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The following is based on a revised and augmented transcript of a lecture that the author presented on April 7, 1999 to the South Carolina Society of the Archaeological Institute of America and the School of the Arts of the College of Charleston in Charleston, South Carolina. N.B.: click on thumbnails in text to open full-size images; close each image before attempting to open the next.
N.B.: This page is still under construction
with the addition of new images.

Like Father Like Son:
New Discoveries in the Tombs of Ahmose
and Rây in Ancient Thebes, Egypt

Peter A. Piccione
Theban Tombs Publication Project

© 1999. All rights reserved.


I would like to thank the South Carolina Society of the Archaeological Institute of America and the School of the Arts of the College of 1998 PROJECT STAFF--click to open Charleston for inviting me to speak about the Theban Tombs Publication Project. Last Fall 1998, the project conducted its fifth field season since its inception in 1990. The staff of our expedition consisted of: Daniel Lanka, head photographer, Stephen Rickerby, conservator, Wallace Eldredge, photographer, Myrna Lane, project manager, Abd el-Rahman Ahmed Hussein el-Debacwy, representative of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, and myself as epigrapher and project director.

field director (right) and antiquities inspector (left)--click to open; close window when finished Until 1998, the project was co-sponsored by both the Serapis Research Institute, Chicago, and the American Research Center in Egypt, Inc. Serapis is a not-for-profit, tax-exempt educational organization devoted to research and publication on ancient Egypt. The American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) is the organization of American Egyptologists and those institutions specialized in the study of ancient and modern Egypt. Financial support of the project has always come through the fund-raising efforts of Serapis. Beginning with the fifth season in 1998, the project is co-sponsored by both the University of Charleston, S.C., and the Serapis Research Institute. To provide institutional support for the project, the University of Charleston, S.C., has recently joined the ARCE consortium.

The purpose of the Theban Tombs Publication Project is to record and study the architecture, inscriptions, and the contents of decorated, non-royal tombs in Western Thebes. We combine archaeology, conservation, art and social history, philology, and epigraphy in order to produce a multi-dimensional record of the tombs.

Location: Western Thebes

city of Luxor and avenue of sphinxes (click to open) About 300 miles south of Cairo--as the crow flies--is the modern city of Luxor. Luxor is important because it rests on the ruins of Thebes, one of the most powerful cities of the ancient Near East. Located in the heart of Upper Egypt, Thebes was a major religious and political center through much of ancient Egyptian history.

While Luxor lies on the east bank of the Nile River, across from it on the West Bank is the necropolis of Thebes--the collection of cemeteries and funerary temples that contain the graves of the elite of ancient Theban society, i.e.: royalty and nobility, and the civil servants and priests of that city. Three of the most notable cemeteries are:

From c. 1570-1070 BC, most of the god-kings of Egypt erected their mortuary temples in Western Thebes (such as the Temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahari). In these temples, they established funerary cults for their worship after death and to provide the food-offerings and rituals that maintained their spirits in the hereafter.

Decay of the Egyptian Monuments

Until recent times, the monuments of Western Thebes were in a fairly stable condition. However, most monuments, tombs, and temples are now decaying at an accelerated rate. Some of the reasons for this decay include:

Added to these ecological problems, the voracious demands of a thriving black market in Europe and Asia for Egyptian antiquities is directly causing the savage hacking and destruction of the standing monuments. Egyptologists and archaeologists have long understood that documentation and study of the monuments are integral to their preservation. Hence, the Theban Tombs Publication Project was founded to document and preserve.

Sheikh abd el-Gurna with tombs of Rây and Ahmose (click to open) We have been working in two tombs, specifically: the tomb of Rây (pronounced "rah'-ee"), officially designated as Theban Tomb no. 72, and the tomb of his father, Ahmose, Tomb no. 121. They are located near each other on the hill called Sheikh abd el-Gurna, where they are cut out of the slope of the native rock, and where they command stunning views of the Nile Valley below. Specifically, the tombs are situated on the northeast slope of Gebel Sheikh abd el-Gurna in the Upper Enclosure near the top of the hill. There they each adjoin the famous tomb of Senenmut (Tomb no. 71), Rây to the south and Ahmose to the north (just below the tomb of cAnen [Tomb no. 120]). Lying directly above the tomb of Rây, at the summit of the hill, is the modern cenotaph and prayer-shrine of Sheikh abd el-Gurna, the Muslim saint who gave his name to this district long ago.

Remarkably, the tombs of Rây and Ahmose have not been systematically studied and published previously. Indeed, until this project began, most Egyptologists were not even aware that Rây was Ahmose's son. Therefore, in addition to documenting and conserving the tombs, our intent is also to reconstruct the history of the family of the owners, and that family's place in Egyptian society.

