Ae39 Tomb of Harwa

November 23, 2017 | Author: Ahmed Tolba | Category: Thebes, Ancient Egyptian Religion, Relief, Ancient Egypt, Archaeology
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The Tomb of Harwa (TT 37) – a high official of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty The little-known tomb of Harwa, currently being excavated by the Italian Archaeological Mission to Luxor, is, as Christopher Naunton explains, a remarkable and important monument in the Theban Necropolis. River Nile

The Metropolitan Museum House, now the home of the Polish Mission.

The Ramesseum

Tomb of Harwa Tomb of Montuemhat (TT34)

Tombs of Pabasa (TT279)and Padineith (TT197)

Above: view looking south-east across el-Asasif towards the Ramesseum. The coach park and road leading to the temple of Hatshepsut are in the foreground; the large mud-brick structures just beyond are part of the tomb complexes of Montuemhat (to the right) and Pabasa and Padineith (left). The tomb of Harwa lies just beyond the latter. Photo: Chris Naunton.

estern Thebes is famous for its royal necropoleis and memorial temples, and for the tombs of high-ranking officials. There are more than four hundred non-royal, numbered tombs scattered throughout the area, the best known being the so-called “tombs of the nobles” clustered around the Sheikh Abd el-Qurna hill, all of which date to the New Kingdom. Monuments of this period dominate the Theban landscape, and it is easy to forget that there are also many tombs dating to preceding and succeeding periods, some


of which are among the grandest achievements of ancient Egypt’s artists and architects. TT (Theban Tomb) 37, the tomb of Harwa, is one such little-known but nonetheless spectacular monument. It belongs to a group of tombs of the Late Period constructed in the area of the Theban necropolis known as el-Asasif. These tombs were built along the causeways leading from the temples of Mentuhotep II Nebhepetra of the Eleventh Dynasty, and of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III

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Below: the Courtyard of the Tomb of Harwa. The scaffold by which the team entered the tomb prior to the clearance of the vestibule is built onto the Eastern wall. Photo: Chris Naunton.


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of the Eighteenth Dynasty, at Deir elBahri. In terms of the modern landscape, the area of el-Asasif lies across the other side of the road from the coach park and bazaars leading to the temple of Hatshepsut. (Have you ever wondered what all that mudbrick is?) Harwa was one of the foremost officials of his time, and the first holder of the title “Chief Steward of the God’s Wife of Amun” (imy-r pr-wr n Hmt-nTr n Imn), an office that would be held successively by some of the wealthiest and most influential individuals in Thebes during the Twenty-fifth and Twentysixth Dynasties. The Chief Steward was the foremost secular official of the God’s Wife, who was herself the most important member of the clergy of Amun at this time. The role of the God’s Wife of Amun (Hmt-nTr n Imn) had been given renewed significance in the years immediately preceding the Twenty-fifth Dynasty, when Thebes was ruled by a line of local kings. The history and chronology of the period is extremely complicated, and scholars disagree as to the details of the situation, but broadly speaking this was the period of the Libyan Twentysecond and Twenty-third Dynasties. These kings, vying for control of the region with rival rulers, had installed family members in prominent religious offices, and so it was that Osorkon III installed his daughter Shepenwepet (I) as God’s Wife. When, between 750 and 720 BC, Kushite kings from the region of the

