This Monday and Wednesday I am featuring an ancient Egyptian couple, Kha and Merit, who lived and were buried in Deir el-Medina in the 18th Dynasty. Today let’s talk about Kha!
Kha was the overseer of works in Deir el-Medina, which if you recall is a special village built on the West side of the Nile from Thebes that housed the builder and craftsman that built the royal tombs. As overseer of works, sometimes called the royal architect, Kha would have been in charge of the various tombs being built and decorated in the Valley of the Kings and Queens. He was responsible for the projects constructed during the reigns of Amenhotep II, Thutmose IV, and Amenhotep III.
Kha’s wife was named Merit, who I will talk about in great detail this Wednesday. They had three known children, two sons, Amenemopet and Nakhteftaneb, and a daughter named Merit. Amenemopet seems to have followed his father’s footsteps in becoming an overseer of works while their daughter because a Singer of Amun.
The chapel of Kha and Merit had been found in the early years of the 19th century by Bernardino Drovetti. This stela above was found in the pyramid chapel is currently located at the Turin Museum (N.50007), years before Kha and Merit’s items were on display there.
Kha and his wife were buried in TT8 above Deir el-Medina, 25 meters away from the pyramid chapel. The tomb was discovered by Arthur Weigall and Ernesto Schiaparelli in 1906 on behalf of the Italian Archaeological Mission. They were working at the top of the western cemetery when they found the tomb. They were surprised to discover the tomb in the isolated cliffs surrounding the village and not in the immediate proximity of the chapel itself.
The tomb escaped discovery because it was hidden in the hill opposite the chapel, rather than beneath it. This was what Arthur Weigall said when it was found,
“The mouth of the tomb was approached down a flight of steep, rough steps, still half-choked with debris. At the bottom of this, the entrance of a passage running into the hillside was blocked by a wall of rough stones. After photographing and removing this, we found ourselves in a long, low tunnel, blocked by a second wall a few yards ahead. Both these walls were intact, and we realized that we were about to see what probably no living man had ever seen before…”
Two of the walls were removed so that they could stand in a roughly cut corridor about standing height. Lined up against the wall were pieces of burial furniture, several baskets, a couple of amphorae, a bed, and a stool with a carrying pole. At the end was a simple wooden door,
“The wood retained the light color of fresh deal and looked for all the world as though it had been set up but yesterday. A heavy wooden lock held the door fast. A neat bronze handle on the side of the door was connected by a spring to a wooden knob set in the masonry door post; and this spring was carefully sealed with a small dab of stamped clay. The whole contrivance seemed so modern that professor Schiaparelli called to his servant for the key, who quite seriously replied, “I don’t know where it is, sir.” “
The lock was carefully cut with a fret saw and the burial chamber was behind this door. All of the burial items were carefully placed around the room covered with dust sheets. This is also where the coffins of Kha and Merit were located.
This was one of the few tombs of nobility to survive intact. I am only going to mention the items that explicitly belonged to Kha, though there will be some overlap with Wednesday’s post. Approximately 196 objects can be attributed to Kha, 39 objects are attributed to Merit, and 6 objects are attributed to both of them.
Some of the most important items for Kha were found in his tomb. These included tools that he would have used in his job. There is a cubit ruler that is covered in gold leaf which was a gift from Amenhotep II and a reward for the rapid construction of a building. This was probably more ceremonial, but he would have had a wooden one. There were also multiple scribal palettes and a writing tablet. Four smoothers were found in the tomb which would have been used for papyrus or perhaps to grind pigments. There is one unique wooden instrument with a wheel below, whose purpose has been debated for the past 100 years. Most views conclude that this was used as a balance or as a protractor.
The remainder of the tomb was filled with various items that would help Kha get to the afterlife. There was a bed made out of wood and interlacing fibers in the center. It had a large footboard and a headrest on one side. Unfortunately, it didn’t fit in the burial chamber so it was left in the antechamber. There were also storage chests, chairs, stools, and wooden tables.
Many of the boxes were inscribed with texts, some invoking the god Amun-Re and others saying “A funerary offering dedicated to Kha’s ka spirit.” These boxes contained many of the personal belongings of Kha and Merit including kohl tubes, rugs, and textiles. There were also boxes painted with native scenes of the deceased and his wife before an offering table. One bronze bowl was found with the name Amenhotep III and a painting with the name of Kha.
A statue of Kha was also found. It wears a shoulder-length wig and a small garland of real flowers adorned on the chest. This had a funerary prayer written in yellow pigment on the statue. Two shabtis for Kha were found and placed in a model sarcophagus with agricultural tools.
