ANCIENT EGYPTIAN TOMBS

ANCIENT EGYPTIAN TOMBS


inside a tomb

The wealthy were buried in elaborate tombs that were decorated with paintings from their lives and hieroglyphics that described their family, their achievements, offerings made at their funeral and a lists of feast days. Sometimes they featured battle scenes and scenes from everyday life like bread making, grain grinding and beer making.

Large houses, temples and tombs all had similar plans with a main court, hall and private rooms. This was also true with Greek architecture. The Old Kingdom tombs were called mastabas. They were generally built of mud and stone above ground. Many were pyramid shaped. Later tombs were built underground.

Many tombs had hidden doors and false doors (from which the dead could commune with the living and receive offerings) and real doors sealed with mud. The false often had hieroglyphic that identified the deceased. Some even had washbasin and toilets. Some tombs had viewing holes, not so the people could look in the tomb, but so the pharaoh could look out and perhaps see the stars. [Source: David Roberts, National Geographic, January 1995]

Tombs were often filled with hieroglyphics. The text on the walls helped the deceased on the journey to the afterlife. These included magical incantations and lists of accomplishments and good deeds.

Tombs were sealed after the funeral but sometimes above them were chapels where mourners could come and pay their respects and priests could conduct rituals for the dead. Priests delivered meals to the dead by symbolically offering them to images of the deceased, who sort of magically inhaled the food. What was left over was often consumed by the priest or their families (the offerings were often the equivalent of their wages).

Websites on Ancient Egypt: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Discovering Egypt discoveringegypt.com; BBC History: Egyptians bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/egyptians ; Ancient History Encyclopedia on Egypt ancient.eu/egypt; Digital Egypt for Universities. Scholarly treatment with broad coverage and cross references (internal and external). Artifacts used extensively to illustrate topics. ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt ; British Museum: Ancient Egypt ancientegypt.co.uk; Egypt’s Golden Empire pbs.org/empires/egypt; Metropolitan Museum of Art www.metmuseum.org ; Oriental Institute Ancient Egypt (Egypt and Sudan) Projects ; Egyptian Antiquities at the Louvre in Paris louvre.fr/en/departments/egyptian-antiquities; KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt kmtjournal.com; Ancient Egypt Magazine ancientegyptmagazine.co.uk; Egypt Exploration Society ees.ac.uk ; Amarna Project amarnaproject.com; Egyptian Study Society, Denver egyptianstudysociety.com; The Ancient Egypt Site ancient-egypt.org; Abzu: Guide to Resources for the Study of the Ancient Near East etana.org; Egyptology Resources fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk

Ancient Egyptian Tomb Paintings

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Nefertari tomb
Tombs of kings, queens and nobles were typically decorated with murals with images of deities and people known to the deceased. Sometimes there were images of the daily lives of ordinary people. Images in tombs are often accompanied by texts from the Book of the Dead , which sometimes explain what is going on in the picture. Some of the greatest existing works of Egyptian art are the tomb paintings in the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, particularly the tomb of Neferteri.

According to the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago: “The Egyptians painted idealised scenes from daily life on the walls of their tombs: scenes of agricultural work such as harvesting crops, tending cattle and fishing, scenes of artisans at their work, including goldworkers and boat-builders and domestic scenes of banquets with musicians, dancers and guests. The scenes in the tomb represented the hoped for after-life, in which there were fertile fields and harmony and happiness at home; representing it in the tomb was thought to ensure an ideal existence in the next world.[Source: ABZU, University of Chicago Oriental Institute, oi-archive.uchicago.edu ]

Tombs typically contained: 1) images of the deceased performing tasks from everyday life or doing some great deed or achievement; 2) images of the deceased making offerings or sacrifices to Gods such as Anabus, Isis and Orissis; 3) images of cobras, gods with weapons or scorpions on their head intended to keep evil spirits from entering the tomb and protect the deceased; 4) images of deceased at the gates of the Nether World asking for permission to enter. To pass through each gate the deceased had to say the name of the gate and the god that guards it.

The deceased is often pictured proceeding on a journey to the nether world, on which he or she comes in contact with different gods and acquires their power and then caries their symbols with him or her. The ceilings of the tombs often feature a dark blue sky with thin, tightly-packed, five-pointed golden stars. There are often images of farmers, cooks, musicians, rowers---people who could carry out duties in the afterlife.

The head of the deceased is often pictured on the body of the bird Alba, whose duty it was to carry the soul of the dead to the Nether World. Maate, the winged Goddess of Justice and the winged serpent are often present, with her wings spread, on lintels over doorways in the tombs of pharaohs and their wives in the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens.

Heirakonpolis contains one of the oldest tomb painting. Created in 3200 B.C., it features stick-like figures. Some of the tombs have been dated to 5000 B.C..

Ancient Egyptian Tomb Sculptures

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Nefertari tomb
Statues of the deceased called ushabti (shabtis) were placed in tombs next to the mummy. These were not intended for the public to see or as a memorial. They were a substitute for the person should something happen to the mummy, or they could be offered by the deceased as substitute if he was called on to do something unpleasant in the afterlife.

The sculptures were often made of stone with the understanding that that meant they could last for eternity. If something happened to the mummy the pharaoh's Ka , or vital force, could move into the sculpture. Because they possessed ka, statues were regarded as powerful and even dangerous.

