Teresa Moore. Because its houses were built of stone and located on the edge of the desert, and because its citizens boasted an unusually high level of literacy, Deir el-Medina has preserved for modern historians an enormous number of documents: school texts, literature, personal letters, legal records, and more.
This course will cover the history and archaeology of Deir el- Medina, the everyday lives of its people, and their preparations for death and the afterlife. You follow the course of life at home, celebrate festivals with the community, and witness the investigation of crimes and settlement of legal disputes. Lectures will be illustrated with slides, and students will read and discuss translations of texts from Deir el-Medina. Tomb Builders of the Pharaohs.
Cairo: AUC Press, ISBN: Lesko, Leonard H. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, McDowell, Andrea G. Oxford, Proposed schedule of lectures Week 1. Geographical and historical introduction. Topography of Thebes. The discovery of Deir el-Medina by modern archaeology; foundation of the village; the 18th Dynasty village and associated burials, notably that of the architect Kha and his wife Meryt; 18 th Dynasty royal tombs, their design and decoration. Readings 1. Bierbrier, ch. Week 2. Introduction to Ramesside Deir el-Medina.
Readings 2. McDowell in Lesko, ch. Ward in Lesko, ch. Domestic life at Deir el-Medina. The house and its furnishings; daily chores; diet and dress. Education, literacy, and literary traditions. Religious life in the village: chapels, priesthoods, and festivals. The roles of citizenesses in the community. Readings 3. Friedman in Lesko, ch. Borghouts in Lesko, ch. The third room served either as a store-room or bedroom, or both. The fourth room, at the side of the third, was the kitchen, which usually contained storage bins, an area for grinding wheat, an open hearth and an oven.
The staircase to the roof could be in either the first, second or fourth rooms. These rooms were often decorated with frescoes or whitewash. A larger house near the entrance to the village was probably used by the chief foremen or police guard of the village.
The Amarna village was abandoned together with the main city shortly after the death of Akhenaten. In the reign of Tutankhamun c. It is not clear whether Deir el-Medina once again became the headquarters of the royal workmen at this time. Certainly workmen were available to build the tombs of Tutankhamun and his successor Ay. However, an attempted robbery of the tomb of Tutankhamun shows that the area may not have been totally secure.
The community at Deir elMedina was certainly officially in operation by year 7 of Horemheb c. We have little detailed information about the history of the site until the reign of Seti i c. From the reigns of Ramesses n and his successors we have a wealth of evidence in the form of ostraca, papyri, stelae and tomb inscriptions. We know the names of the workmen and their wives and children; we can even pinpoint the houses of individual families, and from these sources we can build up a picture, in intimate detail, of the lives, and deaths, of the people of Deir el-Medina.
In the Ramesside period they were called 'servants in the Place of Truth'.
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The workmen were known collectively as 'men of the gang' which was derived from the term for a ship's crew. Like an Egyptian ship's company, the gang was divided into two sides, right and left, although it is not certain that these sides actually worked the right and left sides of the royal tomb. The full complement of the gang seems to have varied. We know that in the middle of the reign of Ramesses n there were at least forty-eight men, but by the end of the reign the crew had been run down to about thirty-two.
This probably indicates that the royal tomb had been completed and so less workmen were required. Those who remained were probably engaged in the construction of the tombs of minor members of the royal family. Presumably with the start of a new reign more men were enrolled to fill the gaps. In the reign of Ramesses in forty men are named, but in the reign of his successor Ramesses iv the gang was dramatically expanded to one hundred and twenty men. The new ruler obviously had grandiose plans to embark on a large-scale building programme in the necropolis, but in the event he only reigned six years.
The numbers were then cut back to sixty. Deaths sometimes led to the two sides of the gang being out of equilibrium, but these were made up when the gaps were filled. Workmen were usually permanently attached to one side of the gang, but occasional transfers, temporary or permanent, are recorded. The work-force was largely recruited from the sons of workmen, but new recruits from outside the village were sometimes admitted.
As the village families were large, there were always more applicants than places, so many younger sons had to leave the community to seek work elsewhere. The work-force was controlled by two foremen, one for each side of the gang. The foreman was known as the 'overseer of construction in the Great Place' in the Eighteenth Dynasty and later more simply as 'chief of the gang in the Place of Truth'. Apart from the obvious purpose of keeping a tighter control on each side of the gang, having two foremen 27 14 Stela of the foreman Baki. The foreman and his son appear at the top of this stela worshipping Ptah and Hathor.
Below is a group of contemporary workmen, including the village doctor Amenmose. Relations between the two foremen were not always smooth. The foreman Paneb once remarked to his colleague Hay: 'I will get you in the mountains and kill you'. Fortunately for Hay, Paneb did not carry out his threat. Whether the work ran smoothly must have depended largely on the respective characters of the foremen. They were theoretically appointed by Pharaoh himself, although in practice the decision appears to have been left to the vizier, who maintained direct control over the village and its activities.
Bribery was not unknown, and at least one instance is recorded. It seems that the appointment was at first made on an individual basis, but in the Ramesside period it came to be regarded as the hereditary right of the holder's family. At the beginning of the Nineteenth Dynasty c. The office of foreman was then acquired by Kaha, a son of a chief carpenter and possibly son-in-law of Baki. His family managed to hold on to the post of foreman with minor interruptions until the end of the Twentieth Dynasty.
