Mummy Monday: Tattooed Mummy from Deir el-Medina

This week’s Mummy Monday is a little different. We don’t know the identity of this mummy, but her remains tell us a very unique story. Let’s talk about the tattooed mummy from Deir el-Medina.

Location

The tattooed torso of a woman was found and excavated in 2014. This was found within the assemblage that was stored in TT291 in Deir el-Medina, though it is believed that the assemblage was originally found in TT290, the tomb right next door.

The section that Anne Austin worked on in TT290 and TT291

Tomb 290 was originally the tomb of Irynefer, a necropolis workman who lived in Deir el-Medina during the Ramesside Period, 19th to 20th Dynasties. It is a small shaft tomb underneath a pyramid chapel. It was most likely looted in antiquity and then used for later burials. The tomb was discovered in 1922 and some of it was excavated in 1922. From pictures from the original excavation were full of comingled remains.

Original image of the comingled human remains at the botton of TT290

These remains were most likely moved to TT291 in 2004 in preparation for the public exhibition of Tomb 290. Anne Austin, an Egyptologist working for the Institute Francais d’Archaeologie Orientale’s mission to Deir el-Medina in 2014 researched the remains found. She determined that there were the remains of at least 26 individuals.

Mummy Torso

The torso also dates to the Ramesside Period (1300 – 1070 BCE). It was found unwrapped, except for one layer of bandages on the right forearm. The head, hands, and legs are no longer present. The mummy was at one point eviscerated, but there is no visceral cut. Rather there is a transvaginal or transperineal cut. While this practice wasn’t the most popular, there is evidence for this technique in other New Kingdom mummies.

Because the skull was missing, this made it very difficult to estimate the age of the mummy. But with the remaining bones of the torso, an estimation was made of 25 to 34 years old. She may have been mummified with the use of resins and this actually disguised some of the tattoos. Because of the looted state of the tomb, there is no way to tell if the mummy originally had any burial equipment when she was buried.

The Tattoos

When the torso was discovered, Anne Austin noticed the marking on the neck of the mummy, but originally thought these were painted on post-mortem. But upon further investigation, these marks were tattoos. Tattoos in Egypt began to appear in the Middle Kingdom and evidence suggests that only women got tattoos.

Anne Austin published a paper and gave a talk about the finds on this mummy. When investigating the torso further, she was able to find many more tattoos. She also used infrared photography to find tattoos that had faded. A computer program called DStretch was used to flesh out and stretch the skin so that the tattoos looked more like they would have before mummification.

There is evidence that someone else would have had to apply some of these, as they are unreachable for the person to tattoo themselves. This implies that there was some sort of tattoo artist or system of tattooing established. There is also considerable variation in the darkness of the tattoos. This could imply that the applications of some tattoos were less effective, the tattoos may have naturally diffused over time, or some other process made the tattoos fade. If the tattoos naturally diffused over time, it implies that this woman received the tattoos over a couple of years rather than all at once.

All the tattoos maped on her body

In total 30 tattoos were found, but there may have been more on the parts of the body that were lost. The tattoos are found on the neck, shoulders, back, and arms. These locations are a slight departure from previous tattoos found on mummies. Usually, tattoos are found in more private places, where the tattoos would not be visible on an everyday basis. These are then associated with eroticism. Previous Egyptologists have remarked that tattooed Egyptian women were “prostitutes of dubious origins.”

But these tattoos, except for one on the lower back, are all in very visible places. I’ll talk about the interpretations of the individual tattoos and them as a whole after, but first, let’s take a look at them!

Anne Austin has labeled all of the individual tattoos by T- and then a number. I’ll be talking about them in groups because many of these tattoos are symmetrical! Check out her article here to see a table of all the tattoos and their interpretations!

On the neck, there are two symmetrical seated baboons (T01 & T02) on either side of Wadjet eye (or Eye of Horus) (T03) on top of two Wadjet eyes with two nefers in between them (T04). These are very visible and were the first tattoos noticed. Nefer is the hieroglyph that means “good” or “beautiful.”

On the left and right shoulder, there are matching symbols of two Wadjet eyes around three nefers (T05 & T06). There is also either a uraeus or a snake (T07 & T08) and another tattoo on either side that could not be discerned (T09 & T10). Below on the right shoulder is a girdle knot hieroglyph (T11) and a cobra (T13). Below on the left shoulder is just a cobra (T12).