Some tombs contained "reserve heads" made from plaster casts of the mummified head which served the same purpose. The face on the sculpture had to recognizable, lest the ka get confused and inhabit the wrong statue.

Ushabti were also included with the dead to perform the labors of the gods. These were often small exquisite small statues of ordinary people---such as potters, butchers and cooks, performing their daily chores such as rolling dough, cutting meat, kneeling at a harp and working a pottery wheel---that were brought along to perform these duties in the afterlife. Some men brought along carved stone "divine concubines" The sculptures were often incredibly lifelike. The eyes of some statues were inlaid with quartz crystal.

Ancient Egyptian Tomb Contents

Tombs were often filled with belongings that the dead would take with them to the afterlife. The needs of the dead were similar to those of the living. Objects found in tombs included food, wine, jewelry, chariots, games, toys, cosmetics, cosmetic spoons, tubes to store eyeliner, jars of moisturizer, musical instruments, boats, pots held oil and fat, steaks and veal chops, sacrificed bulls, mummified birds, cats and baboons, gold funerary masks made to last for centuries, and living-room furniture to "make the afterlife more comfortable.”

A tomb from 3150 B.C. of an Egyptian king, who may have been known as Scorpion I, contained a shrine, an ivory scepter, jars for oils, fats, bread, beer, cedar boxes for clothing, stone vessels, and ivory and bone objects, and three rooms full of jars of wine. The wine is believed to have been produced in Israel. Graves of the wealthy elite dated to 3500 B.C. contained flint figurines, beautiful pottery, and the earliest known funerary masks---expressive faces made with fired clay and featuring cut out eyes and molded ears.

Widows used to bury a lock of their hair with their deceased husbands as a charm and perhaps symbolizing a vow to always be with her husband.

King Tut's Tomb

King Tutankhamen's Tomb (Valley of the Kings) is one of the most visited tombs in the Valley of the Kings and has a separate admission price. Its discovery in 1922 was one of the greatest archeological discoveries of all time. Tutankhamen was only a minor king---he didn't build a pyramid or any great temples or monuments and he died before he was 21---but it just so happens that his tomb was one of the few in the Valley of the Kings with a treasure missed by looters.

King Tutankhamun Tomb is located 26 feet underground. It was constructed from the relatively small unfinished tomb of courtier after the king died at an early age. Objects for the afterlife were crammed in the tomb and the paintings were so hastily prepared that splashes of paint that cover some of the images was not cleaned up. Some of the burial objects appear to have belonged to others (their names were erased and replaced with King Tutankhamun’s name).

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King Tut's tomb

Tutankhamen was well prepared for his trip to the afterlife. His four-room tomb yielded gold treasures; gilt coffins with images of the king emblazoned on the them; a glittering throne with palace scenes; effigies of gods and goddesses; a chest inscribed battles scenes; and jeweled daggers, earrings, necklaces and other riches. The most famous object found in it was Tutankhamun’s blue and gold funerary mask, which has been pictured in many books and magazines. All of these things are in the Egyptian museum, except when they are on tour.

Some painting in the tomb depict Tutankhamun funeral procession. After the funeral procession, his successor, Aye, symbolically revives the dead. Nut, the sky goddess welcomes Tutankhamun to the realm of the gods, and Osiris, god of the afterlife, embraces him along with his ka , or spiritual double. Baboons on the far wall represent the start of his passage through 12 hours of the night.

Two small female fetuses were found in the tomb. DNA testing in 2010 determined the they were Tutankhamun’s two still-born daughters.

See Howard Carter and Discovery of Tutankhamun’s Tomb in 1922 Under Ancient Egyptians Archaeology

King Tutankhamen Collection

The King Tutankhamen Collection (on the top floor of the Egyptian Museum) contains nearly 5,000 objects. Among them are the famous blue-and-gold funerary mask. The mask is made of beaten gold. The beard on the masks identifies the king as being one with Osiris, god of the dead, and the cobra and vulture on his forehead symbolize the Upper and Lower kingdoms of Egypt. A life-size statue of the king, which was found at the entrance of the tomb, is dressed in gilded clothing and was anointed in black resin to denote rebirth.

The mummy was enclosed in a coffin, a sarcophagus and four decorated and gilded wooden shrines---one inside the other. The shrines had images of the king emblazoned on the them. The largest, outer golden shrine is 9 feet high, 10¾ feet wide and 16½ feet long. It is inlaid with panels of brilliant blue faience with depictions of special symbols that protected the dead. The innermost one was covered in gold. The sarcophagus is made of yellow quartzite and has a sculpted goddess spreading protecting arms and wings over the feet area. Each shrine and the sarcophagus is displayed separately.

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King Tut's throne

King Tutankhamun’s polished gold coffin weighs 250 pounds and is inlaid with precious and semi-precious stones. On the lid is a low relief golden effigy of the king. The figure holds a crook and flail, both of which symbolize the king's power. Guarding the coffin during ancient times was the goddess Selket, who was so powerful, it was said, she could cure the string of the scorpion which she wears on a crown on her head. During the Six Day War the coffin was stored in a secret bomb proof shelter.

