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Report on the work of the University of Cambridge Theban Mission 1992

Nigel Strudwick

In June 1992, the Permanent Committee for Archaeology of the Egyptian Antiquities Organisation granted permission for a mission from the University of Cambridge to undertake Epigraphic and Clearance work in Theban Private Tomb 99, that of Sennefer or Senneferi.

I should like to thank Prof. Mohamed Ibrahim Bakr, Chairman of the EAO, and all members of the Permanent Committee for agreeing to the request for permission to work in Thebes. In particular I am grateful to Dr Mutawa Balboush and his staff in Abbassiya for enabling this permission to be carried out. In Luxor, thanks are due to Dr Mohamed el-Saghir, Dr Mohamed Nasr, and Dr el-Sayed Aly Hegazy. The inspector attached to the Mission was Mr Abd el-Latif Ibrahim from Sohag; he enabled the daily running of the mission to proceed smoothly. My thanks are also due to Mr Nasr Swelim for his help.

NOTE (Feb 1995): This document is a slightly extended version of the original, with colour photographs of the tomb taken with an Apple Quicktake digital camera. It is the beginning of an attempt to create an online tour of the tomb.

Part 1: The tomb and its owner

I begin with a brief description of Sennefer.

His tomb is dated to the 18th dynasty, reign of Thutmose III, by cartouches in the tomb; his career reached an important level in the reign of Hatshepsut, as shown by the existence of a shrine of his at Gebel es-Silsila.[1] Many titles and epithets of his are found in the tomb, among them: iry p't, h3ty-', sd3wty bity, smr w'ty as honorific titles; his most frequently found other title is "Overseer of the seal-bearers"; another prominent title is "Overseer of the gold lands of Amun".

The tomb is almost totally unpublished, with the exception of some texts copied by Sethe.[2] It appears in Porter and Moss, Topographical Bibliography I2, 204-6. The tomb (Figure 2a) is located in the main hill of Sheikh abd el-Qurna, not far from the better-known tombs of Rekhmire (TT100) and Sennefer (TT96). Its location is marked in Figure 1a, reproduced from the Topographical Bibliography. The tomb chapel was lived in until some time prior to the initial cataloguing of the tomb by Gardiner and Weigall.[3]

Above is a sketch plan of the tomb, with numbers given to each wall. The decoration in the tomb is very damaged, and the best preserved scenes are in the rear room. The plaster has become detached from the wall from a combination of theft, poor adhesion to the wall surface, and possible earth tremors. No fragments of decoration have yet been found on the tomb floor. There is considerable discolouration from smoke in the front hall.

The approximate dimensions of the rooms are as follows: front room 15.5 x 2.6 m; passage 9.7 x 2.1 m; rear room 12.7 x 4.5 m. No heights have yet been measured since it will be impossible to gain any remotely accurate measurements until the floors have been properly cleared.

The following is a summary of the principal surviving scenes (numbers as above):

3, 4 Texts accompanying remains of scenes relating to a visit by Sennefer to the Lebanon.

9 Fragments of funerary procession

12 Bed-making scene, and grave goods, including very unusual figure, probably of Bes; also autobiography

13 Men carrying tomb equipment

14 Top of a large offering list

15 Double scene of Sennefer offering to Anubis

16 Sennefer and wife Taiamu receiving libations and offerings; also people carrying vessels and flowers to the deceased

17 Fragment of hymn to Osiris

A, B Pillars decorated in part with offering texts

The clearest paintings are those in the rear hall. The front hall has clearly been lived in, most clearly illustrated by the smoke-blackened ceilings and walls mentioned above. It will probably be advisable to undertake some cleaning of these walls in future.

Part 2: Work undertaken in the season

The Mission was in Egypt between 22 August and 1 October 1992. Members of the Mission were Dr Nigel Strudwick (Field Director) and Mrs Helen Strudwick (Assistant). The aim of the season, the first in the tomb, was to establish much of the basic information about the tomb, to assess likely work needed in future seasons, and to begin the recording of the decoration.

Epigraphy: A complete description of the remaining decoration of the tomb has been made. The colours of the clean parts of the tomb have been recorded. The second half of the season was spent making facsimile copies of the scenes in the rear room, concentrating particularly on those which will be virtually inaccessible after the shafts have been cleared. Scenes 12-16 of those noted above have been completely recorded and collated.

Archaeology: It was felt wrong to begin the clearance immediately, and so archaeological work this season concentrated on a preliminary surface examination of the interior of the tomb chapel. This will make clear priorities for clearance in the future.

Beginning with the passage, half the floor area was cleared of loose material, mainly dust, by brushing. It became clear that the floor of the passage had been made level by means of a hard mud floor at some time. Subsequently, the rest of the floor area in the passage and rear room was cleaned by brushing and the mud floor was revealed throughout. The tops of five shafts in the rear room, which had been visible previously, were also examined to determine their areas and to gain a preliminary idea of the material present. There is one shaft in each corner (S1-S4 in Figure 1b) and one in front of the niche (S5 in Figure 1b). Some beads and fragments of shabtis from the Third Intermediate and/or Late Periods were found there; these have been duly recorded and securely stored. These fragments show that the tomb was reused subsequent to its original construction and decoration (as have the majority of private tombs in the area). Surface debris in the front hall was much deeper with a more recent earth floor clearly visible above the much harder and finer floor noted before.

Some attempts were also made to ascertain the nature of the debris in the courtyard in front of the tomb. Sondages to locate the east side of the courtyard failed to reveal anything conclusive, while another sondage in the south-western corner of the court failed to reach the rock, even after 30 cm of debris was removed in the test area. In the course of this a group of three funerary cones was found, none belonging to this tomb. They are as follows:

Heqaneheh, Davies-Macadam, Corpus of Inscribed Funerary Cones, no. 98

Suemniut, Davies-Macadam, Corpus of Inscribed Funerary Cones, no. 163

Merremetjef, Davies-Macadam, Corpus of Inscribed Funerary Cones, no. 55

There are considerable remains of stone walling, partially coated with a mud plaster, above the entrance to the tomb; in the centre, above the door is what appears from below to be a small niche (Figures 2 a/ b). Above this stonework is a large amount of debris. It is quite possible that there are the remains of some form of superstructure above the tomb, and it will be necessary to clear this in case there should be a small pyramid or shrine above the tomb as has been found elsewhere in the Theban necropolis in the past five years.

Future aims

  • To complete the epigraphic recording of the tomb, cleaning some of the very dirty paintings if necessary.
  • To clear the courtyard, shafts, and the area above the tomb to build up a complete picture of the tomb's architectural and archaeological history. 

If circumstances permit, it is hoped to undertake a second season in the tomb in 1993.

© Nigel Strudwick 1992


[1] This monument is published by R. A. Caminos and T. G. H. James, Gebel es-Silsilah I (ASE 31, 1963) 37-9, pl. 26, 27, 30, 31. Return to text

[2] Urkunden IV, 528-48. Return to text

[3] Topographical Catalogue of the Private Tombs at Thebes (London 1913) 24-5. Return to text

© Nigel Strudwick 1997-2014