15 March 2009

Hatshepsut and the Tomb Beneath the Tomb

Back in 2002, a Spanish-Egyptian archaeological team working in Thebes reopened the tomb of Djehuty, overseer of the treasury -- and holder of a slew of other major titles -- during the extraordinary years when Queen Hatshepsut became pharaoh and ruled Egypt as its king.

Now they have discovered an Unknown Tomb beneath that tomb, and it is filled with surprises.

But, first, who is Djehuty ... and what do we know of him?

The Known Tomb

In the open courtyard before the tomb entrance -- in the public area where Djehuty's descendants were expected to make offerings to their ancestor -- paintings on the walls showed the deceased nobleman waiting patiently behind an offering table, while a parade of servants come to him bearing ointments and linen cloths. Most unusually for a public place, there were also two long cryptographic texts -- hieroglyphic texts that have a very strange appearance. The absence of familiar word groups and the presence of many signs not found in the canon show that these texts are cryptographic, or secret, writings. It looks as if Djehuty were showing off his knowledge and skill as a scribe.

Or challenging future visitors to crack the code.

Next, we see the figure of Djehuty himself on one of the door jambs of the entrance, as he comes out of the tomb and praises the rising sun.

His titles are carved on the walls and funerary cones (like the one on the left) are stamped by a post-mortum seal which quoted his most exalted ranks:

Overseer of [the] Treasury, and Overseer of All Works, Djehuty, justified

Inside the tomb, the archaeologists were amazed to discover piles of different kinds of objects within its corridors — apparently haphazard collections of goods from different dynasties -- as if Djehuty was trying to build for himself his own virtual treasury.

But there was nothing fortuitous about the paintings in his tomb. The walls are beautifully decorated, with scenes showing the annual pilgrimage to the holy city of Abydos, hunting in the desert and in the marshes, and funerary rituals.

Making Music

One of the most interesting pictures shows a harpist (left) and two women with rattles (sistrums) playing music and singing for Djehuty. The harpist shortens a string with one hand, and plucks with the other. The bent string is clearly shown.

The lyrics of their song are engraved above the figures! Some scholars believe that songs were performed in the tomb, while others think they were intended for life beyond the tomb. Very likely, the songs were also sung at a funerary banquet to buoy the spirits of the living. And the words would have gone something like this:

How firm you are in your seat of eternity,
Your monument of everlastingness!
It is filled with offerings of food,
It contains every good thing.

The harpist is depicted with a round fat belly and haunches -- the beginning of the realistic style typical of the period. I love the way his foot pokes out to show that he is sitting cross-legged.

Building for His Majesty Hatshepsut

Djehuty was eager to recount his life story to the gods. In a long autobiography (the 'Northampton Stela'), he tells how he supervised the building of the great mortuary temple at Deir el-Bahari on behalf of Hatshepsut:
I have been the director who had given instructions. I directed the workmen so that they had worked in accordance with the order at "Djeser djeseru, the House of Million of Years" [= Deir el-Bahari]. Its great doors had been made of copper; figures and ornaments were made of gold. The king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Maat-ka-Ra [Hatshepsut], has made this as a monument for his father, Amun, Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands. May he [Hatshepsut] live forever like Ra!
Among many other achievements, he mentions two obelisks that he had ordered carved and transported to the temple of Amun (Karnak). In his own words:
I have been the highest commander, who had given the orders. I have led the craftsmen during their work on both large obelisks, which were 108 ells (approx. 57 m; 160') in length and which were covered completely with gold. They have given light to all Egypt.
The Double Houses of Gold and Silver

In order to spend all that gold, he had to collect it first (they did not have deficit financing in pharaonic times). That, of course, was the main function of the treasury, which the Egyptians called 'the double houses of gold and silver'. Its fiscal reach extended way beyond precious metals, however, to include virtually everything that came into the government's possession. So Djehuty also raked in revenues as 'Overseer of the Wine Place', and 'Overseer of Hooves, Horns, Feathers, and Scales' (animal products), and of vegetal stuff as 'Overseer of All Growing Things' -- except grain: another department entirely.

Like any modern chancellor, he taxed the south and he taxed the north, as he tells us:
I counted up ivory, ebony, and the many fruits of this foreign land [Nubia] as the tax of each year. I put my seal on the best of the products belonging to the inhabitants of the northern regions -- Asiatic gold, silver, copper, as well as every sweet-smelling [flower]. I reckoned up what the mayors gave, and I received all their dues. His Majesty [Hatshepsut] repeated the favouring (of me) when he caused that I be sealer of the double treasury, which is filled with gold, silver, lapis lazuli, turquoise, and every noble gemstone.

