Ancient Egypt

Explore some of the Ancient Egyptian collection at the Horniman in this learning resource.

Download the resources below, or if you would like to make your own trails or worksheets tailored to your visit, many of the images and text below (and in our other resources) can be easily copied and pasted to your own design.

  • Perhaps use images from objects located in different galleries and in the Gardens to create a challenge or simple trail through the Museum to find specific objects or places.
  • Use object images to encourage independent research, for instance, find out and write down three facts about an object or group of objects. Alternatively, give facts or clues and challenge your pupils to identify mystery objects.
  • Set an alphabetical challenge ie find or draw 26 objects one for each letter of the alphabet.
  • Create a sketchbook challenge.


Unwrapping the Mummy

This extract from “The Horniman Free Museum Seventh Annual Report 1897” gives an insight into how times have changed since the days of Frederick Horniman (the founder).

It describes a lecture given in 1897 about an Ancient Egyptian mummy that Mr. Horniman loaned for the occasion. During the lecture the mummy was unwrapped and described in front of a captivated audience. Read it to find out what the guests witnessed and what interesting souvenir they were given to take home.

What do you think has changed about the way that ancient artefacts are handled and studied today?

Inner Coffin

Mr. Horniman visited Egypt in 1896 to see the Egypt Exploration Fund that Howard Carter worked for. Mr. Horniman was shown around the Temple of Hatshepsut at Deir-el-Bahri. Impressed by the Fund’s work, he made a donation, and was gifted this coffin.

The wooden inner lid features Egyptian icons such as the central winged scarab beetle and eye of Horus, which protect the deceased. The winged goddess below is possibly Isis. The two figures lower down are Osiris, right and Horus, left. The two kneeling women below are possibly Isis and Nephthys. Nephthys was sister to Isis and Osiris, and protected the soul. Often shown together, Egyptologists suggest that Nephthys was a mirror image of Isis; dark versus light.

Animals were important to Ancient Egyptians as they were connected to the gods, for example Horus is shown with a hawk’s head. Can you find more animals on the coffin?

Ibis Mummy

In Ancient Egypt, mummification was not restricted to people. Many animals were mummified too, often as temple offerings to various gods, who were often shown with animal heads. This mummified ibis bird has been wrapped in many layers of bandages.

Thoth, the scribe and god of wisdom and learning, was sometimes shown on mummy wrappings, with the head of a baboon and sometimes the head of an ibis. In some pictures Thoth can be seen recording the result of the weighing of the heart ceremony on the deceased’s journey to the afterlife.

Can you make out an image on the outside of this mummy’s bandages? What is it?

Mummified Cat

This is a mummified cat body wrapped in woven cloth. There are traces of paint on the wrappings around the head. Some of the wrappings have come away or have been removed from the base. Cats were important in Ancient Egypt, both as pets and working animals who kept the grain stores free of mice. Ancient Egyptians also considered cats to be sacred, because they were associated with gods and goddesses such as Bastet, a goddess who was half woman, half cat. Dreaming about a cat was believed to be an omen for a good harvest.

Cats were treated with great respect and there were even laws to protect them. How do people treat animals today – with respect?

Canopic Jar

This canopic jar is made from alabaster and has the head of Imsety (one of the four sons of Horus), who guarded the mummy’s liver. By 2000 BC the lungs, stomach and intestines were also removed during the mummification process and put into canopic jars.

One thousand years later, the process had changed and the wrapped organs were put back inside the body. Empty, symbolic canopic jars were then put into the tombs with the deceased. This canopic jar bears the name Nessi ta-nub, the prophet of Ammon.

The other three canopic jars often showed the head of a baboon, falcon and jackal; which gods could these animal heads represent?

Wooden Headrest

Headrests like this are not restricted to Ancient Egypt and can be found in some countries today. For comparison, two headrests from Fiji are displayed in the Oceania Encounter of the World Gallery.

For the Ancient Egyptians, over time such headrests became more than just practical objects for sleeping on. According to The Book of the Dead, they became linked to protecting a mummy from evil forces, and small headrest-shaped amulets have been found between layers of mummy wrappings.

Headrests have been found in tombs from the beginning of the Old Kingdom (2613 – 2160 BC) through to the Ptolemaic period (332 – 32 BC).