The post of foreman on the right side was already hereditary in one family when our records begin. Neferhotep the elder held this position under Horemheb, Seti i and Ramesses n, and was succeeded by his son Nebnufer. He was in turn succeeded by his son Neferhotep the younger, who held office for the last half of the reign of Ramesses n, through the reign of Merenptah, and into the reign of Seti n. Neferhotep held the office for about forty or fifty years, so he must have been quite a young man when he first took over the job.
His tomb was constructed towards the end of the reign of Ramesses n and is by far the largest and most splendid in the workmen's necropolis although now sadly ruined. Some ideal of the skilled craftsmanship which Neferhotep could call upon for his own use can be seen in a badly damaged votive stela which he commissioned. Neferhotep was childless and seems to have brought up the son of one of his fellow workmen as a foster son, but the boy Paneb, already mentioned above, turned out to be a bad lot and is even accused of having threatened to kill Neferhotep: Charge concerning his [Paneb's] running after the chief workman Neferhotep.
And he [Neferhotep] closed his doors before him, and he [Paneb] took a stone and broke his doors. And they caused men to watch over Neferhotep because he [Paneb] said: I will kill him in the night.. It seems that Paneb had a habit of making death threats to those who annoyed him. Neferhotep complained to the vizier about Paneb's behaviour and a suitable punishment was ordered to be meted out. However, Paneb was not without influence for he seems to have complained direct 29 16 left Stela of Neferhotep.
The figures of the deified king Amenhotpe I and his mother AhmesNefertari are carved in raised relief in the upper register, while Neferhotep is shown in sunk relief in the lower register. This grandiose tomb has been badly damaged and little of its original internal decoration survives. The deceased foreman Neferhotep is depicted at the top of the stela. Below Hesunebef, his family, two other workmen and their wives, and possibly Neferhotep's widow, kneel in adoration. Following his failure with Paneb, Neferhotep and his wife Webkhet turned their affection to a young male slave in their household named Hesunebef.
In the innermost room of the chapel of Neferhotep's tomb the young boy is depicted at the side of his master's chair feeding a pet monkey. In the main hall of the chapel, which was presumably decorated later, the now adult Hesunebef is named as a workman. This change of status from slave boy to free royal workman was undoubtedly due to the influence of his master Neferhotep. Hesunebef even acquired a wife, Hunero, who was probably a local girl and possibly a relative of his former master. He named two of his children Neferhotep and Webkhet after his patrons and honoured the memory of Neferhotep with a votive stela.
Unfortunately, his marriage was not a success and he divorced his wife towards the end of the Nineteenth Dynasty.
Tomb-Builders of the Pharaohs by Morris L. Bierbrier
Hesunebef was a member of the community into the reign of Ramesses in. The foreman Neferhotep lived until his seventies but he was not destined to die in his bed. Amennakhte, his brother, reported that 'the enemy killed Neferhotep'. It is now certain that this phrase refers to a civil war The Men of the Gang which broke out in Egypt between the legitimate Pharaoh Seti n and a usurper, Amenmesse, who controlled Thebes for several years.
Neferhotep seems to have been killed just before Thebes fell to the forces of Seti II. It is not known whether he was merely an accidental victim of the fighting or deliberately put to death by the usurper. Paneb seems to have taken advantage of the confusion and succeeded in being appointed Neferhotep's successor by handing over five of the late Neferhotep's slaves to the newly installed vizier of Seti n as a bribe.
His criminal career as foreman will be dealt with in a further chapter, when justice at last seems to have triumphed. Following Paneb's removal, the position of foreman of the right was filled by the family of Nekhemmut, where it remained for most of the Twentieth Dynasty. The 'scribe of the Tomb' was also appointed directly by the vizier. In the Nineteenth Dynasty there appears to have been only one official scribe although other less exalted scribes are known in the village, and they confusingly often style themselves scribes of the Tomb as well.
Draughtsmen, and sometimes workmen, also call themselves scribes in some of their inscriptions and letters. Early in the Twentieth Dynasty the central administration seems to have recognized two official scribes, one for each side of the gang, and this system continued throughout the dynasty. The scribe's chief duty was to keep a register of work done and to note any absentee workers. He also recorded the removal of material from royal store-rooms and the payments of the workmen's wages.
The importance of the scribes and their vital role in the community are reflected in their many monuments at Deir el-Medina. A notable example is furnished by the scribe of the Tomb Ramose, who was appointed to this post in year 5 of Ramesses n c. Previously he had been a scribe of the treasure of the funerary temple of King Thutmose I v and possibly a scribe of the funerary temple of Amenhotpe son of Hapu, a deified vizier of Amenhotpe in.
Both of these temples were situated not far from Deir el-Medina on the western bank of the Nile. Ramose has left a large number of stelae and other monuments, including three tombs. Presumably he was buried in only one of them and, indeed, it appears that one of the others was used as the burial place of his female dependents. His wealth is also indicated by his ownership of slaves and farm land, and he is frequently depicted in the tombs of his fellow workmen. However, he suffered from the fact that he and his wife Mutemwia were childless.
