The Hidden Name

By
Sanchita Balachandran
Sanchita Balachandran is the Associate Director of the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Near Eastern Studies. She teaches courses related to the identification and analysis of ancient manufacturing techniques of objects, as well as the history, ethics and practice of museum conservation.
The foot panel of the coffin in visible light (L), as imaged in visible infrared luminescence (center), and with the transcribed hieroglyphs (R).

The foot panel of the coffin in visible light (L), as imaged in visible infrared luminescence (center), and with the transcribed hieroglyphs (R).

New non-destructive photographic imaging techniques (multi-band imaging) give us new opportunities to study the surfaces of ancient objects, allowing us the ways that objects were decorated in antiquity. A study of the coffin associated with the Cohen collection (and possibly the Cohen mummy) provided new insight into the painting techniques used to prepare this important object meant to protect the person in the perilous journey into the afterlife. The standard offering formula, written in dark hieroglyphs along the length of the coffin reads, “Recitation by Osiris: May he give all offerings [to…],” and seems to end abruptly just above the foot, leaving no trace of the name of the person for whom offerings are given. While names were often last to be added to coffins, the fact that no writing at all was visible on the “foot” panel was confounding. However, when examining the coffin surface using the technique of visible infrared luminescence, a hidden name, “Amenirdis,” glowed on the foot panel’s surface. This “glow” is typical of Egyptian blue, a human-made pigment that had important symbolic associations in ancient Egypt. Even individual particles of Egyptian blue luminescence, making it possible to see even tiny applications of this pigment, which was often mixed with other pigments to produce a variety of hues. In this case, Egyptian blue was also mixed with the hieroglyphs of the offering formula, suggesting that that text originally appeared a deep blue-black in color. The full offering formula therefore reads, “Recitation by Osiris: May he give all offerings [to] Amenirdis.”