation (PhD thesis, University of Chicago); Aston, D. A. 2009. Burial Assemblages of Dynasty 21-25: Chronology, Typology, Development (Contributions to the Chronology of the Eastern Mediterranean 21,Vienna); Jansen-Winkeln, K. 2009. Inschriften der Spätzeit III: Die 25. Dynastie (Wiesbaden). [AS 06/09/2010]

In David Aston's (2009) book noted above there is a chart showing Irterau's family tree. A copy is now in the RDF. [AS 04/01/2011]