Sweet-smelling flowers

In 2007, while cleaning the debris in the tomb's open courtyard, the Spanish archaeologists found a 70 cm-(28") deep pit containing 45 clay vases and 45 dried flower bouquets. The bouquets were made up mainly of persea branches (Mimusops schimperi), but there were also branches of olive tree (Olea europaea), and what looks like papyrus (Cyperus) and a species of willow (Salicaceae).

"These are probably the remains of Djehuty's funerary [bouquets] that were later thrown inside the tomb," Spanish mission director José Galán said. In a kind of meta-fiction, a scene carved on the walls in his burial chamber shows participants at the funeral bringing in bouquets and vases of flowers -- only to discard them in reality, perhaps just before the tomb doors slammed shut.

Incense and Monkeys

As 'Controller of all the revenues coming from all foreign lands' Djehuty was also responsible for registering the many marvels brought from Punt (modern Somalia) to Thebes in Hatshepsut's Year 9 -- and detailing the exotic Puntian gifts that Pharaoh Hatshepsut donated, in turn, to the Temple of Amun -- as shown on his tomb walls (above, right).

"He was such an important official," Galán said, "that he is even represented carrying out such activities on one of the walls of the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahari." There, he is seen recording the products carried to Thebes by Egyptian ships, including thirty-one living incense trees, cattle, resin of myrrh, skins of cheetahs, chests of gold, panthers, baboons, vervet monkeys and a giraffe, all brought safely back from the land of Punt.

Hatshepsut says: He who shall do her homage shall live, he who shall speak evil in blasphemy of her Majesty shall die.

Judging from the size and expensive decorations of Djehuty's tomb -- and from the diversity of his secular and priestly titles (all of which brought benefices and emoluments) -- Hatshepsut was very generous to those who supported her. And, as 'Chief Steward of the Palace' (another of his titles), there is no doubt where his loyalty lay:
He [Hatshepsut] put me in charge of the business of the Palace, knowing that I was scrupulous in all that had to be done. My mouth kept silent (to others) on the affairs of his Palace.
But, in the end, he and his family paid dearly for their loyalty.

His name and face -- and the faces of all his relatives depicted in the grave -- were purposely erased everywhere in his tomb. Since the names of both Hatshepsut and her stepson, Thutmosis III, are written on the walls of his tomb, Djehuty must have outlived Hatshepsut and survived into the reign of Thutmosis III. Nonetheless, he undoubtedly fell victim to the purge of Hatshepsut's name and deeds when Thutmosis III ordered all signs of her (and of her favourites) to be obliterated.* And so, he was erased for all eternity, and Hatshepsut's cartouches, too, are hacked out and her memory wilfully destroyed.

Also missing, but surely not because of a damnatio memoriae, is any mention or picture of Djehuty's wife or children; this omission is a provocation and we'll return to it in a moment. But first, the new finds.

The Unknown Tomb

At the very end of the 2008 season, excavators came across a 3 metre- (9.8') deep shaft descending from the floor of Djehuty's burial chamber. Early this year, they slithered down it ... and discovered an unknown second burial chamber at the bottom of the shaft.

This lower chamber was not only unknown to Egyptologists, but it must have been equally unknown to the thugs that Thutmosis III sent to deface Djehuty's tomb. In the upper chamber, they burnt the dead man's coffin and mummy and smashed his canopic jars, as well as erasing his name. Here, on the contrary, his name -- and the names of his father (Ibuty) and mother (Dediu) -- remain intact.

May they live!

Just this week, the archaeologists discovered five golden earrings and two gold rings (above, left) in the new burial chamber. These had most probably belonged to Djehuty or one of his relatives. Top officials began to wear earrings in the mid-18th Dynasty, so it's possible that Djehuty helped to set the trend for wearing this kind of male bauble.

An Unknown Unknown

The lower chamber is beautifully decorated on two walls with texts from the Book of the Dead. An image of the goddess Nut (left) adorns the ceiling.

Nut gives birth to the Sun-god daily. He sails over her body (clad in a sky-blue robe) until he reaches her mouth at sunset. He then passed into her mouth and through her body and is reborn from her womb the next morning. The entrance of the sun into the body of Nut is equated with sexual union, as Nut is regarded as thus impregnated by the god. This sexual metaphor is essential to re-conception and re-birth in the afterlife.

