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The Fascinating Role of Anubis, Isis, and Nephthys in Ancient Egyptian Embalming Practices

Updated: Jan 8

Reproduction Details

  • Object Type: Painted bas relief

  • Date: c. 1197-1191 BC

  • Period: Dynasty 19, New Kingdom

  • Findspot: Tomb of Siptah (KV47), Valley of the Kings, second corridor

  • Print Reference: DP80A

KV47 is the burial place of pharaoh Siptah Akhenre Setepenre, who ruled c. 1197-1191 BC during Dynasty 19. As with most tombs in the Valley of the Kings, it was largely unfinished and undecorated when the king died, but the outer corridors were plastered and decorated to a high standard.

Filling the southern end of the second corridor is a scene illustrating the words of Chapter 151 of the Book of the Dead, spoken by the gods and goddesses that reside within the embalming tent to the mummy of the deceased pharoah.

At the centre is the jackal-headed Anubis acting as the divine embalmer, standing over a lion-headed couch supporting the mummy of the deceased pharoah. At the head and foot of the mummy kneel the sister goddesses Isis and Nephthys, who rest their hands on the ‘shen’ emblem of eternity.


Anubis was the god of embalming and the protector of mummies during the dangerous transition between death and rebirth in the afterlife. He appears throughout the Book of the Dead at key points, reanimating the mummy in the Opening of the Mouth ceremony, and guiding them to the hall of judgement for the Weighing of the Heart.

Anubis is typically portrayed either as a black jackal or a jackal-headed man wearing the feather costume of the gods, as in this scene. The ancient Egyptians associated the jackal with death as the creatures inhabited the areas at the edges of the desert where they buried their dead, and were thought to be guarding the tombs.

The Place Of Embalming

In the hieroglyphs, Anubis is given the epithet inpw imy-wt or “Anubis, who is in the wt”, often translated to mean “Anubis, who is in the place of embalming”. This was typically a tent known as an ibu which was where the mummification of the dead took place, the internal organs removed, skin preserved and the body wrapped in bandages.

In the real world, the mummification process was presided over by priests wearing Anubis masks or symbols, who would speak the spells from the book of the Dead to prepare the mummy for rebirth in the afterlife. They would also call on the protective powers of the sister goddess Isis and Nephthys, and the Four Sons of Horus, who each guarded an organ and its corresponding canopic jar. At each corner of the tent, they would place a protective figure inserted into a mud brick, including a shabti figure, djed-pillar amulet, torch, and Anubis jackal.

Goddess Isis

Isis was a goddess of women, motherhood, fertility, and royal power. She was the sister of Nephthys and Seth and the sister-wife of Osiris and the mother to Horus. Isis played an important role in the resurrection of Osiris after his murder at the hands of Seth and was believed to protect the dead with her husband in the afterlife. Upon her head is the symbol of her name which is the hieroglyph for a throne.

Goddess Nephthys

Nephthys was a funerary goddess associated with mourning, the night and magic. To Egyptians her name was Nebet-Het, which meant “the Mistress of the House”, and she wears the hieroglyphic sign of her name on her head, formed of a basket on top of a plan of an estate. She was the sister of Isis and Osiris, the sister-wife of Seth and mother to Anubis.

The Mummy of Siptah

On the lion-headed couch between the goddess and before Anubis is the mummy of pharoah Siptah, shown bound in white bandages with red bands and a mummy mask over his head and neck. He is shown with a slightly curved divine beard, an attribute that associates the mummy with the god and first mummy, Osiris.


The hieroglyphs contain parts of Chapter 151 of the Book of the Dead. In the tomb, the 8 columns of hieroglyphs are designed to be read from right to left, starting at the top of each column.

The image above shows the full passage as one piece, flipped into left-right orientation. The translation and completion of the missing hieroglyphics were suggested by the scribes at r/AncientEgpytian, and show the original artist made mistakes when they copied the text onto the wall (shown in {brackets}).

Dd-mdw in inpw imy-wt xnty-sH-nTr di.n(=i) n=f a a.wy.f(y) Hr nb anx Hr nfr nTr {n} [ir]t=k wnmy (m) msktt ir.t=k iAbt m manDt

No two versions of Chapter 151 are identical, but you can read a summarised version based on manuscripts from the New Kingdom. In this, both Isis and Nephthys also speak to the deceased:

“Words spoken by Isis: I have come as your protection, I have driven breath to your nostril the north wind that comes from Atum I have gathered your neck for you, I have caused you to exist as a god Your enemies are under your sandals, your voice is made true in the sky before Re Mighty among gods, joined in the knot to make you go the way of Horus true of voice.”
“Words spoken by Nephthys: I have circled my brother Osiris I have come to be your protection My protection is behind you, behind you, eternally your summons is heard by Re, your voice made true by the gods Your justification is raised after what was done against you Ptah has felled your enemies You are Horus son of Hathor There is decreed action against your wrongdoer Your head is not to be taken from you for eternity.”

In the wider scene in the tomb shown above, the Four Sons of Horus, are also present in the embalming tent, fulfilling their duty as protectors of the soft internal organs in the canopic jars.

“Words spoken by Qebehsenuef: I am your son, Osiris, I have come to be your protection I have united your bones for you, I have assembled your limbs for you I have brought you your heart, and placed it for you at its place in your body I have strengthened your house after you, as you live, eternally.”
“Words spoken by Hapi: I have come to be your protection I have bound your head and your limbs for you I have smitten you enemies beneath you for you, and given you your head, eternally.”
“Words spoken by Duamutef: I am your son, Osiris, I am your son Horus, your beloved I have come to rescue my father Osiris from his assailant I place him under your legs, eternally.”
“Words spoken by Imseti: I am your son, Osiris, I have come to be your protection I have strengthened your house enduringly As Ptah decreed in accordance with what Re himself decrees.”

Further Reading

Book of the Dead Chapter 151 by Barbara Luscher

Siptah, Theban Mapping Project

The Litany of Re by Linda Kimmel (2022)


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