Tomb of Mereruka
The mastaba of Mereruka (also known as Meri) is the largest of the Old Kingdom tombs at Saqqara and reflects his very important position during the reign of Teti in Dynasty VI. He is named as ‘Chief Justice and Vizier, Inspector of Priests and Tenants of the Pyramid of Teti’, ‘Scribe of the Divine Books’. Mereruka’s importance was perhaps increased by his marriage to the King’s eldest daughter, Princess Seshseshet (also known as Watetkhethor or Watet-Hathor). The mastaba complex is located on the northern side of Teti’s pyramid, the first of a row of the largest and most important of the Old Kingdom tombs. The tomb, which was first excavated in 1892 by Jaques de Morgan, is famous for its fine reliefs of many aspects of daily life and customs of the Old Kingdom.
This is a very elaborate and complex mastaba of 32 chambers which is divided into three separate areas for the burials of Mereruka, his wife Seshseshet and their son Meriteti. The entrance to the complex lies on its southern side, an unusual position for tomb entrances at the time, but faces the entrance to Teti’s pyramid. On the entrance jambs there are two relief portrayals of Mereruka, giving his titles and with the small figure of his wife in front of him. The first room belonging to Mereruka is off to the right and leads to 21 chambers in this section of the tomb, but not all of these are decorated as some are storerooms. In this first chamber are the remains of scenes of the hippopotamus hunt and hunting and fowling in the marshes. On the lower part of the opposite wall are more fishing scenes, with a fight between a hippo and a crocodile at the bottom and gardening and overthrowing bulls.
The next room shows remains of the desert hunt with industrial scenes below. Many interesting crafts and industries are shown on the right-hand wall – there are carpenters, sculptors and vase-makers, metal-workers and jewellers. Some of the jewellers are dwarfs, who were traditionally goldsmiths and are shown using blowpipes at a furnace to raise the temperature of the molten metal. There are also full size adults weighing, assessing and recording the precious metals.
In the next room, Mereruka and his relatives preside over fishing and food preparation. Scribes are keeping accounts and recording reports from village headmen and one defaulter is being beaten at a whipping post, but unfortunately the reliefs in this room are quite damaged.
Turning left there is a narrow chamber which again shows scribes presenting cattle accounts and men bringing in animals, including gazelles. Mereruka is shown with his wife receiving the produce from their estates. On the end wall there are remains of four registers of poultry yards, showing the feeding of cranes. Here is also an aperture to a serdab chamber beyond. On the right-hand wall are offering scenes and remains of fishing and butchering.
A doorway at the end of this room leads into a series of chambers which are decorated with similar themes. To the left is Mereruka’s false door, with offering-bringers on the walls on either side. The other chambers in this section are undecorated store-rooms or relate primarily to offerings, but the scenes are often badly damaged.
Retracing steps back into the eastern side of Mereruka’s portion of the tomb there is a chamber on the left which opens into the burial shaft, where remains of his limestone sarcophagus was found. The mummy had been anciently destroyed by tomb-robbers, presumably looking for any valuable jewellery present on the body.
We next enter the main hall which contains six square columns. To the left are reliefs of Mereruka’s funerary rites – his coffin is carried then transported by boat with its accompanying mourners, priests, clappers and dancers, to the tomb. The northern wall depicts Mereruka carried in a sedan chair, followed by his attendants, his family, dwarfs and pet dogs and a monkey. Further to the right he is shown with his wife and mother before scenes of boat-building and cattle-rearing, including force-feeding hyenas. In this interesting picture two men appear to be forcing a hyena to swallow pieces of meat – a practice which prevented these hunting animals from eating the wild game they caught. A deep niche contains an imposing life-size statue of the deceased before an offering table. A doorway at the far right of this wall leads into Meriteti’s section of the tomb. Above and to either side of the doorway, Mereruka and his wife and mother watch children playing games. Boys catch birds, take part in the fig-harvest and play various athletic games, while the girls swing each other about in the ‘mirror-dance’.
Mereruka and his wife can also be seen on the east wall engaged in various activities, although the upper registers are lost. They are first shown seated with attendants behind, playing a game of senet, a board-game similar to draughts or chess. Further along they are shown again sitting under sunshades and observing agricultural scenes of ploughing, threshing, transporting produce on donkeys, pulling flax and stacking sheaves. Five of the pillars in this hall depict Mereruka with his titles, while his son Meriteti is shown on the south face of a central pillar.
Meriteti’s part of the tomb is less interesting and is primarily decorated with standard offering scenes. In the largest chamber is the red-painted false door stela of Meriteti, with its triple jamb and reliefs showing the deceased before an offering table.
On the southern side of the complex is the entrance into Seshseshet’s part of the tomb. This is also decorated with standard offering scenes, as well as many depictions of the princess with her small children. Seshseshet also has a false door, this time painted to represent hangings of cloth or matting and the end wall of this chamber depicts an interesting scene of the princess and her son on a lion palanquin. She is carried by female attendants and accompanied by other men and women, pet dogs and a monkey.
Visitors should allow plenty of time to see Mereruka’s large tomb properly. It is normally open to visitors. Photography is no longer allowed inside any of the tombs.