General information on Meryneith/Meryre’s tomb
The tomb of Meryneith, excavated from 2001 to 2003, lies east of the tomb of Horemheb. The owner started his career under king Akhenaten (1353-1335 BC) as Steward of the Temple of Aten and Scribe of the Temple of Aten in Akhet-aten (and) in Memphis. The latter title might imply that he worked for a while in Akhenaten’s new capital at Amarna. After the King’s death, he continued work at his Saqqara tomb under the new ruler Tutankhamun. He was now Greatest of Seers [i.e. high priest] of the Aten and High Priest of the Temple of Neith. The exact position of this tomb had hitherto been unknown, although its existence was known from some loose finds. Three blocks from the tomb were found by Auguste Mariette in 1850, five further blocks are in Berlin (nos. 2070 and 12694), in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (21.2.25), in the Oriental Institute Museum at Chicago (no. 10595) and in a private collection, and a ninth fragment was found at about 100 m from the site.
Superstructure of Meryneith/Meryre’s tomb
Excavation of the tomb’s superstructure could be completed during the season 2003. It has a total length 33 m and is 10.25 m wide. The tomb is preceded by a rectangular forecourt, made by connecting the tomb proper with its eastern neighbour (the tomb of Ptahemwia). This forecourt has round-topped stela niches along two walls, an entrance from the south, and a mud floor. The tomb proper is built in mudbrick with limestone pavements and wall revetment. The eastern entrance wall has a battered face and may have looked like a pylon. The south wing is provided with a round-topped stela belonging to a ‘first prophet of the moon’ Hatiay. Only the undecorated base survives of its pendant against the north wing. Both stelae stand on a 0.9 m wide strip of pavement in front of the tomb.
A rectangular vestibule provides access to the tomb proper. Its eastern entrance is flanked by two limestone panels showing the tomb owner in the act of leaving or entering the tomb. The vestibule is flanked by two narrow chapels with doorways on the west side. These still preserve part of the painted decoration on the rear (east) walls. These paintings on mud plaster depict the tomb-owner and his wife receiving food offerings. The central part of the tomb is formed by an open courtyard with a peristyle of twelve columns. Four of these have been preserved, plus an engaged half-column against the north wall. The courtyard has limestone paving and its walls have preserved a substantial part of their limestone wall revetment. On the east wall the relief decoration was never executed, although the north wing has now secondary decoration for Hatiay. The north wall shows priests enacting the ritual of opening the mouth for Meryneith and his wife Anuy, followed by a group of gods and goddesses, and finally scenes of workshops and a royal bark. The south wall bears representations of the funeral of the deceased and of a granary, stables and a
harbour. Finally, the west wall of the courtyard shows offerings for the tomb-owner and his wife.
Behind the courtyard lie three chapels for the offering cult. The central one has remains of limestone revetment (a scene of metalworkers), limestone paving slabs, and the bases of two small columns. It was originally surmounted by a mud-brick pyramid. The two flanking chapels again had barrel vaults and paintings on mud plaster (best preserved in the northwest chapel which shows a funerary meal of the deceased and his relatives). Just like the east chapels, these western rooms have simple mud floors.
Substructure of Meryneith/Meryre’s tomb
Subterranean chamber in the tomb of Meryneit
The 6 metres deep shaft and the upper level of the subterranean chambers had already been explored in a summary way in 2001. During the 2002 season the whole complex could be completely emptied, and in 2009 it was examined again. Meryneith seems to have reused an Old Kingdom shaft, which broke into an even earlier Archaic Period complex. This complex can be dated to the 2nd Dynasty on the basis of stone vessels and pottery found in the galleries. It seems to have consisted of four galleries with shallow lateral niches forming a square around the central burial chamber and a large rectangular hall. Access from the desert surface was originally by means of a sloping stairway, blocked by a portcullis at the lower end. Presumably, the tomb-owner was a member of the royal family or a high official.
During the New Kingdom, a single tomb-chamber was added at the end of a short corridor to the north of the shaft.
Only some sherds of pottery and three inlays for wooden coffins date to this period. All the other funerary objects were presumably removed during the Late Period (c. 5th century BC), when the subterranean complex was reused for the burial of numerous mummies. No (unambiguous) remains of Meryneith’s burial have been preserved. The complex was considerably extended towards the east, new shafts broke in through the ceilings, and an inner shaft with six additional niches was sunk in one of the floors. Later constructions caused several breakthroughs to adjacent tombs; one of these, dating to the New Kingdom, was emptied by the Expedition in 2002, another Late Period complex in 2009. Both these tombs contained a number of New Kingdom relief blocks or stela fragments that had fallen down the shafts or were reused as covering slabs for burial pits.