King Tutankhamun’s tomb is regarded as the the richest royal collection every found. When the king’s coffin was opened, 143 amulets and pieces of jewelry were found tucked in the linen layers of the mummy. Also in the collection is a 15.3 inch coffin for the pharaoh's liver. Only the heart remained in the body when it was mummified. Another coffin contained his viscera.

Many of big items were found in the anteroom outside the burial chamber. These include gold couches, four gold chariots, a golden throne, alabaster vases and scores of personal items of the king---all of which are on display. The king’s wooden throne is covered in sheets of gold, silver, gems and glass and is decorated with an intimate scene of the queen rubbing Tutankhamun with perfumed oil.

Tutankhamun’s clothes chest is decorated with a scene showing the king shooting his bow and arrow from a chariot while galloping at full speed, trampling Nubians under the wheels of his chariot. Tutankhamun was buried with six chariots, 50 bows, two swords, two daggers, eight shields and assorted boomerangs and slingshots. An inscription of the chest reads "hundreds of thousands of Nubians bowed to him during the battle."

There is also a beautiful painted effigy; a feminized alabaster bust; a walking stick adorned with carvings of Arabs and Nubians; a boat with an ibex bowhead and a nude maiden captain; and statue of Anubis, the jackal god of the necropolis, whose job it was to discourage intruders. So that he may gaze upon himself and procreate in the afterlife the king was buried with a mirror shaped like an ankh, the symbol of life, and pieces of jewelry adorned with scarabs, the symbols of fertility.

King Tutankhamun was also was buried with ordinary things likes boards games, a bronze razor, cases of food and wine, and linen undergarments. Among the small items are gold daggers for protection in the afterlife; a headrest for rebirth; and an alabaster cup which proclaims "Mayst thou spend millions of years...sitting with thy face to the north wind...beholding felicity." There are also effigies of gods and goddesses, jeweled daggers, earrings, necklaces, 2,000 amulets and pieces of jewelry, gold figures, a leopard skin mantel decorated with gold stars, a child's chair made of ebony and ivory, 15 gold and jeweled rings, seeds, boat paddles, ear and neck ornaments, 50 ornamental vases, robes, sandals, arrows, bows, boomerangs, a forked stick for caching snakes and a lock of hair from Queen Tiye, Tutankhamen's mother.

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Tutankhamun scarab

Ancient Egyptian Tomb Workers and Maintenance

Mortuary cults made up of priests and nobleman worshiped dead pharaohs, made periodic religious offered and made sure the mummy was properly fed and dressed. "To ensure a continuous supply of food after death," scholar Daniel Boorstin wrote, "noblemen set aside land as an endowment for priests to feed them."

Decades, even centuries, after the pharaohs died priests still conducted daily rites around the tombs and pyramids. In these rites the priests sprinkled a statue of the pharaoh with perfume, painted on eye shadow and dressed it in new clothes while chanting prayers and mystical formulas. Occasionally a bull was sacrificed in the Sanctuary of the Knife; its throat was slashed, and the blood was captured in a huge bowl, and a foreleg was cut off and placed on the altar.

Use of Mud Brick in Ancient Egyptian Tombs

Virginia L. Emery of the University of Chicago wrote: “Even as it was used to house the living, so too was mud-brick employed to protect the dead. Paralleling its increased use in domestic settings, mud-brick was utilized to line the burial chambers of prehistoric tombs, as at Cemetery T at Naqada and the Decorated Tomb at Hierakonpolis (Tomb 100). Its use in funerary settings expanded during the 1st and 2nd Dynasties, being employed for chambers and vaults at Naqada, Tarkhan, el-Mahasna, Naga el-Deir, Abydos, Giza, and Saqqara. As time progressed, mud-brick was also used in the construction of tomb superstructures, as the mastabas at Naqada, Tarkhan, Abu Rawash, Giza, and particularly Saqqara attest. The mastabas from Saqqara offer the quintessential examples of palace façade style niching and buttressing; highly intricate examples of niching occurred during the 1st Dynasty, but became increasingly simplified through the 2nd and 3rd Dynasties and were replaced in the 4th Dynasty by straight-sided mastabas, a style that continued into the Middle Kingdom; classic examples of this style of mastaba dating to the 6th Dynasty occur at Balat/Ain Asil. [Source: Virginia L. Emery, University of Chicago, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2011, escholarship.org <>]

“Being related to royal burials, the Predynastic and Early Dynastic enclosures at Abydos and Hierakonpolis also display palace façade niching, as does a single example of a gateway within the town site of Hierakonpolis. The use of mud-brick in funerary monuments continued from the Old Kingdom into the Middle Kingdom, when not only mastabas but even the cores of royal pyramids were executed in mud-brick. The pyramids of the 12th Dynasty—of Senusret II at el-Lahun, of Senusret III and of Amenemhat III at Dahshur, of Amenemhat III at Hawara, and of Amenemhat IV and of Queen Neferusobek at Mazghuneh —and of the 13th Dynasty at Saqqara—of Userkara Khendjer and of an unknown king—continued the pyramid-building tradition of the Old Kingdom, but demonstrate an economy in the use of a mud-brick core cased with stone, which the all-stone Old Kingdom Pyramids lack. Mud-brick pyramids were built into the New Kingdom as private funerary monuments, especially in the Theban area and at Saqqara, though these miniature pyramids were no longer solid brickwork but had internal, vaulted chambers that served as the tombs’ chapels. <>

