Thursday, December 31, 2009

Egypt Day 3 Tombs of the Nobles

Up early to get bus into town, then local ferry to West Bank, where we hired bikes (£1 per day) and headed off to the tombs –ten in all, including Userhat, Khaemhet, Ramose, Userhet, Nakht,Bennia, and Menna.

Ramose

The premier tomb, without doubt, was Ramose, where a chamber with a dozen columns held unfinished work on the far right hand side of the tomb. This was because Akenaten had come to power and moved everyone to Armara, leaving the tomb, almost finished. There are literally hieroglyphics that are fully carved, then painted templates then nothing. This huge funerary effort had simply been abandoned, forever unfinished. It has proved useful as a guide techniques in painting and wall relief. You can see (Amenhotep IV - Akenaten and Nefrititi images chipped out by later pharaohs. The work on the wall to one’s immediate left is immaculate. The room is testament to a revolution.

In general these tombs were for high ranking civil servants, the people who ran the show. In this sense they were free from the imperatives that Royal tombs had, concerning ceremony and images of the afterlife. They had a more naturalistic approach with scenes from everyday life – farming, fishing, fowling with bent sticks, music, dancing, waiting on a haircut.

Menna, the scribe of the granary, has scenes from his work, ploughing, sowing, measuring fields of corn, cutting, threshing, storing, even girls fighting in the fields. It’s all about measurement and writing. Nakht was a vintner and his tomb is full of images of grapes and wine – picking, pressing, poring into amphora.

We had a picnic in the shade of a Tomb’s entrance alongside 20 or so Egyptian students who were keen to practice their English. They were absolutely delightful.

We hired a boat for the three mile journey south on the Nile to the Jolie Ville just before sunset then had a snooze before heading off to a lecture on Tomb 33 in Luxor

Evening lecture

All seven of us attended the evening lecture on Tomb TT33, which turned out to be in French. Some of us got the gist of it, others had to rely on the fact that one of our group is French, so he filled out the details in El Hussein’s restaurant, down past Karnac.

On the Englishman, Pococke in 1737, the French in 1798, then the German Deumichen in 1881. It would appear that the tomb was sealed as it had been full of bats and ammonia gas, then the front rooms used for storage. So when he took on the job, the first task was to catalogue the stored contents, including Carter’s boxes from the Tutankhamen tomb.

What makes this tomb so fascinating, is the fact that it’s bigger than most royal tombs, with 22 rooms, on three levels. It’s an enigma. His theory was that Padiamenope was doing something quite extraordinary in terms of architecture and writing. He saw this man as someone who deliberately designed a tomb to include a history of Egyptian Royal architecture, as well as a full library of texts, and a message to future visitors to see and respect the tomb. He amasses a wealth of evidence to support this theory, architectural as well as literary. He was, in effect, an ancient Egyptologist. On this reading, this could be the most interesting tomb in Egypt.

Later we sealed the deal to take us all on a huge trip to the Roman Quarry, Mons Claudianus, in the Eastern Desert. It involves a long road trip, then 4x4s into the desert. Our fixer, had never heard of the place and I had to show him on Google Earth (he had never seen Google Earth either!). We’re on our way on Monday.

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