This is where the tattoos begin to differentiate. Following the right arm down, there is a cross-shape (T15), a uraeus (T21), a Hathor handle (T22), an unknown tattoo (T23), possibly a bouquet of flowers (T24), and a snake with a basket (T25). On the left, there is a cross-shape (T14), a uraeus (T16), a snake with a solar disk (T17), dual khepri beetles or a sistrum (T18), faded hieroglyphs below a snake the signs mx wab (T19), and Hathor cows (T20).

On the upper back, there are a few asymmetrical tattoos. There is a hieroglyph of a clump of papyrus with the buds bending down and the signs for mw (T27), a Wadjet eye with the signs for mw (T28), and a Wadjet presented by a baboon (T29). Finally, the largest tattoo is found on the lower back. It is a series of dots connecting two lotus blossoms which are located on the back of the hips (T30).

The Interpretations

The tattoos appear like amulets on the body which implies their meaning is of a magical or protective kind. This may have been a way to permanently attach the magical power of the amulet to one person. This could have been done to ensure healing and/or protection against illness, which would imply that this woman was very ill during her life. Unfortunately, because of the damage to the body, that is hard to discern.

Many of the tattoos can be associated with gods such a Thoth in the baboons and Hathor in the Hathor handle and cows. The Wadjet eyes and the nefer signs could be translated as “seeing the beauties” or as a votive formula, ir nfr ir nfr, or “do good, do good.”

The Hathor handle, which is pretty much a handle of something (usually a sistrum) with the face of Hathor, is upside down as if to mimic its position when held during use. This would have been “activated” by dance or movement, which would mean that every movement of this woman’s arm would ritually shake the handle.

While some of the tattoos are connected with the idea of power and divine action, most of them have to do with some sort of protective magic. This links the woman to the cult of Hathor, which would have empowered her to take on important cultic or magical roles. These tattoos help us conclude that she might have taken on one of several important roles in the cults of ancient Egypt, either as a wise woman, priestess, or healer.

You can also watch Anne talk about this find in the video below.

http://histoires-courtes.fr/v.html?subject=Austin

Sources

https://journals.openedition.org/bifao/296#ftn18

https://mummipedia.fandom.com/wiki/Tattooed_Mummy

https://www.arce.org/resource/tattooing-ancient-egypt

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/infrared-reveals-egyptian-mummies-hidden-tattoos-180973700/

https://deirelmedinaegypt.wixsite.com/home/tt290

https://escholarship.org/content/qt4rw1m0cz/qt4rw1m0cz.pdf

https://deirelmedinaegypt.wixsite.com/home/tt291

Image Sources

Photos of Mummy – Anne Austin

Plan of TT290 and TT291 – Anne Austin

Photo of TT290 – Elvira Kronlob 2011

Photo of TT291 – Lenka and Andy Peacock

Plan of TT291 – Lenka Peacock

Plan of TT290 – touregypt.net/featurestories/Irunefert.htm

Women Crush Wednesday: Merit

As I mentioned on Monday, today we are going to talk about Kha’s wife Merit. I have duplicated the text about their tomb below, so if it looks similar to Monday’s post, then that’s why!

Life

Merit was titled Mistress of the House, which was a standard title for women who were in charge of a large household. Women from Deir el-Medina often had a large range of tasks to undertake because the men of the village lived near the worksite for the majority of the week.

Merit 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.

Merit died many years before her husband died, so she was the first one buried in the tomb.

Tomb Discovery

The chapel of Kha and Merit had been found in the early years of the 19th century by Bernardino Drovetti. This stela 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 Merit 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…”

Tomb

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.

Burial Assemblage

This was one of the few tombs of nobility to survive intact. I mentioned the majority of the items found in the tomb on Monday, but today, I’ll talk about the items explicitly buried for Merit. Approximately 196 objects can be attributed to Kha, 39 objects are attributed to Merit, and 6 objects are attributed to both of them.

Like Kha, Merit was also buried with a large bed. This was found made up with sheets, fringed bed covers, towels, and a wooden headrest encased in two layers of cloth. This is almost identical to Kha’s bed, but it is smaller. It rests on lion feet raised on cylindrical wooden pads painted red, while the rest of the bed is painted white.

Merit’s beauty case is one of the most beautiful that has been found. It contains multiple cosmetic vessels like a high necked blue faience jar, an alabaster jar with a silver handle, 3 covered alabaster jars, a conical jar of horn with a bronze handle, and a removable base decorated with a rosette.

