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November 2002-April 2009Excavating Hierakonpolis
The tomb of Ny-ankh-Pepy (P. Hayman)
The shaved-down remains on the door jamb of the original tomb owner, Itjefy (Y. Kobylecky)
Repairing the damage in Horemkhawef: more than 100 fallen fragments were restored to the wall. (J. Rossiter)
Portrait of the artist, from 1972 (D. Wildung)
The artist now, after conservation
The stela of Horemkhawef relating his trip to the Middle Kingdom capital to fetch a new statue of Horus--the high point of his career (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)
The cult statue of Horus found at Hierakonpolis, recently restored by Chris Eckmann (Egyptian Museum, Cairo)
All photos courtesy of the Hierakonpolis Expedition unless otherwise noted. Click on images for larger versions.
by Renée Friedman

Hierakonpolis 2006: The Decorated Tombs of Hierakonpolis

Hierakonpolis is primarily known for its Predynastic and Early Dynastic remains, but it has a number of important monuments dating to later periods, which, until recently, have been unjustly overshadowed and neglected. Among them is a series of decorated rock-cut tombs dating to late Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, Second Intermediate period, and the early and very late New Kingdom. These tombs are in many respects unique and have, with few exceptions, been consistently misunderstood. Dating to periods underrepresented at most other sites in Upper Egypt, they form an important addition to the corpus of decorated tombs. Open and unprotected until gates were installed by the expedition in 1996, the tombs have been subject to damage from a variety of natural and human factors. Although sadly battered and much abused, with a little coaxing, they still have much to tell us.

The tombs of Ny-ankh-Pepy and Horemkhawef were part of an intensive program of conservation and documentation undertaken from 1998 to 2001 with funds provided by Egyptian Antiquities Project (EAP) of the American Research Center in Egypt, Inc. (ARCE) under its USAID Grant for the Restoration and Preservation of Egyptian Antiquities. During this project, the tombs were cleaned and stabilized, detached decorative elements were remounted, and their decoration was fully documented with photographs and epigraphic-quality facsimile drawings, the first ever made of these tombs. With these resources we can now begin to tell their story and appreciate the full significance of their contents.

The Tomb of Ny-ankh-Pepy

The tomb of Itjefy/Ny-ankh-Pepy, the earliest decorated tomb at the site, has been the least affected by human intervention subsequent to its discovery. The site was uncovered in 1893 by the British Egyptologists J. J. Tylor and Somers Clarke. A usurped tomb, with two levels of decoration, it nevertheless proved to be quite a challenge for both conservation and documentation. Its first owner, an official from late Dynasty 6 (ca. 2200 B.C.) named Itjefy, adorned his tomb with paintings and carved reliefs. Little of this decorative scheme is now visible except for the entrance jambs and part of an offering list, which his usurper, the governor, overseer of priests, and treasurer of Horus, Ny-ankh-Pepy, retained with modifications for his own use. When Ny-ankh-Pepy took over the tomb early in Dynasty 12 (ca. 1980 B.C.), it was already in a neglected state, judging from the number of insect burrows he was forced to grout before he could shave down the raised relief and paint over the earlier decoration to make it his own. While the majority of the scenes are dedicated to depictions of agriculture and daily life, images typical of tomb decoration, the scene on the prominent west wall is unique, as it depicts an intriguing event that is too fantastic not to have happened.

Presumably meant to be humorous, it shows Ny-ankh-Pepy seated in one of the boats of his traveling fleet, setting out on a pilgrimage, with a huge trussed cow on each deck as an offering. Yet however peaceful the owner may appear, his boat has become stuck on a sandbank, shown as a yellow mound between the two boats. Various crew members have jumped into the water to try to dislodge it, while others haul it by rope from the riverbank. It seems that all is going well--until a crocodile is spotted (lower right). Then there is pandemonium, as those in the water desperately try to scramble back on deck with the help of their mates, who at the same time are busy capturing the crocodile in a net. We can only assume that the rescues were successful, the crocodile was dispatched, and that all members of the journey lived to dine out on the story for years to come.

