Peter A. Piccione, Ph.D.
Field Director
© 1991

Note: Not included here are sets of photographs taken in the 1991 season and copies of the key-plans of the wall decoration that were submitted to the Egyptian Antiquities Organization as part of the official field report. Typically, as a preliminary report, some of the findings and tentative conclusions reported in this document have been superceded by findings in later seasons or by the conservator's condition survey of 1998.

I would like to acknowledge the representatives of the Egyptian Antiquities Organization in Luxor for their continuing support and generous assistance in the conduct of this project, Dr. Muhammed Sagheir, Director General of Antiquities, Luxor, and Dr. Muhammed Nasr, Director of Antiquities, Qurna, and Chief Inspector Muhammed Abdullah. Special thanks for their diligence and help are due to the Inspectors of Antiquities at Qurna, including Messrs. Taha Ma'mun, Ibrahim Mahmud Suleiman, Muhammed el-Beili, and Nur abd el-Gafâr Muhammed, as representatives in loco of the Egyptian Antiquities Organization.

General Description

1990-1991 marked the second field season of the Theban Tombs Publication Project, sponsored by the Serapis Research Institute, Chicago, Illinois. The purpose of this continuing project is to copy the hieroglyphic inscriptions and to document the architecture of the New Kingdom rock-cut tombs of Ahmose, Second Prophet of Menkheperre (Tomb no. 121), and Rây, First Prophet of Amun and Menkheperre (Tomb no. 72). These tombs are located at Sheikh abd el-Qurna in Western Thebes. As I described in my report of last season, the tomb of Ahmose dates to the reign of King Tuthmosis III, while that of Rây was built and decorated under the reign of King Amenhotep II. They are located in Western Thebes at the top of Gebel Sheikh abd el-Qurna at the northwestern edge of the Upper Enclosure. Here they overlook the village of Qurna and the area of the Assasif. Significantly, they lie on opposite sides of the upper tomb of Senenmut (Theban Tomb 71); Ahmose is on the north of Senenmut, Rây is on the south.

The Project Staff and the Work Effort

As originally planned in our application to the Permanent Committee, the staff of the Theban Tombs Publication Project for the 1990-1991 field season was to consist of:

Dr. Peter A. Piccione (Egyptologist, Oriental Institute), field director and epigrapher

Dr. William Peck (Curator, Detroit Institute of Arts), architect and draughtsman

Mr. Daniel Lanka (Photographer, Oriental Institute).

Fieldwork of this season began on 11 November 1990 and ended 24 March 1991. During that time, the field director also served as Assistant to the Director of the University of Chicago, Oriental Institute Epigraphic Survey at Chicago House, Luxor. The field photographer was also engaged as photographer for Chicago House with all appropriate permissions, security clearances, etc.

The work of this second field season of the Theban Tombs Publication Project proceded in three phases:

  1. resumption and near completion of the first phase of the color and black and white photography of the wall decoration of Tomb 72 (Rây), including completion of the key plan of the wall scenes and sections;

  2. drawing hand-copies of the decoration and hieroglyphic texts inscribed on the walls of Tomb 72;

  3. initial survey of the inscriptions of Tomb 121.

Also this season we began initial considerations and planning for the cleaning and conservation of the walls and ceilings of Tomb 72.

Unfortunately, due to the political and military conflict in the Arabian Gulf during the course of the 1990-91 field season, it was impossible to accomplish all which we had originally planned. The field photographer, Mr. Lanka, who flew home temporarily in December, was unable to return to Egypt in February due to the interrupted airline schedules. Therefore, it was impossible for us to complete the first phase of the photographic campaign inside Tomb 72. Similarly, because Dr. William Peck was prohibited to travel to Egypt in February, it was not possible for him to work on the project and perform the architectural survey of the tombs, and hence prepare the drawings of the architectural plan and section of Tomb 72, as we had otherwise hoped. Despite these disruptions, we were still able to accomplish much work and successful research in the two tombs this season.

The Key Plan of the Wall and Ceiling

Decoration in Tomb 72

At the beginning of the 1990-91 field season, we completed the key plan of the wall decoration of Tomb 72 which we had begun the season before. This key plan is the basis of the photographic and epigraphic campaigns in that tomb. The plan (copies of which are included with this report) divides the wall area and the wall decorations of Tomb 72 into eighty-one different scenes or wall sections and three decorated ceiling areas. These sections are designated according the specific rooms in which they are located. As described in last year's report to the Permanent Committee, the interior of Tomb 72 is designed as a T-form, with the Transverse Hall oriented north-south and lying perpendicularly to the central Long Corridor (or axial corridor), which is oriented east-west.

