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upper burg map

Djehuty and Hormeni

The lack of space in the lower tomb knoll may have been the real reason for the move upwadi to the Burg el Hammam (Pigeon Hill) in the New Kingdom, but the stone carver Djehuty chose to couch it in different terms. In his biographical inscription he claims that he was “instructed by his god about the enduring upland necropolis”, thus beginning the local tradition that was to continue throughout the New Kingdom. This early 18th Dynasty tomb is heavily carved as befits a tomb of an Overseer of Stone Carvers.

upper djehuty facade

Carved inscriptions and figures frame its entrance facade and statue niche, but the tomb’s best feature is the lengthy and beautifully carved biographical inscription. This inscription was the object of crow-bar wielding thieves in 1989, but the horizontal bedding of the sandstone caused its right corner to shatter rather than scale off into salable artifacts and the culprits were apprehended before further damage was done. The shattered fragments were collected, reassembled and finally restored to the tomb in 2000.

upper djehuty stelaupper djehuty repair

At pains in his biography to state that he did not abuse his status and personally paid for all the work, at first glance it seems that the carved decoration was all he could afford. Yet, during the conservation process, painted decoration was found throughout the tomb, masked by a thick layer of fine clay. Removing this revealed among others, scenes of the voyage to the sacred precinct culminating in greeting by a beautiful figure of the goddess of the west with a multicolored falcon on her head.

upper djehuty lady of west

The neighboring tomb of Hormeni yielded similar results when subjected to a good cleaning. Although scant remains of decoration were initially visible, once the dust was gone, the painting was revealed, including a lively scene of dancing musicians. More intriguing is the depiction of the tomb owner offering to a magnificent hawk headed Horus of Nekhen seated in a throne, with limbs painted an intense blue. Behind him stands a slim goddess in a tight fitting turquoise beaded dress. Identified by the accompanying inscription as Isis the Great, yet she has a scorpion on her head—a special and apparently local manifestation that may harken back thousands of years and help explain the prevalence and near exclusive presence of scorpion figurines in the Main Deposit of Early Dynastic Horus temple and the more recent discoveries of scorpions in the elite cemetery at HK6.

upper hormeni horus


Both Hormeni and Djehuty can be securely dated by cartouches to the reign of Thutmose I and form an important addition to the art history of the early 18th Dynasty, as tombs of this date are very rare in Luxor, where decorated tomb only become frequent with the reign of Hatshepsut. Particularly of interest the figures of the tomb owners carved on the door jamb at the entrance to the tombs. Shown in the attitude of worshipping the rising sun, they are the earliest dated examples of this motif in Egypt!

upper djehuty sun



The most elaborate of the surviving tombs, the tomb of Hormose dates to the reign of Ramses XI, and preserves a rare record of high-quality private tomb painting at a time when the production of royal tombs was about to cease. Composed of two rooms set in the typical Theban T-shaped plan, it was almost certainly painted by artisans brought in from Thebes based on the style, the variety of pigments and the pureness of the drafting capabilities. For this Hormose no doubt had his wife’s family to thank. Henuta’o’s father, who held important posts at Karnak, was also overseer of the army and this is probably not accidental. As the empire crumbled, with Nubia already in revolt, the strategic position of Hierakonpolis came to the fore. It is perhaps no surprise that a marriage into a loyal family was arranged, a fine tomb constructed and to sweeten the deal, the temple built centuries earlier by Thutmose III was given a refurbishment. But the dye was already cast for Ramses IX in his battle to control the increasingly independent priesthood. Although Hormose loyally wears the royal seal, the king is no where depicted or thanked. It is Hormose alone who is shown in the main chamber dedicating the new furnishings in the temple, intricately depicted down to minute detail. Nor was he averse to claiming the credit. Unfortunately stolen before the tombs could be secured, an archival image shows a golden falcon statue above which it states in no uncertain terms that this was a statue that Hormose had made.

upper hormose

upper hormose north wall

The rise of female participation and power in the temple cults characteristic of post New Kingdom Egypt also find early expression in this tomb. While the main chamber showed Hormose at work in the temple, in the antechamber it is Henutao who is the star.  Here she is shown in the important act of nursing the infant Horus in the presence of Isis, an expanded version of a scene also know from Herihor’s decoration of the Khonsu Temple at Karnak. Serenading her, elegant ladies beat the tambourine while 10 charming young girls dance, clappers in hand, their limbs flung wide to accentuate the suggestion of movement.


upper hormose henutao

upper hormose dancing girls

upper hormose tamborine ladies

upper hormose antechamber east detail

In depth study of the painting techniques by Betsy Bryan suggests only three or four artists may have been responsible for the decoration; a master and his apprentice in the main chamber, with perhaps a specialist in the antechamber to paint the figures in movement and another adept at figures in miniature, no doubt drafted in from the ranks of papyrus painters for this final flourish of tomb painting before style and circumstances changed forever.


For more information see:

Nekhen News 9 (1997)

Nekhen News 10 (1998)

Nekhen News 11 (1999)

Nekhen News 12 (2000)

Nekhen News 13 (2001)


Friedman, R., 2001. The Dynastic tombs at Hierakonpolis: painted tombs of the early Eighteenth Dynasty. [in:] Davies, W.V. (ed.), Colour and Painting in Ancient Egypt. London: 106-12.

Friedman, R.F., 2010. The Decorated Dynastic Tombs at Hierakonpolis [in:] Danforth, R. (ed.), Preserving Egypt’s Cultural Heritage. The Conservation Work of the American Research Center in Egypt 1995-2005. Cairo: 19-22.

Friedman, R.F., 1999. The Dynastic Tombs [in:] Friedman, R.F.; Maish, A.; Fahmy, A.G.; Darnell, J.C. & Johnson, E.D, Preliminary report on field work at Hierakonpolis: 1996-1998. Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 36 (1999): 29-34.

Bouriant, U. 1885. Les tombeaux d'Hieraconpolis, Études archéologique, linguistiques et historique dedicées á M. de Dr. C. Leemans. Leiden

Renouf, P. 1887. Inscriptions at Kum el Ahmar. Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology 10: 73-78

Walters, E.J., 2003., Women in the Cult of Isis at Hierakonopolis [in:] Hawass, Z (ed), Egyptology at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century. Volume 2: History, Religion. Cairo: 558-565

Wreszinski, W. 1927.Bericht über die photographische Expedition von Kairo bis Wadi Halfa.  Schriften der köngisberger Gelehrten Gesellschaft, 4 Jahr Geistwissenschaftliche Heft 2. Halle: Max Neimeyer



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