Nut was thus a mother-like protector to those who journeyed through the land of the dead:
O my Mother Nut, stretch Yourself over me, that I may be placed among the imperishable stars which are in You, and that I may not die.
Djehuty is only the fifth high official known to have decorated his burial chamber with funerary texts during the very long combined reigns of Hatshepsut and Tuthmosis III (54 years!). This identifies him as one of the most creative scribes of Hatshepsut's time and also places him among Hatshepsut's very top and most trusted officials.

And therein lies the rub.

Where is Djehuty's wife?

It is more or less a rule in Egyptian funerary customs to include references in a tomb not only to the owner, but also to members of the family, some of whom would also be buried there. There are some exceptions, and they do vary with time, but, generally, a husband needs his wife in the tomb in order to regenerate himself in the afterlife: the husband metaphorically impregnates her with himself so that he can be reborn.

Given her importance to his rebirth, it is surprising that the wife should ever be omitted -- as in Djehouty's tomb (and in a few other cases).**

So, it is all the more striking that during Hatshepsut's reign, a large percentage of the men who worked under her did not have their wives' images in their tombs. Those tombs explicitly dated to her reign and emphasizing her favour, omit the name of the tomb owner's wife without exception.

Why is this? Nothing in Djehuty's tomb explains his missing wife. [If he had snuck her image into the hidden lower chamber -- away from Hatshepsut's prying eyes -- I could have imagined any number of torrid explanations; but he didn't].

No explanation seems to fit. Surely, he was not unmarried. Every adult official is married (and some of Hatshepsut's courtiers who excluded their wives from their tombs do mention them on other monuments). Was Hatshepsut jealous of Djehouty's wife and forbade him to represent her? It's hard to credit such a command, knowing it would scupper his chances to be revived in the afterlife. Perhaps the unusual nature of Hatshepsut's rule turned him off the female sex entirely -- but, if he kicked his wife out of the tomb in a fit of misogyny, he would have aborted his own hopes for eternal life, too.

Hatshepsut does appear to have formed a close, almost symbiotic relationship with her male nobles, so that she became as important to them as they were to her. Still, who would have dared to think that she would fulfill the sexual roles necessary for rebirth? However metaphorical, that would be blasphemy.

I have only one thought on the subject.

For an archaeologist, it is always a good idea to get down to the earliest possible level. So, who was the first New Kingdom official who is known not to have pictured or named his wife in his tomb? To my surprise, it turns out to be Hery, 'Overseer of the Granary of the King's Wife and King's Mother, Ahhotep' (TT 12).

This is why it is surprising: Queen Ahhotep was the wife of the founder of the 18th Dynasty (and possibly a direct ancestor of Hatshepsut, through her mother Ahmose). For many years, Ahhotep was de facto governor of Egypt, acting as regent for her young son Ahmose (the family was very keen on the moon-god, Iah, represented by the Ah element in their names!), who came to the throne while still a young boy. She was later honoured by her son for pacifying Upper Egypt and expelling rebels. She is called "One who cares for Egypt; she has looked after her soldiers." Ahhotep clearly commanded the respect of both troops and nobles and rallied them to preserve the fledgling dynastic line.

Hatshepsut may well have looked back via her own family -- through the genealogical links to her mother, Ahmose -- to the regency and practices of her great predecessor Ahhotep.

Why is this important? Because Hery's tomb (TT 12, on the right) is just next door to Djehuty's (TT 11, on the left). They touch, and, in fact, connect through the hall of a third tomb (TT 399, in red). In this area, tombs are hewn so close to each other that they ended up being interconnected, horizontally and in some cases even vertically. That the two neighbouring tombs are the earliest to have 'the Absent Wife' syndrome is either the most amazing coincidence, or it is highly significant -- even if we can no longer connect the dots.

But they are undoubtedly conceptually connected. Tough on the wives ... but it must have something to do with their husbands having served Queen-regents, or, better, queen-rulers.

Perhaps it is simply a matter of overwhelming respect.

Otherwise, I'm stumped. What about you, readers?

* The date of the persecution, which may have taken place as much as 20 years after Thutmosis III's accession, is considered in Hatshepsut Cheek by Jowl with Judy Chicago and How 'God's Wife Hatshepsut' became the 'The Good Goddess Maatkare'

** Less than 7% of early-mid 18th Dynasty male tombs fail to show or mention a wife. Almost all of these exceptional tombs were owned by men who [ had served royal women -- whether Hatshepsut, another queen, or a God's Wife of Amun, a role with independent economic and religious power at this time [A.M. Roth, 'The Absent Spouse: Patterns and Taboos in Egyptian Tomb Decoration', JARCE 36 (1999) 37-53; esp. 43-44]. My warm thanks to Chuck Jones of the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago, for providing me with a timely copy of this article.

