The Tomb of Queen Meryet-Amun (TT358)

Brian Yare

Spring 2007

 

Fig. 1. The site of the tomb. The man stands at the mouth of the pit. To the left is the end of the north colonnade of the Temple of Hatshepsut and beyond are its upper terraces  (after Winlock, 1932: pl. IV).

 


While nearly all New Kingdom kings were buried in the compact region of the Valley of the Kings, many other members of the royal family were interred in the wider area of the West Bank at Thebes. These included several Eighteenth Dynasty queens. For these queens “all that was wanted was a hidden nook in the Theban mountain” (Winlock, 1932: p. 1).

Herbert E. Winlock had been searching the Deir el-Bahari quarry for fragments of statues of Queen Hatshepsut and clearing the deposits of rubbish on the hillside of Hatshepsut’s temple. He noticed two chip heaps, weathered over a long period and largely hidden by drifting sand and fallen rocks. Realising that these might be from an as yet undiscovered tomb in the shale strata he set his team to work. After first discovering a small pit (fig. 1), only 3.3m. by 1.6m. and 0.8m. deep they continued, and some 26m. further away they found another pit directly below the eastern end of the north colonnade of the temple, and about 3m below the level of the roof (Winlock, 1932: pp. 4-5). This turned out to be the Tomb of Queen Meryet-Amun, TT358, and was discovered by the team working under the Reis Gilani on 23rd February 1929 (Reeves, 2000: p. 176).

The entrance to this tomb was a pit only about 1.2m. square. About 2m. down, a stairway was cut towards the south-west towards the temple colonnade. After about 4m. and now nearly 5m. below the surface the stairs changed to a corridor sloping gently downwards. Partway along this corridor the foundations of the back wall of the colonnade were exposed, as shown in figs. 2 and 3. As only one or two stones were exposed before the slope of the corridor took its ceiling back into the shale it can be concluded that the tomb was excavated after the construction of the temple (Winlock, 1932: pp. 5-6).

One very unusual feature of this entrance corridor was a lamp niche cut into the wall about 1m. above the bottom step. Soot deposits on the ceiling of this niche confirm its use, and Winlock concludes that it was used to provide illumination because the tomb was excavated, or at least the chippings were disposed of, after dark in order to avoid detection (Winlock, 1932: p. 6).

Having encountered the foundations of the temple, the excavators of the tomb left the first corridor incomplete, and quarried at right angles for 3m. before again continuing their corridor to the west. After another 3m. they realised the danger of continuing to undermine the foundations of the temple and, abandoning this new corridor, they continued northwards towards the high rock north of the temple. 8m. along this new corridor they excavated a well shaft 5m. deep and 3.3m. long. Well shafts such as this were frequently used in royal tombs during the Eighteenth Dynasty, although the earliest previously known was in the tomb of Thutmosis III (Thomas, 1966: p. 176). The excavation of the tomb continued with a further corridor starting from the back left corner of the well, and then the burial chamber. In order to bridge the well, beams of about 4m. in length were needed, and in order to get these round the bends in the corridors a slot some 0.3m. deep had to be cut into the south wall for a distance of some 3m. This is shown in fig. 2, c-d (Winlock, 1932: pp. 6-7).

Meryet-Amun was buried in a nest of three wooden coffins, the second of which was gigantic – 3.135m. by .87m. at the widest part. The innermost was only large enough to contain the mummy, so there was a large empty space around it. Fragments of the outermost coffin suggest that it was at least 3.25m. in length. It was constructed of a hard and heavy wood such as tamarisk (Winlock, 1932: pp. 19-21). There may have also been a wooden sarcophagus. Winlock found fragments which probably came from it both under the coffin in the burial chamber and also some 20m. east of the tomb-pit (Winlock, 1932: p. 23).

 

Fig. 2. Plan of TT358 (Winlock, 1932: pl. I)

 

Fig. 3. Sections of TT358 (Winlock, 1932: pl. II)

 


The tomb was robbed in antiquity. At first Winlock thought that there had been only one robbery, but later he realised that the blocking wall had been built on two separate occasions. The tomb was cleared up after the second robbery in year 19 of Pay-nudjem. The first robbery, dated by the abandoned restorers’ materials, could not have been much earlier. It would have been under the late Ramessides or very early in the 21st Dynasty (Winlock, 1932: pp. 37-53).

The tomb was re-entered at least twenty years later, for the intrusive burial of Princess Entiu-ny. Winlock places her as a daughter of Pay-nudjem, who was fully 70 years old when she died. She was buried in a great hurry, her coffins being passed into the first corridor in a random order. The tomb was only roughly blocked, but then remained undisturbed for about three millennia (Winlock, 1932: pp. 54-56). Her coffins gave her names and titles. She is identified as Nauny in Dodson and Hilton, 2004. Her coffins and grave goods were divided between Cairo and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Porter and Moss (1964: p. 422) state that her coffns, with lids and board, were usurped from Tentbekhen. Could this be the Tentnabekhenu, a wife of Pinudjem I (Dodson and Hilton, 2004: pp. 207-9)?