On two stelae he prayed to the deities of childbirth and fertility, and even dedicated a stone phallus to the fertility goddess Hathor with the inscriptions: O Hathor, remember the man at his burial. Grant a duration in thy House as a rewarded one to the scribe Ramose. O Golden One, who lovest when thou desirest the praised one, thou desired one, cause me to receive a compensation of thy house as a rewarded one.
Ramose worships the god Ptah and the goddess of Truth, Maat. Unfortunately, Ramose had to be satisfied with an adopted son since his successor as scribe Kenherkhepeshef, son of Panakht, calls himself son of Ramose as well. Kenherkhepeshef was probably a pupil and protege of Ramose. His nearly illegible handwriting has been identified from several documents and has been found on an ostracon in the village dated to year 33 of Ramesses n c. In year 40 he is named as scribe and there is no reason to doubt that he had succeeded as official scribe of the Tomb.
He held office until the end of the reign of Seti n - a period of approximately forty-three years - and so was at least in his late sixties, if not older, when he disappears from view. He does not appear to have been a particularly conscientious or likeable person. There are two accusations of bribery against him and he is recorded as using men of the gang to do private work for him during official working hours. The language of the text appears to date it to the Middle Kingdom, but this version was written down in the early Ramesside period prior to its acquisition by Kenherkhepeshef.
Part of the account of the 'victory' of Ramesses II over the Hittites has been copied by the scribe Kenherkhepeshef in his own hand on the back of the dream-book. Some ostraca in this same hand have been identified at Deir el-Medina. The full account of the battle of Kadesh is known from inscribed texts on the temples of Ramesses II and another papyrus.
The Men of the Gang What does this bad way mean in which you behave to me? I am to you like the donkey. If there is some work, bring the donkey, and if there is some food, bring the ox. If there is some beer, you do not look for me, but, if there is work, you do look for me I am a man who has no beer in his house. I try to fill my belly by my writing to you. For all his faults, Kenherkhepeshef seems to have had some pretensions to learning, and by chance fragments of his private library have come down to us.
The most interesting is a dream-book giving the interpretation of various dreams, the significance of which was readily apparent to ancient Egyptians, just as to modern psychiatrists.
Among the various interpretations are: If a man sees himself in a dream, looking out of a window; good, it means the hearing of his cry by his god. If a man sees himself in a dream, sight-seeing in Busiris; good, it means having a great old age. If a man sees himself in a dream, burying an old man; good, it means prosperity. If a man sees himself in a dream, drinking warm beer; bad, it means suffering will come upon him. If a man sees himself in a dream, seeing his face in a mirror; bad, it means another wife.
On the back of the dream-book, Kenherkhepeshef copied out in his own hand parts of the victory hymn of Ramesses n about the battle of Kadesh, where he claimed to have defeated the Hittite army. That claim is debatable, since the Hittite account which also survives ascribes the victory to its forces. Copies of this poem survive on the walls of the temples of Luxor, Karnak, Abu Simbel and Abydos, and the Ramesseum, but papyrus versions were also in circulation and doubtless the scribe was copying from one of these. The back also had a copy of one of his reports to the vizier on the progress of work on the royal tomb.
His interest in history is shown by an ostracon in his hand and a stone altar both of which contain a list of royal names, some of them quite obscure. There is one factor in the career of the scribe Kenherkhepeshef which is intriguing. His widow Naunakhte survived him by at least fifty-one years, during which time she remarried and had eight children by her second husband. When it is recalled that Kenherkhepeshef was in his late sixties at least when he disappears, Naunakhte was obviously the very young widow of a much older man.
There is at present no evidence that Kenherkhepeshef had an earlier wife or children, although, as his tomb has never been found, relatively little is known of his private affairs. Much of his property went to his widow. The famous dream-book was eventually acquired by one of her sons by her second marriage. Naunakhte at any rate seems to have been fond enough of her elderly husband to name one of the sons of her second marriage after him. In year 16 of Ramesses in c. He held this office until the reign of Ramesses vi 35 The Men of the Gang c. He appears to have been a draughtsman prior to his promotion and probably owed his appointment to the good offices of the vizier To, after whom he named one of his sons.
Amennakhte managed in due course to pass his office on to his eldest son Harshire and it remained in this family for at least six generations. His descendants Dhutmose and Butehamun, who lived at the end of the Twentieth and the beginning of the Twenty-first Dynasty, played a prominent part in the later years of the village. The records of their private lives are somewhat confused, as it would seem from many of their letters which have survived that they suffered from an excess of wives.
The wife of Dhutmose and mother of Butehamun was a lady Baketamun, but in his correspondence Dhutmose is very solicitious of the welfare of the lady Hemshire and her children. Similarly the known wife of Butehamun is the lady Akhtay, who certainly predeceased him, as his lament of her shows.
Oh thou noble chest of Osiris, songstress of Amun Akhtay who rests under thee. Listen to me and give the message. Tell her since thou art next to her: How do you fare? How are you? Thou shalt say to her: Woe Akhtay does not prosper so says your brother, your companion. Woe you beautiful one who has no equal. One does not find an example of any ugliness. Good to me are my mother and father, brother and sister; they have come, but you have been taken from me. In his letters, however, Butehamun appears to express affection for the lady Shedemde. Now, as most ordinary Egyptians usually had only one wife at a time, one could assume that father and son on becoming widowers both remarried.
