Journal: Tuesday 10 October 2000
Although it was still quite early the sun was already hot when we walked up the road to the ticket office this morning. Jenny and I bought tickets for the tombs of Ramose, Userhet and Khaemhet before catching an arabeya to el-Gezira. I needed to go to the pharmacy to buy more antibiotics to complete my course, though I’m already feeling so much better from my bout of amoebic dysentery. In Gezira, Jenny and I caught an arabeya back up to the monument area at Qurna, getting off near the old village houses, where Ramose’s tomb (TT55) can be found a little way up the slope behind a modern enclosing wall.
Ramose was ‘Governor of the Town’ of Thebes and Vizier during the Dynasty XVIII transition of the reigns of Amenhotep III and IV. His tomb in the village area of Sheikh ‘Abd el-Qurna reflects his important position in the royal court and it is interesting because it represents the change in style towards Amarna art. It is uncertain whether Ramose was ever buried in this tomb, or whether he followed Akhenaten to his new capital, Akhetaten, but no tomb has been found for Ramose there. His Qurna tomb chapel is one of my favourites, both for the truly exquisite traditional New Kingdom reliefs and for the contrasting Amarna reliefs from the reign of Amenhotep IV.
The courtyard leads straight into an unusually large transverse hall. This tomb-chapel originally had 32 large papyrus-bundle columns which once supported the roof but they are mostly ruined now though some have been replaced with replicas. Many factors have caused damage to Ramose’s tomb, which was left unfinished and at some point suffered the collapse of the rock-cut ceiling – which luckily served to preserve the beautiful reliefs we can now see there. Ramose began his prominent career during the reign of Amenhotep III, but after the king died many of the reliefs were defaced with the persecution of Amun during Amenhotep IV’s rulership, though they were restored afterwards and the Akhenaten reliefs were in turn vandalized. The tomb was later usurped by another individual, who constructed a mudbrick tomb in the centre of the hall, leaving the older walls untouched.
On the walls to the left and right of the entrance, Ramose can be seen presenting offerings to the gods, wearing the long robe with shoulder straps common in that period to the Vizier, the highest official of the land after the king. Offering stands are heaped with produce; bread, meat and poultry are surrounded by tongues of flame to show that they were intended as burnt offerings, while papyrus blossoms are artistically laid across other vessels of food and ointments like a garnish. There is an Iun-mutef priest dressed in a panther skin with a comprehensive list of offerings for the soul of the deceased. Many family members are shown on this wall and a statue of Ramose dressed in his long vizier’s robe with a heart amulet around his neck, is being purified by two priests. Next to the entrance Ramose and his wife are depicted with offering bringers burning incense.
My favourite reliefs are on the south of the east wall to the left of the entrance and are probably the most beautiful and best known scenes in this tomb. Carved with very fine detail on limestone and left uncoloured except for the eyes of the figures, each guest at the banquet, some of them the relatives of the deceased, is named in the accompanying texts. Ramose’s mother was called Ipuya and his father was Nebi, whose titles suggest that he may probably came from the Memphis region. His wife was Meryt-Ptah, which means ‘Beloved of Ptah’ (a Memphite god) and she was also his brother’s daughter. Ramose and Meryt-Ptah appear not to have had any children of their own. Other guests sit in pairs, dressed in their finest clothes and dazzling wigs, holding bouquets or blossoms in their hands. One couple is named as May, ‘Overseer of the Horses of the Lord of the Two Lands’ and his wife, ‘Mistress of Isheru’, Werel. These two must have been important guests as May is wearing two gold collars. Another male guest is Keshy, ‘Overseer of the Hunters of Amun’. I noticed that Ramose’s deceased parents Ipuya and Nebi, are depicted with slightly shorter wigs, probably an earlier fashion or perhaps the fashion of the Memphite region in their time. Nebi’s titles include ‘Overseer of Cattle’ and ‘Overseer of the double-granary of Amun’ and ‘Scribe’. Ramose’s brother Amenhotep, ‘Confident of the Good God’, Overseer of the King’s Craftsmen and Great Overseer of the Royal domains in Memphis’ (Royal steward), was also a scribe. He sits with his wife, May, who was a ‘Chantress of Amun and Royal Ornament’ and they are also given the epithet ‘justified’, meaning deceased. Their daughter, Ramose’s wife Meryt-Ptah, was also a ‘Chantress of Amun’ and also deceased.
