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THE TOMB of NIANKHKHNUM and KHNUMHOTEP



In 1964 in the ancient necropolis of Saqqara, Egyptian archaeologist Ahmed Moussa discovered
a series of  tombs with rock-cut passages in the escarpment facing
the causeway that lead to the pyramid of Unas.
Soon after the Chief Inspector Mounir Basta reported crawling on his hands and knees through the passages, entering one of the Old Kingdom tombs.
He was impressed with its unique scenes of two men in intimate embrace, something he had never seen before in all the Saqqara tombs.
Meanwhile archaeologists working on the restoration of the causeway of Unas discovered that some of the stone blocks that had been used to build the causeway had been appropriated in ancient times from the mastaba that had originally served as the entrance to this newly discovered tomb. The archaeologists reconstructed the mastaba using the inscribed blocks found in the substructure of the causeway.
It was revealed that this unique tomb had been built for two men to cohabit and that both shared identical titles in the palace of King Niuserre of the Fifth Dynasty: "OVERSEER OF THE MANICURISTS IN THE PALACE OF THE KING."
To take a tour of the tomb and to see some of the remarkable representations of these two men click below on the icon of the manicurists. 


KHKHNUM & KHNUMHOTEP

  1. Entrance
  2. Overseeing The Funeral Procession
  3. Holding Hands While Walking
  4. Their Names Joined As One
  5. The Banquet
  6. The Embrace
  7. The Embrace Between The False Doors
  8. The Eternal Embrace

An Illustration Of
The Entrance To The Tomb of Niankhkhnum & Khnumhotep
with a literal translation of their titles
Khnumhotep King's Aquaintance Manicurist Overseer Palace
                           Palace Overseer Manicurist King's Acquaintance Niankhkhnum





Royal
   Confidant

in
work
Manicurist
Palace
Chief
Manicurists

King's Acquaintance

Khnumhotep
ENTER THE TOMB HERE




Royal
Confidant

in
work
Manicurist
Palace
Chief
Manicurists

King's Acquaintance

Niankhkhnum

OVERSEEING THE OFFERINGS
BROUGHT TO THEIR TOMB


Here just inside the entrance, the two men (embracing each other ) sit in chairs greeting the offering bearers and visitors to their tomb . It is a welcoming and friendly gesture to their "House of Eternity."
click on image for a larger view

THE TWO COMPANIONS WALKING ON A TOUR
OF INSPECTION

Illustration of the two men holding hands and walking on a tour of inspection can be seen on the southern wall of the entrance hall. Niankhkhnum leads Khnumhotep by the hand into the inner spaces of their tomb.

THE EMBRACE BETWEEN THE FALSE DOORS

On the western wall of the offering chamber are two false doors. The one on the right for Khnumhotep, the one on the left for Niankhkhnum. It was thru a later intrusive robber's shaft
that damaged Niankhkhnum's false door that the Egyptologists made their first entrance into the tomb. These false doors are separated by the scene pictured here of the two men embracing though not as closely as at the entrance.

 

THE ETERNAL EMBRACE
IN THE OFFERING CHAMBER

On the eastern wall of the offering chamber, the identical pair are shown in the most intimate embrace possible within the canons of ancient Egyptian art. Niankhkhnum is on the right grasping his companion's right forearm; Khnumhotep, on the left, has his left arm across the other man's back, tightly clasping his shoulder. Again the tips of the men's noses are touching and this time their torsos are so close together that the knots on the belts of their kilts appear to be touching, perhaps even tied together. Here, in the innermost private part of their joint-tomb, the two men stand in an embrace meant to last for eternity.

click on the image for a larger view

THEIR NAMES CARVED ABOVE
THE ENTRANCE TO THE ROCK-CUT CHAMBER

  photograph ©1999 Greg Reeder  

Here at the entrance to that part of the tomb carved into the rock, the names of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep are inscribed as one name over the doorway. Both have the jar hieroglyph which is the name of the potter god Khnum. The name Niankhkhnum on the right with the jar and the ankh sign is translated as "Khnum has life." The name Khnumhotep on the left with the jar and the offering sign means "Khnum is satisfied." Hotep means "peace" or "satisfaction" and is a hieroglyph of a loaf of bread on a table as an offerings for the dead. The name Khnum besides being a reference to the god Khnum also meant "joined together" and "to unite with" and later included "associates, companions, friends,"and even "house mates". Their names inscribed together above the entrance to the rock-cut chamber, may be a design element to suggest a play on words, meaning "joined in life and joined in peace", i.e. the blessed state of the dead, and may have reference to the closeness of the two and their desire to remain together in this life and the next. We cannot be sure at what point in their lives they assumed these names. Were they both born with these names or did the names come about from the close relationship they shared during their lifetime?

THE BANQUET IN THE ROCK-CUT CHAMBER


At the far Southern end of the rock-cut chamber is THE BANQUET scene where Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep are shown feasting on offerings and being entertained by dancers, clappers, singers and musicians.
The doorways on the right lead into the offering chamber and to the false doors of the two men.

THE EMBRACE AT THE ENTRANCE TO
THE OFFERING CHAPEL

It is here at the offering chapel that the most intimate portrayals appear. This scene is at the entrance, between two doorways. The identically attired manicurists are shown embracing, nose to nose. Their children surround them, (this photo is a close-up, more children are represented) but the wives are not represented here. The relationship between the two men is not clear. Egyptologists consider it "problematical." Are they brothers? Could they be twin brothers? Are they close friends or are they lovers ? Are they all of the above? A reasoned argument can be made defending any and all of these positions.

 

 


©1999 Greg Reeder
click on image for a larger view

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