However, it seems that Baketamun and Akhtay are mentioned in the same letters as Shedemde and Hemshire, unless these are different people. Thus some mystery still remains as to the exact marital relationships of these two scribes. The foremen and the scribe, or scribes, constituted the captains of the village. They were the liaison between the community and the higher authorities, notably the vizier and the overseer of the treasury. They oversaw the removal of material from the royal storehouses for use in the construction of the tomb, received and distributed the wages among the workmen, sat as the chief magistrates of the community on the local court and acted as chief witnesses for any oaths.
Their duties also included recommending to the vizier candidates for vacancies in the work-force. This duty could prove rather lucrative as some were prepared to allow their choice to be swayed by bribery. The captains sometimes used their authority to make workmen carry out tasks for themselves, such as work on their tombs or on commissions, possibly without payment, and they could also use their position to accept commissions for work from outside the community, and naturally took the major part of the payment.
They were certainly among the wealthier inhabitants of the village, but their 36 21 Stela of Aapahte, son of the foreman Paneb. Aapahte is named as deputy of the gang on this stela; he is shown here in adoration of the god Seth. Each foreman was assisted in his duties by a deputy. It seems that the foreman usually named his eldest son, or some other relation, to this position if he was able.
This was not always the case and we know of several deputies who bear no relation to the foreman under whom they served. However, in many cases the deputy could consider himself a future foreman whose tasks of supervision and distribution of supplies he was sometimes required to undertake. The deputy also served on the community court and witnessed oaths. The ration lists disclose that this position was in a sense honorific since the deputy received no higher wages than any of his fellow-workmen. A typical deputy was Anherkhau the younger son of the foreman Hay.
Hay served from years 17 to 21 of Ramesses in c. From this one can guess that Hay had recently died and Anherkhau had succeeded to his post. The office of deputy was then bestowed on the workman Hay, who appears to have been Anherkhau's foster-brother and son of the chief carpenter Amennakhte, but the post was eventually given to Anherkhau's son Kenna. The 'guardians of the Tomb' were charged with the control of the royal storehouses, in which the tools and other materials necessary for construction were kept.
These materials were handed over by the guardians only under the supervision of the foremen and scribe. There were either one or two guardians, and they were prominent members of the community, ranking in seniority after the captains. The guardian Penbuy 38 The Men of the Gang left several beautiful monuments; on them, and in his tomb, he is named with different wives, so he seems to have been married at least twice. The post of 'door-keeper of the Tomb' seems usually to have been filled by two men, one for each side of the gang, but in the reign of Ramesses n there were three.
Their function was to guard the entrance to the royal tomb and they appear to have worked in shifts so that one was always on duty. They also acted as bailiffs and debt-collectors for the community, and thus had a rather unsavoury reputation. Closely connected with the affairs of the community were the Medjay, or police, stationed somewhere on the west bank of the Nile to keep order and prevent unauthorized entry to the royal tombs.
They were directly under the authority of the mayor of Thebes-West. The chief of police sat as a member of the community courts, and he and his men were involved in numerous commercial dealings with the royal workmen. There were probably two chiefs of police for the Deir el-Medina contingent.
The community was served by certain workers who were seconded to the village by the central administration. The 'servants of the Tomb' undertook the task of supplying certain provisions and doing specified tasks for the workmen. They consisted of wood-cutters, water-carriers, fishermen, gardeners, washermen and, at times, potters. They were under the direct control of the door-keepers and the scribes. These servants could rise to become fully-fledged workmen and, conversely, when the number of the work-force was reduced from to 60, the 60 unemployed men were transformed into servants.
The servants did not live in the village but probably down near the river, where the supplies which they brought the community were located. The workmen were also allocated the services of female slaves who belonged to the central government. These women were attached to the sides of the gang and their task was to grind into flour the grain supplied to the community by the authorities.
Each family was allowed a certain number of days free service, but this right was not always taken up as it could be sold to other members of the community; for example, we read of 'the day when the mistress gave her day of servant to the workman Any'. The staff of the work-force included stone-masons, carpenters and chief carpenters, sculptors and draughtsmen, each of whom specialized in different phases in the construction of the royal tomb. Their skills were passed on from father to son.
The draughtsman Pay, who flourished under Ramesses n, had three sons who were also draughtsmen, as were some of their sons. The sculptor Piay had four sons, all of whom became sculptors, although one was also a carpenter. A part of the crew consisted of young men who were being trained as future workmen.
Most of these were sons of workmen but some outside appointments were made. The community also consisted of the wives and children of the workers, and some of the young boys were used for occasional light work like carrying 39 The Men of the Gang messages. They were known as 'children of the Tomb', although they were not officially part of the work-force. If they failed to find a place among the youths enrolled as workmen, they would be forced to leave the community and make their careers elsewhere. One of the younger sons of the foreman Neferhotep the elder became an army scribe of the 'lord of the two lands and officer of His Majesty', while another became 'first transport officer of His Majesty.
Of course, currency as such did not exist in ancient Egypt and the workmen were paid for their services in kind. The payments were authorized by the vizier and seem to have been paid through the royal treasury, although supplies were sometimes received from the storehouses of local temples. These supplies were destined for the work crew, its officers, the guardians, the door-keepers, and the female slaves. The chief payment consisted of monthly rations of emmer wheat, which would be ground into flour, and barley for making beer. Bread and beer were the two chief staples of the Egyptian diet.