The end wall on the south side of the chapel portrays the funeral procession in two long registers. The floor at this wall slopes steeply down into the burial shaft below, which is sometimes accessible, though we didn’t go down there today, remembering the long steep rock-slide on my bottom from a previous occasion. This wall was not carved but its paintings show very well-preserved colour and detail of the funerary goods being transported to the tomb with the procession of mourners moving towards the Western Goddess. The canopic jars in their shrine are taken with the sarcophagus to the tomb on sleds.
Before them is an unusual scene of the ‘tekenu’ – a mysterious and fascinating part of the funerary ritual. There are many opinions about what the ‘tekenu’ was: one idea is that it was a priest wrapped in skins and transported on a sled in some kind of ritual of rebirth, while others suggest it was the wrapped internal organs of the deceased which were not placed in canopic jars. The tekenu in this scene can be seen clearly to be the shape of a man crouching, with his feet showing. Some authorities claim that the tekenu predates the general use of coffins and may have originally been the body of the deceased in foetal position, wrapped in a shroud or animal skin.
The second register shows more of the procession with the tomb furnishings and burial goods being carried to the tomb. A group of mourning women dressed in diaphanous white robes with their hair loose, are shown in a well-known scene at the centre of the procession. Further on, nine kneeling women wail and cover their heads with ashes and bare-chested women dressed in yellow and red beat their breasts, as mourning tradition dictated. Sometimes women were hired purely for this purpose. Unfortunately the captions for these scenes are incomplete. At the end of the wall the two registers are linked together ending before the Western Goddess where the deceased is before his tomb entrance.
The west wall opposite the entrance, is damaged and difficult to recognise, but has four unfinished figures of Ramose, the last offering a bouquet to a king in a kiosk with the traditional nine enemies on its base. The cartouche is that of Amenhotep and the damaged epithet ‘Great in his Time’, suggests that the ruler was Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) portrayed in his earlier years in the formal style of his father Amenhotep III. Behind him sits the goddess Ma’at in the classic style. In the centre of the west wall is the entrance to the unfinished inner chamber where Ramose is portrayed entering the tomb, with an autobiographical text appealing to the gods to recognise his good character.
The scenes to the right of the entrance to the inner chamber are a complete change of style, presumably done during the sole reign of Akenaten and reflecting the great change in the art and religion of Egypt. Ramose can be seen with his wife, kneeling prostrated before Amenhotep IV and his queen Nefertiti, who are shown in the ‘Window of Appearances’ with the rays of the Aten showering down on them. This relief is executed in the new style of Amarna art and was defaced, presumably after Akhenaten’s reign ended. Ramose, in the now ’deformed’ style of Amarna art is shown receiving the ‘Gold of Honour’ one of the highest awards in the land, suggesting that Akenaten not only employed previously unknown individuals but also well-established officials from Thebes. Many courtiers and nobles are depicted bowing low before the royal couple. The royal palace is indicated by a little cameo scene with palm-leaf columns. Beyond this scene the wall is unfinished and drawings have been sketched in but were left uncarved. These show foreign delegates (four Nubians, three Asiatics and a Libyan) coming to pay homage and offer tribute to the king. I love these scenes but it’s sad that they are damaged. They are a rare treat in the Theban tombs.
Jenny and I spent hours in the tomb of Ramose. An Egyptian epigrapher was sitting on a stool during the morning, sketching the reliefs, but after she left at lunchtime we had the tomb to ourselves. Ahmed, the tomb guardian was very helpful and chatted happily to us in his good English for much of the time and then we were joined by the guard from Sennefer’s tomb, further up the hill, who is a real comedian and kept us all entertained. Afterwards, we didn’t have the energy for another two tombs today, so we went to visit another Ahmed, a very talented stone-carver who has his workshop nearby and we sat for a long time over cups of tea and conversation.