Ancient Egyptian culture placed tremendous social and religious pressure on nearly every level of Egyptian society to prepare and display funerary materials for their burial. The varied efforts to accommodate this imperative produced a wide range of funerary art styles and qualities. In The Cost of Death: The Social and Economic Value of Funerary Art in the Ramesside Period, Kathlyn Cooney investigates the social, economic, religious and aesthetic values of funerary arts. This book attempts to understand the different values ascribed to funerary art by the ancient Egyptians themselves, focusing on objects’ quality in terms of price, materials, artisanship and ritual use. This study encompasses two distinct data sets, both from the Ramesside Period: the hieratic textual records from western Thebes, in combination with careful examination of the crafted funerary objects themselves, particularly coffins. The first half of the book incorporates an analysis of the vocabulary, prices and contextual details of funerary arts found in hundreds of Ramesside ostraca and papyri, allowing conclusions about the organization of craft labor in the private sector and exposing a phenomenon called the “informal workshop”. The second half of the book presents a critical examination of sixty-one Ramesside coffins. Analysis of this visual material exposes five distinct social groups, each characterized by producers and purchasers with unique aesthetic sensibilities. Together, the visual and textual evidence demonstrates that different segments of ancient Egyptian society possessed their own intricate understandings of funerary art’s worth, transcending price and a simple linear scale of value. Ultimately the study examines a deeply embedded system of funerary materiality that impacted all levels of Egyptian society, from the more commonly studied and well documented elite to the lesser known and lesser documented poorest segments of the ancient population.
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