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A portrait of Maiherpra from his Book of the Dead papyrus (Cairo Museum)

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The mummy of Maiherpra

All photos courtesy of the Hierakonpolis Expedition. Click on images for larger versions.
by Renée Friedman

Nubians at Hierakonpolis: Week 1: Maiherpra

The small tomb of Maiherpra (a name meaning "the lion on the battlefield") was discovered in 1899 in the Valley of the Kings (KV 36), near the tomb of King Amenhotep II. Burial in the royal valley was a rare privilege for a commoner, but evidently Maiherpra was no common person. Although it was the first substantially intact burial discovered in the valley in modern times, it and its owner never attracted a great deal of attention due in part to the rapid rate of discoveries at the time and also that the tomb was never adequately published. Both, however, are fascinating. Although rifled in antiquity, the tomb still contained a cedar sarcophagus and the gilded anthropoid coffins, inside which the mummy of Maiherpa lay with a gilded cartonnage mask still in position. A winding cloth around the body bearing the cartouche of Queen Hatshepsut shows that Maiherpra had access to the royal storerooms. His burial, however, probably dates somewhat later than the reign of Hatshepsut, some believe to the time of her successors Tuthmose III or Tuthmose IV. Around him had been placed a wealth of other objects including a bowman's set (quiver, arrows, bracers) and collars for his dogs. In addition there was a beautifully illustrated Book of the Dead papyrus (now in Cairo) made especially for Maiherpra, showing him as he actually looked, for when the mummy was unwrapped in 1901, the well-preserved body of a man about 24 years of age with dark skin and short dark curly hair was revealed. The hair later was found to be a wig, but his Nubian connection is clear, and became even more obvious after the discovery by Howard Carter in the following year. In a small rock hollow just above the tomb, Carter found two leather loincloths carefully folded in a wooden box bearing Maiherpra's name.

Maiherpa was clearly a man of status. He was the first to bear the title fanbearer, a title of high distinction later borne by the men in charge of administering Nubia, the Viceroys of Kush. The fanbearer was a trusted personal friend of the king, who not only carried a feathered fan alongside pharaoh at public ceremonies but also formed part of his personal bodyguard. Maiherpra probably knew the king from childhood. His title, child of the royal nursery, indicates that he was raised in the palace and educated with the princes and princesses. Many have speculated on his origins. Some suggest he was the king's son by a Nubian queen, although he does not mention a bodily connection. Perhaps was a son of a Nubian chief brought to the Egyptian court in accordance with the New Kingdom pharaoh's practice of indoctrinating the sons of foreign rulers to promote good relations with Egypt in the long term, although this practice is not documented until later in the New Kingdom. Alternatively, he need not have come from very far away, as our work is showing, he may have been the descendent of one of the wealthy Nubian families that had been resident at the Hierakonpolis for generations.

For more information see N. Reeves and R. Wilkinson, The Complete Valley of the Kings (1996) and J. Romer, Valley of the Kings (1981).

Tomb 6

Tomb 9

A Loincloth

Tomb 10

Maiherpa

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