Like Kha, she also had various boxes packed with clothing for her to “use” in the afterlife. But one of the most amazing objects found was a wig and a wig case of Merit. Inside the case was a long wig made from human hair, about 54 cm long. It was elaborately crimped with a middle part and the tresses were plaited at the ends. Three long thick plaits are positioned at the back of the wig with two thinner plaits to frame the face. This wig is held together by an elaborate system of knots and weaves. The box was made of acacia wood in the shape of a shrine. On the lid and side of the box, there is a funerary offering formula.

I also want to mention some of the other items that I didn’t get a chance to talk about on Monday. Ten stools were found in the tomb in total. Some were painted white and some had lion paw feet, similar to the bed. Two stools were made out of brown leather and one of those stools actually folded! Interestingly, two of the stools would have been the same type used by artisans in workshops.

There was also a game of senet, which was an ancient Egyptian board game that during the New Kingdom took on a religious aspect. It was used as a way that the ancient Egyptians could play the game against “fate” to earn a place in the afterlife. This one is made out of wood with a sliding drawer to hold all the pieces. On the other side of the board is another game called the Game of Twenty Squares.

Coffins

Because Merit died at such a young age, she apparently had not had any coffins made for her yet. So, her husband donated his already prepared coffin for her burial. But this coffin was too big for his wife, so Kha’s linens, as they had various laundry marks on them, were used as stuffing around the body.

Merit was buried in two coffins. The outer coffin was in the shape of a large shrine. The lid of her inner coffin was entirely gilded but the box was covered with the black bitumen resin, with only the figures and inscriptions in gold. The eyebrows and eye sockets were made of inlaid blue glass, while the eyes were made of opaque white and translucent glass. Merit also had a cartonnage mask. It was made of linen stuccoed, covered in gold leaf, and inlaid with stone and colored glass. It was found slightly crushed and needed conservation. The left eye was restored and the mask reshaped.

Mummy

Merit’s mummy, like Kha’s, has never been unwrapped, but it has been studied and scanned extensively. Her body was not as well preserved or wrapped as well as Kha’s. She was also wearing a ton of jewelry like her husband.

She wore a Wesekh or a broad collar which was made of gold interspaced with gemstones. These were probably amethyst, lapis lazuli, carnelian, turquoise, or faience. Merit had two pairs of golden ribbed earrings, which a unique example of a double piercing. These were fashionable of elite women of the mid-18th dynasty. She also wore four finger rings, two of which has a fixed oval plate and two which had a flexible oval plate. One of these rings fell off and was found behind her head.

Merit also wore a matching set including a necklace, a bracelet, and a girdle. The necklace has three rows made of very fine beads connected by fine golden tubes. Some of these pieces and parts of its dislocate elements appear near the ankles. The bracelet follows the same style as the necklace as it is made out of ten rows of fine beads strung between golden elements and a locking end piece. The girdle sits on her waist and is made of fine beads and metal cowrie shell-shaped parts.

No amulets were found on her body probably because of her sudden death. All of these pieces of jewelry are items that she would have worn while she was alive. Merit’s mummy is also wearing a wig, so she was prepared for the afterlife.

Merit was most likely 25 to 35 years old when she died. There was significant post-mortem damage including a depressed thorax, broken rib cage, dislocated spine, and pelvis. There is no evidence of how she died. The mummy had been treated with fish oil, balsam, resin, and beeswax.

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TT8

http://www.deirelmedina.com/lenka/TurinKha.html

https://www.archaeology.org/news/3561-150810-kha-merit-embalmed

https://www.efe.com/efe/english/technology/secret-lives-of-mummies-science-unravels-all-at-egypt-exhibit-in-turin/50000267-3933701

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4511739/

Image Sources

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/

Tomb – https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322711469_Schiaparelli_et_les_archeologues_italiens_aux_bords_du_Nil_egyptologie_et_rivalites_diplomatiques_entre_1882_et_1922

Protractor thing? – Flickr (Hans Olldermann)

Pictures of the tomb location and decoration – https://egyptmyluxor.weebly.com/kha-tomb-tt8—deir-el-medina—luxor.html

Mummy Monday: Kha

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!

Life

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.

Tomb Discovery

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…”

Tomb

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.

Burial Assemblage

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.

Coffins

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.

Mummy

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.