Multiple pieces of clothing were found including 26 knee-length shirts and about 50 loincloths. There were also short triangular pieces of material that would have been worn in the context of agricultural or building work. 17 heavier linen tunics were found for winter wear and there was one example of a lightweight linen tunic without sleeves, which is the only one that has ever been found. Many of these pieces had laundry marks, which were small inscriptions that labeled the owner. Some of the textiles were found with woven lotus motifs. Finally, sandals that were made from vegetable fibers and leather were also found.
Kha was buried in one rectangular coffin and two anthropoid coffins. The outer rectangular coffin was in the shape of a shrine and covered in bitumen, which is a black resin substance. This coffin was left of sledge runners, which would have helped the priests bring the coffin into the tomb.
The outer coffin was covered in black bitumen, with the face, stripes of the wig, bands of inscription, and figures of funerary gods in gilded gesso. There is a gilded vulture of Nekhbet on the chest of the coffin. A garland of flowers was laid over this coffin.
The inner coffin was entirely covered in gold lead, except for the eyes, eye-brows, and cosmetic lines, which were inlaid. Quartz or rock crystal was used for the whites of the eyes while black glass or obsidian was used for the pupils. The rest was made out of blue glass. The coffin is posed like the god Osiris with his arms over his chest. The coffin has a board collar with falcon-headed terminals. Below is a vulture with outstretched wings grasping two shen-signs in the talons.
Kha’s Book of the Dead was found within the inner coffin. It has 33 chapters and is 13.8 meters long.
Kha’s mummy was never unwrapped, but it has been scanned and studied multiple times over the years. His mummy is better preserved than his wife’s. There had been theories that Kha was not mummified because the organs were not removed from the body and placed in canopic jars. But upon further investigation, the organs were mummified and then preserved inside the body. Kha’s wrapping was treated with animal fat or plant oil and balsam.
Kha’s mummy was wearing extensive jewelry. He wore large golden earrings, which were one of the earliest examples of a man wearing earrings. A gold of honor collar was around his neck. This was a reward that distinguished ancient Egyptians and was received from their king. It is made of a single string of golden discs. He wore six different rings on his fingers which were made out of gold, faience, and some scarabs.
A heart scarab that was attached to either a wire or gold or a gold plated spun chain was around his neck. The scarab most likely had spell 30B of the Book of the Dead on the base. Two more amulets were found on Kha. One was an amulet of Isis which was probably made out of a red stone. And then there was a serpent amulet which was found on the forehead of Kha, kind of like a uraeus on a king. Because this amulet was typically found on the neck, this may imply that the people of Deir el-Medina regarded Kha as a local king.
Kha was about 50 to 60 years old when he died. Besides an inflamed elbow and a bad back, Kha was in relatively good health. His brain remnants and his lungs had shrunken, and his hands laid on his pelvis. There was no evidence of any fatal trauma.
Inner gilded coffin of Kha – Wikimedia Commons (Hans Ollermann)
Bowls, vases, and jugs – Wikimedia Commons (Hans Ollermann)
Statue of Kha and a chair – Wikimedia Commons (Jean-Pierre Dalbera)
Toilet box and vessels of Merit and Kha – Wikimedia Commons (Jean-Pierre Dalbera)
Entrance of permanent exhibition in Turin – Hans Ollermann
Deir el Medina western cemetery – Kenka Peacock
Stela of Kha and Merit – Su Bayfield
Ernesto Schiaperelli’s bust in the Turin Museum – Hans Ollerman
Wooden door of the tomb – Hans Ollerman
Objects found in tomb in Turin – Su Bayfield
Bread, bowls with seeds, grapes, meats – Hans Ollerman
Bronze bowl – Hans Ollerman
Coffins of Kha and Merit – Hans Ollerman
Cubit rule and scribal palettes – Hans Ollerman
Wooden grinders – Su Bayfield
Bed, stools, boxes, jugs, and metal objects, faience rings, baskets, sandals, Book of the Dead, Merit’s funerary mask, oitments and jugs, box handle, wig box and inscription, – Hans Ollerman
Boxes and jugs, tunic, senet game, statue, Merit’s bed, her wig, – Su Bayfield
Shabtis – Dik van Bommel
X-rays – Article (https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0131916)
Images of tomb, outer coffin of Kha and Merit, Merit’s funerary mask, Merit in her coffin, Book of the Dead, gold cubit rod, chair, wig and wig box, senet board, stela, glass jars – https://www.egyptianhistorypodcast.com/kha-and-merit/
Protractor thing? – Flickr (Hans Olldermann)
Pictures of the tomb location and decoration – https://egyptmyluxor.weebly.com/kha-tomb-tt8—deir-el-medina—luxor.html