“Mud-brick continued to be used for the lining for burial chambers and for roof vaulting for the subterranean portions of tombs through the New Kingdom and into the Late Period, when the construction of tomb superstructures in mud-brick experienced a revival well-exemplified by still-standing monumental pylon entrances of the tombs of Mentuemhat (TT 34) and Padineith (TT 197) in the north Asasif area of the Theban necropolis. Ptolemaic, Roman, and even Coptic tombs continued to employ mud-brick.” <>


tomb of Seti I


Private Reuse of Tombs and Burial Equipment

Peter Brand of the University of Memphis wrote: “Reuse of monuments in antiquity was not a strictly royal phenomenon. Private individuals frequently reused tombs and tomb furnishings—even those of ancestral relatives. The practice is occasionally attested in earlier periods, but most examples are from the New Kingdom and later. Many New Kingdom tombs in the Theban necropolis provide examples of reuse, ranging from the usurpation and alteration of tomb decoration in the Ramesside Period to intrusive burials in the Third Intermediate and Late Periods. The same was true in Memphis. [Source: Peter Brand, University of Memphis, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org <>]

“Funerary equipment could also be usurped or recycled after it had been adapted for the new owners. For example, a Nineteenth Dynasty coffin was replastered and repainted in the Twenty-first Dynasty for a man named Mentuhotep. Traces of the original decoration are visible where the newer plaster chipped off. Sarcophagi, too, could be re-inscribed, as was the anthropoid sarcophagus prepared for general Paramessu before he became Ramesses I, the sarcophagus later being adapted for prince Ramesses, the son of Ramesses II. Unlike the royal practice of employing masonry taken from ruined or obsolete monuments, the private recycling of funerary equipment was often an illegitimate or criminal act, the goods themselves frequently being obtained by theft. Yet tombs and funerary equipment were often plundered within a few generations of the burial of the original owner(s). The later Twentieth Dynasty saw the brazen and systematic plundering of the Theban necropolis, including royal and private tombs and royal memorial temples. Plundered funerary goods were reused “as is” or reprocessed for valuable raw materials. <>

Tomb Texts from Ancient Egypt

Tombs were often filled with hieroglyphics. The text on the walls helped the deceased on the journey to the afterlife. These included magical incantations and lists of accomplishments and good deeds.

Jaromir Malek wrote for the BBC: “Practically everything that we know about Egyptian kings derives from their monuments. The Pyramid Texts, which were spells concerning the king's afterlife, began to be inscribed inside Egyptian pyramids from the reign of King Unas, about 2350 B.C. The temples for the king's posthumous cult were decorated with reliefs and contained many statues, all of which give us information about the role of the king in Egyptian society. Scenes that show real events are rare. We must not forget that the purpose of these reliefs was to show an ideal state of affairs, which the king wished to last forever, not the contemporary reality. [Source: Jaromir Malek, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

"Scenes of Asiatic Commerce in Theban Tombs (Rek-mi-Re)" from the Tombs of the Noblemen (15th-13th Century B.C.) reads: Coming in peace by the princes of Retenu and all northern countries of the ends of Asia, bowing down in humility, with their tribute upon their backs, seeking that there be given them the breath of life and desiring to be subject to his majesty, for they have seen his very great victories and the terror of him has mastered their hearts. Now it is the Hereditary Prince, Count, Father and Beloved of the God, great trusted man of the Lord of the Two Lands, Mayor and Vizier, Rekh-mi-Re (reign of Thothmosis III), who receives the tribute of all foreign countries...Presenting the children of the princes of the southern countries, along with the children of the princes of the northern countries, who were brought as the best of the booty of his majesty, the King of Upper and Lower Egypt: Men-kheper-Re (Thothmosis III), given life, from all foreign countries, to fill the workshop and to be serfs of the divine offerings of his father Amon, Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands, according as there have been given to him all foreign countries together in his grasp, with their princes prostrated under his sandals .[Source: James B. Pritchard, “Ancient Near Eastern Texts,” (ANET), Princeton, 1969, pp. 248 web.archive.org]

Tomb Texts from the Old Kingdom

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Jaromir Malek wrote for the BBC: “Documents written on papyri were found in some pyramid temples, especially at Abusir. They concern such matters as lists of priests on duty, records of offerings brought to the temple, accounts, inventories of temple equipment and passes authorizing access to the temple. Several settlements of priests, and of craftsmen and artists, involved in the running of pyramid temples, have been located, in particular at Giza. [Source: Jaromir Malek, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“Representations carved on the walls of tombs include scenes of everyday life on the owner's estates and so show how even ordinary people lived and worked. We must be rather careful when interpreting these scenes and must not take them entirely at face value. They were included in order to play a role in the tomb owner's afterlife, not as an accurate record. |::|

“Sometimes, especially in the later part of the Old Kingdom, the tombs contained biographical texts. Many are just self-praising but others are real records of the tomb owner's achievements. This is how one of them, an official called Weni, described a mission assigned to him by King Merenre of the Sixth Dynasty: 'His Majesty sent me to Hatnub in order to bring a great altar of travertine of Hatnub. I brought this altar down for him in 17 days. After it had been quarried at Hatnub, I had it transported downstream in the barge that I had made for it, a barge of acacia wood of 60 cubits in length and 30 cubits in width. It was built in 17 days and in the third month of summer, when there was no water on sandbanks, it was safely moored at the pyramid of King Merenre.'” |::|

Pyramids as Mortuary Temples for the Pharaohs

According to PBS: “Each pyramid has a mortuary temple and a valley temple linked by long causeways that were roofed and walled. Alongside Khufu and Khafre's pyramids were large boat-shaped pits and buried boats that were presumably meant to aid the pharaoh's journey to the afterlife.... In addition, cemeteries of royal attendants and relatives surround the three pyramids. The entire plateau is dotted with these tombs, called mastabas, which were built in rectangular bench-like shapes above deep burial shafts.”