Fourth Cataract of the Nile, deep in Upper Nubia (modern Sudan), established their rule in Egypt as the Twentyfifth Dynasty, an early diplomatic ploy of theirs was to install a royal princess, Amunirdis (I), as heiress to the God’s Wife, Shepenwepet. Harwa was later appointed as Amunirdis’ right-hand man. The Twenty-fifth Dynasty was a period of revival in Thebes when many sacred sites, particularly Karnak, Luxor and Medinet Habu, which were associated with the cult of the Kushites’ most favoured deity, Amun, were the focus of new construction and the embellishment and restoration of existing monuments. Much of this work was carried out in the name of the God’s Wife and her heiresses, presumably assisted by her Chief Steward. Though the precise nature of his role is unclear, the mark Harwa left in the monumental record is testimony to his wealth and influence. In addition to his tomb he also left a series of fine statues, several of which were found in the famous cache excavated by Georges Legrain along the north-south axis of the main Amun temple at Karnak. The Italian Archaeological Mission to Luxor, directed by Dr Francesco Tiradritti, has been working in TT37 since 1995. Since that time, dozens of specialists from a variety of fields, and several different countries, have participated in the project, which encompasses archaeological excavation, study of the textual and figurative decoration, conservation, the restoration of decorated fragments to their original position on the walls, and the reconstruction of architectural features that have been completely destroyed. Much has been achieved since the project began but the monument is extremely large and complex, and badly ruined; much still remains to be done. Nonetheless, we now have a reasonable idea of what the monument would have been like at the time of its construction. TT37 is the earliest of three very large and complex monuments of this period – the largest private tombs in Egypt – which lie in close proximity to each other at the western end of the Asasif cemetery. The other two, built for Montuemhat (TT34) and Padiamunope

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(TT 35), are slightly larger than that of Harwa, but TT37 was the first in the sequence and, in terms of its layout and decoration, the inspiration for the other two. The Entranceway, Vestibule and Courtyard El-Asasif is a flat plain and, therefore, unlike the many other tombs in Western Thebes, which were built more or less horizontally into the cliff/hill-side, TT37 was built directly beneath the ground. The ancient floor lies approximately thirteen metres below the present ground level, and the portico, which marks the entrance to the tomb proper, is reached via a descending staircase. The visitor approaches the portico, which is formed of six square-based pillars in a squared “C” shape, from the south. The decoration in this part of the tomb was never finished; the elaborate doorframe surrounding the vestibule entrance was decorated only with an unfinished hieroglyphic text in red paint, on which the sculptors’ grid still remains. From here, the visitor proceeds northwards into a vestibule. This area had, until recently, been used by the Supreme Council of Antiquities as a secure storeroom for objects excavated at various sites on the West Bank. These were moved to a new storage facility nearby in 2004, allowing the stairway and portico to be reconnected with the rest of the monument, and the tomb to be entered as had originally been intended, rather than via a scaffold into the courtyard, as had been the case before the objects were moved. The Vestibule itself is vaulted, and would originally have been covered with fine raised relief decoration, very little of which remains now. The axis of the tomb takes a ninety-degree turn to the west (left) after this point: from the Vestibule the visitor proceeds to a large courtyard which lies on this second, east-west axis. Cloisters, formed of rows of four square-based pillars, line the north and south sides of the Courtyard (to the left and right as you proceed through it), however the central area was left deliberately open to the sun by Harwa’s architects. This unusual feature would inspire the

builders of many other tombs in the area and represents their most distinctive characteristic. From the surface, the Courtyard of the tomb of Harwa currently appears as little more than a crater, its straight sides almost imperceptible due to the collapse of the pillars and cloister ceilings, and the consequent build-up of débris in this part of the tomb. Excavation work has necessarily proceeded very slowly, as in most cases the pillars are only partially preserved and held together by the débris that surrounds them. As this débris is excavated, the team risks the remains of the pillars fragmenting further. Nonetheless, as the painstaking work of conserving their remains proceeds in tandem with excavation, the level of débris has slowly

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Below: plan of TT37 after Eigner, D. Die Monumentalen Grabbauten Der Spätzeit in Der Thebanischen Nekropole (Vienna, 1984). A = Entrance Portico, B = Vestibule, C = Courtyard, D = First Pillared Hall, E = Second Pillared Hall, F = Osiris Shrine, G = Corridor surrounding the tomb.





Above: view from the Entrance Portico looking out towards the surface.

Below, left: hieroglyphs, in red paint only, which surround the entrance to the Vestibule.

Below, right: view of the north wall of the Courtyard showing the roof of the cloister with the remains of the square-based pillars emerging from the débris. The original floor level lies over one metre beneath the surface of the débris. Photos: Chris Naunton.