The designations of the sections of the key plan are as follows:

LNLong Corridor, north wall, scenes/areas numbered 1-18
LSLong Corridor, south wall, scenes/areas numbered 1-12
LWLong Corridor, west wall, including great vault in ceiling and area above statue niche
LW niche N.Long Corridor, vaulted statue niche, north side
LW niche W.Long Corridor, vaulted statue niche, west wall
LW niche S.Long Corridor, vaulted statue niche, south side
LN thick.northern thickness, entrance to Long Corridor, upper and lower areas
LS thick.southern thickness, entrance to Long Corridor, upper and lower areas
TETransverse Hall, east wall, scenes/areas numbered 1-12
TWTransverse Hall, west wall, scenes/areas numbered 1-12
TNTransverse Hall, north wall, scenes/areas numbered 1-6
TSTransverse Hall, south wall, scenes/areas numbered 1-2
TS ceilingTransverse Hall, south wing, ceiling
TN ceilingTransverse Hall, north wing, ceiling
L ceilingLong Corridor, ceiling
Passage N.main entrance of tomb, northern door thickness
Passage S.main entrance of tomb, southern door thickness

The Photographic Campaign

As part of the documentation of Tomb 72, the Theban Tombs Publication Project has been recording all the wall and ceiling areas--decorated and undecorated--in black and white photographic prints, as well as also rendering the painted and sculpted decoration in color photographic transparencies. Thus, the undecorated sections are in black and white; the decorated areas are both black and white and color.

The purpose of the photographic effort in both Tombs no. 72 and 121 is to provide a photographic record of the decoration and architecture of the tombs. In addition, the photographs will serve as the basis of the tracings of the facsimile drawings of the wall decoration.(1) Thereafter, in the publication of the tombs, those photographs of the decoration will complement the drawings of their corresponding scenes.

In the season 1990-91 we resumed the photographic campaign inside Tomb 72, continuing that work from the previous season of the Winter 1990. We took a total of 153 photographs this season of 49 scenes and sections of the key plan. These photographs include 117 record photos in a 4x5 inch format (78 in black and white print, 39 in color transparency), as well as 36 photos in a 35mm format--as study photos of particular details and texts in the wall and ceiling decorations. Contact prints of this season's effort are included in this report. In the 35mm format, we use a special color negative film which allows us to develop both prints and color transparencies directly from the negative.(2) Using this multi-purpose film has enabled us to take fewer photos to make study prints and projection slides, since we use the same film for both purposes.

As part of the photographic campaign this season, we also executed a video survey of the wall and ceiling decorations in both of Tombs 72 and 121, employing a video camera for that purpose. This videotape will assist us in planning the epigraphic campaign in the tombs.

In the two field seasons, 1990 and 1991, the Theban Tombs Publication Project has taken over 313 photographs of 70 decorated scenes and wall sections inside Tomb 72. Unfortunately, due to the political conflict in the Arabian Gulf this season, we were unable to finish eleven blank wall sections and hence, complete the first phase of the photographic campaign in Tomb 72, as we had otherwise anticipated. We will complete this final group in four photos next season, 1991-1992, in addition to those photos of the ceilings of the Transverse Hall and Long Corridor.

Preparing Tomb 72 for Photography

To facilitate the photography in Tomb 72, it became necessary to prevent sunlight from penetrating into the tomb, as well as to minimize the presence of sand and air-borne dust particles there. The reasons for these are that sunlight in the tomb could disrupt the color balance of the 4x5 inch color transparencies, and it could create flares across the camera lens. Dust and sand floating in the air would likewise inhibit photography and epigraphy. Therefore, after receiving the permission of the Qurna Inspectorate, we installed a sheet of plywood over the interior side of the iron gate of the tomb--in order to block the sunlight and minimize wind-blown sand. In addition, we laid down sheets of clear plastic on the sandy floor inside the tomb in order to cover the sand and keep the air and walls of the tomb clear of floating dust and debris that would be stirred up by the work and traffic in there. These simple measures kept Tomb 72 remarkably clean and easy to work in during the course of the season, as well as provided a means of confirming the stability of the rock (see below).

