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Fishtail-shaped knif

Fishtail-vormig mes, Inv.-Nr. 020.009.0006
© Stiftung DKM | Photo: SDKM

Old Kingdom, 5th/6th Dynasty, c. 2450 – 2200 BCE
Light limestone
L 12.0 cm, W top 4.8 cm, W shaft 3.6 cm, D 0.6 cm

This type of a fishtail-shaped knife is a very special ritual utensil that carries the Egyptian name “pesesh-kef” and played a central role in the so-called Opening of the Mouth Ceremony. Its flat shaft has a rectangular shape; only the upper end widens in the manner of a fishtail. In earlier times, it was made of finely retouched flintstone, later out of limestone. Precious metals were only rarely used in its production.

Along with other ritual utensils, it is found predominately in Old Kingdom tombs. Complete sets of utensils with the appropriate “case” came to light there. These “cases” were rectangular limestone plates with depressions in the surface into which the ritual objects perfectly fitted. Aside from the fishtail-shaped knife, these sets of utensils include thumbshaped knives as well as small ointment vessels or censers that were presented in pairs. This fishtail-shaped knife very probably originates from such a set.

The ancient Egyptian Opening of the Mouth Ceremony originally solely served the revival and animation of statues or the mummy respectively. While it was possible for the sculptor to capture the deceased’s outward appearance in funerary sculptures, its animation required further
ritual acts. The above-named utensils were employed while the texts of the Opening of the Mouth Ceremony were recited. The Sem priests
inserted, among other things, the “pesesh-kef” in the statue’s nose and mouth. It was believed that the statue’s senses, assisted by the instruments’ magical powers, could be awoken, enabling the statue to accept sustenance.

André Wiese

Catalogue _ Museum DKM: Egypt

H.W. Müller, Ägyptische Kunstwerke, Kleinfunde und Glas aus der Sammlung E. und M. Kofler-Truniger, Lucerne, Berlin 1964, 55, no. A 88. Hans Kayser, Ägyptisches Kunsthandwerk, Braunschweig 1969, 66f. H.A. Schlögl, Geschenk des Nils. Aegyptische Kunstwerke aus Schweizer Besitz, Basel 1978, 32, no. 109. On the mouth opening ceremony: E. Otto, Das altägyptische Mundöffnungsritual, 2 vols., Wiesbaden 1960. About the utensils: Hans Bonnet, Reallexikon der ägyptischen Religionsgeschichte, Berlin 1952, 488.