Saqqara-Private Tombs
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Thousands of private people throughout the ages chose to be buried at Saqqara. Although many of their tombs still lie hidden beneath the sands, a large number have been discovered and excavated, and their decoration has provided scholars with enormous amounts of information about life and death in ancient Egypt.

There are a number of beautifully-decorated elite tomb chapels that are open to the public:

The tomb of Neferherptah, known as the “Bird Tomb,” dates to the 5th Dynasty (ca. 2465 - 2323 BC). It remains unfinished, and consequently houses some extraordinary examples of paintings in progress. These drawings are of fine workmanship and retain some of their original color. The scenes here portray a wide array of subjects, such as bird catching, agriculture, craft activities, and animal husbandry.

The tomb of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep, known as the "Tomb of the Two Brothers," lies south of the Unas causeway, and dates to the 5th Dynasty (ca. 2465 - 2323 BC). The tomb is dedicated to two men, both royal manicurists. The walls of the chapel are carved and painted with a variety of scenes, including agricultural activities, manufacturing, men working in the marshes, animal husbandry, gardening, and bread making. In one scene, Niankhamun and Khnumhotep are shown embracing one another, leading some scholars to suggest that they were twins.

The tomb of Nefer, south of the Unas causeway, was discovered in a remarkable state of preservation, still retaining much of its paint. His tomb was built during the 5th Dynasty (ca. 2465 - 2323 BC) as a single long corridor with shafts in its floor for five men and women, the most important of whom was Nefer. The images decorating the tomb depict ploughing, the harvesting of grapes, dwarves making necklaces, and Nefer and his wife enjoying music played by a harpist.

The tomb of Irukaptah, also known as the “Tomb of the Butcher,” lies south of the Unas causeway and dates to the 5th Dynasty (ca. 2465 - 2323 BC). Remarkable here are a series of rock-cut statues are placed in niches within the tomb. Scenes on the walls depict men butchering cattle, constructing a bed and a chest, making offerings, and the deceased fishing and fowling in the marshes with his family.

The remains of Prince Unasankh’s mastaba lie to the south of the Unas causeway and date to the 5th Dynasty (ca. 2353 - 2323 BC). Unasankh was the son of Unas and his principal queen, Nebet. Many of the blocks from inside the tomb were sold to the Field Museum of Natural History and the Oriental Institute in Chicago. The images that remain in the tomb depict a man reading from a papyrus, and rows of offering-bearers.

The mastaba of Ptahhotep I is located to the west of Djoser’s Step Pyramid and dates to the reign of Isesi, who ruled during the 5th Dynasty (ca. 2381 - 2353 BC). Two white limestone pillars, erected at the main entrance to the tomb, were originally inscribed with the name and titles of the tomb owner. A sloping passage in the three-pillared hall leads straight to the burial chamber, originally closed by a large limestone block. Inside the burial chamber is a large uninscribed rectangular sarcophagus of white limestone. The tomb reliefs depict subjects such as the offering of food and drink, butchers, and agriculture.

The mastaba of Ty is located at the northern edge of the Saqqara necropolis and dates to the 5th Dynasty (ca. 2465 - 2323 BC). It is often thought of as the most beautiful Old Kingdom mastaba at Saqqara. The tomb’s entrance leads to a large columned courtyard decorated with reliefs, this is followed by an inner chapel. The chapel’s reliefs display a variety of subjects including, a hippopotamus hunt, fishing and fowling in the marshes, men dragging a statue on a sledge, butchers, agriculture, dancers and musicians, craftsmen, a desert hunt, a market scene, and the deceased being carried in a palanquin, with a dwarf leading a monkey and a dog behind him.

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Scene from the tomb of Niankhnum and Khnumhotep at Saqqara, with the two brothers embracing (SCA Archives)


Main Chapel, false door and offering table of Mereruka, with ka statue (Sandro Vannini)