In the reign of Psamtik I, in the 26th Dynasty, the Vizier of Lower Egypt was a man called Bekenrenef. He built his tomb at Saqqara, cut into the cliff face at the eastern desert edge. The stone there isn’t great quality so he lined it with Tura limestone before decorating it.
The tomb was found early in the history of Egyptology, by Lepsius who published what it looked like in the middle of the 19th Century. Sadly before the end of the 19th Century most of the reliefs had been removed from the tomb and dispersed around the world.
It takes a bit of imagination to see it as it was when it was new. The limestone would be gleaming white – this is the same stone as was used for the outermost layer of the Great Pyramid. And the decoration was all painted, blue for the text and reds & yellows for the figures.
The decorative scheme of the tomb was heavy on texts, and light on figures. I believe these are magic spells, and come from the antechamber to the innermost room (which was presumably the most sacred part of the tomb).
It was purchased, along with other reliefs from the tomb, by the Met Museum in the early 20th Century and is displayed there (acc. no. 11.150.50). They have quite a detailed description of the tomb if you expand the “Curatorial Interpretation”: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/549495
Iynaferty (or Iineferty) rejoiced in the title of “Mistress of the House”, which actually just means she was a housewife but sounds rather grander. She was buried at Deir el Medina in her husband Sennedjem’s tomb (and presumably lived at Deir el Medina too!).
Sennedjem also had a fabulous title – he was “Servant in the Place of Truth”, which means he was one of the people who worked on building the royal tombs in the nearby Valley of the Kings. Given the richness of his tomb, probably quite a senior figure in the workforce.
This is Iynaferty’s mummy mask and it’s quite beautiful. I particularly like the lotus flower motif on the top of her head. She’s also depicted as having natural hair poking out from the wig, with two little pigtails framing her face. Perhaps a glimpse into contemporary fashions?
It was found in TT1 at Deir el Medina, and is now in the Met Museum (acc. no.: 86.1.6). It dates to the reign of Ramesses II.
The head of this coffin is interesting – at first glance it’s a rather fine piece of work, but as you look more closely you can see it doesn’t look like it was made all in one go! The face doesn’t quite seem to match the surrounding wig, and looks rather nicer quality.
The coffin itself is inscribed for a woman called Heribsenes who lived in the 26th Dynasty, but the Met Museum’s website dates the face to the New Kingdom based on the style. So anything from 500 to 1000 years older than the rest of the piece.
But this doesn’t appear to be a modern frankenstein of a coffin – the wig is nicely shaped round the face, for instance. So this is ancient re-use: Heribsenes (or those burying her) saw this fine old coffin fragment and thought it would look rather nice on her coffin.
It’s not known where it was found, but it is now in the Met Museum, acc. no.: 33.5
These two pieces of relief come from the tomb of a man called Dagi, who counted amongst his titles “sealer, sole companion, favourite of the god, director of those who are among the gods”. He lived during Dynasty 11, and was buried at Sheikh Abd el-Qurna in tomb TT103/MMA807.
The primary point of this relief is to provide Dagi with food in his afterlife, and the offering table is certainly piled high with readily identifiable tasty things. He even has a whole stack of bread moulds for the afterlife bakers to make his daily bread in!
The inscription below gives us those titles I listed earlier and the text at the top is part of what the Met Museum calls his “menu” but I prefer to think of as his shopping list! The full grid originally listed with quantities the foodstuffs necessary for his funerary cult.
The relief fragments are now in the Met Museum, acc. no.s: 12.180.244 and 12.180.245
These rather fine shabtis and the accompanying boxes came from the tomb of Yuya and Tjuya (KV46), who were the parents-in-law of Amenhotep III so despite not being royal themselves were granted permission for a tomb in the Valley of the Kings. These items belonged to Yuya.
KV46 was found in 1905 by James Quibell, who at the time was working for Theodore Davis. Quibell was also one of the discoverers of the Narmer Palette about a decade earlier. At the time KV46 was the best preserved tomb in the Valley even tho it had been robbed much of its contents were still there.
