Stela and reliefs, of which this is a fragment of, were commonly used throughout Egyptian history. Richly decorated, in sunken or high relief, they would feature specific formulas, designed to lead the deceased through the underworld and bestow blessings on them. The most typical formula, known as the ‘ḥtp-di-nsw’ offering formula would have certainly featured and we can ascertain that this small panel detailed such blessings. The three words, ‘ḥtp-di-nsw’, refers specifically to the transliterated three opening hieroglyphs of the formula, which evoked the gods on behalf of the deceased. Ḥtp-di-nsw can be translated as ‘an offering which the king gives’. The rest of the formula would have included the name of the deceased, any titles or epithets to the gods and an inventory of gifts. Most often, the stela would include an offering table, laden with the goods given. It was common for the deceased to be depicted either sitting or standing closeby. If seated, as in this example, the deceased would be sat on a small chair, facing the goods he is offering. Other figures, usually smaller in size, such as family members, may also surround the offering formula.
The offering formula in its entirety would follow this pattern:
Ḥtp-di-nsw – An offering which the king gives
ꜣsjr – Osiris (the most common god to appear, although Anubis and other gods are mentioned)
prt-ḫrw – a voice offering
ḫꜣ t ḥnḳt ḫꜣ kꜣ ꜣpd ḫꜣ šs mnḫt – a thousand (ḫꜣ) bread (t) and beer (ḥnḳt), a thousand ox (kꜣ) and fowl (ꜣpd), a thousand alabaster (šs) and linen (mnḫt)
ḫt nbt nfrt wʿbt – everything good and pure
ʿnḫt nṯr im – on which a god lives
n kꜣ n / imꜣḫ(w) – for the ka of / the revered one
[name of the deceased]
mꜣʿ-ḫrw – the justified
This is a simplified account of what may have been included on funerary stela and reliefs. Other scenes could depict the deceased surveying particular activities, known as watching scenes. The deceased would gaze over particular woks being done, from agricultural scenes to manufacturing. It was also common to see the elite carrying out activities, in particular hunting or fishing. Such scenes all indicated the prosperity and wealth of the deceased and his ability to provide in the offering scene. Stela were much more than just tomb markers but highlighted the accomplishments and blessings of their owner.