The surviving wage slips seem to indicate that the foremen and scribes received a somewhat higher salary than the ordinary workmen. The door-keepers, guardians and the workman who acted as the local physician also received higher payments but not as high as the captains. A certain category of workmen was paid less than their fellows, and it has been supposed that these were the young recruits who did not have a family to support, since the wages were meant to provide sustenance for the workmen and their families.
Indeed, recent studies seem to suggest that these supplies were more than ample to cover the wants of each family, and the worker then possessed an excess which he could barter for other products. The female slaves were supplied with a much smaller ration, which presumably only covered their subsistence. Thus, if supplies were regularly maintained, the work-force would be receiving a real wage over and above the rate of subsistence. Apart from the grain, the workmen were supplied by the central authorities with fish, vegetables and water, with wood for fuel and with pottery for household use.
There were also more irregular deliveries of dates, cakes and ready-made beer. There was also a system of bonus payments which were issued on festival days or for special reasons. Apart from extra provisions of normal supplies, the bonus payments would include sesame oil, blocks of salt and natron, and, most important of all, meat — usually ox. The government also issued supplies of clothes, although not enough to clothe the entire community continuously. All these supplies which constituted the workmen's wages were divided up among the community by the foremen and the scribes.
It should not be forgotten that the community also enjoyed free delivery of the goods by the servants of the Tomb and free work by the female slaves in the grinding of wheat into flour. In year 29 of Ramesses m c. On this occasion he went to the storehouse of the mortuary temple of King Horemheb, which was nearby, and obtained provisions for the gang.
However, supplies continued to be delayed and in the sixth month the workmen went on strike and staged sit-down demonstrations before the funerary temples of Thutmose in, Ramesses n, and possibly Seti i: It is because of hunger and because of thirst that we came here. There is no clothing, no ointment, no fish, no vegetables. Send to Pharaoh our good Lord about it and send to the vizier our superior, that sustenance may be made for us.
Following these disturbances, provisions were found for the work-force, but strikes erupted again later in the same year and in subsequent reigns. Under Ramesses xi the scribe Dhutmose had to journey south of Thebes to collect the grain from local temples and farmers for the community. He took along two door-keepers as protection against irate payers. The government payments were not the sole source of income for the community.
In modern terms a fair amount of moonlighting went on during rest days, and sometimes on company time. The task of the community was to prepare the royal tomb and sometimes the tombs of queens, 23 Delivery ostracon, from the end of the Nineteenth Dynasty, recording the arrears of water due to certain workmen. The Men of the Gang princes and honoured nobles. The tombs of the nobles on the west bank seem to have been constructed largely by other workmen hired for the task, although some may have come from the community.
The workmen did not prepare the royal funerary equipment, which was fashioned in the royal workshops. In their spare time the workers built their own tombs in the mountain close to the community and made their own funerary equipment, including coffins, boxes and other items. The workers paid each other for various items of manufacture which they required, so there was a brisk trade in coffins and stelae.
The scribes and draughtsmen who could paint the inscriptions in the necessary manner naturally charged the highest prices. Aside from doing work for the community, the workers also accepted outside commissions, either through the intermediary of the captains or directly, and so a certain amount of the tomb equipment used in private burials at Thebes was actually made at Deir el-Medina.
Frequent references to the possessions of the workmen show that they must have lived comfortably. Several workers owned their own expensive bronze tools, quite distinct from those provided by the government. Some workmen also owned cattle and donkeys, which could be let out at a profit if they were not being used by their owners. They often had real estate in the form of tombs and outhouses. The carpenter Ken left his son his mother's shares in the labour of several slaves.
These shares do not appear to have been the same as the state servants, so perhaps several workmen or family members had clubbed together to buy slaves and share their labour. The foreman Neferhotep certainly had his own personal slaves. The scribe Ramose even owned land down by the cultivation which was farmed for him by his own servants, although he may have been a special case.
The affluent status of the Deir el-Medina workmen was due in large measure to their privileged position as special state employees. In order to safeguard the right of the family to serve in this capacity, village officials are recorded on at least one occasion as receiving bribes to promote a workman's son: the father had apparently no difficulty in laying his hands on the necessary capital. During the Eighteenth Dynasty the Valley of the Kings came to be seen as the obligatory resting-place of the monarch, while the queens and princes were hidden away in the neighbouring valleys.
Because of the importance attached to the royal burial place, one of the first acts of any reign was to order the immediate start of work on a new tomb. At Deir elMedina the death of a ruler was greeted with jubilation, not sorrow, since work on the old tomb would be drawing to a close in the normal course of events. A new reign meant new work, quick initial payments and, often, bonus payments if the new king was in a hurry to provide for his eternal home: On that day the vizier Neferrenpet came to the entrance of the Tomb and read them a letter saying that.
Ramesses [vi]. Some rulers, of course, sensed that time was not on their side and took extra precautions to ensure that their tomb would be near to completion when the time came for its use. Ramesses iv immediately increased the strength of the work crew from about 60 to He certainly needed the extra men, since construction work did not begin on his tomb until his second year and he lasted only six full years.
