Pharaoh Merneptah, who infamously boasted in a victory stela of having laid waste to the Israelites in the waning years of the 13th century B.C.E.,* was buried in the largest sarcophagus ever commissioned by an Egyptian king. According to researchers and conservators at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Merneptah’s mummy was placed within a series of four nested sarcophagi, the outermost of which measures 13 feet long, 7 feet wide and more than 8 feet tall. Although the outer sarcophagus only survived in fragments after it was burned and broken into pieces around 3,000 years ago, the researchers, who are working to reconstruct and restore the giant burial box, believe it was the largest ever commissioned in ancient Egypt. While it remains uncertain why Merneptah wanted or needed such a large sarcophagus, the researchers believe the box’s large surfaces may have been needed to depict the extensive ritual illustrations and magical spells that are repeated numerous times across the four sarcophagi.
* See “The Merneptah Stela: Israel Enters History,” sidebar to “Face to Face: Biblical Minimalists Meet Their Challengers,” Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 1997.