Saqqara New Kingdom Tombs

The area of desert which stretches southwards from the causeway of the Pyramid of Unas at North Saqqara had been neglected as an important source of archaeological interest since Karl Lepsius recorded a few standing monuments there in 1843. By the 20th century these had disappeared and there were no visible structures remaining, until British archaeologist Geoffrey Martin noticed some large rectangular depressions in the sand and the presence of a few worked pieces of stone scattered here and there.

New Kingdom tombs east of the Unas causeway
Early explorers had collected many New Kingdom antiquities from Saqqara, which eventually found their way into museums around the world, although their precise provenance was usually unknown. Thebes had been the royal necropolis for most of the New Kingdom Period, with members of the Theban elite being buried in tombs on the West Bank near their pharaohs. Memphis took second place as the country’s capital, but was still the centre of administration for the whole of Egypt and the officials and functionaries who lived around the palaces and religious institutions were for the most part buried in the Saqqara necropolis.

Dr Martin, who had been working at the Saqqara animal necropolis during the 1960s, decided to investigate the area south of the causeway. In 1975, armed with an old map drawn by Lepsius’s surveyor, he formed a joint expedition of the Egyptian Exploration Society and Leiden Museum to begin a search for the tomb of Maya, overseer of Tutankhamun’s treasury during Dynasty XVIII. What he in fact found was not Maya’s tomb. The team missed Maya’s monument by a matter of metres and in the event came down upon an even greater prize – the lost tomb of Tutankhamun’s regent, General Horemheb.
Subsequent seasons were spent investigating the areas adjacent to Horemheb’s monument, which is probably the most important of the New Kingdom tombs in the necropolis. More tombs of the period were found and in 1986 Dr Martin’s original aim was achieved with the discovery of the tomb of Maya through the tomb-shaft of an adjacent structure. The Saqqara New Kingdom tombs, unlike their Theban counterparts, generally consist of free-standing tomb-chapels, in effect miniature temples, above a complex of funerary chambers hewn out of the rock which are accessible through deep shafts. The chapel walls were decorated with limestone reliefs, colourfully painted on plaster. The tombs can be divided into three main types of construction – a simple single-roomed chapel; a cult-room flanked by chapels and an open courtyard; and a more complex ‘temple tomb’ reserved for the highest of the elite.

First court of Horemheb's tomb

The New Kingdom necropolis has provided a rich source of information about the citizens of Memphis and their families during this period and has been the cause of much excitement among archaeologists and students of Egyptology. Several other teams have since conducted excavations in the area. Between 1977 and 1988 a University of Cairo team directed first by Soad Maher, then by Sayed Tawfik uncovered rows of important tombs along the eastern edge of the necropolis, excavating around 35 tombs in the area of the Monastery of Apa Jeremias. Since the 1980s the Mission Archeologique Francais du Bubastieion under the direction of Alain Zivie have been working to clear the tomb of Aper-el, the Vizier of Lower Egypt under Amenhotep III and Akhenaten whose rich burial was discovered by Zivie in 1987. The Royal Museum of Ontario have also been working towards the documentation of all objects from Saqqara which are scattered around the world, providing a context for the numerous artefacts which have until now had no provenance. Archaeologists of the Leiden Expedition are also still continuing to clear the tombs of Memphis high officials.

The following is a brief description of New Kingdom tombs found since 1975, in chronological order of their discovery or clearance.

Tomb of General Horemheb
Horemheb built a tomb for himself at Saqqara while he was a general and regent of the young Tutankhamun. He was later to be buried in his royal tomb in the Valley of the Kings at Thebes (KV57) after succeeding Ay as the last pharaoh of Dynasty XVIII, leaving his grand Saqqara tomb for the burials of his anonymous first wife and his second wife Queen Mutnodjmet.

Relief and stele of General Horemheb

His tomb was excavated over four seasons between 1975 and 1978 by Geoffrey Martin’s expedition, revealing a vast complex built in three stages of construction, resembling a cult or mortuary temple. The tomb is approached by way of a once massive pylon and a paved columned courtyard, but many of the original reliefs from here were destroyed.

