Tomb of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep
Among the group of tombs discovered by Ahmed Moussa in 1964, on the southern side of the Unas causeway, is one of the largest and most beautifully decorated tombs in the Saqqara necropolis. It is a double tomb belonging to two men who both held the titles of ‘Prophet of Re in the Sun-Temple of Niusserre, Overseer of Manicurists of the Great House’ and is unique in its depictions of the two men appearing together throughout the tomb in intimate embrace. Much has been made of these scenes and the relationship between the owners is still unclear – were they brothers, even twins, close friends, or were they gay? The tomb is popularly called the ‘Tomb of the Hairdressers’. It dates to mid-Dynasty V, probably the reigns of Niuserre or Menkauhor.
The earliest part of this tomb was cut into the rock, while three more chambers with courtyards were added later and constructed with blocks of stone. It is a very complex structure, partly built beneath the Unas causeway, and seems to have been altered and enlarged several times during its construction. The north-facing entrance leads to a forecourt or vestibule containing two pillars inscribed with the names and titles of the owners. The walls contain funerary scenes of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep and colourful depictions of fishing with nets and spears and cutting papyrus in the swamplands. The doorway to the first chamber is beautifully decorated with a representation of a ‘rolled up mat’ door-covering carved from stone. The two owners face each other across the doorway in a double-scene. On the lintel, Khnumhotep on the left and Niankhkhnum on the right are seated at tables, with offerings and butchers between them. On the sides of the doorway Khnumhotep is shown standing, with his son Ptahshepses on the left and Niankhkhnum with his son Hemre on the right.
The funeral procession is also depicted in the vestibule, along with agricultural, gardening and viticulture scenes, hunting in the desert and fishing and fowling in the marshes. There are also scenes of barbers and manicure and pedicure (on the left of the doorway). Another chamber is cut to the south of the vestibule but this is undecorated.
On the western side of the vestibule a doorway leads into a courtyard, which in turn leads to the earlier rock-cut part of the tomb. Here in the doorway of a second vestibule, the names and titles of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep are again shown with portrayals of the two men below. On the inner lintel the owners are shown with men bringing cattle for their inspection. The wall on the left-hand side of the doorway (east) shows Khnumhotep with his wife, Khenut, who was ‘Prophetess of Hathor, Mistress of the Sycamore’. On the right (west) Niankhkhnum is seen with his wife Khentkaus, of the same title. The walls on the left (eastern) side of this long chapel contain reliefs of agricultural scenes, including rendering accounts, filling granaries, winnowing and measuring corn and depictions of the flax-harvest. Crafts are also represented in the form of sculptors, metal-workers, carpenters and jewellers. At the southern end of this chamber the tomb owners are shown enjoying offerings of food in a banqueting scene, entertained by musicians, singers and dancers.
The western wall contains two doorways which lead into a smaller offering chamber. Between the doorways Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep are shown affectionately embracing each other with two registers of their children on either side. An unfinished false door is shown at the bottom of the wall. On either side of the doorways there are lists of oils and scenes of offering-bringers. Their families accompany the men into the offering chamber in scenes of fishing and fowling, tending cattle and a number of boatmen are shown enjoying jousting games.
Inside the final offering chamber on the reverse side of the entrance pillar the tomb-owners are again shown closely embracing with arms around each other. On the western wall there are two false door stelae. That of Niankhkhnum on the left is very damaged by a robbers tunnel dug in antiquity and it was through this tunnel that archaeologists first entered the tomb. Between this and the false door of Khnumhotep on the right the two are again shown in an embrace. Symmetrical scenes on the north and south walls of the chamber depict bearers bringing offerings to each of the owners, with offering-lists and butchers.
The tomb of these two ‘brothers’ is the most touching and beautiful tomb at Saqqara.
The tomb of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep is usually open to visitors on request. Photography is no longer allowed inside any of the tombs. There is an extra ticket charge of EGP 30 for the tombs in this block.