The investigation of two late Ramesside tomb-temples and their contextualization in the Theban ritual landscape.
Dra’ Abu el-Naga lies in the northern area of the extensive Theban necropolis on the western bank of the Nile, opposite the modern city of Luxor in Upper Egypt. The double tomb complex K93.11/K93.12 is situated just below the hilltop of the middle range of the Dra’ Abu el-Naga hills (fig. 1).
Between 1993 and 2000, the northern part of the double tomb complex K93.11 was excavated and documented. This work was carried out in the frame of the overlying question of the Dra’ Abu el-Naga project, the aim of which is the investigation of the Second Intermediate Period and early New Kingdom necropoleis in this area. The complex became the main focus of research interests as both the site and the architecture of the only partially filled tomb interior indicate that the tomb dates to the early New Kingdom (ca. 1500 BC). During the course of the excavations, the remains of a younger structure came to light in the open courtyard, namely a destroyed tomb-temple of the High Priest of Amun, Ramsesnakht (20th dynasty, ca. 1150 BC; fig. 2). The unusual feature raised a number of questions including the interpretation of this funerary monument. This question was all the more interesting as no remains of burial equipment identifiable to Ramsesnakht were found. This supports the assumption that the High Priest was not buried in K93.11. Since 2006, the southern tomb K93.12 has been the object of archaeological investigation in the frame of the German Archaeological Institute’s research cluster 4. In the course of six excavation campaigns, thousands of relief and architectural fragments were recovered. These fragments originally belonged to a similar but more modestly constructed tomb-temple, which Ramsesnakht’s son and successor in office, Amenophis (reign of Ramses IX, ca. 1125 BC), had built on this site (figs. 3 to 5).
The courtyard chapels of both High Priests Ramsesnakht and Amenophis constitute two remarkable examples of a Ramesside tomb-temple (fig. 6). They show architectural features that add to our knowledge of Ramesside tomb architecture and thus contribute greatly to the study of tomb semantics of the late New Kingdom. With regards to their highly-evolved temple character, these complexes can be understood as the missing link both in terms of architecture and semantics between typical Ramesside tomb complexes and the monumental Late Period tomb complexes situated to the south in the Asasif area. The Late Period tomb complexes constitute the peak of a development of tomb architecture, which had its starting point in the later 18th dynasty and was developed to the full in the Ramesside period, namely the “sacralization of the tomb” to use the term coined by Jan Assmann. In the course of this development, the tomb adopts the form and therefore the function of a temple, i.e. it becomes the place where the deceased can interact with the gods.
The aim of the project is, on the one hand, the comprehensive documentation of the double tomb complex and the history of its use, and on the other hand, the evaluation of its position as a tomb-temple at the end of the New Kingdom in terms of its building and religious history. On the basis of the structural features in K93.11/K93.12, it is clear that – with the elements of temple architecture as well as a religious decoration programme – the function and semantics of the temple have been transferred onto the tomb as a sacred space. In addition to the aspect of the significance of this type of tomb architecture, the question of the contextualization of the tomb complex within the ritual landscape merits special attention. This landscape is characterized by the local religious festivals, where the enacted rituals in turn influenced the architecture and decoration programme of the tombs and temples. K93.11 and K93.12 were incorporated into the local festival cycle and religious procedures in a special way due to their exposed and dominant position: firstly due to their visibility from the main temple at Karnak and secondly due to the orientation of the central processional way of the Theban west bank, along which the sacred barks travelled.
With the archaeological investigation of the two complexes and their surrounding area, the documentation of their architecture and eventually the reconstruction and analysis of the original decoration programme, an exceptional funerary monument of the Theban necropolis will be studied comprehensively. This study represents an essential contribution to our understanding of the development of tombs and necropoleis in Thebes, and furthers our knowledge of the religious history of the late New Kingdom.
