Library sarcophagus goes really, really old school


People make unique things all the time; only one has made an Egyptian sarcophagus in 2,000 years. And he did it the hard way.

Jeff Kulesus, a BYU grad, said making an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus was on his bucket list of things to do since he was 11 or 12 years old.  It was right up there with playing the piano and violin and writing a book.

The mummy case, which is on display in the Harold B. Lee library, took about two years to build, Kulesus said, and was based off of a small picture a little larger than the size of a postage stamp which was blown up a few times so details could be seen.

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Kulesus said this is the first sarcophagus made in the original fashion of adding layers to create the hard shell around the mummy since the ancient ones.


“As far as I know this is the first time anyone did anything like this for about 2,000 years,” he said.

The “mummy” to build the sarcophagus around was about 130 pounds of newspapers taped together.  Ancient Egyptians would build the sarcophagus using layers of linen and papyrus with stucco or other resins forming the hard shell, Kulesus explained.  He followed the same pattern using linens and stucco to create the replica of Nakhtefmut’s coffin, who was a priest of Amun. The hieroglyphics on the sarcophagus needed to be hand-painted and required painstaking effort.

The sarcophagus is currently on the fifth floor of the Harold B. Lee library near the ancient studies section.  It was recently moved out from the ancient studies room because of a American papyrological society conference, and is now in the hallway near the southern reference desk.

BYU acquired the sarcophagus from Kulesus to honor Hugh B. Nibley, who was a large proponent in ancient studies for BYU and knew a great deal about ancient Egypt.

Gary Gillum, the librarian over religion, philosophy and ancient studies at the time the sarcophagus came to BYU, said he knew BYU wanted to get something different and interesting to honor Nibley.

“BYU wanted something in there [the ancient studies library] that could represent Hugh Nibley and what he loved,” Gillum said.

Apparently, they succeeded.

“When we first showed it to him, he got on his hands and knees to read the hieroglyphics,” Gillum said.

Kulesus said Nibley was fascinated by Egypt and in addition to being curious about hieroglyphics, he was interested in cultures from around the world.  He contributed to bringing many books and documents that were rich in historical value to BYU which is why the ancient studies section was named after him.

John Gee, BYU professor of Egyptology, explained the hieroglyphics on the front matched those on the back, and that they actually told the story of Nakhtefmut and his family.  The hieroglyphics on the front of the sarcophagus match those on the back, until the very bottom, where it shows the name of Kulesus, which is not common.

“There are only two or three signed objects from ancient Egypt,” Gee said.

Currently, Kulesus is working on a new sarcophagus project, Queen Neshkons, a noble lady from Egypt’s third intermediate period, and he made sure to get better photographs this time.

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