[image] Ny-ankh-Pepy's boat trip, left, showing him stranded on a sand bank and menaced by a crocodile an amusing event that must have actually happened (Y. Kobylecky) Right, catching the crocodile. [image]

The Tomb of Horemkhawef

Adjacent to the tomb of Ny-ankh-Pepy, the tomb of Horemhawef, supervisor of priests and overseer of the fields, is one of only three painted tombs known from the Second Intermediate Period (ca. 1750-1550 B.C.). Nearly intact at the time of its initial clearance in 1893, the decoration has gradually deteriorated over time, but the greatest damage was done in the early 1990s, when vandalism left less than 20% of the original decoration in place and no scene preserved in its entirety.

Several hundred fragments were recovered from the tomb floor, 117 of which could be remounted on the wall, helping to restore several mutilated scenes. One scene shows the self-portrait of the artist who painted the tomb, Sedjemneteru, in the important act of censing the offerings before the tomb owner, a position that indicates the high regard in which this master artist was held.

An artist of considerable inventiveness and wit, his talents can be seen in his clever solution to the protrusions in the wall caused by stone boulders that could not be removed. Jutting out at various angles, the boulders were plastered over and painted, but left awkward spaces beside them. These he ingeniously filled with the figure of a squatting mason, chisel and mallet in hand, pecking away at the protrusion for eternity. Evidently, he was so pleased with this idea that Sedjemneteru continued to used the working mason motif even in the perfectly cut tomb of Sobeknakht, the governor of El Kab, across the river, where his authorship is also celebrated with further self-portraits and songs of praise. This self-aggrandizement could not have been done without the owner's permission, and Sedjemneteru's obvious status and celebrity should serve to dispel the still-commonplace view of the Egyptian artist as an anonymous craftsman.

[image] [image] [image]
Left to right: Chiseling for eternity, the mason in Horemkhawef is still trying to remove an intractable boulder. (D. Wildung) The artist liked the joke so much, he used it again in the tomb of Sobeknakht at El Kab. The original dopey dog: Sedjemnetru's humorous depiction of a dog named Khem, the word for "stupid" in ancient Egyptian (W. V. Davies)

Although his tomb has been largely ignored, Horemkhawef is well known for his limestone biographical stela, which was found just outside by Ambrose Lansing in 1934. Now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the stela records Horemkhawef's trip to the Middle Kingdom capital of Itj-tawy (Lisht, southwest of Cairo) to receive a new cult statue of Horus and Isis from an unnamed king. A painted version of the same tale appears in his tomb and this event was clearly the high point of his career. At any other site, this would simply be a nice little story, but at Hierakonpolis, where an actual cult statue of Horus was found carefully buried in a brick lined pit by J. E. Quibell (in just his first week of work!), it raises several questions. With its copper body and gold head, it is a statue of superb craftsmanship and beauty. During the course of recent conservation, Chris Eckmann has presented good arguments for a late Old Kingdom date for the metal fittings which were added to an even more ancient wooden original statue of Horus. So why was Horemkhawef fetching its replacement?

The recent discovery in the above-mentioned tomb of Sobeknakht at El Kab of an inscription mentioning raids by Nubian tribes may provide an answer. The large number of Egyptian artifacts, including pieces from Hierakonpolis, in the royal tombs at Kerma shows that these raids were effective and the Pan-Grave/Medjay peoples stationed at Hierakonpolis were probably not just there for show. Putting the pieces together, it seems that either because they had been defiled during a raid, or as a precaution against feared incursions, the valuable and portable objects in the Horus temple were honorably and safely buried in special pits by the priests. But once interred, they were effectively dead, and in need of replacement. In these troubled times, the task of installing a new image needed to be entrusted to a very loyal guardian, and so it is little wonder that Horemkhawef was so proud of his role.

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