the cone-shaped objects of baked clay inserted as a frieze, with the circular face exposed, above the doors of Middle and New Kingdom private tombs, mainly in the Theban necropolis. During the New Kingdom, the cone's visible face bore a stamp of the owner's name and title(s), sometimes including those of a relative, or had a short supplementary text. Any number of cones belonging to one person might therefore be in existence, so the cones constitute a proof of the presence of a tomb, either extant or now lost.
The cones have been interpreted in several ways: as a means of identification of the owner of the tomb; as an ornamental memorial; as a boundary marker for the territory of the tomb; as dummy offering loaves; or as symbolic pieces of meat. The circular surface has also been interpreted in several ways: as the ends of roofing poles; as a form of visitors' cards; as a decorative element; or, most recently, as reflecting the shape of the sun disc—to thus become one vehicle for the deceased tomb owner's attainment of eternal life, by following the circuit of the sun. Possibly, the Egyptians were themselves in doubt as to the nature of the object, for they painted the cones in several colors (red, blue, white). In Egypt, colors indicated materials, and the colors mentioned encompassed substances as different as bread, meat, pottery, and the sun's red glow. As some of the texts accompanying the burial refer to solar matters, this was likely to have been one reason for the cones' existence.
The earliest known funerary cones were dated to the eleventh dynasty. Although they have no inscriptions, they have been found in context. Some are 53 centimeters (20 inches) long, but they decreased in size as the New Kingdom progressed. In the eighteenth dynasty they abounded from the reign of Thutmose I onward. In the Ramessid period, they were quite scarce compared to the number of tombs known from that time.
Funerary cones were mainly used at Thebes, although the Egyptian style tomb of the official Anu at Aniba also included cones. Yet the tomb of his more famous colleague, Penne, in the same location did not. Cones have also been found at Naga ed-Deir and at el-Deir north of Esna; the latter, in a Middle Kingdom context, but presumably intrusive, are particularly interesting in that they give the name of the locality near which they were found. It is thus unlikely that they should have been taken there from Thebes. They probably came from a tomb in the vicinity of Esna, now lost. Middle Kingdom tombs at Rizeiqat, Armant, Naqada, and Abydos have yielded uninscribed cones.
No cones have come from the Memphis area, but some of those found at Thebes contained evidence of a Memphite connection. One belongs to Kenamun, steward of the dockyard of Memphis—but he had a tomb cut at Thebes, where the cones were found—so the reference to Memphis was purely verbal. Two seal impressions that mentioned the dockyard probably also derived from Thebes. Some other cone users had occupations that took them to various towns in Egypt, such as Heliopolis and Dendera; this distribution is also apparent from titles found in the tombs at Thebes, and there is nothing to suggest that these persons were buried elsewhere. No cones have been recovered from Tell el-Amarna (where their presumed solar symbolism might have fit in well), nor are any known from the few Theban tombs of the late eighteenth dynasty.
Funerary cones were thus largely restricted to the Theban area, and they conformed to the tradition in that part of the country. They may have been thought of as particularly suited to rock-cut tombs, and in fact most of the cones related to existing tombs have come from those with painted, not sculpted, decoration. Actually, the majority of tombs from that period were painted, so there are too many unprovenanced cones to provide significant statistics.
The Theban necropolis covers a large area, and within its various sections a pattern of distribution may be distinguished. The majority of the eighteenth dynasty tombs are at Sheik Abd-el-Qurna, so this is where most of the attributable cones would belong. In contrast, at Deir el-Medina, only one tomb has yielded a funerary cone; this is interesting, for in that locality, the solar cycle was more frequently referred to in the wall decoration than elsewhere in the necropolis. Bernard Bruyère, who excavated Deir el-Medina, suggested that shawabti figures somehow took over the function of the funerary cones, and he did not include the cones in his reconstruction of the Deir el-Medina tombs. Yet some tombs certainly had both cones and shawabti figures, so it is difficult to see a connection.
The corpus of known funerary cones is a valuable source of information on the prosopography of New Kingdom Thebes, to be compared with such objects as scarabs and seals. Cones can also be used as an indication of the number of tombs that existed in the Theban area, which far exceeded those known at present. The number of funerary cones not immediately assignable to a known tomb is more than four hundred, a figure that may be compared to the number of New Kingdom tombs in the area, about 406. The number of New Kingdom tombs for which funerary cones exist is seventy-nine, with fifty-two of these being at Sheikh Abd-el-Qurna and forty-eight dating to the eighteenth dynasty. As with other funerary items produced for the elite of ancient Egypt, funerary cones were used by both men and women.
See also FUNERARY FIGURINES.
- Davies, Norman de Garis, and M. F. Laming Macadam. A Corpus of Inscribed Egyptian Funerary Cones. Oxford, 1957. The most comprehensive publication on the subject.
- DeWachter, M. “Un nouveau type de cônes funéraires.” Revue de l'Égypte 32 (1980), 140–141. About a funerary cone devoted to a woman.
- Manniche, Lise. Lost Tombs: A Study of Certain Eighteenth Dynasty Monuments in the Theban Necropolis. London and New York, 1988. Summarizes previous studies and relates the material to the possible number of tombs in existence in New Kingdom Thebes.