According to ancient Egyptian belief, the earthly life is a brief prelude to an eternal afterlife in which the deceased can hope to continue enjoying the best that is available in this world.

One main purpose of the earthly life, then, is to ensure that the deceased’s soul (or souls, since the Egyptians believed that the deceased survived in several forms after death) can make a successful voyage to the nether world and be sustained there. This takes work. A tomb has to be built (which the Egyptians called a “house of eternity”)—and the more elaborate and luxurious the tomb, the more comfortable the deceased will be in the afterlife. The dead will also need food, drink, clothes, tools, games, ointments, utensils, vessels, writing implements and anything else that might be of use in the endless eternity.

For added protection, the ancient Egyptians covered their tombs with inscribed lists of goods and relief scenes showing offerings. These lists and drawings were also intended to provide for the deceased in the afterlife. It was believed that inscriptions (the names of sacred oils, for example) and relief scenes (showing perhaps an offering of wine to the deceased) would become real once magical spells were uttered. These inscribed and incised offerings were especially important in case insufficient real offerings were made to the deceased—for example, if the deceased did not have enough descendants, relatives or servants to look after his needs.

To cross into the afterlife was not simple. The deceased had to overcome various obstacles—the last and most difficult being judgment before a tribunal presided over by the god Osiris. According to Egyptian myth, Osiris is murdered by his brother Seth, who then becomes king of the living. Osiris’s sisters, Nepthys and Isis (who is also his wife), reassemble his mutilated body and mummify it. Isis then is able to revive Osiris, copulate with him and bear their child, Horus, who later defeats Seth and becomes king of the living. A fully vital Osiris becomes king of the dead in the afterlife. Osiris not only judges the soul of the deceased; he is also, because of his own death and rebirth, an appropriate symbol of the resurrection of the soul in the afterlife.

Thus many of the inscriptions and images in Iufaa’s tomb refer to Horus (such as the image of Horus’s eye) and Osiris—the divine kings of this world and the next world. One such inscription is a plea from the Egyptian Book of the Dead asking that the heart of the deceased (Iufaa) not testify against him in Osiris’s court.

The final crossing into the afterlife could only be ensured by strictly observing the traditional ceremonies and rites. These included sacred hymns to gods, images of the balancing of good and evil, explanations of the uses of various oils and unguents, and instructions to the shabti figurines, who tended the flocks and fields and performed other services for the deceased: “Oh thou shabti,” reads a spell in chapter 6 of the Book of the Dead, “If one calls you at any time, ‘Here I am,’ you shall say, ‘I shall do it!’” These spells, formulas and instructions are written on mummy casings, coffins, the walls of tombs, architectural features, amulets, vessels, tools, clothing—wherever they could be inscribed, incised or painted. And the more, the better.

Iufaa’s burial chamber, sarcophagus, mummy and burial goods were covered with such inscriptions and images (with about 100 square yards of religious texts). The figure below, incised on the lower cavity of Iufaa’s sarcophagus, shows Atum, the god of the setting sun (and sometimes the king of the gods) in ancient Egyptian mythology. Here Atum is probably a symbol of resurrection, guaranteeing that Iufaa will indeed have eternal life in the hereafter.