General information on “Sethnakht’s tomb”

This tomb is situated to the south of the tombs of Meryneith and Ptahemwia. Its walls have the same orientation as those of its two neighbours, it is built with the same format of
mud-bricks, and its stratigraphy (with a floor lying 0.2 m lower than that of Ptahemwia) indicates that it must have been constructed before the Ramesside Period. Together, these characteristics suggest that the newly-found tomb against belonged to a contemporary of Akhenaten or Tutankhamun. Several architectural features of the tomb’s superstructure appear to confirm this suggestion.

However, as soon as the tomb emerged from the sand, it was soon realized that it was never finished. This means that there are no wall-reliefs or inscriptions to corroborate the date proposed here. Accordingly, there has been some discussion about this issue, and some people have asserted that it was rather built in the transitional period between the post-Amarna time and the early Ramessides. Excavation of the subterranean burial complex in 2013 did not shed additional light on this matter, but at least revealed the identity of one of the persons buried there: the scribe of the temple of Ptah, Sethnakht. Though he was probably not the main occupant or builder of the tomb, we shall henceforth refer to this monument as the “tomb of Sethnakht”.

IMAGE: nn_general.jpg

Superstructure of Sethnakht’s tomb

The tomb consists of a rectangular courtyard with three offering chapels to the west for the offering cult. The courtyard has a flooring of limestone pavement and a rectangular shaft in the middle. The central chapel contains a raised platform with cavetto cornice along its rim. The two side chapels have mud floors and show the remains of brick vaults. The limestone revetment in the central chapel has been completely robbed away, while the slabs that are still in situ along the walls of the courtyard, as well as the pilasters and door-jambs, are blank and for the most part never even smoothed to make way for the sculptors.

In front of the courtyard lies the extra thick and extra wide wall of the façade. Westward returns along the entrance gateway made this wall look even thicker. Probably, it was the intention to draw it up to a greater height than the other walls, so that it would have looked as a proper pylon. The gateway again has unfinished revetment of roughly dressed limestone blocks. It can clearly be seen how the masons first finished the central chapel and the west part of the courtyard, as being the most essential element for the funerary cult, and then moved to the eastern entrance and the lateral walls of the courtyard. This is exactly the work order which we have reconstructed for the tombs of Meryneith and Ptahemwia, and further confirms our impression that all three tombs were built more or less simultaneously.

IMAGE: nn_superstructure.jpg

Substructure of Sethnakht’s tomb

The shaft leading to the burial-chambers opens in the centre of the courtyard. It is 7.4 m deep and has three chambers (A-C) in the south and one in the north (D). Chambers A and D contained some sand from the shaft, but the others rooms were found almost empty, doubtless as a result of previous plundering. Tell-tale signs of such an intrusion by robbers were the presence of a dry-stone wall stacked around the shaft’s upper aperture (already dismantled in 2010) and of a break-through in the south wall of Chamber A. The latter leads to two further New Kingdom complexes located further south, but was closed off by the Expedition.

IMAGE: substructure.jpg

Chamber A is a square room with a raised mummy-niche along the south wall and a doorway to Chamber B in the west. Chamber B has a 1.9 m deep sarcophagus pit in the floor and a further mummy-niche (C) in the south. Chamber D is also just a small mummy-niche. The shallow stratum of debris covering the floors of these chambers contained quite a quantity of smashed limestone slabs, presumably once closing off the various doorways and the sarcophagus pit (where one such slab was still in position).

IMAGE: room_a.jpg

IMAGE: nn_sub.jpg

Most interesting finds from Sethnakht’s tomb

IMAGE: nn_stopper.jpg

Canopic stopper

The lower part of a faience canopic stopper was found in the underground sarcophagus pit. It was found to join to a facial fragment picked up in 2003 in front of the door to Meryneith’s forecourt. During the 2009 and 2010 seasons, that area produced several other canopic fragments of the same set. One of them is inscribed with the name […]tynakht, followed by a typical Ramesside determinative of a seated man. Probably this is the same name as that on nine faience shabti fragments discovered in the same area. These are inscribed for Sethnakhtu or Sutynakht, a scribe of the temple of Ptah. All this leads us to believe that this person was originally buried in the tomb in the 19th Dynasty, and therefore we propose to call it the tomb of Sethnakht from now onwards.

IMAGE: nn_base.jpg

Base of naophorous statue

This statue fragment was found in a burnt stratum over the chapel area. It shows the lower part of a man kneeling on a plinth and holding a chapel (naos) in front of him. The man is clothed in a pleated kilt, whereas the naos still shows the feet of a standing goddess. There is a hieroglyphic text running on the sides of the plinth and another was once inscribed on the back pillar. These texts refer to the chief charioteer Bakdjehuty and his wife Irynefer, persons who are not known from the area so far. The statue probably dates to the early Ramesside period.

IMAGE: nn_tunic.jpg

Coptic tunic fragment

During Coptic times, the area overlying the anonymous tomb was used as a burial ground. That is why we found a great number of Coptic burials on and in the remaining New Kingdom walls of the tomb of NN, often in niches cut into the mud-brick. Also Coptic decorated textiles were abundant, and some simple jewellery was found. The item illustrated here shows part of a tunic with an in-woven shoulder strap (clavus) depicting leaf patterns and an applied edge band around the neck opening. It seems women and children were buried here, which is not the kind of people one would  immediately expect in close vicinity of the monastery of Apa Jeremias.


  • M.J. Raven, H.M. Hays, B.G. Aston, R. Cappers, B. Deslandes and L. Horáčková, Preliminary report on the Leiden excavations at Saqqara, season 2010: an anonymous tomb, JEOL 43 (2011), 1-16.
  • M.J. Raven, B.G. Aston, L. Horáčková, D. Picchi, and A. Bleeker, Preliminary report on the Leiden excavations at Saqqara, season 2013: the tombs of Sethnakht and an anonymous official, JEOL 44 (2013), 3-21.