In addition to the classic archaeological excavations and documentation, the building history of both tomb complexes constitutes a major focus of the investigation. The architecture was recorded by using a combination of hand measurements and tachymetric surveying, which also records the surrounding area of the tombs. Furthermore, the complex has been incorporated into the detailed topographical mapping of the Dra’ Abu el-Naga hill, which has already been completed for the northern part of the concession in the frame of the cooperation project in Deir el-Bakhit. For the comprehensive study of the cult-topographical contextualization and ritual network of the site, GIS-data – gathered amongst others by the Egyptian Antiquities Information System – for the region of Thebes was analysed. Another important source for the interpretation of both tomb complexes from the perspective of their religious history is the destroyed decoration programme (images and texts). This will be digitally reconstructed and analysed in the course of an epigraphic study.
During the course of six excavation campaigns (2006-2011), a large area of the tomb complex K93.12 was excavated and documented including the shaft and the underground burial complex. One of the central questions, namely whether the High Priest Amenhotep was buried here, could be answered positively: in the underground complex, the remains of his plundered burial assemblage consisting, amongst other things, of over 20 wooden shabtis that were inscribed with his name and titles, fragments of his wooden coffin as well as ceramic vessels bearing his name were found (figs. 7 & 8).
The plan of K93.12, i.e. both the form of the rock architecture as well as the design of the courtyards, is extremely similar to its neighbouring complex K93.11 and in some respects identical. The whole complex was planned and laid out as a double tomb complex. On the basis of the archaeological and structural features, the development of both rock-cut tombs and their adjacent courtyard terrace can be dated to the early 18th dynasty (ca. 1500 BC). It is highly probable that the double tomb complex was intended for a royal individual. A number of indications support an attribution of the northern tomb, K93.11, to the king Amenhotep I, who was worshipped as a god in Thebes after his death. Around 400 years later in the 20th dynasty, both structures were reused by the High Priest of Amun Ramsesnakht and his son Amenhotep and the courtyards became the site of their monumental tomb-temples. One reason for their choice of this site could be – in addition to the ritual-topographical relevance – its particular sacredness, obtained by the association with the deified Amenhotep I.
A unique feature for a Theban tomb is the lateral pylon and the pathway leading from it for a distance of at least 60 m (figs. 9 & 10). The ascending causeway is over 7 m wide and is lined on both sides by a wall, which was built using limestone boulders and constructed against an artificial incline, 2 m high in parts. The causeway links K93.11 and K93.12 to a minor valley that descends away from the hill and leads to the central processional way on the west bank. Thus the double tomb complex incorporates two axes: the east-west orientated main axis of the rock-cut tombs and a transverse north-south axis. The latter runs through the lateral gateway into the first courtyard and continues through into the neighbouring complex of Ramsesnakht (K93.11). Both tombs were connected to the religious festivals, primarily the procession of the Valley Festival, via the north-south orientated causeway. This feature allows us to make new conclusions on the integration of tombs into the rites of the Valley Festival and also on the composition of the local ritual landscape in the 20th dynasty.
The burial of Ramsesnakht in K93.11 could not be archaeologically verified. Also the tomb’s interior remained undecorated during its use. The case of K93.12 is entirely different as the underground burial chamber was found to contain the plundered funerary remains of his son Amenhotep. During the course of the excavations of the tomb’s interior, individual relief fragments were recovered that originally belonged to the wall scenes of the aboveground corridor that were – at a later stage – completely destroyed: compared with the raised relief decoration of the courtyards, here the fragments show painted sunken relief (fig. 11). It is possible that Ramsesnakht had the older royal tomb complex reconstructed however without intending to use it for his burial. In contrast, his son Amenhotep used – more than 50 years later during the reign of Ramses XI – the then still unfinished neighbouring tomb for his own burial.
The results of the investigation between 2006 and 2009 together with a detailed description of the project can be found in the preliminary report of the German Archaeological Institute’s cluster research.
The Ludwig-Maximilians University, Munich has undertaken excavations in the adjacent Coptic monastery Deir el-Bakhit since 2003 (under the direction of Prof. Dr. Günter Burkard and Dr. Ina Eichner) and has worked closely with the German Archaeological Institute in both academic and logistic terms.
The anthropological/palaeopathological study of the mummies and skeletons has been undertaken by Dr. Albert Zink, Institute for Mummies and the Iceman, EURAC (Bolzano), and Dr. Sandra Lösch, Institute of Forensic Medicine, Bern University.
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