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TT8

http://www.deirelmedina.com/lenka/TurinKha.html

https://www.archaeology.org/news/3561-150810-kha-merit-embalmed

https://www.efe.com/efe/english/technology/secret-lives-of-mummies-science-unravels-all-at-egypt-exhibit-in-turin/50000267-3933701

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4511739/

Image Sources

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/

Tomb – https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322711469_Schiaparelli_et_les_archeologues_italiens_aux_bords_du_Nil_egyptologie_et_rivalites_diplomatiques_entre_1882_et_1922

Protractor thing? – Flickr (Hans Olldermann)

Pictures of the tomb location and decoration – https://egyptmyluxor.weebly.com/kha-tomb-tt8—deir-el-medina—luxor.html

Mummy Monday: Lady Rai

For this week’s Mummy Monday let’s look at another mummy found in the Deir el-Bahri cache, who may be one of the “most perfect examples of embalming…from the time of the early 18th Dynasty.” Let me introduce you to Lady Rai!

Life

Lady Rai was an ancient Egyptian woman from the early 18th Dynasty. Little is known about her life, but she served as a nursemaid to Queen Ahmose-Nefertari. We have no evidence of her parentage, but she was no doubt from some elite family as she was most likely buried in the elite burials in Deir el-Bahri and Thebes.

Tomb and Burial in DB320

Lady Rai’s original tomb is not known, but it was most likely looted in antiquity, which is why she was reburied in the cache in Deir el-Bahri. She was originally buried in two coffins, but it seems her outer coffin is all that was preserved. But Rai’s body was not found inside it.

It was common for the priests of the Third Intermediate Period to mix up coffins and the mummies in these caches. That is why many of the mummies have small linen dockets, which are just labels made from linen, which help identify the mummy. Lady Rai’s outer coffin (CG 61004) was used for the burial of Ahmose-Inhapi. The coffin’s gilding had been almost entirely removed, along with the eye inlays. But the robbers who stripped the coffin, who were probably the restorers, preserved the symbolic figure of Isis and Nephthys at the foot.

Lady Rai’s mummy was found in a 19th-20th Dynasty coffin (CG 61022) which was originally belonged to “a servant in the Palace of Truth,” named Paheripedjet. This title indicates that the original owner worked in Deir el-Medina, but it is unclear where this man’s body is currently.

The only personal belongings of Lady Rai that have been found was a single barrel-shaped carnelian bead on her right wrist. This is just a fraction of what Rai’s jewelry was before.

Mummy

As I mentioned previously, G. Elliot Smith called Lady Rai’s mummy one of the most perfect examples of 18th Dynasty embalming and “the least unlovely” of the existing female mummies. Smith unwrapped the mummy on June 26th, 1909. Rai was a slim woman only about 4 foot 11 inches. She was estimated to be about 30 or 40 years old when she died around 1530 B.C.E.

The mummy’s face and body had been thinly coated with resin mixed with sand. There was an embalming incision in the traditional position on the left side of the body, which was covered with a fusiform embalming plate, which was common for mummies of the 18th Dynasty. The body was carefully wrapped in linen bandages. Some of these bandages were inscribed with her name, which helped identify her.

Her scalp retained abundant amounts of what appears to be her own hair, not a wig, which would have been more common. This was styled in tightly plaited groups of braids down to her chest. Rai’s teeth only had slight wear. In 2009, the mummy was CAT scanned, which revealed that she had a diseased aortic arch and thus the oldest known mummy with evidence of atherosclerosis.

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_Rai

http://anubis4_2000.tripod.com/mummypages1/Early18.htm

https://mummipedia.fandom.com/wiki/Lady_Rai

http://anubis4_2000.tripod.com/17A.htm

Image Sources

Lady Rai profile – Wikimedia Commons (G. Elliot Smith)

Back of Lady Rai – http://www3.lib.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/eos/eos_page.pl?DPI=100&callnum=DT57.C2_vol59&object=134

Mummy and Coffin – http://anubis4_2000.tripod.com/mummypages1/Early18.htm

Site Saturday: Deir el-Medina

Welcome to Site Saturday! This week we are going to talk about one of the most fascinating sites in all of Egypt. This site is Deir el-Medina, which is one of the most thoroughly documented accounts of community life in the ancient world. The citizens of these villages were skilled artisans who built and decorated the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings and Queens during the New Kingdom.

Location and Name

Deir el-Medina is in a quite unique location as it is on the west bank of the Nile across from Thebes/Luxor (just north west of Amenhotep III’s palace Malqata). It is laid out in a natural amphitheater within walking distance from the Valley of the Kings to the north, the Valley of the Queens to the west, and the funerary temples to the east and south east.