Previous Work in Tombs 72 and 121

It was in 1907 that Arthur Weigall of the Egyptian Antiquities Service made the initial clearance of the tomb of Rây, no. 72 (along with other tombs in the vicinity), and he fitted its entrance for the first time with an iron gate and mud-brick door jambs. Thereafter in 1914, Herbert Winlock of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, apparently excavated something of the exterior of that tomb and perhaps cleaned some portion of the interior. He did so while excavating the nearby Coptic monasteries of St. Cyriacus and St. Epiphanius. However, Winlock's interest was limited only to determining if Rây's tomb had been reused as an outbuilding of either monastery. Thus, he kept no records of the clearance, other than three photographs and one object-card. Fortunately, he did prepare an architectural plan and section of the tomb (partially complete). Clearly, though, Winlock did not excavate the interior of Rây's tomb, since in 1998, we confirmed that it still contains archaeological stratigraphy dating to at least the Coptic era (5th or 6th century AD), i.e. an undisturbed mud-plaster Coptic floor laid on top of the original floor of the Long Corridor, which Winlock, otherwise, would have removed had he excavated inside.

In 1930-1931, the Metropolitan Museum of Art cleared the courtyard of the tomb of Ahmose, Tomb no. 121. Evidently, this work included something of the Transverse Hall, since the museum did recover some objects from the burials there. However, this partial clearance was only part of the larger excavations of the adjacent tomb of Senenmut. Thus, museum records are not clear about the character and extent of the work in tomb 121. There are no specific records detailing the effort, other than photographs and object-cards recording certain finds and texts. Evidently, the excavators did not keep a journal or a field diary, which was not unusual, nor unexpected, given the archaeological standards of that time.

The Socio-Historical Issues

Our work thus far has revealed the following insights. The two tombs date to the Egyptian Eighteenth Dynasty of the mid-second millennium BC. They were preceded in construction by the tomb of Senenmut which lies between them. While Senenmut served Queen Hatshepsut and probably Thutmose III very early in his sole reign, Ahmose served Thutmose III, apparently later in the reign, and Rây served that king at the end of his reign, and thereafter Amenhotep II. Ahmose began building his tomb late in the reign of Thutmose III (c. 1504-1450 BC), whereupon it was completed after his death by his son, Rây. Rây constructed his own tomb apparently during the co-regency of Thutmose III and Amenhotep II (c. 1450-1453), or else shortly thereafter.

Ahmose's Titles and Position

Titles inscribed inside the tomb of Ahmose are both honorific and practical, and they indicate that Ahmose was a member of the royal court (at least when it was resident at Thebes). His honorific and courtly titles and epithets include:

"Hereditary Prince and Count, Confidant of the King in the Council Chamber, who has acted effectively for his Lord, powerful and vigilant for the Lord of the Two Lands, for the Good God, Great Offspring (of the king) in the Palace, Greatest of His Companions, who is praised, who is free from exalting himself, who has acted with his two arms . . . Companion of the Heart (sn-ib) of Horus, the Lord of this Land, Master of the Secret of the Great Throne, whom the Lord of the Two Lands loves, Seal-bearer of the King of Lower Egypt (i.e., 'Chancellor') . . . who fills Him (i.e., the king) . . . Great One of His Town . . . who enters Karnak Temple <by the front?> (cq irty ipt-swt)"
In his tomb, Ahmose's practical administrative titles include: First Lector Priest of Amun, followed subsequently by Second Prophet of Amun-Ra in the great temple at Karnak (i.e., no. 2 high priest), and God's Father, Beloved of the God (a mid-level grade of priest). On his funerary cones, Ahmose also bears the title First Prophet in Henqet-ankh, i.e., high priest in the mortuary temple of King Thutmose III. Seemingly, he held this title toward the end of his life, or else, it was awarded to him posthumously. Ahmose's brother, Neferhebef, also held a priestship in the same mortuary temple, where he was wcab-priest of Amun at the time of Ahmose's death.

Funerary cones inscribed for a man named Ahmose--and found very near tomb 121--record the title, "Child of the Nursery of Queen Meritamun" (wife of Amenhotep I, c. 1551-1524). If this person is our Ahmose (which is unclear due to historical and chronological considerations), it would indicate that Ahmose's family was closely connected to the royal family, since only the highest or most closely connected officials could have their children reared in a royal nursery along with the royal offspring.

Rây's Titles and Position

In the next generation, Rây held the title of First Prophet in the same mortuary temple of Thutmose III during the reign of that king's son, Amenhotep II. However, texts in his own tomb reveal that Rây actually held the title of First Prophet in a total of five temples or cults in Western Thebes:

In addition to these, Rây also held the title, Overseer of the Mansion of Gold of the Estate of Amun (probably the gold workshops of the temple of Amun-Ra at Karnak). So, Rây held 7 major titles in 5 cults located in 4 of the most important temples in Western Thebes, and the gold center of the domain of Amun. In Rây's lifetime, there were only about 8 major temples in Western Thebes, and he held the high priestship in 4 of them at one time or another. Thus, he would have been a powerful individual and politically influential.

