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Mummy's mouth with golden amulette in its mouth and dirt and sand all around.
A golden tongue in the mummy's mouth: This may have helped the deceased when appearing before the court of the dead, suspects the Egyptian Ministry of AntiquitiesImage: Ägyptisches Ministerium für Tourismus und Altertümer/dpa/picture alliance

Golden tongues: How the Egyptians spoke to the gods

Christine Lehnen
December 2, 2022

People have been trying to talk to spirits and gods for thousands of years. Did the ancient Egyptians use golden tongues — and perhaps sandals — to do this?


Various languages refer to death as the eternal or final "resting place." But there was likely no question of rest after death for the Ancient Egyptians: After their demise, they were expected to visit the court of Osiris, god of the dead, and answer the questions of 42 goddesses and gods before being admitted to the underworld.

That may explain some of the burial objects that turned up in a November mummy discovery in Egypt. Researchers unearthed the skeletons of several people who had been buried in the Quesna Necropolis in the western Nile Delta — with golden plates in the shape of tongues placed in the mummies' mouths.

Facing the court of the dead

These golden tongues were possibly intended to help the deceased to plead their case before Osiris and the other gods and goddesses, thus easing their transition to the underworld, speculated the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities.

Some of the skeletons found in Quesna, which according to the excavation management were in an advanced state of decay, were also covered with gold. Golden lotus flowers and scarab beetles were also found on the deceased.

Similarly, golden tongues were found in the mummies of a woman, a man and a child in Egypt in 2021. 2,500 years ago, when the three people were buried, their tongues were removed during mummification and replaced with golden plates.

There is speculation about the meaning of the tongues, but gold was widely used in Ancient Egypt. Since the earliest days, it was one of the most popular materials in the empire of the pharaohs. Some 5,000 years ago, people there were already making objects out of gold, which initially were mainly pieces of jewelry.

A hieroglyph for gold can also be traced back to the beginning of writing in Ancient Egypt. The kingdom on the Nile delta mined gold with great enthusiasm in ancient Nubia, where gold deposits were particularly rich. Furthermore, many scholars believe the name Nubia is derived from the Ancient Egyptian word for gold: nbw.

Pharaohs buried with gold

The Egyptian pharaohs also had themselves buried with vast quantities of gold. The magnificent grave artifacts of Tutankhamun are famous for this to this day. "We had the impression of looking into the prop room of the opera of a vanished civilization," archaeologist Howard Carter, who discovered the tomb in the 19th century, later described his first impressions. "Details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animal statues, and gold – everywhere the glint of gold."

His sensational discovery triggered a veritable hype about the golden treasures of the Ancient Egyptians. The magnificent sarcophagi in which the pharaohs were buried still captivate countless museum visitors around the world.

Besides golden tongues, other golden items were popular burial objects: Three concubines of Thutmose III, for instance, were buried with golden sandals, writes objects conservator Deborah Schorsch, of the Ancient Egyptian Art and Archaeology Department, on New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art's website. The women were not from Egypt and possibly did not even believe in Osiris. Maybe they were able to sneak past the court of the dead wearing sandals with golden soles.

This article was originally written in German.


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