The pyramid were manifestations of the Egyptians' beliefs in the afterlife..Early pre-pyramid royal tombs were essentially made up of an underground burial complex in one location-with a large rectangular enclosure a kilometer or so away, where ceremonies for the dead were carried out. The first pyramid, Djoser’s Step Pyramid, which in many ways combined the old separate elements in one location. [Source: Dr Aidan Dodson, a Visiting Fellow in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Bristol, where he teaches Egyptology, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

Dr Aidan Dodson wrote for BBC: It is important to realise that the actual pyramid was only one part of the overall magical machine that transferred the dead king between the two worlds of the living and the dead. The pyramid complex began on the edge of the desert, where the Valley Building-now lost under a Cairo suburb-formed a monumental portal. |::|


“From here, the burial cortege, priests and visitors would pass through ceremonial halls onto a causeway that ascended the desert escarpment to the mortuary temple, built against the east face of the pyramid. Here, behind a great colonnaded courtyard, lay the sanctuary in which offerings were made to the king's spirit. Either side of the mortuary temple lay a buried boat-perhaps a souvenir of a funeral flotilla, or put there to allow the king to voyage in the heavens-and to the south was a miniature pyramid. Such so-called subsidiary pyramids are of uncertain purpose: they are generally classified as 'ritual'-archaeologists' code for 'obviously important to the ancient people, but we have absolutely no idea why'. |::|

“An offering place was one of the two immutable parts of an Egyptian tomb. The other was the burial place. In the Great Pyramid-and in most other pyramids-this was reached from a narrow, low, opening in the north face. The interior of the Great Pyramid is complex, almost certainly resulting from a number of changes of plan. |::|

“The Great Pyramid was the hub of a huge complex of cemeteries intended for members of the royal court. To the east, three of the king's wives had their own small pyramids, with streets of mastaba-bench-shaped tombs-for his sons and daughters. West of Khufu's pyramid was an even larger cemetery for the great officials of state. All these tombs had been laid out to a single design, a unified architectural conception of the king surrounded by his court, in death as in life. It is a concept that has been without direct parallel before or since.” |::|

Private Tombs North Near Senusret III Pyramid Complex in Dahshur

Dieter Arnold of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “In ancient Egypt, while a royal pyramid was under construction, the area adjoining it could not be used for private tomb building. Royal courtiers had to build their tombs either at a safe distance from the construction area or near the pyramid of the preceding king. The officials of Senusret III erected their tombs in a close group that was separated from the royal pyramid complex by a narrow desert strip. This cemetery was still in use during the reign of King Amenemhat III (r. ca. 1859–1813 B.C.), Senusret III's successor and presumed son. In 1894, Jacques de Morgan (1857–1924) excavated about thirty tombs, which represents approximately half of the cemetery. Many tombs consisted only of a shaft with a burial chamber. Several were brick mastabas of moderate dimensions, but a few tombs were monumental and cased with fine quality limestone. Almost all above-ground buildings were destroyed in antiquity, leaving only foundations and a few brick or stone courses; with very few exceptions, all underground burial chambers were robbed. [Source: Dieter Arnold. Department of Egyptian Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, metmuseum.org \^/]

“One task of the archaeologist is to reconstruct the original appearance of the architecture from the remains left by the stone robbers. Several of the mastabas were inscribed with the names and titles of the tomb owner and occasionally biographical information about his or her life. Because of the historical value of these texts, the tiniest fragments must be recorded and studied. The expedition of the Metropolitan Museum has been systematically reexcavating the cemetery since 1995. The major mastaba tombs belonging to the officials Nebit, Horkherty, and Khnumhotep have been explored and recorded. \^/

“The mastabas of Nebit and Horkherty had smooth, gently sloping walls that were articulated in the east with two niches containing false doors and relief scenes of offering rituals. Both mastabas measured 10.5 x 21 meters and were 4.5 meters high. Large inscriptions ran along the tops of the walls and down the corners. Almost the entire north wall of Nebit's mastaba is preserved, along with a section of the north end of the east wall. The inscriptions include the cartouches of Senusret III, indicating that Nebit served under that king. They also reveal that Nebit held the offices of vizier and overseer of the pyramid city. Horkherty's less well preserved inscriptions include a number of religious titles. \^/

“The mastaba of Khnumhotep had a different, dramatic surface articulation consisting of paneled walls structured by an elaborate system of projections and recesses. This type of building design and decoration plays a long and important role in Egyptian architecture and its origins extend back to Early Dynastic palace architecture. A beautiful detail was the representation of bundles of papyrus blossoms in windowlike panels. On Khnumhotep's mastaba, long inscriptions framed the top of the building and the panels of the four false doors on the east side. These fragmentary inscriptions include important information about military campaigns that Khnumhotep appears to have undertaken in the Levant. \^/