Yet his tomb was finished. Ay and Ramesses vi were more ruthless. They simply took over the unfinished tombs of their predecessors, whose remains were deposited in hastily built simple chambers. Such was the fate of the boy-king Tutankhamun; his successor Ay little dreamed that the sacrilege which he was committing by seizing his tomb would result in the protection of Tutankhamun and his treasures for millenia. Needless to say, Ay's tomb was thoroughly pillaged. From the viewpoint of the archaeologist and historian, the unfinished tombs are often more interesting than those which have been completed, since the process of construction is clearly visible there.
The first act in building a new tomb was to decide on a site in the Valley to begin excavations. This view was taken towards the beginning of the century when the valley was less crowded with modern amenities and tourists. Building the Tombs kings and the cemetery was getting increasingly crowded by the end of the Ramesside period.
It was, therefore, necessary to institute a careful probing of the Valley to discover a virgin site. In one case, during the construction of the tomb of Sethnakhte, the workmen broke into an adjoining tomb by mistake and the new tomb had to be abandoned. Sethnakhte remedied the situation by simply taking over the tomb of his predecessor. Several years later his son Ramesses in was faced with the prospect of having to abandon the tomb which had been begun for him because of the bad quality of the rock.
He took over his father's original abandoned shaft and realigned the corridor so that it veered away from the adjoining tomb. The search for an appropriate site for the royal tomb appears to have been made under the watchful eyes of a royal commission headed by the vizier.
When a suitable area was located, the commission could presumably sanction its use on the spot. Next, a plan of the proposed tomb would be drawn up. It is not clear whether this was done solely by royal architects or by the senior members of the work crew. In either case, it would not have been difficult to conceive a plan, since it would usually follow the pattern set by its predecessors.
The typical royal tomb was approached by means of a descending stairway set at an incline to the main doorway. Later Ramesside tombs usually had slides down the centre of the stairways to facilitate the entry of the royal sarcophagus into the tomb. From the entrance ran a series of halls and rooms of varying length and size, all built on a descending level. In the Eighteenth Dynasty the tomb contained a right-angled turn, but in the Ramesside period the tomb ran straight to the back. In the tombs of the Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Dynasties a pit was dug at the end of the front hall, cutting off access to the rest of the tomb except by a footbridge, which would have been removed when the tomb was completed.
The doorway in the wall opposite the pit would have been sealed up and reliefs would have been painted over it so as to imply to potential tombrobbers that the tomb ended at its first hall. Of course, no one was deceived by this manoeuvre. It has been argued that the pit had a cultic significance, but this seems less likely as its use was abandoned during the Nineteenth Dynasty.
The pit also served, incidentally, to protect the tombs from flooding during the millenia in which they lay open and abandoned. Towards the end of the ,tomb lay a broad pillared hall in which the sarcophagus rested. The more lavish tombs had a second pillared hall, or more, in the course of the tomb and numerous store-rooms leading off from the main burial chamber. Thus, although all the tombs were built to the same general plan, slight variations gave each some degree of individuality. Any major innovations were due to unforeseen circumstances, and extra time and resources becoming available.
Of course, a plan of the proposed tomb would be available for the workmen to consult, 45 26 above A modern plan of the tomb of Ramesses IV. Unfortunately the plan is not complete, but can be compared with the modern plan of the same tomb. A plan of the tomb of Ramesses ix, painted on stone, was actually found abandoned in the very tomb itself. A second plan, which is incomplete, is written on papyrus and depicts part of the tomb of Ramesses iv. Once the site had been chosen and the plan had been drawn up, the workmen began to cut the tomb out of the solid rock.
The quarrying was done with a copper or bronze spike which would split the stone when pounded by a heavy wooden mallet. The workmen could also use a heavy wooden-handled bronze hoe, which would have been wielded like a modern pick-axe. These tools were the property of the state and would be handed out to the workmen when they were required. The scribe of the Tomb would carefully record who was given what and would expect the tools to be returned when they were no longer needed or when they had become blunt and had to be repaired and resharpened.
They would then be put back in the government storehouse for future use. A workman might possess his own private tools, but he would not have used these on government work when freely available state tools were on offer. Most of the chippings formed by the excavations would be removed by leather or wicker baskets and scattered on the floor of the valley, although, in the 46 Building the Tombs inner rooms of some tombs, chips still lie on the floors where they were left after the hasty completion of the tomb. These limestone fragments were often picked up and used by the workmen to make rough notes, designs, or even permanent records, and are known as ostraca.
As the stone-masons cut away the halls of the tomb, the plasterers were hard at work behind them on the walls. The uneven surfaces were covered with a layer of gypsum and whitewash to make them as smooth as possible. The method of supplying the workers with gypsum seems to have varied from period to period. At one time specific gypsum-makers were attached to each side of the gang to burn the raw gypsum and mix it with water to form the plaster.
At other times this task was performed by specifically designated workmen, who would necessarily be excused from work in the Valley while they were busy at this task. The finished walls would then be turned over to the attention of the draughtsmen. The workman is depicted in action, breaking up the stone with his spike and mallet. Building the Tombs The scenes and reliefs which appear on the walls of the royal tombs consist solely of religious texts which mark the journey of the sun-god Re, with whom the dead king was identified, through the underworld in the evening.
