The tombs of King Tut’s high officials open for the first time to the public

Nevine El-Aref , Monday 23 May 2011

Six ancient Egyptian tombs of top New Kingdom governmental officials and nobles were officially open to the public today in an inauguration ceremony at the Saqqara Necropolis

a worshipping relief at Horemhab tomb

Hundred of journalists, photographers and TV anchors gathered today at the Saqqara Necropolis, 30km south of the Giza Plateau, to catch a glimpse of the tombs that the minister of state for antiquities is opening to the public for the first time. The newly inaugurated tombs belong to King Tut’s general, who later became King Horemheb; his treasurer, Maya; the steward of the temple of Aten, Meryneith; the royal butler to both King Tut and Akhenaten, Ptahemwia; the overseer of the treasury of Ramsess II, Tia and the harem overseer under King Tutankhamun, Pay and his son, Raia.

These tombs underwent restoration to counter decay, including reinforcing the walls, smoothing cracks over and reliefs were consolidated and covered with glass for protection. Wooden and iron gates were installed at every tomb to strengthen security in entryways and new stone slabs outside of the tombs mark the path clearly through the necropolis.

A site management plan is under development for the Saqqara site. “It is hoped that this will enhance the value of the site as a visitor destination through better signage and facilities, as well as promoting local community involvement and an improved security presence,” pointed out Zahi Hawass, minister of state for antiquities.

Most of the newly inaugurated tombs were first discovered in 1843 by Richard Lepsius, but were not fully excavated until an Anglo-Dutch mission began excavating there in 1975. Now a Dutch team from Leiden University, led by Geoffrey Martian, excavates at the site and are rediscovering and restoring these amazing tombs.

The minister of antiquities told Ahram Online that the team restoring the neighbouring step pyramid found a 26th dynasty wooden relief that indicated that it's first ever restoration work was carried out in 5000 BC.

Hawass explains that Maya and Horemheb were very important officials during one of Egypt’s most tumultuous times: the Amarna Period. Pharaoh Akhenaten closed Egypt’s most important temples in Luxor and moved the capital to a site in the middle of the desert called Akhetaten, or Tell El-Amarna. He even changed the principal state god from Amun to the sun-disk, called Aten. When Akhenaten died, Hawass recounts the story, his son, Tutankhamun, inherited the throne and decided to restore order to Egypt by moving the religious capitol back to Luxor, reinstating the god Amun and abandoning Tell El-Amarna. In order to make all of these changes, King Tut needed the assistance of his treasurer and his general.

Maya was King Tutankhamun’s treasurer and was essential in restoring Egypt to her pre-Amarna glory. He helped the king reopen the temples in Luxor as well as build new temples and shrines to Amun to show that King Tut was dedicated to restoring order to Egypt.   Maya’s colleague, General Horemheb, was responsible for restoring order abroad. Although his tomb was left unfinished visitors will be able to see the mud-brick pylon with spectacular relief fragments, as well as courtyard images of Maya and his wife, Merit, who was also buried in the tomb. 

Horemheb began building his tomb in Saqqara while he was a general under King Tutankhamun’s reign. During this time, Horemheb would have been one of the most important men in Egypt, as he was responsible for the foreign affairs of an empire trying to regain power after the Amarna Period. 

After King Tutankhamun and his immediate successor, Ay, died, Horemheb became king of Egypt and left his tomb at Saqqara in favour of a more prestigious spot in the Valley of the Kings on Luxor’s West Bank.  

All the hard work on this beautiful tomb in Saqqara was not wasted, asserts Hawass, adding that Haremheb’s wife, Mutnodjmet, was buried there when she died. The tomb is built and decorated in Amarna-style art and the interior design shows that it was meant to be a funerary temple.  

The details of this tomb, which is the largest in the New Kingdom Cemetery, are fascinating.  At the tomb, visitors can see that the Ureaus, or headdress of the king, was added to depictions of Horemheb after the original reliefs were made to show that he had become King. There are also depictions of Horemheb worshiping Maat, Re-hor-akhty and Thoth, as well as scenes celebrating his military victories. 

Along with these two famous tombs, four other tombs have been opened to the public, including Meryneith, the steward and scribe of the temple of Aten during the reign of Akhenaten, who after the king’s death became the High Priest of Aten and the temple of the god, Neith. His tomb is built of mud-brick encased in limestone blocks. In the very back of the temple there are three cult-offering chapels to Meryneith. The central one shows a scene of metal workers and the bases of two small columns. “A mud-brick pyramid may have originally stood here,” commented Hawass. 

Ptahemwia, the “royal butler of clean hands” to both Akhenaten and his son, Tutankhamun was responsible for bringing the king’s food and drink. His tomb bears the prestigious title “The king’s beloved.” The tomb itself is cut in mud-brick encased in limestone and contains three chapels. In one of these chapels, a collection of 56 coffins from the New Kingdom was discovered. Most of them contained the bodies of children who were affected by disease.

Tia, as the overseer of the treasury, was one of the top officials under Ramses II. He was married to one of Ramses II’s sisters, also named Tia. Tia’s tomb was used as a mortuary temple to the god Osiris and contains depictions of Tia and his wife making a pilgrimage to Abydos, the cult centre of Osiris. 

The Tombs of Pay and his son, Raia was the last tomb to be inaugurated. Pay was the harem overseer under King Tutankhamun, while his son, Raia, began his career as a military soldier but took over his father’s post after his death. 

Pay’s tomb consists of a chapel that opens to a pillared courtyard with three offering chapels. Raia added a courtyard, two stelae and renovated the tomb before he died. The two stelae were brought to Berlin when Richard Lepsius discovered them in 1928.

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