Map of the local area surrounding Deir el-Medina

The ancient name of the village was Set Maat, meaning “Place of Truth,” though that is only what the Egyptian officials called it. The locals called it Pa Demi, which simply meant “The Village.” The official name was thought to be inspired by the gods in creating the eternal homes of the deceased kings and their families. Those that lived in the village were called “The servants of the Place of Truth.” During the Christian era, the temple to Hathor in the village was converted to a church called Deir el-Medina in Egyptian Arabic, which means “the Monastery of the town.”

Layout of the Village

This was not a village that grew up organically. This was a planned community, most likely founded by pharaoh Amenhotep I in the 18th Dynasty. It was most likely built apart from the wider community in order to preserve the secrecy of the work being carried out in the tombs. Pharaohs during the New Kingdom moved from building massive funerary tombs, like the pyramids of Giza, to rock cut tombs built up in the cliffsides. By doing this, they hoped that their tombs would not be robbed, and the pharaohs would be able to enter the afterlife comfortably with all their possessions. Deir el-Medina was built to contain all the workers and artisans who worked on the tombs and would thus know crucial details. That is not to say that the people of Deir el-Medina didn’t rob the tombs, but we’ll talk about that later.

Although Amenhotep I probably planned the village, there are some remains that date to his father, Thutmose I’s reign. The village reached its peak during the Ramesside Period and was most likely abandoned by the end of the New Kingdom.

Although Amenhotep I probably planned the village, there are some remains that date to his father, Thutmose I’s reign. The village reached its peak during the Ramesside Period and was most likely abandoned by the end of the New Kingdom.

Map of the walled village and the necropolis surrounding it

The site is about 1.4 acres with a surrounding wall. The main entrance to the town was in the north wall and there may have even been a guard house next to the gate. The community could move freely in and out of the village, but outsiders were only allowed to enter the site if they were there for work related reasons. At it’s peak, the village had around 68 houses with a main road running the length of the village. This road may have actually been covered to shelter the villagers from the glare and heat of the sun.

What is most interesting about the village is that they were not self-sufficient. Because they were located in the hills above the Nile, they didn’t have a central well for a water supply. They were within a 30 min walk to the nearest well, so someone had to continuously help supply the village with water. The surrounding area would not have been able to sustain agriculture. Let alone, the villagers were not farmers, but artists!

Reconstruction of the walled village, one of the tombs, and a cross section of a house

The houses were designed as long rectangles, running from the street to the surrounding wall. They had an average floor space of 70 square meters or 753 square feet. Because the village was planned, all the buildings were made with the same materials and construction methods. The walls were made of mudbrick on top of a stone foundations. Mud was applied to the walls, which were then painted white on the outside. Some of the internal walls were also painted white on the bottoms.

The houses contained four to five rooms each, usually comprising of an entrance, main room, two smaller rooms, a kitchen with a cellar, and a staircase leading to the roof. Some of the houses may have had a wooden door with the name of the occupants. You would step up into the living room, then proceed to the other two rooms, before reaching the kitchen in the back of the house. It had an open roof, possibly with a thatched roof to both allow smoke to leave and block the sun. The windows of these houses were also very high up on the walls to block the glare of the sun. Nearly all the houses had niches for statues or altars and a mud brick platform which may have been used as a shrine or a birthing bed. None of the rooms were designated solely as bedrooms.

Layout of a typical house in Deir el-Medina
One of the surviving pyramid chapel above the tomb

Surrounding the village are their tombs. These mostly consist of rock cut chambers and chapels, sometimes with small pyramids. Because these villagers were artisans, these tombs are beautifully decorated. Check out these links to look inside some of the tombs!

Community

The village was home to a mixed population of Egyptians, Nubians, and Asiastics who were employed as laborers (ie. stone cutters, plasters, water carriers), administrators, or decorators. The artisans were organized into two groups who also lived in different parts of the village. These were called left and right gangs and then worked on the respective sides of the tombs at the same time, with a foreman for each side. When working in the village, the artisans stayed overnight in a camp that overlooked the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut, which is at the base of the cliffs that contain the Valley of the Kings. The workers had cooked meals delivered to them for the village.

The workmen were considered middle class, based on the record of their income and prices. They were salaried state employees, which meant that they were paid in rations. They also were known to practice unofficial second jobs as well. A working week was eight days followed by a two-day holiday. The six days off a month could be supplemented frequently due to illness or family reasons. There are even some records of taking the day off work because they were arguing with their wife or had a hangover! Workmen were also given days off for festivals as well as being issued extra supplies of food and drink to allow a larger celebration. During these days off, the workmen were allowed to work on their own tombs or take extra jobs.