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been reduced and the team aims to have reached the ancient floor level within a few seasons. When excavation is complete, with the pillars still partially in place and the full height of the walls visible, it will be easier to imagine what the Courtyard would have been like. In the meantime useful parallels are provided by surrounding tombs, some of which have not only survived better, but have also been extensively restored. The remaining decoration in this part of the tomb is of the highest quality, enhancing what must, architecturally, have been a very pleasing space. As is the case throughout the tomb, much of the original wall surface has been lost completely as pillars have collapsed and large sections of the walls have fallen to the ground. Nonetheless, enough remains for it to be clear that

the decoration was never finished. Large areas of the northern wall in particular, though very well dressed, were never inscribed. Indeed, at first it had seemed that very little of this wall had been decorated, however, as excavation has cleared débris away from the lower sections of the wall, it has become apparent that in this case the artists were working from the bottom of the wall upwards. Some scenes were finished, with images of offering bearers, dancers etc sculpted in extremely fine raised relief, while in other areas it is as if the artists simply downed tools one day to take a break, and never returned, leaving figures half-carved, with red-painted guidelines still very much in evidence. The scenes in this part of the tomb are reminiscent of those in the mastabas of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties at Memphite sites such as Giza and Saqqara. They show scenes of the ideal daily life – activities that a good Egyptian would have wished to have been involved in, and would wish to remain involved in in the afterlife, such as fishing and fowling. The placement of scenes on walls and pillars was very deliberate, and allowed each to complement the other: for example a pillar next to a scene of fishing on the southern wall is decorated with the image of a man preparing the fish for cooking. The First Pillared Hall Proceeding along the east-west axis, the visitor faces the western wall of the

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Courtyard. At the right-hand end of this wall lies the vaulted entranceway to the tomb of Harwa’s successor as Chief Steward, Akhamunru. This secondary tomb (TT 404), built into that of Harwa, is also part of the Italian Archaeological Mission’s concession, but is as yet unexcavated. In the centre of the Courtyard’s western wall is another vaulted entranceway – to the next in the sequence of chambers along the main axis of the tomb. In between this entranceway and the next chamber is a short passageway inscribed with an autobiographical text, describing the ideal life of the deceased, as a pious individual, who “gave bread to the hungry man, clothes to the naked man” etc. The visitor then enters the “First Pillared Hall”. Very little is preserved of the eight pillars that stood here in two rows, creating a central aisle. These have, however, been very effectively restored in plywood to give the visitor a better impression of how enclosed the room would have seemed before the pillars were destroyed, without creating the illusion that the original architectural elements have been preserved, or precluding the restoration of decorated fragments if/when they can be identified in future. Five doorways on each of the southern and northern walls lead to subsidiary rooms. The decoration in this part of the tomb is of a very different character to that in the Courtyard. The pillars and north, south and west walls in particular were almost completely covered with columns of hiero-

glyphic texts, inscribed in high-quality sunk relief, and painted, usually with the signs in blue, on a white background. Here, the placement of the texts is very deliberate, and enhances their meaning. The south, west and north walls are inscribed mainly with pyramid texts. These writings are better known from other contexts, chiefly from royal pyramids of the Old Kingdom, and are composed of a series of “spells” each dealing with a particular aspect of death, which were designed to ensure smooth passage to the Afterlife. Evidence from the nearby tomb of Pabasa (TT 279, Twenty-sixth Dynasty) – much of the decorative scheme of which was copied from Harwa’s tomb – and from the fragments of decoration

Above left: unfinished relief carving of a male figure, from the north wall of the Courtyard. The ultimate intention would have been to render this figure in fine raised relief; however most of the figure is rendered only in red paint, with the outline of the upper part of the figure having been carved in outline. Above right: partially-preserved relief scene showing a female figure, from the north wall of the Courtyard.

Left: fragments of relief decoration from the Courtyard, recovered during excavations there. Photos: Chris Naunton.

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Above: the short section between the Courtyard and First Pillared Hall. As débris of between one and two metres in depth in the Courtyard is yet to be excavated, a wooden staircase is needed to facilitate access to the First Pillared Hall where the ancient floor has already been reached. Below: the First Pillared Hall of the tomb. Photos: Chris Naunton.

