Grave Goods

July 19, 2018

They say that the more things change, the more they stay the same.


I remember back in high school (a very long time ago now) learning about the Egyptians as part of a unit on ancient civilisations. We listened with a little bit of horror as the teacher described the process of mummification.


As a young kid from rural Victoria surrounded by lush paddocks, sprawling mounts and dairy cows, pyramids in the desert housing the bodies of kings and queens from millennia ago seemed very exciting and exotic.


King Tutankhamun’s tomb, one of only two tombs discovered in Egypt that hadn’t been robbed of its treasure, yielded up 5000 objects buried with the young king for his journey into the afterlife (including 3 chariots and 14 boats).


A quick internet search tells me there is a word for these objects: grave goods. It seems like the term itself could be a little more poetic; such a literal term seems to do an injustice to the importance and love put into these objects.


Thousands of years later, I see families repeating the same rituals. At its simplest, it’s photos and letters; little reminders of what was held dear in life and messages of farewell. Some people send their loved ones off with a favourite snack: a block of chocolate, a packet of biscuits, some tea bags. I’ve seen balls of wool, crossword puzzles, cans of beer, religious items, even a full-sized guitar once.


I think there’s something comforting in the fact that people have been farewelling their beloved ones in the same way for probably as long as funeral rites have existed. Families will sometimes hesitatingly ask, “is it okay if we put this in the coffin?” The answer will almost always be a resounding, “of course.”