The Egyptians did not use coinage for money until the Roman period, so jobs were paid with rations or through bartering. There was a continuous trade between houses of items like sandals, beds, baskets, paintings, amulets, loincloths, and toys for the children. A worker might build an addition to the house or roof in exchange for anything from a sack of grain, jug of beer, or a painting of a god or goddess in a personal shrine.

We don’t have any evidence of female artisans from this village, so it can be assumed that the village was mostly occupied by women and children while the men were away. Deir el-Medina itself provides the most information about non-royal women from the New Kingdom. Because they stayed in the village while the men were away, the government supplied them with servants to assist with the grinding of grain and laundry tasks. The wives of the worker would care for the children in the village and baked bread for the community. The vast majority of the women in the village could hold titles of chantress or singers, which meant that they held official positions within the local shrine or even the larger temples in Thebes. Women who were titled as mistress of the House could also work supervising the brewing of beer. Although some workmen used this activity as a legitimate excuse for taking time off of work.

Image from the tomb of Anherkhaway at Deir el-Medina

Women even had property rights under Egyptian law. They had a title to their own wealth and a third of all marital goods. These would belong solely to the wife in case of divorce or the death of the husband. If the wife was to die first, it would go to her heirs, not her spouse. One will of a woman named Naunakhte was found in Deir el-Medina in 1928. It dates to the 20th dynasty, during the reign of Rameses V and is currently located at the Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford (1945.97).

The Will of Naunakhte at the Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford

The Lady Naunakhte, who was labeled as a citizen and not a servant or slave, was married twice, first to a scribe Kenhikhopshef, with whom she had no children, and then to the workmen Khaemnun, with whom she had eight children. In her will, she lays out the inheritance to only her five oldest children, Maaynakhtef (male), Kenhikhopshef (male), Amennakht (male), Wosnakhte (female), Manenakhte (female). They were labeled as good children who took care of their mother in her old age. Her son Kenhikhopshef even received a bronze washing bowl. Although her last three children, did not receive anything in her will, she does remind them that they could receive items from their father. How I would love to see the will of Khaemnun to compare!

Religious Beliefs

In Deir el-Medina, the state gods were worshiped alongside personal gods without any conflict. The community had 16 to 18 chapels, the largest of which were dedicated to Hathor, Ptah, and Ramses II. The workmen typically honored Ptah, Resheph, originally a Canaanite god associated with plague, war, and thunder, Thoth, and Seshat. Women were devoted to Hathor, Taweret and Bes in pregnancy, and Renenutet and Meretseger for food a safety.

Tomb of Sennedjem Deir el-Medina, TT1

There was also a funerary cult dedicated to pharaoh Amenhotep I and his wife Ahmose-Nefertari. Amenhotep became Amenhotep of the Town and his wife because Mistress of the Sky and Lady of the West. The villagers held a festival every year dedicated to the pharaoh and his wife. The god Amun was also seen as a patron of the poor and one who was merciful to the penitent.

Book of Dreams found in Deir el Medina, Chester Beatty Papyrus, British Museum (EA 10683,2)

Dream interpretation also fell under the religious culture of the village. A book of dreams was found in the library cache of the scribe Kenhirkhopesehef. This book was used to interpret various types of dreams. Apparently the interpretation of the dream was often the opposite of what the dream depicted. Meaning, a happy dream could mean sadness or vice verse. Here are some examples:

  • If a man sees himself dead this is good; it means a long life in front of him.
  • If a man sees himself eating crocodile flesh this is good; it means acting as an official amongst his people. (i.e. becoming a tax collector)
  • If a man sees himself with his face in a mirror this is bad; it means a new life.
  • If a man sees himself uncovering his own backside this is bad; it means he will be an orphan later.

Historical Records

A large proportion of the community, including women, could at least and possibly write. Deir el-Medina itself contributed significantly to the literacy percentages in New Kingdom Egypt. This is seen especially in the vast number of ostraca and papyri remains that were found in Deir el-Medina. Ostraca are small pieces of stone or broke pottery, which were then written or drawn on. These could be funny scenes, literary texts, or important documents.