Reliefs in Horemheb's tomb

A statue room and second courtyard lead to three chapels at the rear of the structure. Remaining wall reliefs have provided archaeologists with a huge quantity of information about the historical situation at the end of Dynasty XVIII and particularly of Horemheb’s military career. Horemheb’s tomb has been superbly restored, with many replica reliefs cast from blocks in museums, but is not yet generally open to visitors. The first pylon and forecourt were explored by the Leiden Mission in the season 2004-2005.
Tomb of Paser
Paser’s monument lies immediately to the west of Horemheb’s tomb and was discovered and cleared in 1980, by Geoffrey Martin’s team. Paser, who was an Overseer of Builders and Royal Scribe during the reign of Rameses II, came from a well-known Memphite family. A large stela of Paser has been in the British Museum’s collection since 1835 and a replica now stands in the tomb. His tomb was of a fairly simple type, suggesting that its owner was of middle-rank rather than an important official and was unfinished at his death. It is known from inscriptions that Paser had a brother, Tjuneroy, whose tomb has not yet been found.

Tomb of Raia
Raia’s small burial monument was also discovered in 1980 and adjoins the southern wall of Paser’s court. Raia held the title of ‘Chief of Singers’ in the Memphite Temple of Ptah and was probably a contemporary of Paser. Although the tomb-chapel is tiny – consisting of only a single chamber with two pillars – its well-preserved decoration in almost complete form has proved extremely informative. An exquisite inlay of a human face was found with other funerary furnishings in the burial shaft of Raia’s tomb.

Tomb of Tia and Tia
The tomb of a Ramesside Princess named Tia was first discovered in 1982 by the EES-Leiden team. Tia was a sister of Rameses II and married to a high-status administrative official also named Tia. Their tomb is situated adjacent to Horemheb’s monument and consists of a paved courtyard leading through a massive pylon gateway to an open colonnaded court. The underground burial chambers are accessed by a deep shaft at the west wall of the court. A doorway in the west wall leads to an antechamber with remains of two columns and a cult-chapel, where fragments of a huge stela were found. The antechamber and cult-chapel were mostly destroyed in antiquity, but their remaining walls are decorated with scenes of the royal family. Another chamber, known as the Apis chapel, once containing a statue of the Apis bull, adjoins the south wall of the antechamber and this is better preserved with many reliefs, especially of animals carved in the Old Kingdom style. Another intriguing feature of the tomb was a small partly-preserved (mock) pyramid built behind the offering chamber, which perhaps echoes the ‘pyramid tombs’ at Thebes. The Pyramidion from the tomb of the Tias was brought to England in 1722, recorded in scientific journals of the time, but has since been lost.

Tomb of Iurudef
This tomb shaft was discovered in 1984 during excavations in the tomb of the Tias. Iurudef was first seen in the royal tomb, officiating at the ritual ‘Voyage to Abydos’ in funerary scenes and he appears to have been a trusted steward and scribe in the household of the princess and her husband. He must have held a privileged position to own a tomb shaft in such an important tomb and when this was investigated it revealed entrances to two chambers crammed full of coffins. The shaft was re-cleared during the next season, descending to further levels and producing a wealth of funerary equipment of Iurudef, including shabtis in the names of his wife and other family members. A stela of Iurudef now in the Oriental Museum at Durham University suggests that it must have been set up in a chapel of the royal tomb and so its owner would have derived the benefits from funerary offerings to the royal couple.

Tomb of Khay
Khay was a technician, a Memphite official during the reign of Rameses II whose title was ‘Goldwasher of the Lord of the Two Lands’. His small tomb-chapel behind the monument of Tia and Tia was uncovered by Dr Martin’s team in 1986. The southern room of his chapel depicts valuable scenes of the gold workshops of Memphis showing Khay supervising gold smelting and craftsmen at work while other walls in the tomb-chapel mostly illustrate funerary rites.

Tomb of Pabes
Pabes (or Pabasa) owned a tomb behind that of his father Khay, which was discovered around the same time. The badly preserved tomb contains three rooms, the central chamber being a cult-room with remains of a stela against the east wall. In the northern chamber is an interesting scene depicting the Memphite dockyard (whose location at this period is still unknown) where produce is being unloaded from ships. Pabes appears to have been a merchant.

Tomb of Ramose
Ramose held a military title at the end of Dynasty XVIII and was a contemporary of General Horemheb. His largely destroyed tomb lies behind that of Tia and Tia and to the north of the monuments of Khay and Pabes, but its plan shows that it originally consisted of an outer courtyard, an inner courtyard with the main burial shaft and an offering chamber flanked by side-chapels. It was from Ramose’s burial shaft that access was finally gained to the much-sought tomb of Maya in 1986. A stela of Ramose which has been in the Berlin Museum’s collection since the 1820s has now been identified as probably originating from this tomb.