In another regard, it is not surprising that priests in the royal mortuary temples of Western Thebes would have administrative connections to the great city temple of Amun-Ra at Karnak. It is probable that all of the West Bank mortuary temples were part of the "domain of Amun", and hence, they would have functioned under the ultimate administrative authority of Karnak Temple.

The Family of Ahmose and Rây

In texts inside his tomb, Rây depicted and named contemporary high priests of other Theban temples, and most of these he identifies as his "brothers".

If we accept these texts literally, then the sons of Ahmose held a series of important priestly positions in Thebes. Given its position and responsibilities, such a family would have been closely associated with the king, who made all the senior priestly appointments in Egypt. The latter conclusion would be supported by recent findings in Ahmose's tomb. In 1998, project staff discovered a new hieroglyphic inscription in a previously inaccessible part of the tomb revealing a new official title of Ahmose and the names and titles of his father and mother:

"The Seal-bearer of the King of Lower Egypt (i.e., 'Chancellor'), Overseer of Upper and Lower Egypt, [Second] Prophet of Amun in Karnak, Ahmose ..., engendered by the Magistrate (zab) Ramose, justified, born of the Housewife, Bak[...]."

The first two titles in this inscription suggest that Ahmose could have commanded a high civil authority in addition to his priestly powers, and it indicates that his father was a high government administrator. Importantly, we now know the names of members of three generations of this significant Theban family, which will aid us greatly in a study of the family's history.

Significantly, Rây records no wife or children in the surviving texts of his tomb, and only a "brother", Senres, is depicted making funerary offerings to him (implying that Senres might have been an actual brother). Since the role of offerant was assumed normally by a son--rarely a daughter, the depiction suggests that Rây had no surviving son or daughter. Interestingly, in 1914 the Metropolitan Museum did excavate an Eighteenth Dynasty infant's burial from a shallow pit on the terrace of Rây's tomb (unmummified, age: 18-24 mos. old). Whether or not this was a child of Rây is impossible to tell now.

isometric sketch of the tomb of Rây, exterior (click to open) The architecture of Rây's tomb is unique among all Theban private tombs, in that its exterior emulates the design of an Egyptian royal temple in miniature. No other Theban tomb is built so. With its system of lower colonnades, upper and lower terraces, and interconnecting ramps, the tomb of Rây specifically imitates a terrace-temple, such as the temples of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III at Deir el-Bahari and the mortuary temple of Thutmose III nearby at Gurna. The architectural style of his tomb almost certainly relates to the fact that Rây served as the high priest of that mortuary temple of Thutmose III and in his temple at Deir el-Bahari.

It was not merely for the spectacular view that Rây and Ahmose chose or were accorded the locations of their tombs high on the hill of Gurna. Generally, during the reigns of Thutmose III and Amenhotep II, tombs at the top of the hill were built only by officials of high social status. Therefore, by locating his tomb near the summit with a direct view of the mortuary temple of Thutmose III (which was the source of his prestige and power), and by adapting a royal temple style to the architecture of his tomb in so unique a manner, Rây was indicating his status and position in the social and political hierarchy of Egypt at that time.

Later Reuse of the Tombs

In the Twenty-first Dynasty, ca. 1000 BC, the Egyptians usurped Rây's wooden coffin, and they reused it for the interment of King Ramesses VI during the mass reburial of Egyptian kings that occurred in the tomb of Amenhotep II in the Valley of the Kings. Today Rây's coffin is located in the Cairo Museum. The reuse of the coffin indicates that by ca. 1000 BC, his tomb was already derelict, having been ransacked and robbed, and the coffin, no doubt, emptied of its original contents.

Thereafter in early Christian times, the tomb was reused as a workshop in which kilns or furnaces operated for a long period of time. These generated intense smoke and heat--smoke that sooted parts of three walls and heat which altered the colors of the paint pigments throughout the tomb (as discovered by conservator Stephen Rickerby in 1998). That the persons using this workshop were Christian monks, specifically, is indicated by the presence of Coptic-era rebuilding in the tomb coincident with the sooting (i.e., new floors and walls) and Coptic graffiti scrawled on one wall as a prayer to "our Lord." The tomb of Rây is located only several hundred yards south and north, respectively, from two nearby monasteries that regularly employed abandoned Theban tombs as outbuildings.