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recovered during excavation, suggests that, with the exception of the side facing the adjacent north wall, the northern row of pillars are inscribed with texts of the rituals of the “hours of the day”. The southern row is similarly inscribed with texts of the “hours of the night”. Each of the twelve hours of the day and night are numbered, and the text relating to each is written in sequence across the pillars. The text of the hours of the day begins at the eastern end of the chamber and ends at the western end, just as the sun moves through the sky during the day, from east to west. Correspondingly, the text of hours of the night runs from west to east, in keeping with the Egyptian belief that the sun passed through the underworld during the night to be re-born in the east each day. In this way, the architecture and decoration combine to evoke themes of the passage of the deceased individual from life to death and rebirth in the afterlife, which also brings into focus the function of the decoration in the Courtyard. The scenes of everyday life describe the earthly life of the individual, and furthermore, the autobiographical text,

in the passageway leading to the First Pillared Hall, puts into words the accomplishments of his mortal life. The Second Pillared Hall and Osiris Shrine The transition from life to death is made even more explicit at the junction between the First Pillared Hall and the Second. Another short passageway is decorated with simple offering texts, but also with the best-known and perhaps most beautiful relief scene in the tomb. It shows Anubis, the jackal-headed god associated with death and mummification, leading Harwa by the hand. Harwa is shown as a weary old man, with sagging breast and something of a paunch. The visitor proceeds then to the Second Pillared Hall. Here, three of the four pillars are preserved from floor to ceiling, although much of the decoration has been lost completely. The texts here relate to the funeral and other rituals performed between the death of the individual and his interment in the tomb, the next stage in Harwa’s journey from life to death. This room is connected to the next by another short passageway, with a second scene of Anubis leading Harwa by the




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hand. This scene differs significantly from the first, however: here Harwa is shown without the sagging breast and paunch, as a revitalised young man, exactly as he would wish to live in the afterlife, confirming that the function of the tomb and the rituals described by its decoration has been to prepare Harwa for the ideal life after death, in perpetuity. Beyond this passageway lies the final chamber on the main axis of the tomb, at the end of which stands the sculpted figure of Osiris, engaged, but in very high relief, at the top of a miniature flight of stairs, and set into an niche surrounded by an elaborate, round-topped design. At the far end of the wall to the right of the figure of Osiris a small niche would once have contained a statue of Harwa, symbolically associating the deceased with the Lord of the Underworld, in perpetuity. In addition to parts of the tomb described above, there are numerous subsidiary rooms and other features of interest, including the long corridor which surrounds the subterranean rooms. It is undecorated but extremely well cut, and is thought to have represented a channel of water separating the tomb from the surrounding ground, symbolically creating an island, such as that on which Osiris himself was thought to have been buried. The burial place of Harwa has not yet been identified. Some fourteen shafts have thus far been discovered in the

tomb, several of which are secondary (that is to say they were cut later by others who wished to appropriate the tomb for their own purposes), but several of which are contemporary with the tomb’s initial construction. Six of these shafts have been excavated so far and several have led to the discovery of further chambers and shafts, but none have yielded clear evidence of the burial of Harwa himself. The Late Period tombs of the Asasif were not designed to be hidden – quite the opposite in fact. Later tomb complexes were made very visible by elaborate mud-brick superstructures, which mark their location to this day, and the grand, open courtyards such as that of Harwa, made them attractive to the following generations who wished to appropriate the tombs for burial or for other purposes, and to robbers looking for plunder. The focus of the current project is Harwa and the tomb as he conceived it, but our work has uncovered traces of human activity at the site right down to the present day. An understanding of the history of the monument is vital to its reconstruction; for example, it is very likely that elements of the tomb decoration – reliefs etc. – were removed for sale on the antiquities market at various times during the last two centuries, and when these pieces can be identified, in museums or private collections, the job of identifying the exact spot from which they were taken is made much easier if

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Above: the First Pillared Hall, looking west. Note the pillars restored in plywood. Photo: Chris Naunton. Below left: scene showing Anubis leading Harwa (shown as an old man) to the afterlife, from the section between the First and Second Pillared Halls. Photo: Carlos de la Fuente. Below right: relief scene showing Anubis leading a rejuvenated Harwa to the afterlife, from the section between the Second Pillared Hall and Osiris Shrine. Photo: Giacomo Lovera.