Tomb of Maya and Meryt
Eleven years after the EES-Leiden Mission first begun their search for the tomb of Maya, it was discovered at last in 1986 through a robbers tunnel in the burial shaft in the tomb of Ramose. Upon reaching the subterranean parts of the adjacent tomb, Geoffrey Martin was confronted by ‘ . . . a room full of carved reliefs painted in a rich golden yellow’. The team was then able to locate and clear the courtyard and chapels of Lepsius’s long-lost tomb of Maya during 1987 and subsequent seasons, revealing remains of magnificent painted reliefs. Maya, the treasurer of Tutankhamun, died during the reign of Horemheb, and Meryt was his wife. Although many of the reliefs were plundered, there are beautiful depictions of Maya and his wife adoring Osiris on the limestone pylon, and in the burial chambers Maya is seen worshipping the gods whose figures are painted in golden yellow. A beautiful statue pair of Maya and Meryt whose description by Lepsius first inspired Dr Martin’s search for the tomb, was found face-down in the courtyard and is now in Leiden Museum. Blocks from the inner courtyard had been removed for later re-use, especially in the Monastery of Apa Jeremias, many eventually finding their way into museums around the world. It is hoped that they (or at least replicas) will one day be returned to their place of origin. The subterranean chambers of the tomb of Maya were also lavishly decorated, though in a very damaged condition. Work is in progress on the re-erection and restoration of reliefs of the tomb’s burial chambers below the second courtyard in a more stable strata. Maya’s pylon has recently been consolidated with modern mudbrick.

Tomb of Aper-el
The entrance to the tomb of Aper-el lies in the cliff below the Antiquities Service rest-house at Saqqara, in an area known as Abwab el-Qotat (Doors of the Cats) where hundreds of mummified cats had been interred in earlier tombs. Alain Zivie’s excavations with the French Archaeological Mission of the Bubasteion revealed the tomb of Aper-el (or Aperia), Vizier under Amenhotep III and Akhenaten, during their search for cat-burials in 1987. A huge burial complex on four levels was subsequently cleared and in the lower level, the burial apartments of Aper-el, his wife Tauret and their son, Huy was found to contain a large part of their funerary treasure, including the mummified bodies of the family still in their beautiful coffins – an astonishing find for Egyptian archaeology and art history. The find was of great importance, not only because of the treasures revealed, but because the paintings illustrate art in the time of Akhenaten, not from Amarna or Thebes, but from Memphis which had remained Egypt’s main administrative capital. A further exciting discovery which came to light in the 1994-5 season was a bas-relief portrait of the god Osiris, flanked by Isis and Nephthys in a cult-niche. The portrait of Osiris was carved over the defaced portrayals of Aper-el and his family in the niche and it is thought to be completely new at Saqqara. During the same season, the French Mission discovered an unusual well-preserved statue-pair of a granary supervisor, Merysekhmet and his wife in a nearby New Kingdom tomb, also said to be the first time such rock-carved statues have been found at Saqqara.

Tomb of Iniuia
In 1993, to the south of the tomb of Horemheb, the Leiden Expedition discovered the tomb of Iniuia, who held the titles of ‘Overseer of the Cattle of Amun’ and was a ‘Chief Steward’ during the reign of Tutankhamun. The tomb’s superstructure consists of a simple courtyard with a chapel at the western end which rose to form a small pyramid shape, the tip of which is now in the Louvre. Another vaulted chapel to the north-east contains well preserved paintings of Iniuia offering to Osiris and other deities. A burial shaft accessed from the courtyard contained multiple intrusive burials from the Late Period and leads to two chambers. Iniuia’s sarcophagus, presumably from here, was removed to the Louvre in the early 19th century.

Tomb of Pay
Pay’s tomb was found in the Saqqara New Kingdom necropolis by the Leiden Expedition in 1994. He was the father of Raia, an army officer, whose tomb had been discovered in 1980 and upon further excavation of the former’s monument it was discovered that Raia had adapted his father’s tomb for his own burial adding a second courtyard and new gateway to the original structure. Pay’s titles were ‘Overseer of Cattle in the Temple of Amun’ and ‘Overseer of the Harem of Memphis’ during the reign of Tutankhamun. Wall reliefs depict Pay and his wife Repyt with their family. Pay’s burial chamber was found to contain seven burials, perhaps including the tomb-owner’s own mummy.