Ahmose's tomb shows evidence of reuse for burials both shortly after his death and thereafter in the Late Period. The original burial shaft and burial chamber are located outside in the courtyard of the tomb, where the vertical shaft is 10.6 meters deep (i.e., 35.8 feet). Inside the tomb, against the southwest wall of the Transverse Hallway is a shallow shaft and burial chamber which seems an original part of the tomb. More likely, it was cut shortly after the tomb was completed (perhaps as a burial for Ahmose's family members). The Metropolitan Museum did recover some objects from pre-Amarna Eighteenth Dynasty burials in the tomb, although from which chambers is not clear. These objects include: coarse stelae, fragments of coffins and funerary mask, canopic jars, ushabties, pottery and stone vessels, pieces of tools and furniture, amulets, and the remains of sacrificed animals. Among these are recorded the names of Senseneb, Divine Votaress of Amun; Ma'at-kat, House Mistress; and Yuy, Captain of the Barque of Amun. However, if and how any were related to Ahmose is not certain to us yet.

During the Late Period and thereafter (after ca. 1000 BC), the Egyptians cut new chambers into the walls of the Transverse Hallway and Long Corridor to accommodate new sets of group burials. At the south end of the Transverse Hall, they also dug a vertical shaft down and located two burial chambers there. The Metropolitan Museum recovered a variety of small objects and fragments from these burials, including: coffin fragments, pottery, pieces of canopic jars, mud sealings, stoppers, beads, offering table, cloth, etc., some of which were inscribed with different personal names. The latest of these dated to the Roman era, indicating that the tomb was still in use as a catacomb at that late date.

Nearly all the objects that the Metropolitan Museum found and documented were broken up and in a ruined state, indicating that the burials in Ahmose's tomb had been thoroughly ransacked long ago. Even until today, fragments of funerary objects, pottery, and human mummy parts are piled and strewn about the Transverse Hallway, probably where the ancient thieves left them or where the Metropolitan staff discarded those pieces they did not take to New York. Added to these are fragments of painted and sculpted plaster from the walls and portions of the granite funerary stelae that had been ripped from the walls in antiquity and broken up, no doubt for their stone.

Physical Description of Tomb 72


photo: facade of the tomb of Rây; modern shrine above (click to open) The tomb of Rây is cut into the slope of the hill on three levels. On the ground is a colonnade of four square rock-cut pillars. Flanking this colonnade on the north and south sides are pylons, or trapezoidal masonry structures that function as a ceremonial entrance to the tomb. Actually, the northern pylon was originally an abutment of the retaining wall of Senenmut's tomb that was incorporated into the design of Rây's tomb! It is formed of carefully laid limestone flakes set in a thin mortar, consistent with the high quality of Senenmut's construction. By contrast, the pylon on the south, built specifically for Rây, is a crude hollow-wall, mud-brick structure filled with debris and stones. The colonnade is divided into two sections (north and south) by a central ramp that rises over it from the ground and leads to a terrace above.

Enclosure Walls and External Structure

At one time, the terrace was fully surrounded by a mud-brick enclosure-wall, only slight remains of which survive today. This wall came down the slope of the hill paralleling the north and south rock walls of the terrace. On the east, apparently it came across the front of the terrace, where a doorway permitted entry from the top of the ramp. How high theses walls would have been is still uncertain. On the west, the enclosure wall swept along the back of the terrace high up on the slope, where it acted as a retaining wall keeping debris from falling into the terrace below.

Situated beyond this retaining wall is the modern prayer-shrine of the sheikh. While examining the foundations of this shrine in 1998, we found possible traces of a sandstone structure in the ground around the shrine and reused sandstone blocks in the shrine's foundations. These suggest to us that the shrine is built on the ruins of an ancient sandstone structure, presumably a part of Rây's tomb, given its location above the terrace. Thus, the western enclosure wall might actually be the footing of a columned shrine or pyramid, which was typical for many tombs of this time.

animation: reconstruction of the tomb of Rây (click to open) (Click on photo to see animated reconstruction of the exterior of the Rây's tomb.)

Terraces and False Doors

Stretching across the back of the terrace are the remains of a low mud-brick platform, forming an upper terrace that was covered with thick white plaster. Another central ramp and stairway rises one meter from the terrace-floor to the main doorway of the tomb. Fitted into this entrance at one time were sandstone doorjambs and a door lintel carved with Rây's name and titles. While the left jamb is now in the Berlin Egyptian Museum, fragments of the right jamb and lintel are still inside the tomb.

photo: remains of northern false door (click to open) On the north and south sides of the platform at the rear of the upper terrace, two niches contain the remains of false doors that mimic the design and details of actual ancient doors. detail of djed pillars molded into transom (click to open) The Egyptians built false doorways in their tombs to permit the spirit of the deceased tomb-owner to enter the tomb from the next world in order to receive its life-sustaining food offerings. In the tomb of Rây, the architectural elements of these doors were molded and carved in mud plaster, much of which, amazingly, still survives after nearly 3,500 years. Impressive are the details in the curving transom (called the tympanum or lunette) above the northern door representing a series of djed-pillars as the vertical grating of a real door's transom. It is a common artistic motif found in other tombs, e.g., the nearly complete false door in the contemporary Theban tomb of Kenamun (click on photo, right, to see a comparison of Rây's false door with that of Kenamun).

