Unguent Cones

Egyptian Name:


During feasts and festivals, people can be seen wearing unguent cones - funnel-shaped blocks of scented wax - on their heads. They were made of beeswax or tallow, and scented with aromatic substances such as myrrh, henna, and cinnamon oil. Attached using resin, these unguent cones would slowly melt, cooling the head and permeating the person's hair and clothes with perfume, as well as repelling insects. The cones were often colored red, yellow, or white, and varied in size and shape, from 6 inches (15 cm) to 20 inches (53 cm) long, and from egg to pyramid-shaped. Sometimes there were lotus flowers or buds attached to the cones as a decoration.

A servant girl refreshing a lady's unguent cone

Some scholars have argued that these cones were not actually worn in real life, but are shown simply to represent that the person is wearing perfume or a symbol of good cheer. Indeed, no actual unguent cones have been found in tombs. However, the custom of wearing scented cones of fat has survived into the present century among certain Beduin tribes, who inhabit the deserts around Egypt. Others have pointed out that unguent cones, by their very nature, are unlikely to have survived intact after thousands of years in a tomb. Examinations of wigs and hair have shown some evidence of fatty residue.

During the funeral of the deceased, an unguent cone was often placed onto the head of the coffin. Dating from the 11th Dynasty, clay models of unguent cones have been found, placed over the entrance of tomb chapels. Often brightly painted, over 400 cones have been found.

Specially fashionable during the New Kingdom, these cones were inscribed with the name and titles of the tomb owner, names of the deceased's family, and sometimes short prayers. During the period of Egyptian hegemony in the Levant funerary cones came to be produced abroad as well. Similarly shaped terracotta bricks inscribed with the throne name of Thutmose III and possibly that of Hatshepsut are the oldest to be found in southern Canaan.

Perfume and Cosmetics in Ancient Egypt