This week we are looking at another mummy found in the Valley of the Queens, who might have been the first person buried in this valley. Her name was Princess Ahmose, daughter of the 17th Dynasty pharaoh Sequenenre Tao!
The name Ahmose means “Child of the Moon” and was a common name in the Late Second Intermediate Period and the early New Kingdom. Today we are talking about Princess Ahmose, the only known daughter of Pharaoh Sequenenre Tao and his sister/wife Sitdjehuti. Ahmose was the half-sister of Pharaoh Kamose, Pharaoh Ahmose I, and Queen Ahmose Nefertari, both of whom she outlived.
During her life she was given the titles of King’s Daughter and King’s Sister, indicating that she lived throughout her brother’s reign. It is estimated that she died during the rule of Thutmose I (who was her great-nephew) in the 18th dynasty when she was in her 40s.
Ahmose’s tomb, QV47, is thought to be the earliest in the Valley of the Queens, which a nearby valley to the Valley of the Kings. This was a fairly simple tomb consisting of one chamber and a burial shaft, which are typical of the tombs in the Valley of the Queens. It is technically located in a subsidiary valley named the Valley of Prince Ahmose.
The tomb was discovered by Ernesto Schiaparelli during excavations in the valley from 1903 to 1905. The tomb was most likely pillaged in antiquity. The tomb contains some evidence of reuse from the Roman period, as well as evidence of modern flooding and bats.
Although the tomb was looted in antiquity, enough material has been found to support a theory of a rich burial for the princess. The tomb has been cleared multiple times and objects were found every time. First, it was cleared by the Italian mission, which is when the mummy was originally found. Fragments of a wooden sarcophagus, fragments of the Book of the Dead, and leather sandals were also found.
In 1984, the CNRS (Centre national de la recherche scientifique) re-excavated the tomb and found much more. They found a small cutting of human hair, inscribed shrouds, a wax seal, fragments of dyed leather, decorated wood, a fragment of a female figurine, and a fragment of a mummy. And finally, in October 2008, one more piece of a mummy was found in the tomb.
Supposedly there were almost remains of a canopic chest, though no remains of the jar. The inscription on the shroud and the fragments of the Book of the Dead (S.5051-S.5065) is what helped archaeologists identify the tomb as Ahmose’s and connect her with her father and mother. At the time of the excavation, this was the oldest Book of the Dead that had been found. It was written on linen and there are fragments of 20 different chapters.
Her mummy (S.5050) and the majority of the other burial goods are all located in the Egyptian Museum in Turin because Schiaparelli discovered it. Unfortunately, there is very little information about the mummy. Ahmose probably died in her 40s, possibly from heart disease. She was also a relatively tall person for her advanced age.
This week’s mummy is unfortunately not completely intact. But that hasn’t stopped researchers from learning a ton about this Egyptian. His name was Nebiri and he is currently located at the Egyptian Museum in Turin, Italy (S_5109).
Very little is known about Nebiri in his life because his tomb was looted. But, based on the location he was buried, he was most likely an important official during his life. He most likely lived in the 18th dynasty of the New Kingdom, during the reign of Pharaoh Thutmose III, 1479 to 1424 B.C.E.
The only title that we know he had was Chief or Superintendent of the Stables, meaning that he was in charge of the horse stables, possibly those of the kings. He was anywhere from 45 to 60 years old when he died.
Nebiri’s tomb was located in the Valley of the Queens. This was another valley located on the west side of the Nile from Thebes. Like the Valley of the Kings, this valley was used from the late 17th dynasty and on to bury those of the royal family. While it is labeled as for queens, there are several non-queens were buried in this valley, Nebiri included.
He was buried in QV30, which is located on the south slope of the main valley. It is a single rectangular shaped chamber with a vertical shaped shaft. Like many of the tombs of both of the valleys, it was looted in antiquity. This tomb was hit particularly hard as Nebiri’s body was either taken or destroyed. The only things left in the tomb were some faience objects, terracotta vases, some Aegean style (probably Cypriote) vessels (seen below), a canopic jar inscribed for the god Hapy, the guardian of the lungs, and the head of Nebiri.
The tomb was discovered by Italian Egyptologist Ernesto Schiaparelli in 1904. The objects were then sent to the Egyptian Museum in Turin. In a recent survey of the Valley of the Queens by the Getty Conservation Institute, the tomb had evidence of reuse in the Roman Period and modern flooding. Currently, the tomb shaft has a modern cemented masonry surround.
To read more about the Getty’s work in the Valley of the Queens check out the two files below!
As I mentioned, only the head of Nebiri was left in the tomb. It was left almost completely unwrapped but is still in good condition. Luckily, the canopic jar that remained in the tomb, contained the lungs of Nebiri.
Linen bandages were stuffed into the head, nose, ears, eyes, and mouth. They also included packing in the mouth to fill out the cheeks. Researchers discovered that the linen bandages had been treated with a complex mixture of animal fat or plant oil, a balsam or aromatic plant, a coniferous resin, and heated Pistacia resin.
During a CT scan of the head, a tiny hole was found in the honeycomb-like bone structure, known as the cribriform plate. This piece separates the nasal cavity from the brain. Although the brain was usually removed in the mummification process, Nebiri’s brain was not removed. This hole was actually used to insert the packing rather than taking the brain out. Researchers were able to 3D reconstruct the brain surface. These mummification techniques seem to confirm that Nebiri was a high-status figure of the 18th dynasty.
Using a type of computed tomography and facial reconstruction techniques, researchers have produced a facial approximation of Nebiri. He had a prominent nose, wide jaw, straight eyebrows, and thick lips. Check out the article below to learn more about the “Virtopsy” that was conducted on Nebiri’s head.
Researchers at the Turin Museum have discovered a few medical problems that Nebiri had before he died. Like many Egyptians, Nebiri had very bad teeth. He has several periodontal or gum disease and abscesses in his mouth.
Then by examining the remains of Nebiri’s lungs from the canopic jar, they found evidence of edema or fluid collected in the lung’s air sacs. One of the researchers Bianucci explained, “when the heart is not able to pump efficiently, blood can back up into the veins that take it through the lungs. As the pressure increases, fluid is pushed into the air spaces in the lungs.”
There was also calcification in the right internal carotid artery, suggesting mild atherosclerosis. Cells were also found within the lung tissue also resembled cells that have been found in patients with heart failure. Scholars concluded that Nebiri had chronic heart failure and may have died from acute decompensation of chronic left-side heart failure. This is the earliest found case of chronic heart failure found!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 theselinks to look inside some of the tombs!
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.