“The underground tombs consisted of monumental, stone-lined chambers, where the bodies of the tomb owners were laid to rest in wood coffins nested inside stone sarcophagi. A wall niche enclosed the canopic chest, which contained some of the deceased's internal organs. The crypts of Nebit, Horkherty, and Khnumhotep were found completely robbed, but the burial of Horkherty's wife Sitwerut was discovered untouched. The meticulous recording of her burial has enabled the excavators to reconstruct the funerary equipment of an upper-class Dynasty 12 lady. Sitwerut was buried in her own stone sarcophagus that contained a rectangular cedar wood coffin with gilded edges. Her mummy was wrapped in linen and her body placed in a gilded, mummy-shaped inner coffin. Her jewelry was composed of faience and carnelian beads, and had elements made of wood covered with gold foil and decorated cartonnage, indicating that the objects were made specifically for her burial. Among her adornments were bracelets, anklets, a girdle, and a broad collar. The four alabaster jars of her canopic burial had human heads, and one even preserved some of the ancient embalming fluid.” \^/

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Merenptah's Mortuary Temple

Main Tomb Sites at Amarna

Anna Stevens of Cambridge University wrote: “The Royal Tomb, one of the foundations listed on the Boundary Stelae, was cut into the limestone bedrock deep in the Royal Wadi in the eastern cliffs, recalling the Valley of the Kings in Luxor. Although unfinished, the tomb was used for the buri als of Akhenaten, princess Meketaten, probably Queen Tiy, and another individual, perhaps Nefertiti. At the end of the Amarna Period the contents of the tomb were partly relocated to Thebes. The tomb was badly looted shortly after its discovery in the late nineteenth century and has suffered subsequently from vandalism and flooding. The walls nonetheless retain important scenes, including those alluding to the death of princess Meketaten, perhaps in childbirth. The Royal Wadi also conta ins three additional unfinished tombs and another chamber that is either a store for embalming materials or a further tomb.[Source: Anna Stevens, Amarna Project, 2016, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org <>]

The North Tombs are a set of elite tombs cut into the cliffs of the high desert towards the northern end of the Amarna bay. There are six principal tombs, numbered 1-6, which belonged to high officials in Akhenaten’s court. Although none was fully completed, these preserve decoration that is notable for representing the city’s monuments, the prominence given to the king and royal family, and the presence of copies of the Hymns to the Aten . There are also several other undecorated tombs. The tombs were reoccupied by a Coptic community in around the sixth to seventh centuries CE and the tomb of Panehesy (no. 6) converted into a church at this time. <>

“Adjacent to the North Tombs are a number of non-elite burial grounds. The largest, which probably includes several thousand interments, occupies a broad wadi between North Tombs 2 and 3. The graves here take the form of simple pits cut into the sand, containing one or more individuals wrapped usually in textile and mats. There is also a smaller cemetery at the base of t he cliffs adjacent to the tomb of Panehesy (no. 6) and another in the low desert some 700 meters to the west of this, both as yet unexcavated. <>

“South Tombs and South Tombs Cemetery, a second group of rock-cut tombs belonging to the city’s elite, is situated at the cliff-face southeast of the Main City. There are 19 numbered tombs (nos. 7-25) and several other unnumbered chambers. The tombs are in a less finished state and are smaller tha n the North Tombs. Large quantities of pottery dating to Dynasties 25 and 30 litter the ground nearby, suggesting the tombs were reused in the Late Period. <>

“The rock-cut tombs are again only the elite component of a much larger cemetery that occupies a 400 meters long wadi between Tombs 24 and 25. Fieldwork here from 2005 to 2013 revealed a densely packed cemetery containing the graves of several thousand people, those of adults, children, and infants intermingled. The deceased were usually wrapped in textile and a mat of palm midrib or tamarisk and placed singly in a pit in the sand. Less often, they were buried in coff ins made of wood, pottery, or mud. The decorated coffins include examples with traditional funerary deities, and in a new style in which human offering bearers replace the latter. Most graves seem to have been marked by a simple stone cairn, and in some ca ses a small pyramidion or pointed stela showing a figure of the deceased . Fragments of pottery vessels that presumably often contained or symbolized offerings of food and drink were common. Other grave goods were rare, but included such items as mirrors, kohl tubes, stone and faience vessels, tweezers, and jewelry such as scarabs and amuletic beads. The study of the human remains showed an inverse mortality curve, ages at death highest between 7 and 35 years, with the peak between 15 and 24 years.” <>


Ground plan of the Tomb of Seti I


Khonsu’s Tomb; What It Says About the Artisan’s Life

Catharine H. Roehrig of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Almost thirty-three centuries ago, a young man named Khonsu became a "servant in the Place of Truth"—a designation that identified members of the crew of artisans who carved and decorated the royal tombs of the New Kingdom. These artisans included quarrymen, scribes, draftsmen, sculptors, painters, and carpenters. The entire crew, which usually numbered no more than sixty, lived with their families in a walled community known to its residents simply as the Village, a ruin now known as Deir el-Medina. Situated in a small desert valley on the west bank of the Nile, at the edge of the Theban cliffs, the Village was within easy reach of the two principal royal cemeteries: the Great Place, now called the Valley of the Kings; and the Place of Beauty, or the Valley of the Queens. [Source: Catharine H. Roehrig Department of Egyptian Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, metmuseum.org \^/]