Do you think it looks comfortable?

Isis and Horus Figurine

This figurine is made of copper alloy. The image of Isis nursing her son Horus was a powerful symbol for the Ancient Egyptians. It symbolised fertility and rebirth.

Isis is normally shown with a throne headdress and a vulture head-covering reserved for queens and goddesses. Isis was responsible for resurrecting Osiris when he was murdered by Set.

The cult of Isis was extremely popular throughout Egypt and spread throughout the Roman Empire, where a cult to the goddess also developed.


This shabti (figurine) is made from faience, the oldest type of glazed ceramic. Shabtis were must-have burial items from the New Kingdom (1550 - 1070 BC) onwards.

Shabtis are models of servants. If Osiris required the deceased to do work in the afterlife, the hieroglyphics spell on the model would bring it to life, so it could do the work on their behalf.

Pharaohs could be buried with hundreds of shabti. Shabtis often carry the tools which they would need to carry out tasks in the afterlife. What kinds of tools do you think they would have needed?

Stone Stela

A stela is a funerary slab. The names of the four people pictured are written above their heads. They are shown smelling Lotus flowers. In the Egyptian creation myth the sun rose from a lotus flower and it became a symbol of rebirth. On their heads the women have blocks of hair pomade, made of scented animal fat.

The text below the figures is a standard offerings inscription: “An offering, which the king gives to Osiris, the head of the Westerners (the dead), the great god, ruler of everlasting time. May be given offerings of bread, beer, oxen, fowl, clothing, incense, oil, all good, pure things, on which a god lives, for the ka of Nebmehyt (man on left) and Pa-Men-Neferwadju (women on left).”

Why do you think this stela was decorated with a lotus flower?

Votive Figurine: Apis

This figurine, made from copper alloy, was probably made using the ‘lost wax process’, a type of metal casting from a sculpted mould. This method of manufacture originated in Egypt, but is perhaps better known from the Kingdom of Benin as it was used to make the famous Benin bronzes.

The copper needed for these figurines would have been mined in the Eastern desert, the Sinai region, and Nubia to the south of Egypt.

Votive figurines would have been offered to a particular god as part of a vow. This bull represents Apis, a god associated with fertility in farming. Bull mummies were common in Egypt and some Egyptologists consider Apis to be the most important of the animal gods. Why do you think this is?


This hollow figurine would have been used to hold a spell or magical text written on papyrus and would have been placed in a tomb.

It is made up of three different deities of the dead: Ptah, the creator god of Memphis in Lower Egypt; Sokar, a hawk god; and Osiris, the god of the underworld.

These three gods were brought together as one during the Middle Kingdom (2055 – 1620 BC). Key features include the headdress of ram horns, reeds, ostrich feathers and a sun disc. Can you spot these features on the headdress?

Winged Scarab

This blue, winged scarab is made from faience, the oldest type of glazed ceramic.

Scarabs are modelled on the dung beetle, an insect which lays its eggs in animal dung and rolls it across the ground. The god Ra was shown as a scarab beetle, rolling the sun across the sky. Newly hatched beetles emerging from the dung were also linked to the Ancient Egyptian idea of rebirth.

The heart scarab was a must-have burial amulet that was placed on top of the heart of the mummy. It has a spell on the underside, which told the heart to keep quiet during the weighing of the heart ceremony, which determined if the deceased was allowed to pass to the afterlife. If the heart made a guilty confession, it would be devoured by the god Ammit.

Do you have a charm that brings you luck?

Model Boat

This wooden model boat shows ten seated rowers. Ancient Egypt takes its name from the River Nile and could not have existed without it. The Ancient Egyptians understood how important the river was for life.

The Ancient Egyptians called their land Kemet, meaning Black Land, because of the rich, dark and fertile clay left behind after the Nile flooded. The Nile was the main route through Egypt and boat-building was a major industry.

Archaeological evidence, temple and tomb inscriptions, give some idea of the many different types of boats that were made – from huge boats which transported obelisks from Aswan in Southern Egypt, smaller vessels which carried grain and food, to state ships which carried Pharaohs and officials.

Boats were also common tomb offerings, representing the deceased’s journey in the afterlife. What do you imagine this model boat was for? A toy? To be placed in a tomb?