The surviving texts record the events of daily life rather than the major historical incidents, which is what the majority of other contemporary texts describe. Personal letters, records of sales transactions, prayer, law and court cases, medicine, love poetry, and literature are just some of the examples of the texts founds. Thousands of papyri and ostraca have still not been published, and it is estimated that half of the surviving records may have been lost to looters when the site was excavated.

As the majority of the workers were free citizens (there were some slaves who lived in the village), they were allowed all access to the justice system. Any Egyptian could petition the vizier and could demand a trial by his peers. The community’s court was made up of a foreman, deputies, craftsman, and a court scribe. They were authorized to deal with civil and some criminal cases, typically relating to the non-payment of goods or services. The villagers would represent themselves and some cases could go on for several years, including one dispute involving the chief of police that last eleven years.

The people of Deir el-Medina also consulted oracles about a variety of topics. Questions could be posed orally or in writing before the image of the god when carried by the priests. A positive response would be a downward dip and a negative response would the priests taking away the idol. They also believed that the oracle could bring disease or blindness to people as punishment or miracle cures as rewards.

Papyrus with medical advice, Edwin Smith Papyrus

A large portion of the ostraca found in Deir el-Medina describe the medical techniques of this time period. As in other Egyptian communities, the workmen and inhabitants of the village received care for their health problems through medical treatment, prayer, and magic. There was both a physician who saw patients and prescribed treatments and a scorpion charmer who specialized in magical cures. The surviving ostraca contain prescriptions, letters, and even semi-official documents such as lists noting the days and reasons for a worker’s absence. One example is a letter from a father to his son, asking for help in treating his blindness (Berlin P 11247). Apparently, it can be cured with honey, dried ochre, and black eye paint, though the instructions were not included.

Tomb Robbing

Tomb robbing was nothing new in ancient Egypt. The majority of tombs and funerary monuments were looted in antiquity, often just a few years after they were sealed. And then anything else was taken in the 18th and 19th century by tourists. If you didn’t know, the reason King Tutankhamun’s tomb was so famous and has created so much allure, is that it was the only intact tomb of a pharaoh.

Although King Tut’s tomb was filled to the brim with treasures, there was evidence of robbers entering the tomb, though they only took a few items. This map shows the different robbers holes.

The villagers of Deir el-Medina were blessed with the knowledge of the location, decoration, and possibly even witnessed the funerary assemblages being placed in the tombs of the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens. Because of this, it has been proposed that the Deir el-Medina villagers were actually the ones who looted many of these tombs and that it became part of the villages culture. During times where there was no work, they may have become desperate and used fences, or people who knowingly bought stolen goods, to loot and sell the finds of the tombs. They may have bribes officials and then would tunnel into the tombs through the back to not be suspected. Viziers would apparently inspect the tomb entrances often to make sure they were sealed. If any items were recovered from the tomb robbers, authorities would not put them back in the tombs, but add them to the treasury.

There are some records of thieves being caught and tortured to interrogate them. The police in the area were called the Medjay, who were responsible for preserving law and order. One of the famous cases was against a man named Paneb who was accused of looting royal tombs, adultery, and causing unrest in the community. There was an entire court case against him, which we unfortunately have no record of the outcome. Although there are other records of a head of the workmen being executed around this time. The adultery of Paneb was well recorded in this ostraca inscription:

“Paneb slept with the lady Tuy when she was the wife of the workman Kenna. He slept with the lady Hel when she was with Pendua. He slept with the lady Hel when she was with Hesysunebef – and when he had slept with Hel he slept with Webkhet, her daughter. Moreover, Aapekhty, his son, also slept with Webkhet!”

Papyrus Leopold II, currently in Brussels (07/003). The lower part in located at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York and is called Papyrus Amherst VII.

The Leopold II and Amherst VII Papyrus detail one tomb robbery. One worker named Amenpanufer confessed to breaking into the tomb of Pharaoh Sobekemsaf II. He and his accomplices opened the sarcophagi and stole amulets, jewelry, and gold. They fled and spilt the loot between themselves. He alone was arrested but gave his share to the official who let him go. And then he returned to his friends, who reimbursed him for losing his share!

Another record, called the Abbot Papyrus, reports that officials were looking for a scapegoat, so they obtained a confession from a repeat offender after torturing him. The vizier was suspicious at how easily the suspect was produced, so he asked the man to lead them to the tomb that he robbed. He led them to an unfinished tomb and lied about who the tomb was made for. Supposedly, he was let go.