“Khonsu was the fourth son in a large family, and like most members of the royal work crew, he and at least one of his brothers had followed in the footsteps of their father, Sennedjem, who was also a servant in the Place of Truth. Sennedjem was an active member of the crew in the time of Menmaatre Seti, the son of a former general named Ramesses who had ascended the throne of Egypt and founded a new dynasty. \^/

“Sennedjem and his sons were fortunate to live during a period of great prosperity for the Village. At the height of Sennedjem's career, in the first sixteen years of the new dynasty, two royal tombs were required. The amount of time it took the crew to complete a royal tomb depended on the length of a king's reign, and work was sometimes cut short by the pharaoh's death. Because of the length of time required for mummification, the team would have up to three months to finish its work, and then the process would begin all over again for the new pharaoh. \^/

“The same talents that created a spectacular sepulchre for the ruling king were also put to use in the more modest burial places of the workers themselves. Located in a terraced cemetery on the hillside adjacent to the Village, their funerary monuments included small, vaulted, above-ground offering chapels that were topped by miniature, steep-sided pyramids. In or near the chapels, shafts cut deep into the bedrock led to groupings of corridors and vaulted rooms that were often used by many generations of the same family. One of the finest of these tombs belonged to Sennedjem and his descendants. Built at the southern end of the cemetery, the family crypt was just a stone's throw away from its owner's house. The upper level of the complex had offering chapels for both Sennedjem and Khonsu, and the decorated burial chamber contained the mummies of Sennedjem and his wife, Iineferti; Khonsu and his wife, Tameket; Khonsu's younger brother Ramesses; and four other named members of the family, as well as eleven unidentified mummies. \^/

“In preparation for his journey to the afterworld, Khonsu commissioned a pair of nesting anthropoid coffins made of wood. The lid of each depicts Khonsu in the form of a mummy, with arms crossed over his chest and hands clutching the tyet amulet and djed pillar, the same magical symbols that were used some 200 years earlier on Hatnofer's chair to ensure the owner's well-being. The coffins are covered with magical texts and vignettes featuring deities as well as Khonsu and Tameket. A mask of painted wood and cartonnage completed the ensemble. Khonsu had also obtained a painted canopic box to hold his internal organs and several shawabtis, little figurines that were intended to substitute for the deceased owner if he were called upon to perform any kind of manual labor in the next life. \^/

“When he finally began his own journey to the afterworld, Khonsu was about sixty-five years of age and had seen two generations of his descendants enter the work crew. He was placed in the family tomb along with his parents, and the funeral rites were probably performed by his sons Nakhemmut and Nakhtmin, who spoke the words of the offering texts and repeated the names of those who had passed on to the next world, thus giving them renewed life. After being used by many generations of Khonsu's descendants, the family crypt was sealed at last and remained undisturbed until February 1, 1886, when it was uncovered by agents of the Egyptian Antiquities Service.


Tomb of Set I


Tomb of Wah; What It Says About the Life of a Scribe

Catharine H. Roehrig of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Just over 4,000 years ago, in about 2005 B.C., a boy named Wah was born in the Upper Egyptian province of Waset, which took its name from the city better known today by its ancient Greek name—Thebes. At that time, Thebes was the capital of all Egypt, and Nebhepetre Mentuhotep, founder of the Middle Kingdom, was nearing the end of his long reign. Nebhepetre was a member of the Theban family that had controlled a large part of Upper Egypt for several generations. Early in the third decade of his reign, about twenty-five years before Wah's birth, the king reunited Upper and Lower Egypt after a period of civil war and took the Horus name Sematawy—Uniter of the Two Lands. For his accomplishment, Nebhepetre was forever honored by the Egyptians as one of their greatest pharaohs. [Source: Catharine H. Roehrig Department of Egyptian Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, metmuseum.org \^/]

“While growing up, Wah undoubtedly heard tales of the difficult time when there had been no supreme leader ruling over the two lands of Egypt, and Thebes was cut off from trade with the foreign lands to the northeast. He must have been told countless times of the heroic deeds of Nebhepetre and his supporters, who had fought to reunite the Nile valley in the south with the delta in the north. But in Wah's lifetime there was peace, and prosperity was returning to the land. \^/

“Early in his life, probably when he was six or seven, Wah began studying to become a scribe . Learning the art of writing was a long, painstaking process, accomplished primarily by copying standard religious texts, famous literary works, songs, and poetry. Wah may have mastered both formal hieroglyphic and the cursive hieratic scripts, memorizing hundreds of signs and learning which had specific meanings in themselves; which represented sounds and could be used to spell out words; which were determinatives, or signs that give clues as to the meaning of a word; and which could be used in more than one of these ways. He would have practiced forming signs , learning their correct size and spacing in relation to one another. He would also have learned to mix ink and to make brushes from reeds, for Egyptian handwriting was a form of painting, and the finest scribes developed personal hands that were calligraphic in style. \^/