This journey would end in the room in which the royal sarcophagus was situated. From here the king-sun-god would be expected to rise each morning to begin his journey through the heavens before returning to the underworld in the evening. The texts in the tombs are all similar and were presumably copied from standard reference works. There are no historical texts and definitely no curses in any of the tombs. The draughtsmen would first set out the proposed texts and designs on the plastered walls in red ink.
The master draughtsman would then correct these in black ink to ensure that the design and wording was perfect. This was contrary to the general practice elsewhere of using black ink for the first draft and red ink for the corrections. In the Ramesside period the wall would next be turned over to the sculptors, who would carefully carve out the texts and designs with a wooden-handled bronze chisel.
The type of relief used in the royal tombs 29 The tomb of Seti I. The outline sketches on the walls in this part of the tomb have been completed, but no carving of the reliefs had yet begun. Work was presumably stopped on the death of the King. The reliefs have been sketched and corrected, but only part of the lower scene has been carved. The carving of the reliefs in this part of the tomb has been completed, but the painting has not been finished.
The King is shown in the presence of the goddess Isis, on the left, and the god Anubis, on the right.
This effect is produced by cutting away the surface surrounding the figures. The other form of relief, known as sunk or incised relief, produces designs which are cut below the surface and was usually used on temple walls. The final phase in preparing the walls of the royal tomb would be to paint the reliefs and inscriptions. Early tombs of the Eighteenth Dynasty were all painted without any carved reliefs. The ceilings of the tombs were usually just painted to represent the sky with stars or astronomical scenes. The paints were all made from a mineral base. Carbon would be used to produce black, ochre or iron oxide for red, calcium carbonate or sulphate for white, yellow ochre for yellow, azurite for blue and malachite for green.
Various minerals could be combined to give various shades of colour. All the phases of construction - excavation, plastering, designing, carving and painting - would be going on at once in different rooms of the tomb. When the royal sepulchre was nearing completion, the great stone sarcophagus, which would have been prepared in a royal workshop and not by the workmen of Deir el-Medina, would be manoeuvred into position in the burial chamber.
Naturally, as the work progressed deeper and deeper, the natural sunlight which might illuminate the first rooms would fade, and it would be necessary to provide artificial lighting. The workmen were supplied with wicks made up of twisted pieces of linen which had been greased with oil or fat. Sesame oil is known to have been one of the lubricants which was used. Salt would have been employed to prevent the wicks from smoking and damaging the tomb.
It seems likely that these wicks or candles were stood in pottery bowls which might have contained more than one wick. Careful accounts were kept of the number of wicks issued from the royal storehouse and consumed in the course of the work each day. There are also references to the fact that some of these wicks were made in the village by the workmen, who were issued with old clothes and linen for this purpose and expected to return the equivalent of completed wicks to the authorities.
The preparation of the royal tomb could be interrupted at any time by the death of the reigning pharaoh. In such a case the detailed decoration would be suspended in favour of feverish attempts to make the tomb presentable for the royal burial. This would normally take place within three months of the death after the seventy-day period of mummification.
The royal regalia and funerary equipment, which would have been manufactured in the royal workshops in the course of the reign, would now be shipped to Thebes, if they had not already been stockpiled in the vicinity in readiness for their eventual use. Some of the items may not have been made especially for the burial: some pieces in the tomb of Tutankhamun were royal heirlooms or property from the previous reign which had been taken out of store for the occasion. The royal sarcophagus was removed to London by Belzoni at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
Building the Tombs the procedures which were involved in a royal funeral. Part of the proceedings included the Opening of the Mouth ritual, whereby the new king would symbolically revivify the mummy of his predecessor. Indeed, it was generally considered that the new king could not have legitimately ascended the throne without first performing the burial rites of his predecessor. In the course of about four hundred and twenty years, approximately sixty-two tombs were built in the Valley of the Kings, and there are indications that several more may have been begun.
Twenty-three grand royal tombs represent a sequence of twenty-five kings and queens-regnant of the Eighteenth to Twentieth Dynasties, as Sethnakhte usurped the tomb of Tewosret, and Ramesses vi that of Ramesses v. Tutankhamun and Smenkhkare, were buried in simple tombs of only a few rooms. There are also the beginnings of the first tombs of Ramesses n and Ramesses in, which were abandoned as unsafe.
Three uninscribed tombs were probably meant for royal owners. The remaining tombs in the Valley consist of small and often undecorated corridor or pit-tombs which were built for junior members of the royal family or courtiers whom the king wished to honour, such as Yuya, father-in-law of Amenhotpe in. One tomb of the Nineteenth Dynasty belonged to the all-powerful chancellor Bay, whose influence was paramount in the reign of the young Siptah. Most of these small tombs remain anonymous.
Five tombs in the Valley have been found more or less intact. Three are readily identifiable - those of Yuya, Tutankhamun and Mahirper, fan-bearer of the time of Hatshepsut - although the last two had been partially robbed at one time. Two other uninscribed tombs Tombs 55 and 56 had been badly damaged by water but were also untouched. Tomb 55 dated from the period immediately after Akhenaten and contained a body now identified as Smenkhkare.
Tomb 56 was filled with jewellery from the time of Seti n and may have been intended for one of his children. Several of the robbed tombs still had a small number of minor objects, such as, among others, funerary statues from the tomb of Ramesses I, vases from that of Merenptah, shabtis from that of Seti I, and funerary deposits from that of Ramesses XI. The tomb of Amenhotpe II was later to be used to store several of the royal mummies which had been rescued from their pillaged tombs in the Twenty-first Dynasty.