Interior Chambers

While the outside of Rây's tomb displays a unique architectural style, the inside is more typical of private tombs of the fifteenth Century BC. In plan, the interior is "T"-form with a Transverse Hallway aligned north-south and a Long Corridor (Axial Corridor), roughly perpendicular to it, oriented east-west. The filled-in entrance to the burial shaft (leading down to the burial chamber) is located in the floor at the south end of the Transverse Hallway. The interior of Ahmose's tomb (no. 121) is also "T"-form in design, although it is substantially larger than Rây's tomb.

In the tomb of Rây, at the rear of the Long Corridor, the ceiling reveals that it had partially collapsed while still under construction. The ancient builders slathered the resulting vaulted space in the ceiling with copious amounts of mud plaster (muna), and they built out and faced the adjoining western rock face with a thick wall of mud brick that once rose up to the ceiling (now completely lost). Perhaps the Egyptians also meant this mud-brick structure to shore up the collapsed ceiling. Centered within the western wall and cut into the rock at floor level, they constructed a narrow niche, smoothly plastered, to house the statue of the deceased.

The curious thing about this statue niche is that its ceiling (only partially surviving) is vaulted outward. Such a vaulted treatment is unique in Theban tomb construction, and it almost looks Coptic! Although brick and rock-cut vaults occur earlier in Egyptian history, vaulted ceilings and niches become common only later in Egyptian history, and they are unexpected in this era. Plainly, though, this vaulting is original to the tomb, since its plaster forms a single matrix with the decorated Eighteenth Dynasty plaster on an adjoining wall. Conceivably, what appears as the damaged remains of the vault today might actually reflect a partially surviving canopy in the form of a seh-pavilion. Ceilings in the form of a seh-canopy do exist nearby in the tomb of Ahmose, and the adjacent tombs of Amenhotep (Tomb 73) and Senenmut (Tomb 71). Still, even a rock-carved statue niche in the form of a seh-pavilion is unique in Egyptian funerary architecture.

Perhaps the builders chose a seh-canopy (or vaulted ceiling) as a means of building around a giant boulder of hard flint which happens to be imbedded here in the western wall. It seems impossibly large to have removed safely, especially since the ceiling here would have already--or was about to have--collapsed. The boulder is located behind the thick plaster at the back of the niche, and a large protuberance jutting from the rock coincides with the point at which the niche's ceiling arcs outward to form the vault. Otherwise, a straight wall here would be marred by the boulder protruding through its flat surface.

Given the slope of the ceiling at the west end of the Long Corridor, we surmise that the builders might have been trying to angle the ceiling upward toward a high western wall. However, because the rock is fractured heavily here, the ceiling collapsed. Angled ceilings that slope upward from east to west in the Long (or Axial) Corridor are well known in Theban tombs during the reigns of Thutmose III and Amenhotep II. The most famous example occurs in the tomb of Rekhmire (Tomb 100), where the ceiling slopes upward from the very entrance of the corridor. In the tomb of Ahmose, the ceiling is level for more than half the length of the corridor before sloping upward. In both tombs, the ceiling slopes up to a statue niche located high in the western wall above the false door stela. Conceivably, Rây might have had a similar design in mind before the ceiling collapse dictated a change in plan.

The Main Ramp and Deterioration of Tomb 72

Of all the exterior features of the tomb of Rây, the main ramp has suffered the most in recent years. Actually, what appears as a ramp was originally the core of an ancient mud-brick stairway in which the bricks encased the core and formed the treads and risers of the stairs. Photos taken in 1919 reveal the condition of the stairs at that time: nearly intact with elevated rims on the sides and mud-brick newels below. A photo taken in 1940 reveals that over twenty years later, the stairs were still intact. However, by 1979, nearly all the bricks had been purposefully removed and destroyed, almost certainly by local villagers seeking the bricks as building material.

before and after photos of tomb 72 ramp (click to open) Until 1991 or 1992, all that remained of the brick stairs were twelve courses on the south side of the ramp and some brick rubble on the north. However, in 1991 or 1992, even these were finally destroyed, when the bricks were ripped out of the ramp and crushed into soil. Investigation by the project's local inspector revealed that nearby villagers did this, most probably, to mix and prepare mud plaster to refurbish the modern shrine of Sheikh abd el-Gurna, located on the slope directly above the tomb. Today, all that remains of the brick stairs are a few courses on the south side of the ramp and some brick rubble on the north. The demolition of structures and reuse of building materials is a very old custom in Egypt practiced regularly even by the ancient Egyptians themselves. Therefore, when the uneducated among villagers do this more recently, they are conforming to a tradition that is thousands of years old and very hard to break. Knowing this fact does not lessen the damage or our frustration.