Strikes and the Decline of the Village

Throughout the later history of the village, there is evidence of several strikes against the pharaoh. Usually paying proper wages was a religious duty that formed an intrinsic part of Maat, which was a concept of truth or justice that the Egyptians followed. Around the 25th year of Ramses III’s reign, the tomb laborers were experienced severe delaying in supplies. They decided to stop working and wrote a letter to the vizier complaining about their lack of wheat rations. Some of the village leaders attempted to reason with them, but the workers continued to refuse to work as their were force to buy their own wheat. Apparently, the vizier and authorities were able to address their complaints and the workers resumed work. This may have been the first sit-down strike action in recorded history!

There were several strikes after this. The work chiefs continued to support the authorities rather than the workers. Since the workers didn’t trust their chiefs anymore, they chose their own representatives from within the village. After the reign of Ramses IV, the conditions in the village become increasingly unsettled. It is unclear when and why the site was finally abandoned, but it could be presumed that when the pharaoh’s stopped building tombs in the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, that the village was emptied.

Excavation History

The earliest find in the area was made in the 1840s. This was a cache of papyri, which hinted at some of the later finds in the village. It was first seriously excavated from 1905 to 1909 by Ernesto Schiaperelli, who was an Italian Egyptologists who had discovered the tomb of Nefertari in the Valley of the Kings. His excavations uncovered a large number of ostraca.

Excavations in Deir el-Medina

Next, Bernard Bruyère, a French Egyptologist, started excavations around 1922. These of course were overshadowed by Howard Carter’s discovery of the tomb of King Tutankhamun. He excavated the entire site, including the village, the dump and the cemetery until 1951. During these excavations, a cache of 5,000 ostraca of assorted works of commerce and literature was found in a well near the village.

Jaroslav Černý, a Czech Egyptologist under Bruyère, continued to study the site for almost 50 years. He was able to name and describe the lives of many of the inhabitants of Deir el-Medina. The mountain peak that overlooks the village was renamed Mount Cernabru, in recognition of Černý and Bruyère’s work on the village.

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Will_of_Naunakhte

https://www.ancient.eu/Deir_el-Medina/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_Ostraca_of_Deir_el-Medina

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deir_el-Medina

https://deirelmedinaktpl.weebly.com/the-village.html

http://www.ancient-egypt.co.uk/deir%20el%20medina/index.htm

Photo Credits

Wikimedia Commons (Roland Unger) – Ruins image

https://deirelmedinaktpl.weebly.com/the-village.html – Plan of local area

Anne Austin (https://brewminate.com/labor-and-health-care-in-ancient-egypt/) – Picture of Ruins

British Museum (EA 10683,2) – Chester Beatty Papyrus (Dream Book)

Wikimedia Commons (Jeff Dahl) – Edwin Smith Papyrus (Medical Papyrus)

http://near-east-images.blogspot.com/2007/10/and-more-deri-el-medina-ostraca.html – Funny Animal Ostraca

Peter Pavúk (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/340666160_A_Mycenaean_Stirrup_Jar_Fragment_from_TT_357_In_The_Deir_el-Medina_and_Jaroslav_Cerny_Collections_II_Pottery) – Plan of Village and necropolis

https://trebolanimation.blogspot.com/2013/12/atlas-de-la-ciencia-y-otros-editorial.html – Reconstruction of the village

https://see.news/dr-zahi-hawass-deir-el-medina-taiba-pharaonic/ – Image of Pyramid shrine and ruins

Wikimedia (Steve F-E-Cameron) – Ruins

Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin – Osiride Statue of Amenhotep I

Anagh – Ruins

Archaeological Photography Exchange (Seshta) – Will of Naunakhte

Babara Weibel – Tomb of Sennedjem

Flickr (kairoinfo4u) – Tomb of Sennedjem

http://www.ancient-egypt.co.uk/deir%20el%20medina/index.htm – Outline of House Structure

https://deirelmedinaktpl.weebly.com/role-of-women.html – Tomb of Anherkhawy

Global Egyptian Museum – Papyrus Leopold II

http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/tutrobbery.htm – King Tut robbery map

Wikimedia Commons (French Archaeological Institute in Cairo IFAO) – Excavation of Deir el-Medina

https://bernardbruyre.wordpress.com/?fbclid=IwAR2q5-bvsPwNzKsh4SlbKyIcrq8tMUF3wes_r4SQhbxqrQOE99WKOxbQo9A – Jaroslav Černý images

http://imagenesdeegipto.blogspot.com/2013/09/bernard-bruyere-pinceladas-de-su-vida.html – Bernard Bruyère image