Khufu’s reign in the beginning of the Fourth Dynasty marks one of the greatest periods of change in funerary monumental construction. The careful planning of his complex at Giza extended from the Great Pyramid itself to the satellite cemeteries that would eventually hold the members of his family and his administration. It is in this temporal and geographic space that a puzzling find, unique to the Pyramid Age, appeared. The Egyptian reserve heads, well-sculpted depictions of human heads, have remained an enigma since their first finding. Funerary anomalies, their composition, characteristic features, and placement have sparked multiple theories about their significance within the private funerary cult and within Egyptian culture in the Fourth Dynasty.
The study of the reserve heads is dependent upon the understanding that no one theory will account for all of their attributes. Any one publication on the subject seems to raise more questions than it ultimately attempts to answer. Nevertheless, the attempt in itself is a useful. Since the reserve heads occur in such a narrow geographic and temporal space, it is possible and relatively manageable to assess the corpus as a whole without requiring multiple volumes. In this sense, the reserve heads provide a snapshot of a particular time in Egypt that is relatively underrepresented in Egyptian material history. While that snapshot is entirely cryptic, it presents a fascinating goal for Old Kingdom scholarship and one that has inspired my own research.
The first literature concerning the heads was the excavation publications of the original archaeologists, primarily George Andrew Reisner and Hermann Junker, but also Jacques De Morgan, Georg Steindorff, Selim Hassan,...
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...laced in front of or on top of these receptacles to serve as a point of recognition that the viscera therein contained were still a part of the body. In part this theory is dependent on projecting backwards from trends that develop in the First Dynastic Period, of anthropomorphizing the lids of the canopic jars themselves. As I will explain, however, the development of the reserve heads can be linked temporally and spatially to the canopic pits and recesses of private Old Kingdom tombs. Though no theory on the reserve heads is foolproof, I hope that this interpretation will help to fuel a reading of the heads as part of a longer development of funerary equipment not directly related to the body or the two- and three-dimensional depictions of the deceased that continued, at least nominally consist, both before, during, and after the appearance of the reserve heads.
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