Tomb of Maia
The French Mission have recently cleared more New Kingdom tombs at the site known as the Door of the Cats. The most significant of these, discovered by Alain Zivie in 1997, was the tomb of a lady called Maia (or Mayet) who held a high position in court, widely believed to be that of wet-nurse to the infant Tutankhaten (later, Tutankhamun). If this is the case then this lady may be the nurse portrayed carrying a baby in a mourning-scene in the royal tomb at Amarna. In a scene in her Saqqara tomb, Maia is depicted with an infant on her lap, while a pet dog sits beneath her chair. The lady’s relationship to Tutankhamun could be interpreted from the hieroglyphic text as either ‘Nurse of Tutankhaten’ or ‘Foster-mother of Tutankhaten’. Excavations are currently continuing in Maia’s tomb and it is hoped that it will eventually throw light on the early life of Tutakhamun and events at the end of the Amarna period.

Tomb of Meryre
In February 2001 a joint Dutch-Egyptian team announced the discovery of the tomb of Meryre, High Priest of Memphis during the reign of Amenhotep III and Akhenaten. It would appear that Meryre changed his name from Mery-Neit during Akhenaten’s reign, and held the titles ‘Overseer of the God Aten,’ and ‘Overseer of the Fields of Aten’, suggesting that there may have been an Aten Temple at Memphis. It is hoped that reliefs from the tomb will reveal information about the early Amarna Period in Lower Egypt, which is so far poorly documented, although Akhenaten’s name and image has been deleted from the tomb.

Tomb of Meryneith
To the east of the tomb of Horemheb, Meryneith’s Dynasty XVIII tomb was excavated from 2001 to 2003 by the Leiden Mission. Meryneith began his career under Akhenaten as ‘Steward of the Temple of Aten’ and ‘Scribe of the Temple of Aten in Akhetaten’ and continued under Tutankhamun. He is also named as High Priest in the Temple of the Aten and the Temple of Neith.

Tomb of Ptahemwia
The most recent discovery in this area by the National Museum of Antiquities and the University of Leiden was in 2007 when they found remains of the tomb of Akhenaten’s ‘Royal Butler’ Ptahemwia. The tomb was found in to the east of the tomb of Meryneith. This excavation will provide yet more rare and valuable information from the Amarna Period.

Tomb of Raya
A new tomb dating from the Amarna Period has recently been discovered by Alain Zivie in the area of cliff later reused as a cat cemetery. The tomb belongs to a scribe who worked in the Temples of Aton at Memphis and Aketaten. The scribe appears to have had two names, Raya and Hatyiay, probably an indication of a name-change during the Amarna Period. The tomb decoration, which is characteristically colourful and naturalistic is executed in Amarna style with the extreme form of art used during the latter part of that period. Many scenes show themes pre-dating the Amarna Period, including daily life and funerary scenes depicting representations of traditional deities, which could suggest that the older forms of worship had not entirely disappeared outside Akhetaten. The tomb is well preserved with very high quality reliefs reminiscent of some of the exceptional artwork seen at Amarna.

New Kingdom burials around the Pyramid of Teti
The Egyptian mission of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, during routine clearance work around the Pyramid of Teti at Saqqara, announced in 2002 the discovery of seven mudbrick tombs and a pyramidion, dating to the New Kingdom. Each of the tombs, which are said to belong to high-ranking priests and officials, consists of an entrance, an open courtyard containing a burial shaft and a vaulted chapel at the rear. Artefacts found so far include statues and stelae, amulets and scarabs and most significantly a limestone pyramidion from the tomb of Thener, a scribe in the Temple of Ptah. Other owners of the newly-discovered tombs are named as Djehotemheb, Neferrenpet, Hewi and Ptahmose. In one of the two unidentified tombs a faience cartouche has been dated to the reign of Seti I.

Tomb of Isnofret

Waseda University Institute of Egyptology have recently announced the discovery of a previously unknown New Kingdom tomb in northwest Saqqara beyond the Serapeum. The new tomb, close to that of Khaemwaset, a son of Rameses II, was found to contain a broken limestone sarcophagus painted a brilliant blue and inscibed with the name of a lady, Isnofret. Dr. Sakuji Yoshimura, head of the Japanese Mission, states that the lady is posssibly the daughter of Khaemwaset, who is known to have had a daughter of that name. Three human bodies were also found in the tomb. The Dynasty XIX tomb structure, built in the form of a pyramid with a pylon and pillared courtyard, is typical of New Kingdom style, apart from its unusual orientation north to south instead of east to west. Waseda have uncovered many tombs and burials since beginning their Mission in Egypt 40 years ago.

The New Kingdom necropolis at Saqqara is not yet open to visitors as excavations are still in progress. It may be possible to visit selected tombs with special permission.

For more information on the Saqqara New Kingdom excavations see Saqqara Online and

~ by Su on February 21, 2009.