Regrettably, the close proximity of the shrine to the tomb is accelerating the erosion of Rây's tomb and ramp. The prayer-shrine is popular among the local villagers. Wives and young brides, often with a male relative, come and pray to the sheikh with the specific hope of becoming pregnant with male children. To reach the shrine, they walk up Rây's ramp then ascend the slope atop the tomb's mud-brick retaining wall, as though that were a stair. So, the limestone of the ramp is eroding away, and the wall is being pulverized at an alarming rate. Additionally, trash and loose debris from above constantly fall into the tomb's terrace below. As noted above, based on our examination of the shrine's foundations in 1998, we suspect that the modern edifice is built on the ruins of an ancient sandstone structure probably associated with Rây's tomb (perhaps a pyramid or columned shrine).

Previously, in the tomb of Rây, our work has consisted almost completely of photography and epigraphy--not much archaeology (except for clearing the doorway of Ahmose's tomb). Archaeological clearance is waiting for us to raise sufficient funds! However, we determined last Fall--in consultation with the Egyptians authorities--that our very next effort in Rây's tomb must be to excavate around the base of the modern prayer-shrine to map and identify the ancient structure there and to rebuild the ancient retaining wall between the shrine and the tomb below. This effort would halt the hail of debris falling into the terrace (we cannot clear the courtyard until this is done, anyway). In doing so, we would necessarily--and happily!--close off the path to the modern shrine from the tomb and encourage the locals to approach it from another existing path to the south.

The Epigraphic and Archaeological Work

Previous to our project, the decoration and inscriptions in the tombs of Rây and Ahmose had not been copied in any systematic manner. In the nineteenth century, Prussian Egyptologist Richard Lepsius copied one scene in Rây's tomb which depicted young King Amenhotep II enthroned with his mother, Queen Merytre-(Hatshepsut). Later, Kurt Sethe, executed very inaccurate copies of some of the texts, while archaeologist Norman de G. Davies (ca. 1935) made rough hand-sketches of the walls for personal study. Davies' sketches and notes (now in the Griffith Institute, Oxford) are especially valuable, since they document details, texts, and objects long destroyed in the tomb. In the tomb of Ahmose, the Metropolitan Museum made some cursory hand-copies of certain texts during its 1930-1931 campaign.

Tomb 72, Long Corridor, Opening of the Mouth Ceremony (click to open) Up to now inside the tombs of Rây and Ahmose, the Theban Tombs Publication Project tomb of Ahmose, Long Corridor, photo setup (click to open) has conducted epigraphic and architectural surveys and a condition study of the walls and ceilings. Epigraphy is the science of copying ancient inscriptions and decorations for the purposes of study and preservation. These copies include both photographs and facsimile drawings, as well as translations and analyses of the hieroglyphic texts. Because of the delicate condition of much of the plaster work, especially in Rây's tomb, our primary epigraphical method will be based on tracing over enlargements of meticulously prepared photographs (the so-called "Chicago House method") and only secondarily, tracing on plastic film where the walls are strong enough. Through the introduction of new technologies, we hope to digitize the drawing process itself.

We take two kinds of photographs in this project:

Under the direction of Head Photographer, Daniel Lanka, the project thus far has made over 1500 photographic images in and outside of Tombs no. 72 and 121, Danny Lanka at work inside tomb 121 (click to open) including documentation and drawing photos. These include black-and-white prints and color transparencies in formats of 4x5 inch and 2.25 inch. Our policy is to photograph all undecorated surfaces in black-and-white film and gypsum plaster surfaces, whether painted or not, in both color and black-and-white films. Transparencies in 35 mm.--made by Wally Eldredge or the field director--record general views of the tombs and walls; they document changes in the on-going field work, and they are useful for publicly reporting on the project.

In addition to photography, we are also preparing the key-plans of all the wall-scenes and Peter Piccione examining texts in tomb 121 (click to open) inscriptions in the two tombs, and thus far, we have made scaled hand-copies of a number of texts for study and translation. Drawing key-plans and hand-copies is a preliminary step to making the facsimile copies. Essentially, key-plans are maps and plans that depict the specific locations of all scenes and texts on the walls, and they include detailed descriptions of the contents of the scenes. We use key-plans for a variety of reasons: to plan the photographic program across the walls, to catalog the types of scenes and their contexts for art-historical purposes, and to understand the architectonic relationship of the scenes to the architectural features of the tombs.

We use the hand-copies to study and translate the scenes and texts while the facsimiles are still being prepared and later to assist the epigrapher in collating those facsimiles.

Condition and Conservation of the Tombs

In the tombs of Rây and Ahmose, the decorations of the walls and ceilings are painted on plaster. Stephen Rickerby examining plaster in tomb 121 (click to open) In Rây's tomb, because the underlying rock was so friable and heavily pitted, thick mud plaster--heavy with chaff--was plied over the walls, after which they were coated with smooth white gypsum. As noted above, the practiced eye of our conservator, Stephen Rickerby, discovered that throughout Rây's tomb, the painted surface had been heated for an extended period of time and to a high degree (when the tomb was used later as a Coptic-era workshop). This heating caused a subtle color shift in the paint pigments, so that blues turned to a plumb color and yellows to red.