The Valley and its tombs have never been completely and accurately published. It is hoped that this work may be accomplished in the next few years. The workmen did not of course work every day. The working week seemingly consisted of eight days, with rest days on the ninth and tenth. As the Egyptian month was composed of thirty days, this meant in theory six days of rest per month, although the workers seem to have taken long or three-day weekends quite frequently. Other free periods were sometimes available during the working week as well, so the workmen were obviously not pushed too strenuously.
Additionally there were holidays 52 Building the Tombs on the religious festivals of the major gods of the community and Thebes, some of which could last several days. The working day apparently consisted of two shifts of about four hours each, with a break about noon for lunch. Sometimes it appears that the gang took the afternoon off as well. While at work in the valley, the crew would camp overnight in the vicinity. In fact, the remains of buildings, which have been excavated on the pass leading from Deir el-Medina Valley to the East Valley of the Kings, have been identified as the workmen's huts.
The comfortable seat of the scribe Kenherkhepeshef was found here, with his name inscribed on it to prevent any other worker from using it. The scribe of the Tomb was charged with keeping the attendance register of the workmen. The surviving examples show clearly that then as now workers could be absent from their jobs for a variety of reasons.
A workman might be absent on the orders of his superior to do personal work for him, such as making his tomb equipment or tending his cattle, although such actions might not be considered strictly proper. Personal illness also accounted for a fair number of absences. The illness of one workman often entailed the absence of one or more of the others to nurse him.
In year 40 of Ramessess n c. He was 33 The workmen's huts near the Valley of the Kings. These served as temporary resting places during the week so that the workmen did not have to return to the village each night.
The Tomb-Builders of the Pharaohs
The name of each workman, and days on which he was absent, are carefully noted. Reasons for absence are indicated in red above each recorded non-attendance. He does not appear to have been able to do much ordinary work. The only causes of illness specifically mentioned are scorpion bites and eye diseases. Family events might also prevent a workman from turning up in the valley, as some obscure excuses might refer to purification rituals after childbirth. A death in the family was an even more compelling reason. In year 40 of Ramesses u Neferabu was away embalming his brother, while Hehnekhu was busy bandaging the body of his mother.
In another case, a workman was absent mummifying one of his colleagues. Personal religious reasons were often a cause for absences, as workmen would be away making offerings to the gods, possibly on recovery from illness. A workman would also be away on his 'festival'; this may not mean his birthday, since a festival celebrated by Khons lasted two days.
Workmen could be away brewing beer, possibly for religious festivals. There were also less pleasant family occurrences, such as a row with the wife, which resulted in time off. Finally, there were reasons which do not seem as if they should have been regarded with much justification by the higher authorities: Pendua was away for a day drinking with Khons, while Wadjmose took a day off to build his house. During a long reign such as that of Ramesses n or Ramesses in the workmen would have managed to finish the royal tomb long before the death of the monarch.
If they had not already been ordered to do so, their talents could now be used for the benefit of other members of the royal family. Very little information has survived on the construction of these tombs. It is certain that the craftsmen were employed to build the highly decorated tombs of the royal wives and princes in the Valley of the Queens, such as the famous tomb of Queen Nefertari, wife of Ramesses n. These 54 35 The tomb of Queen Nefertari. This splendidly painted tomb of the favourite wife of Ramesses II, situated in the Valley of the Queens, was doubtlessly constructed by the royal workmen of Deir el-Medina.
It may be that the workmen were occasionally allowed to work on the tomb of a noble, but it appears that usually the nobles, like Senenmut in the Eighteenth Dynasty, had to find their own builders. That would not necessarily be difficult as the community produced an excess of craftsmen who would no doubt find work from private patrons. The workmen themselves also enjoyed a regular and profitable supplement to their wages by making funerary equipment for private individuals - coffins, stelae, amulets, and other paraphernalia.
Apart from their work on the tomb of their royal master and the production of funerary equipment for private customers, the workmen were also busily engaged, when time allowed, in the construction of their own tombs. These were built into the cliff face just to the west of the village or on the lower slopes of these cliffs. Each had its individual variations, but basically all seem to have been built to a standard design. This drawing shows the open courtyard and the vaulted chapel surmounted by a brick pyramid with a pyramidion.
A shaft in the courtyard leads to an underground passage and the vaulted burial chamber. The upper register depicts the funerals of Neferabu, his wife, and his parents. The eldest son Neferrenpet performs the Opening of the Mouth ceremony, while Neferabu's brother-inlaw reads prayers from a papyrus roll. Various female relations mourn at the feet of the coffins. Below, Anubis, god of the necropolis, mummifies the deceased, watched by his sons and daughters. It is unlikely that all four funerals took place at one time, unless the three other coffins were reburied at the funeral of the fourth.
A small chapel was then cut out of the rock, or built of mud-brick if it was located on the lower levels. This chapel might consist of only a single room for an ordinary workman, but in the case of a foreman there might be a hall leading to a chapel and a shrine behind it. The ceiling of the chapel might be flat, but it could also be vaulted. A small pyramid, once the symbol of royalty, but now in common use for private burials, was erected above the roof of the chapel.