Most interesting finds from Meryneith/Meryre’s tomb
One of the exceptional finds from the tomb of Meryneith was this 80 cm high tomb statue of the tomb-owner and his wife Anuy. When found, it was still in its original location, fixed to the floor of the south-west chapel. The statue differs from other contemporary examples by a number of details. Note for instance how Anuy’s hair has been thrown over the shoulder in an asymmetrical way. Rare is also her very long garment which partly covers the feet. The back slab is inscribed in five columns of blue hieroglyphs for the husband and five for his wife. The text on the deceased’s kilt gives his name as ‘Meryre’ and his title as ‘scribe of the temple of Aten in Akhetaten (and) in Memphis’. This would date the statue after the founding of Akhenaten’s new capital in year 5, and might indicate that Meryneith performed part of his offices there.
No less than seventy-five limestone dummy vessels were found during the excavations of the underground chambers and corridors of the tomb of Meryneith. At first these finds did not appear to make sense. Dummy vessels – stone vases which have only been partially hollowed out, or not at all – are a characteristic of the Archaic (or early historic) Period. Magic would ensure that they could serve the deceased King or his officials equally well as the actual vessels found in contemporary tombs (and also present in Meryneith’s subterranean complex). The problem was that the Archaic Period antedates the construction of Meryneith’s tomb by more than 1,500 years! It was only later that we realized that part of the underground corridors once formed part of tomb of the 2nd Dynasty. Meryneith merely reused these funerary apartments, and has probably never known about their former owner.
Meryneith/Meryre’s family relations
Objects from Meryneith/Meryre’s tomb in museum collections
- Berlin, Ägyptisches Museum 2070: relief
- Berlin, Ägyptisches Museum 12694: relief
- Cairo, Egyptian Museum JE 99076: double statue (found by the expedition)
- Chicago, Oriental Institute Museum 10595: relief
- New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art 21.2.25: relief
- Private Collection: relief
In 2004, a shelter was built around the superstructure of the tomb of Meryneith. The tomb itself was left as much as possible in the condition in which it was found. The relatively small overall size of the original mudbrick structure allowed the construction of a new fired brick enclosure around it, spanned by a primary structure of steel box girders. The new enclosure wall was built over a limestone rubble and lime mortar foundation, and was subsequently rendered with a lime mortar. Movement joints were provided in the structure, and the roof ‘zone’ ventilated with narrow slots along the northern and southern perimeters. The roof was formed of composite ply boards over secondary joists, above which was laid a bituminous roll insulation and screed of white cement. All flashings and trims were of galvanized sheet metal. The choice of external finishes was principally made to blend in as much as possible with the colour-palette of the surrounding landscape. Directly above the peristyle courtyard of the tomb, a rectangular void was left open to the sky to give the interior similar lighting conditions to the original. A ‘dropped entablature’ around the void suggested the missing superstructure of this courtyard. This void, and four other openings in the enclosure wall, was enclosed with a steel grille and mesh to prevent the entrance of both birds and people. At the request of the SCA, the underside of the roof was also clad in a varnished plywood, thus hiding the girders that supported the roof.
The degraded limestone surround to the central tomb shaft within the peristyle courtyard was partly replaced, together with some of the most deteriorated limestone floor slabs. The position of the missing limestone papyriform columns was indicated by hanging plumb-bobs from the roof on steel wires over the centres of the missing columns’ bases. The most significant intervention was, however, the reinstatement of decorated relief fragments in the entrance passageway to the tomb and around the walls of the central courtyard and central chapel, wherever their location could be securely identified by the archaeologists. These limestone fragments were set into a new wall that followed the line of the original revetment. This wall was made of fired brick laid in lime mortar with a lime render finish, set back one inch from the face of the original wall. Each block was wrapped in a heavy gauge plastic sheet before being inserted into the matrix, which was cut away from the face after building works had been completed. This was to avoid as much as possible any transmission of water-borne salts into the reinstated fragments, many of which were in an unstable condition despite previous and repeated treatment by local conservators of the SCA with a paraloid solution.
The effect of the reinstatement of sections of the lining wall with inserted fragments was to create an impression of this surface of the tomb: a layer that had been largely lost in antiquity to those seeking conveniently cut stones for building. At the same time, it also had the practical benefit of shielding the soft base of the structural mudbrick walls of the tomb from further accidental damage by visitors, particularly at vulnerable corners. Also recreated in the same manner with plastered brick were the lost entrance door jambs, whose original emplacement could be traced in the keyed surface of the floor slabs beneath them.
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