My thanks, too, to Aayko Eyma at Egyptologists' Electronic Forum for the first reports on the new discoveries in Djehuty's tomb.

I've also made use of José Galán, 'The Tombs of Djehuty and Hery (TT 11-12) at Dra-Abu el_Naga', in ( J.-C. Goyon & Chr. Cardan, eds.), Proceedings of the 9th International Congress of Egyptologists, 777-787; Betsy Bryan, in The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Ch. 9, 212-242; D. O'Connor & E. Cline, Amenophis III, 187-188.

View the Spanish team's 2009 photographic excavation diary (from 12 January to 22 February -- undoubtedly to be updated continuously) on their website Proyecto Djehuty.


Top right: Workman examining the ceiling in the lower chamber; from the website of Zahi Hawass

Top left: Djehuty's funerary cone via Maat-ka-ra.de (object in Petrie Museum, London U37678)

Middle left: Harpist in Djehuty's upper tomb via Al-Ahram Weekly

Upper middle left: Djehuty supervising distribution of gifts'; from Proyecto Djehuty 2007

Lower middle left: Bouquets via Al-Ahram Weekly

Lower left: Gold jewellery and the goddess Nut from the website of Zahi Hawass.

Lowest left: Hatshepsut as pharaoh, colossal head from Deir el-Bahari excavated by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


  1. Anonymous15/3/09 21:30

    If the leaves are those from the funeral wreaths of Djehuty, then he may have been buried sometime in the Peret or winter season. Here is some info about the various trees of Egypt:
    The acacia tree begins to flower when the land has dried after the inundation. In Thebes blossoms are plentiful into the first week of December, after which they become increasingly rare. The willow is in leaf at the same time. The persea [mimisops schimperi]is now extinct in Egypt, but a single tree imported by Schweinfurth for the garden of the Cairo Museum was observed in the early part of the 20th Century. Its fruits begin to ripen about the first of February in Cairo, but in Thebes we may assume that they would have been a month earlier. But the persea does not signify here because it is an evergreen.

  2. That's brilliant, Marianne. Somehow it's rather chilling to come so close to the season of death.

  3. Anonymous16/3/09 07:03

    Hi Judith,

    I forgot to address your question about the lack of a mention of wives in the tombs or mortuary chapels of the primary servants of Hatshepsut. Perhaps it was simply not the custom at the time and had nothing to do with any animus of the "woman king" against these females. For instance, at the Theban necropolis, it had not been usual for officials of the realm to have tombs on the hill Sheikh Abd el-Gurneh until Senenmut constructed his on the summit. Senenmut, also, had no mention of a wife there. Following Senenmut's lead, other officials of Hatshepsut and those of subsequent reigns began to riddle the hill with their sepulchres. The last available spot seems to have been taken by Aanen, the brother of Queen Tiye--near Senenmut's own tomb. But, by then, it would seem, wives and other family members were mentioned in the tombs. I'm not sure just when this began but, certainly, by the time of Amenhotep II, wives and family members were noted. The tomb of Sennefer, mayor of Thebes, is one example of a fine tomb of his reign.

  4. I certainly don't think this reflects any animus - either on the part of the queen or of the courtier. But the practice is somehow correlated with serving queens (see A.M. Roth reference) and it stops in the sole reign of Thutmosis III. And, yes, Senenmut, of course, mentions neither wife nor children (so tomb location is not a factor) -- leading to much lurid speculation about a passionate affair with Hatshepsut. But, rather, it seems part of this pattern.

  5. Anonymous16/3/09 18:13

    Thanks for bringing up this "suppression of the wives" business. I admit I had not previously given it any thought but it's a very interesting notion. So maybe even Senenmut had a wife and the speculation of his having been *the* lover of Hatshepsut is for naught. Puts one in mind of the reign of Elizabeth I when some of the men left their wives in the country and paid rather toadying gallantries to the queen at court. And yet those earrings the Spanish Mission recently discovered seem to have been popular with the women of the time--as the foreign wives of Thutmose III had the exact same ones among their treasure in their tomb. Excellent blog, Judith. I visit it often, although this is the first time I've ever left any comments. Keep up the good work!