The tombs of Rây and Ahmose require considerable work to repair and conserve their structures, walls, and decorations. In the tomb of Rây, about 65% of the plaster wall surface is destroyed and the decoration lost. Of the remaining decorated surface, half of that is burned, covered with thick black soot, or is damaged by heavy peeling and cracking. The cause of this destruction appears to be the great amount of heat generated inside the tomb when it was reused as a workshop in Late Antiquity. As Stephen has determined, the heat of the kilns or furnaces would have cooked and desiccated the mud plaster, causing it to crumble to pieces. For this reason, much of the walls in the tomb of Rây are now bare of plaster.

Both tombs are encrusted with the caked remains of mud-dauber wasp nests. In certain areas of Rây's tomb, whole sections of the gypsum surface are detaching from the underlying mud plaster and are hanging loosely. In some cases, the blue paint is flecking off the gypsum surface. In other cases, the surface of the blackened wall is efflorescing a gypsum-like substance, which might be due to the fact that in the 1930's, Norman de G. Davies vigorously washed the walls with water and a stiff brush while trying to sketch the scenes under the soot.

Stephen Rickerby examining paint & plaster in tomb 121 (click to open) Ahmose's tomb is in a slightly more stable condition than that of Rây. Unlike Rây's tomb, where the poor stone necessitated a heavy layer of mud plaster under the gypsum, Ahmose's stone is relatively hard and strong. Thus, the gypsum plaster is applied directly to the stone walls to create a smooth painting surface. While most of the decoration here is painted, in the Transverse Hallway, some is both carved and painted in the plaster. However, despite the quality of the plasterwork, much of the decorated wall surface in Ahmose's tomb had been destroyed over time. Sometime after the tomb became derelict, several large granite funerary stela were broken up for their stone and carried away. The fragments that remain might be pieced together and reconstructed. Additionally, the tomb contains some rather large breaches in the walls and ceiling that expose it to the outside elements: rain, dust, wind, insects, bats and varmints, etc. Smaller fractures have allowed rain water to penetrate the structure in places and to run mud down some of the painted surfaces.

As part of the overall effort, the project is committed to the complete conservation of the two tombs: repairing their walls and ceilings, replacing old doorways, cleaning and grouting and reattaching the plaster, consolidating the decorated surfaces, rebuilding the brick stairways and exterior retaining and enclosure walls (where appropriate), mortaring and water-proofing, etc.

open entrance of tomb 121 (click to open) rebuilding the doorway of tomb 121 (click to open) In 1996 we cleared the doorway and threshold of Ahmose's tomb, for which we prepared an archaeological plan. While dismantling the blocking stones that partially obstructed the tomb's entrance, we discovered among them fragments of miscellaneous broken objects left over from the previous clearance of the tomb by the Metropolitan Museum in 1930-1931. These objects included: plaster fragments from the southern thickness sculpted in fine relief, pieces of funerary cones of Senenmut (Tomb 71), brightly painted plaster chunks from the kheker-frieze of the Transverse Hall, small pieces of mummy cloth, and painted sandstone fragments of the original door jamb of the tomb. We also found a page of the newspaper, The Financial Times, dated December 1930, attesting to the presence of the Metropolitan Museum in the tomb at that time.

While cleaning the floor of the doorway, we discovered--to our surprise--the original door socket of the tomb (which permitted the ancient wooden door to pivot open and closed). Adjacent to this socket, we also found a shallow trough carved into the floor. Although empty, this trough, was once the repository for a foundation deposit that contained religious amulets and model tools to protect the tomb and its occupants from spiritual harm. This roughly hewn trough is atypical of Theban tombs, in which the receptacle of the foundation deposit is often a cleanly-cut rectangular opening in the floor of the doorway.

After clearing the doorway of Ahmose's tomb, we shared work with the Gurna Inspectorate of Antiquities by helping to rebuild it with new door jambs, lintel and threshold, and we constructed an iron door for it. This is the first door that the tomb has had in more than 3,000 years, and building it represents our first step in the conservation and preservation of the tomb of Ahmose.

Précis of the 1998 Field Season

In Fall 1998, we spent eight weeks working in the tombs. Our goals were: to complete all pre-conservation epigraphic photography of the walls and ceilings in Tomb 72 and to start the same in Tomb 121; to continue copying inscriptions in both tombs; to complete the key-plan of the wall decoration in Tomb 121 and resume epigraphic photography there; and, especially, to perform the condition survey of the two structures.