The shabtis are really lovely quality work. The wood itself looks smooth and like it would feel nice in the hand. The hieroglyphs are neatly incised and filled with paint and the faces are well modelled. I particularly like the broad collar necklace on the left hand one.
Most of the items found ended up in the Cairo Museum, but Theodore Davis was allowed to keep a few bits which he subsequently gave to the Met Museum which is where I photographed these pieces (acc. no.s: 30.8.56, 30.8.57, 30.8.58, 30.8.59a, 30.8.59b, 30.8.60a and 30.8.60b).
The vizier of Thebes at the beginning of the 26th Dynasty was a man called Nespakashuty, and he commissioned a tomb in the cliffs at Deir el Bahri near the temple of Hatshepsut and right in the courtyard of a much earlier 11th Dynasty tomb.
Maybe he intended to be too elaborate, maybe he just didn’t live long enough after work was started on the tomb, but whichever it was the reliefs weren’t completed before Nespakashuty died. Which is nice for Egyptologists as it gives a lot of evidence for how the work was done!
This portion shows how the carving was done in two phases. A team of workers has been along the wall and carved out the outlines of all the elements of the design. None of the internal details are present yet, and none of the cutouts (like the vases on her head) have been done.
In the next phase another team (or the same one, perhaps) would come along and do all of the details that you can see drawn in red paint on the figures. They’d also round off the edges and generally make it all look a lot more finished and ready for the painters.
The tomb is numbered TT312 or MMA509, and there are several pieces of relief from it in the Met Museum (acc. no.: 23.3.468) in various stages of decoration.
This is one of several scenes of butchering that are present on the walls of a tomb chapel that originally stood in Saqqara and dates to the 5th Dynasty in the Old Kingdom (around 4500 years ago). The whole chapel is now in the Met Museum (acc. no.:08.201.1).
Butchering scenes were common in these chapels to provide meat for the deceased person in the afterlife. This one is on the west wall of the chapel, near the false door where offerings to the deceased were placed. So its likely function is to provide offerings in perpetuity.
Despite being a common scene type this example is still unusual. The museum website points out that it’s a stage in the process not normally represented – the cow is part butchered and its ribs are exposed now that the first cuts have been removed.
Tutankhamun was buried in a veritable Russian doll assemblage of boxes. He was inside a coffin inside a coffin inside a coffin inside a sarcophagus inside a shrine inside a shrine inside a shrine under a canopy inside a shrine inside a room in his tomb!
The entire thing pretty much filled the room it was placed inside, with just enough space for the painters to squeeze round as they completed the decoration of that chamber. We know they did that last, as the wall through which the containers were brought was also decorated.
This is a detail from the third shrine (we count from the outside in but it’s not clear if the Egyptians would agree that this is the right order). All of the shrines are wood covered with gesso and then a thin layer of gold and all are decorated with texts and images like this.
The decoration here is of two guardians/demons rather than gods. As is usual for such entities they carry knives, presumably in this case to protect the king who rests within. You can also see Tutankhamun’s nesu bity name (Nebkheperure) scattered through the text in cartouches.
When I took this photo in 2016 the shrine was in the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, Cairo. Now it is in the Grand Egyptian Museum. The old accession number was JE60667.
This is one of my favourite pieces in the Cairo Museum, it’s a wooden statue of a man carrying containers and it’s a bit over a foot high. It was found at Meir, in the tomb of a man called Niankhpepi who lived during the reign of Pepi I in the 6th Dynasty in the Old Kingdom.
The box in his arms is very highly decorated, and you can just see the handle at the top. And on his back he carries what looks very like a child’s school satchel, except that it has legs sticking down from the base so that when you put it down it will stand up.
The statue is a model servant, placed in the tomb to work for Niankhpepi in the afterlife. These sorts of models developed into the elaborate dioramas of activities like bread baking or brewing which have been found in First Intermediate Period and early Middle Kingdom tombs.
It’s in the Cairo Museum, acc. no. JE30810 or CG241.