Tomb TT280 at Qurneh

Description:

In the 1919-20 season a team from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, led by Herbert Winlock, was excavating in the area of Thebes.

At the end of an unproductive season they still had some time left and the looked at a large tomb at Qurnbeh, that had already been excavated. Winlock said, "[There] was judged enough time to dig out the courtyard and the bottom of the causeway and a sort of archaeological conscientiousness made us decide to re-clear the corridors and pits of the tomb so that we could draw the plan which our predecessors had neglected to make."

Winlock describes the tomb thus:

We know now that the tomb belonged to a very great dignitary of the XI dynasty (about 2000 BC ), a Chancellor and Steward of the Royal Palace named Mehenkwetre. He lived under King Mentuhotep III, in whose temple his name appears, and apparently survived into the succeeding reigns. At court his influence must have been considerable, for he chose the choicest spot in the necropolis of his day, directly overlooking the place where his sovereign's own mortuary temple was being built.

The site is weirdly impressive. The great buttressed cliffs of tawny limestone practically enclose a deep circus a quarter of a mile in diameter. In the bottom are the almost obliterated traces of the avenue leading up to the supposed site of the mortuary temple of the last kings of the XI dynasty. High above, around the rim of the circus where the cliffs start verti­cally upward are the black mouths of the tombs of the courtiers. Mehenkwetre had chosen the side of a mountain spur, grading the slope until he had an avenue 25 yards wide and 50 yards long which climbs the hill at an angle of 20° an angle steep enough to get the average person in quite a puffy state by the time he has toiled up to the top [...]. On either side of this avenue were solid brick walls, and at the top the ancient visitor would have been grateful for the shade of a long portico of eight-sided columns painted in imtation of granite. In the center of the portico there was the doorway of a lofty corridor, twenty yards long, leading back into the mountain to an offering chapel. Portico, corridors, and chamber, all were once upon a time lavishly decorated with sculptures on white lime­stone, the fineness of which was the undoing of the tomb, for it had served as a veritable quarry in later times until hardly a scrap of sculpture as large as the palm of one's hand was left. Nor had the hidden burial chamber fifteen yards under the chapel escaped pillage. The tomb builders had gone to enormous trouble to seal its door up with gigantic blocks of stone; but, as the walls were only a hand's breadth thick, the wily thieves had left the impregnable gateway alone and simply pushed a slab or two out of the side of the chamber and crawled in. For what little traces we found, their labors must have been amply repaid, for we discovered forgotten chips of the cypress coffin, gilded inside and out, the rest of which they had carted away.

Such was the original plan of the tomb, but there is a second great corridor beside the first, on the visitor's left as he climbs the hill. This also leads to a chapel connected with the first chapel by a cross passage and a door-beneath which there is another burial chamber on a scale comparable with the first. Here is a tomb within a tomb, yet apparently an after­thought in the plan, for it is off-center from the causeway and while it was to have been as elaborately finished as the original tomb, there are signs that it never was completed. Evidently it was to have been the last resting-place of a close relation of Mehenkwetre and those fam­iliar with Egyptian literature will recall a certain Zau who lived very little earlier than this period, incidentally - who chose to be buried beside his father in order that he might be with him every day throughout eternity. Now in the rubbish we found a fragment of a statuette and part of a statue base which had been made for a Prince and Chancellor Intef. His titles are those of Mehenkwetre; his statue base is the duplicate of the latter's, and Mehenkwetre in his funerary models is always accom­panied by an individual who may well be his son and heir. In default of a more definite solution we have adopted as a working hypothesis that this Intef was the son of Mehenkwetre and that he it was who con­structed the second tomb beside his father's.

(Note: We now write the owner's name as Meketre, and know that he was Cancellor to Mentuhotep I not Mentuhotep III.)

Winlock's team began clearing the rubbish from the tomb, in order to make a proper plan, on February 25 but on the evening of March 17 they discovered a side chamber on one of the passages (see illustration). Winlock wrote:

[On looking through the first opening ...] we realized exactly what we had. The chamber was not, as we had at first surmised, a little burial chamber made for some relative or servant of the great man. In fact, it was not a burial chamber at all but a little secret room in which part of the tomb equipment of Mehenkwetre himself was placed. A thousand years before his day it had been the custom for the tombs of the wealthy to contain such a chamber­called by the modern Arabs the "serdab" -in which the dead man's statue was walled up. Later it had been the custom to put beside the statue a few figures of servants at their daily tasks eternally preparing food and drink for the dead owner of the tomb. Gradually these servants had been multiplied and the statue of the man himself been made smaller until at last his figure had been reduced to the same scale as the servants.

References

Winlock-1920,pp. 13-32

Winlock-1955

Winlock-1975, pp. 56-71

Excavation Report

Winlock-1920

References:

Winlock H E, The Egyptian Expedition, 1918-1920, II, Excavations at Thebes, 1919-1920, Bulletin, Metropolitan Museum. December, 1920, Pt. II, pp. 12-32., 1920
Winlock H E, Models of Daily Life in Ancient Egypt from the tomb of Meketre at Thebes, Massachusetts., 1955

Burials:

  1. Meketre