Stephen Rickerby cleaning & examining wall, tomb 121 (click to open) We accomplished all that and more! Stephen, our conservator conducted the formal condition study, which was a necessary first step in the total conservation program. It entailed an analysis of the decorative program in the tombs, a close examination of the architecture and its relationship to the plan of decoration. It also included a study of the paintings and underlying rock, macrophotography of features, and in situ analyses of the soot, plaster, and paint pigments, part of which was accomplished through examination under ultra-violet light. Stephen also test cleaned certain discreet patches of wall to determine the efficacy of certain cleaners, as well as to estimate time factors for cleaning each tomb. The results of the 1998 condition survey will enable us to determine the proper conservation strategies and to establish the logistics and financial budget of the conservation effort.

Danny Lanka & director conferring inside tomb 121 (click to open) We completed the key-plan of the decoration in Tomb 121, while Danny and Wally finished most of the photography there. For the first time in the project, we penetrated into the secondary burial chambers of Tomb 121, which we found empty except for a family of irate bats who called the place home. The empty chambers were not unexpected, since the Metropolitan Museum of Art had removed objects in 1930-1931. However, we did not attempt to enter Ahmose's own burial chamber. Descending the 10.6-meter burial shaft will wait the formal clearance of the tomb in the near future.

We did make a significant historical discovery, when we found the important text in Tomb 121 (mentioned above) revealing additional titles of Ahmose and the names and titles of his mother and father. It was located in a statue niche high up in the wall that was previously inaccessible to scholars. Additionally, Stephen's examination by ultra-violet light of this inscription revealed that the colorfully painted hieroglyphs here were subsequently daubed with beeswax, now crystallized and turned brown. Egyptian artists only rarely used beeswax in this manner, and they did so to saturate the colors of their paintings to make them deeper and brighter. No other paintings in either tomb have been daubed with wax.

In 1998, we began to photograph and inventory the remains of objects found inside both tombs on the floors. These surface deposits include: stone architectural elements, pieces of funerary stelae, potsherds, wooden coffin fragments, mummy cloth, sculpted and/or painted plaster fragments, stamped clay cones, a fine funerary cone from the adjacent tomb of Senenmut, and some fired bricks from that tomb. Most interesting are the smashed remains of a statue of Rây seated in a chair. Sadly, only few fragments remain today. However, seventy-five years ago, it was still intact, when Egyptologist Norman De G. Davies visited the tomb and copied the hieroglyphic texts inscribed on it.

Acknowledgements and Conclusion

In closing, I would like to acknowledge the generosity and support of the following persons and institutions: The University of Charleston and College of Charleston History Department which have sponsored and supported this project since 1998; The Oriental Institute Epigraphic Survey at Chicago House, Luxor--under the direction of Dr. W. Raymond Johnson, and earlier Prof. Peter Dorman--which provided us over the years with significant logistical support in the form of equipment, transportation, storage facilities, and good cheer; the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE), directed by Mr. Mark Easton, which ably represents the project to the Egyptian authorities, and Mme. Amira Khattab of ARCE who efficiently processes our applications and paperwork; the Department of Egyptian Art of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Dr. Dorothea Arnold and her staff, who generously provided much information about the museum's early work in the two tombs; and Mr. Ahmed Mahmud Suleiman, our warm friend and host in Western Thebes. We also acknowledge here our benefactors and individual supporters who generously have donated funds and good will to the project, as well as John J. Roche, James P. Storer, Calumet Photographic, Inc., the DoAll Company, and Lab One, Inc. Financial support has also come from the Harer Family Trust (W. Benson Harer, Jr.), the John and Emma Quint Memorial Fund, and the Roscoe and Vila B. Webber 1974 Charitable Trust.

Finally, we proffer our thanks to the Supreme Council for Egyptian Antiquities for its continuing support and recognition of the project and to its representatives who have generously assisted us: Dr. Gaballa Ali Gaballa, President, Dr. Muhammed Sagheir, Director of Antiquities for the Nile Valley, Dr. Muhammed Nasr, Director-General of Antiquities for Upper Egypt, Dr. Sabry Abd el-Aziz Khater, Director-General of Antiquities in Western Thebes, Mr. Muhammed el-Beili, Director of Antiquities in Gurna, Chief Inspector Ibrahim Mahmud Suleiman, and Messrs. Abd el-Rahman A. el-Debacwy, Ahmed I. Ismain, and Fathi Y. Abd el-Qarim, Inspectors of Antiquities. The staff of the Gurna Inspectorate, led by Sabry Abd el-Aziz Khater, has regularly extended to us collegiality and every professional courtesy and consideration, while we were in the field. To all our friends, supporters, and colleagues we say thank you.

In 1980, U.N.E.S.C.O. declared Western Thebes an International Heritage of Man, and so to be preserved from the depredations of time and the infelicities of uncontrolled urban growth and development. Shortly thereafter, we established the Theban Tombs Publication Project to salvage, conserve, and document the ancient tombs of Thebes. We work to preserve these monuments--their contents, decorations, and their history. In doing so, we expand our knowledge and appreciation of that remarkable civilization that once was Ancient Egypt.

sunset over Western Thebes (click to open)

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