As Grajetzki points out, “Written texts have been always an important part of elite burials.” Texts on coffins, originally just the titles and the tomb owners’ names, were funerary texts of the most regularity (Grajetzki 47). Indeed, the coffin itself is the most constant feature of burials across the three millennia of Pharaonic history (Quirke 146).
Particularly clear in coffin production, regional variations in funerary culture in First Intermediate Period Egypt were results of political fragmentation. Surviving written records portray the time as a period of political instability and social unrest, explaining why it is easy to distinguish cemeteries from one another by coffin style (Grajetzki 36-38).
In direct relation to the degeneration of a unified kingdom in the late third millennium BC is the adoption of royal texts and images by people other than kings, termed ‘democratization’ in Egyptology (Quirke 155).
The scholar Adriaan de Buck divided the Coffin Texts into 1,185 different spells, some assigned to larger compositions such as the major Book of Two Ways. The spells always refer to the deceased in the first person singular and the language, although it imitates that of the Old Kingdom, was of classical Middle Egypt – inscribed with hieroglyphs and occasional early hieratic (Dunn).
The Coffin Texts also sometimes include depictions of royal symbols such as crowns or staffs in “the so-called ‘object frieze’ or ‘frise d’objets,’ a graphical depiction of a variety of items associated with the mummification of the deceased and burial rituals, as well as more ritualistic objects concerned with the well-being or desires of the deceased” (Robinson 3).
Unlike the Pyramid Texts, the Coffin Texts were almost always titled (sometimes the title came at a text’s end). They were usually written in vertical columns with the use of red ink to divide spells. For emphasis, some important spells were written entirely in red pigment.
The Coffin Texts are the first instance in Egyptian funerary literature to use graphic depictions, though infrequently. The Book of Two Ways and Spell 464 offer detailed plans while other textual descriptions of figures are used to bolster the texts’ magic.
A holdover from the Pyramid Texts is the mutilation of many hierogylphs which represent animate objects. These glyphs are sometimes carved as two separate pieces divided by a blank space. Sometimes snakes and other animals/creatures are inscribed with knives in their backs, intended to ensure the safety of the deceased from the figure (Dunn).