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!
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.
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…”
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 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.
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.
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.
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