Above left: the Osiris Shrine. Above right: view of the wide and well-cut underground corridor that surrounds the tomb.

Below: placed in a sandbox, doorframe fragments in the First Pillared Hall are reunited. Photos: Chris Naunton.

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we are able to trace the activities of the robbers themselves. And robbery is not an exclusively modern phenomenon of course; evidence that the tomb was robbed in ancient times sheds very interesting light on the beliefs of the Egyptians in those times, and their respect, or lack of it, for their dead. These and many other aspects of human behaviour down the ages are in evidence at the site and are carefully recorded. Though it was conceived as the burial place of a single, revered individual, it was subsequently re-used for a variety of purposes including burial, but also as a dwelling place and for keeping animals. Later still, it became a curiosity for western tourists, some of whom left their own graffiti on its walls, while others investigated it with more intellectual aims in mind. The current project itself should be considered a part of the monument’s history, and we as archaeologists and Egyptologists must remember that our work leaves its own mark. Current Work The mission’s current activities can be divided into archaeology and epigraphy. In recent seasons the former has focussed on the excavation of the Entranceway and Courtyard, while a separate epigraphic team has concentrated on the reconstruction of the decoration in the First Pillared Hall. The work is painstaking and slow and the idea of “completing” the project is not as straightforward as it might sound. The excavation of the tomb is a finite project that will be completed within a few years, but the recovery of all material that once was part of the monument


is another matter entirely. Clearly some of it has now been lost for good, though much remains; it is likely that elements of the tomb decoration removed by robbers and others remain unidentified in museum and other collections around the world. For this reason, and due to the usual shortage of time and money, a partial reconstruction – both physically and “on paper”, or “virtually” – is, to be realistic, the extent of the mission’s aim at this time. This will, nonetheless, require the investment of substantial sums of money over many years to come. Careful excavation work allows small fragments of decoration to be recovered, and these are then passed to the epigraphers whose job is akin to a giant jigsaw puzzle, but on a much larger scale, with accompanying logistical difficulties. Team members first divide blocks according the general features – the direction in which the text is written, whether or not any pictorial decoration is present, etc. etc. – and can then begin to identify from whereabouts in the tomb groups of fragments have come. The next stage is to try to join individual fragments together, the ultimate aim being to join fragments or groups of fragments with decoration still in place on the walls. All the while, each of the thousands of recovered fragments is labelled and recorded. Days can go by without any joins being made, while at other times twenty joins can be made in one session. Experience is all-important and there is no substitute for practice, and simply picking up individual blocks to see if they can physically be fitted to others with similar features.

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Two seasons have so far been spent in reconstructing the decoration around the doors of the First Pillared Hall, and the completion of this task alone is several seasons away. Due to expense and other commitments, it is not possible for the team to spend longer than one or two months in the field each year and the team therefore has to be realistic about what can be achieved, and always be aware of the danger that the project could be brought to a close by factors beyond its control, without the information already gleaned being made available to the wider world. This eventuality is guarded against as far as is possible: the team reports on its activities at the end of each season through the publication of interim scientific reports, and actively makes the work accessible to as wide an audience as possible through the website of the mission (in Italian, English, Spanish or Arabic!), public lectures and articles such as this. For further information or to support the project please visit our web site at

Christopher Naunton The author would like to thank Dr Francesco Tiradritti, Director of the Italian Archaeological Mission to Luxor for permission to write this article; his thanks also go to Dr

Above: Tiradritti and fragments of raised-relief decoration Giacomo Lovera, the are examined by a team member. team photographer, for supplying some of Below left: doorframe fragments from the First the images used. Pillared Hall. Christopher Naunton is Librarian and Photos: Chris Naunton. Archivist at the Egypt Exploration Society and a Ph.D. student at the University of Wales, Swansea. He has been a member of the Italian Archaeological Mission to Luxor since 2002.


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