  6. Anonymous17/3/09 23:00

    Wow, I hve lots of things to read... Loved it! Tell me Ahhotep was not Ahmose´s mother? She was married to Tao II right? (my favorite family).
    Very intriguing the fact of "no wives".
    Forgive my errors, I´m brazilian...
    I´ll be there often and want to leave my greetings.
    Love from Regina
    I put it anonymous ´cos it was boring to do everything that it ask me to do!

  7. Hi Regina,

    Ahhotep was the mother of Pharaoh Ahmose (that's not a real problem, although it might be a little complicated by other queens named Ahhotep). The question is whether Queen Ahmose, Hatshepsut's mother, was a direct descendant of Ahhotep, or not. We just don't have the evidence to be sure. Here's the family genealogy as generally accepted. As you see, Hatshepsut's mother either appears from nowhere ... or she belongs in the Ah- family.

  8. Anonymous21/3/09 22:57

    Thanks Judith, I never tough like this before...
    May I ask you what do you think thar happens with the widow of King Tut? Ay forced her to marry him, and then?
    Love from
    Regina Bretz

  9. I don't know of any very recent work or new discoveries concerning Queen Ankhesenpaaten/Akhesenamun. Was her marriage to Ay forced? Surely, if she was the author of the famous Hittite letter. But the evidence for that marriage is also very scant (a single ring). On the web, see this information on the appeal to th Hittite king and the queen's own page at Ancient Egypt.

  10. Anonymous23/3/09 18:14

    Thanks again Judith. I loved to read about Akhesenamun.
    Those mummy scans are awesome! I´ll be there for a very very long time... maybe milleniuns...
    Take care
    Rê Bretz


  11. Anonymous23/3/09 23:58

    Hoi love,

    I always thought that perfumes were so common in Egypt that they invented a special way to dispense of them as quickly as possible: by putting scents into beeswax cones which they then put on their heads so they would start to melt in that nice dry Egyptian heat. The fashion must have arisen in the New Kingdom and might have died with it, I can't remember other murals depicting these wax cones except those from the NK. There is a very nice one in one of the oases, as far as I remember. Proto hair gels, another Egytian first, mr Hawass no doubt would proudly say if he had thought of saying it before I did.


    I can only add : the chalice with the pellet is with the vessel with the pestle, the chalice in the palace holds the brew that is true...... honk and I loved your blog again. pharphel

  12. Perhaps Djehuty was a woman? ;-)

  13. PS: That would explain the jewelry better too...

  14. K, a novel solution involving a little more than gender bending :-).

    Be careful of anachronism regarding jewellery: in many historical periods, men wore lots of jewels and ornaments -- sometimes as much (if not more) than women. But I think, in this case, Marianne Luban is right when she comments that the earrings were a type worn by women at this time.

  15. Arrived via History Carnival and am having a wonderful time browsing. My son will either be happy or horrified that I've found your blog, as I am noting several posts I think he might find of interest (in sixth grade, they are studying early civilizations)


  16. Anonymous11/3/18 10:04

    Some 60 years ago Labib Habachi published an article (JNES 16.2 (1957), pp. 88-104) that referenced an inscription from the tomb of Djehuty (Urkunden des Aegyptischen Altertums 4, 399: 2, 6) which tells us that Djehuty "saw the queen (sic) herself collecting booty" on the field after a battle. This article was pointed out to me by the late Alan R. Schulman when I was a grad student. I can't read the transcription in the Urkunden (I'm a medievalist, not an Egyptologist), and I haven't found a translation. Can you point me to an article that discusses or translates this inscription? I would also like to find a visual of this source, clearly identified since I can't tell one Djehuty inscription from another. Everything I've found is in better condition than this particular item appears to be based on the Urkunden transcription. Is this the "second biography?" Any references would be appreciated. I read German, French and Italian and can probably pick my way through Spanish. (Sorry about the Anonymous, but I didn't see where to leave an email address confidentially. Don't want to attract even more spam! Will check back.)

  17. Anonymous16/3/18 10:45

    From Marianne Luban: That is something indicated by a line from the stela of Djehuty, but I do not have access to the glyphs in Urkunden. The reference given by the person asking was not the right one in the Urkunden I looked at, so perhaps a revised version of that book? Anyway, Djehuty was not a soldier. I have no idea what he would have been doing in the Sudan in order to see anybody taking any booty. Regardless, everything was done in the name of Hatshepsut at that time. A woman could not lead men into battle in ancient Egypt--unless the Egyptians wanted the enemy to die laughing. I'll bet she was never there.


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