“Sometime in his youth, perhaps quite early in his scribal training, Wah went to work on the estate of Meketre, a wealthy Theban who had begun his career as a government official during the reign of Nebhepetre and eventually rose to the exalted position of "seal bearer," or treasurer—one of the most powerful positions at court. A man of Meketre's importance probably owned a great deal of land, and his private domain would have been virtually self-sufficient, with tenant farmers, artisans and other specialized laborers, scribes, administrators, and servants all living and working on the estate. Wah probably began his service as one of the lower-level scribes, keeping accounts and writing letters. Ultimately, he became an overseer, or manager, of the storerooms on the estate. \^/

“We can speculate about some of Wah's duties thanks to a set of wooden models that were probably made during his lifetime as part of the burial equipment of his employer, Meketre. These small scenes, which form one of the finest and most complete sets of Middle Kingdom funerary models ever discovered, can be interpreted on more than one level. All of them have symbolic meanings connected with Egyptian funerary beliefs, but they also provide a picture of the day-to-day tasks that were performed on an ancient Egyptian estate. The basis of Egypt's economy was agriculture, and the grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables raised on Meketre's lands would have been his most important assets. A large portion of the crops would have been dried or processed into oil and wine, stored, and used throughout the year in the estate's kitchens . Some of the produce was set aside for taxes and salaries. Anything left over could be traded for raw materials or luxury items not available on the estate. \^/

“Artisans on the estate produced ceramic vessels in which to store beer and wine; carpenters made and repaired furniture, doors, windows, and perhaps even coffins and other funerary equipment, when necessary; weavers wove the hundreds of yards of linen used in every aspect of life and for wrapping mummies after death. In his adult years, Wah probably oversaw the output of all of the artisanal shops, as well as the storage of agricultural produce, the paying of taxes, and the doling out of wages in grain, cloth, and other products for work done on the estate. \^/

“As a young man, Wah must have been an imposing individual; at nearly six feet, his height far exceeded that of most of his contemporaries. However, at some point he seems to have injured both of his feet, and his duties as a scribe and overseer probably allowed him to maintain quite a sedentary lifestyle. Perhaps as a result of these circumstances, by his mid-twenties Wah had become obese—a sign of great prosperity, but also perhaps of poor health, for he died before he was thirty. \^/


mastaba tomb


Lesser Tombs in the Valley of the Kings

Donald P. Ryan of Pacific Lutheran University wrote: “The main focus of my work in the Valley has been in the examination of several undecorated tombs (Tomb No.'s 21, 27, 28, 44, 45, 48 and 60) found in this royal cemetery of Egypt's New Kingdom (c. 1550-1070 B.C.). Lying amongst the large and often elaborately decorated tombs of the pharaohs, many of these typically smaller tombs remained virtually unstudied by their early discoverers who generally found them uninteresting. The work of the Pacific Lutheran University Valley of the Kings Expedition, however, proved that these long ignored monuments were very worthy of investigation. Tomb 60 was particularly provocative. Robbed in antiquity, it was discovered at the turn of the century, found to be of limited interest, reburied, and its location subsequently lost. We managed to rediscover this long lost tomb on our very first day of work! The damaged contents of this crudely carved tomb were splendidly preserved and included funerary food provisions, broken bits of burial equipment, the remains of a shattered gilded coffin and a female mummy. This mummy, that of an older individual, was embalmed in what is believed to the pose of a royal female: the left arm bent at the elbow, forearm diagonally across the chest, left hand clenched and the right arm straight alongside the body. Although there has been much, often inappropriate, speculation, the specific identity of this mummy has not been determined. [Source: Donald P. Ryan Pacific Lutheran University Valley of the Kings Expedition, community.plu.edu <+>]

“Tomb 21 was originally discovered by Giovanni Belzoni in 1817. This large and undecorated tomb was found to contain the remains of two female mummies along with funerary equipment. The tomb remained open for perhaps a decade until it was apparently buried deeply by flood-borne debris. A trench was carved down to the tomb entrance in the 1890's and this too was filled into the point where there was little trace of its exact location. The tomb was quickly rediscovered with the skillful use of a trowel although it took us many days to excavate down to the entrance. Inside, we found evidence that the tomb and its contents had been damaged by flooding. Belzoni's mummies were found vandalized and broken into pieces. When rearticulated, however, we found that the two mummies appear to be striking the same royal female pose as the mummy in Tomb 60! <+>

“Tombs 28, 44 and 45 each consist of a single room entered from a shaft. Although these simple tombs had all been previously examined, many artifacts (ushabtis, coffin fragments, etc.) were found within. Between the three of them, we also found the remains of over a dozen individuals. Tomb 27 has only been partially excavated. When we first investigated this tomb, we found that most of its chambers were nearly encumbered to the ceiling with flood debris. This tomb serves as an excellent example of one of the Valley's most serious conservation issues: although situated in an environment that normally appears arid in the extreme, perhaps the worst enemy of the royal necropolis is water. Rain-induced flash floods drain violently through the natural channel of the Valley, threatening tombs with water, mud and stony debris. Our expedition dedicated a special study season to address these questions and we are pleased that the Supreme Council of Antiquities and others are continuing similar practical efforts for the long-term preservation of these monuments.” <+>

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum, The Egyptian Museum in Cairo

Text Sources: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Tour Egypt, Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com; Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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