Murray (1930: p. 55) provides a little information about Meryet-Amun, the daughter-queen of Thutmosis III. A fine limestone rectangular stand in the collection of University College was brought by Petrie from Qurneh and was probably part of her tomb furniture. The inscription reads “Made by the Hmy-ka of queen Meryt-Amon, Amenhotep, Hathor, chief of Thebes.” I would not be so rash as to suggest which Meryet-Amun or Amenhotep was referred to, and the stand probably did not originate in TT358 as Petrie will have acquired it long before the discovery of the tomb.

“No surviving object in this tomb tells us conclusively who Meryet-Amun was”. Her titles are given on her second coffin and her original bandages, from which they were transcribed onto her first coffin and the docket on the mummy by the later restorers:

“the King’s Daughter and Sister, the God’s Wife, the King’s Great Wife, joined to the Crown of Upper Egypt, the Mistress of the Two Lands, Meryet-Amun” (Winlock, 1932: p. 57).

Fig. 4. Hieratic docket on Meryet-Amun’s mummy recording an official inspection in Year 19 of Pinudjem I – at which time the burial was “restored” (Reeves, 2000: p. 176)

 

As we have seen, Winlock concluded that TT358 had been constructed after Hatshepsut’s temple. However, most more recent authors have come to the opposite conclusion.

Naville (1897: p. 8) had already reported that apparently this Colonnade was the last portion of the temple undertaken, and it was never completed. Although the walls and columns had been covered with a thin coat of plaster, they were not decorated.

Hayes (1959: pp. 52-4) thinks that the tomb is almost certainly of Queen Ahmose Meryet-Amun, the sister and wife of Amunhotep I. Thomas (1966: pp. 175-6) considers that the tomb was probably built first. She entered it in 1959 but did not cross the well to the inner chambers.

Porter and Moss (1960: p. 421), following Winlock, place her as the daughter of Thutmosis III and wife of Amenophis II.

More recently, Wysocki conducted considerable research on the Northern Portico of the Middle Courtyard in Hatshepsut’s temple. He concluded that the tomb must have been built first. The Northern Portico was not completed and in particular a fifth chamber, which would have intersected the tomb stairway, was not built. This part of the Portico was not by the addition of coping, architraves or balustrade, this being to minimise the weight over the tomb. His drawings shown in figs. 5 and 6 clearly shows the positions of the missing architrave and chamber. The lintel to the fifth chamber was identified in position (Wysocki 1984: pp. 329-340).

Fig. 5. Combined plans of Northern Portico and TT358 (Wysocki, 1984: p. 335)

 

Fig. 6. Elevations of Northern Portico and TT358 (Wysocki, 1984: p. 337)

 

Fig. 7. General view of the Northern Portico, showing the extent of completion of the collonade (Wysocki, 1984: tafel 43).

 

Wysocki (1984: p. 342) goes so far as to suggest that the tomb used for the burial of Meryet-Amun could have been excavated as early as the XIth Dynasty.

Dodson and Hilton (2004: p. 129) present our Meryet-Amun as the daughter of Ahmose I and Ahmes-Nefertiry and the wife of her brother, Amenhotep I. Bryan (2000: pp. 229-30) explains that there is no monumental evidence to confirm that Meryet-Amun was a wife of Amenhotep I, although their coffins are stylistically similar.

TT358, the tomb of Meryet-Amun, leaves many questions unanswered. We do not know for certain who this queen was, who her husband was or when her tomb was excavated. She was a very important member of the royal family of the early Eighteenth Dynasty, and probably related to Queen Hatshepsut both by blood and by the location of her tomb. She remains an enigma.


References

 

Bryan, Betsy (2000) ‘The 18th Dynasty before the Amarna Period’ in Shaw, Ian (ed.) The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Oxford: University Press

Dodson, Aidan and Hilton, Dyan (2004) The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt, London: Thames and Hudson.

Murray, Margaret A. (1930) ‘Queen Meryt-Amon’ in Ancient Egypt, volume 17. London: British School of Archaeology in Egypt.

Naville, Édouard (1897) The Temple of Deir el Bahari, Part II, London: Egypt Exploration Fund.

Porter, Bertha and Moss, Rosalind (1960) Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Reliefs and Paintings, Volume I. The Theban Necropolis, part I. Private Tombs, 2nd edition. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Porter, Bertha and Moss, Rosalind (1964) Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Reliefs and Paintings, Volume I. The Theban Necropolis, part II. Royal Tombs and Smaller Cemeteries, 2nd edition. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Reeves, Nicholas (2000) Ancient Egypt: The Great Discoveries, London: Thames and Hudson.

Thomas, Elizabeth (1966) The Royal Necropoleis of Thebes, Princeton.

Winlock, Herbert E. (1932) The Tomb of Queen Meryet-Amun at Thebes, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Wysocki, Z. (1984) ‘The Results of Research, Architectonic Studies and od Protective Work over the North Portico of the Middle Courtyard in the Hatshepsut Temple at Deir el Bahari’, in Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Kairo, vol. 40, 1984, pp. 329-49.

Fig. 1. The Outer Anthropoid Coffin (Reeves, 2000: p. 176)