The Epigraphic Campaign: Copying the Inscriptions

We resumed the epigraphic campaign in Tomb 72 in the 1990-91 season by drawing hand-copies of the wall and ceiling inscriptions in the Transverse Hall, south wing, including the offering scene on the west wall (key-plan no. TW 5-6), the explanatory texts of the hunting scene of Amenhotep II (TS 1),(3) and the three vertical bands of offering formulae in TS Ceiling. These texts were difficult to copy and required much time to do so, since the walls here are covered with a very thick black soot, apparently the result of burning and smoking in medieval times. Fortunatey, because most of the hieroglyphs were thickly painted on the underlying plaster, with the proper raking light, we could detect them under the soot well enough to draw hand-copies. However, the walls will require cleaning and rephotography, before the facsimile drawings of them can be executed.

As we stated in last season's report, we make hand-copies of the texts and decorations in Tomb 72 in support of the effort to create the facsimile drawings, which we will begin in the coming seasons. So many of the hieroglyphic signs and elements of the decoration are so fragmentary and disjointed that an artist would not be able to reconstruct the scenes and inscriptions in facsimile without the aid of the hand-copies to guide him.

Prosopographical and Family Data

The inscriptions in TW 5-6 contain important information about the family of Rây, including the names and titles of his brothers, all of whom held high positions in the temples of Western Thebes during the Eighteenth Dynasty. Earlier, Helck copied and published some of these inscriptions in Urk 4.(4) However, the hand copies we made this season reveal that Helck's copies--due to the difficult condition of the wall--are incomplete, and they contain significant errors and incorrect readings of the hieroglyphic signs. Whole columns are missing; hieroglyphs are wrongly transcribed, and even the names of individuals in the scenes are incorrect. One result of our study of the text in TW 5 this season has been to correct the names of Rây's brothers. While previously by following Helck's copies, it had been impossible to identify and trace any of Rây's brothers, now our corrected copies make possible a more accurate prosopographical study of those brothers as well as Rây's family as a whole.

This season, in an effort to fill lacunae in the inscriptions and family information in Tomb 72 which we encountered during the hand-copy process, we continued to consult with and verify the texts, titles, and individuals' names inscribed inside Tomb 121. This effort included a search for the names and titles of Rây's family members. We are especially interested in finding titles of Ahmose in his own tomb (TT121) to restore his broken title that appears in his son's tomb (TT72). Thus far, we have found that inside his tomb, Ahmose's highest title is:

Xry-Hb tpy n Imn m Hnq.t-anx
First Lector Priest of Amun in Hnq.t-anx (i.e., the mortuary temple of Tuthmosis III).(5)

Interestingly, a funerary cone from his tomb, published by Davies and Macadam, records his highest title as:

Hm-nTr sn-nw n Imn m Hnq.t-anx
Second Prophet of Amun in Hnq.t-anx.(6)

As of this writing, we do not know of well-preserved titles of Ahmose in the tomb of his son, Rây, (TT72) in which he is named Hm-nTr tpy n Imn, "First Prophet of Amun." Rather his title is broken there and appears as:

Hm-nTr [...] n Imn m Hnq.t-anx
[...] Prophet of Amun in Hnq.t-anx.

Given this lacuna and Ahmose's title on his funerary cone, Helck's restoration of his title as "First Prophet" in Urk. 4 may be unjustified.

The Technique of Inscribing the Texts in Tomb 72

Close examination of the hieroglyphic inscriptions in TW 5-6 this season has revealed the technique which the ancient draughtsmen and artisans utilized in laying down the inscriptions on the walls of Tomb 72. The wall surface consists of two layers of plaster plied over the native rock: a course and thick mud plaster (muna), which, in order to speed the hardening process, was heated to a high degree on the walls until it turned a red color; and a fine layer of smooth white gypsum plaster above the muna on which the painted decoration was applied.

The first step in painting the texts on the wall was to snap down square grid-lines on the greyish unpainted plaster surface. Then the outlines of the hieroglyphic signs were painted with a red pigment. The grid and the red outlines are still evident on the unpainted plaster in the upper right corners of TW 5. Thereafter, the hieroglyphs were filled in and colored with other pigments.(7) After the hieroglyphs were filled in, the plaster surface around the signs was painted with white paint to form the background of the sign.(8) Here the artists utilized the same brushes which they used to color the hieroglyphs, since the pigment for the colored glyphs is often found to contaminate the white brush strokes. Next, the artists reoutlined the hieroglyphs, covering up where the white paint sloughed over the colored signs. After the glyphs were reoutlined, apparently the vertical lines of the column margins were painted on the white surface. Lastly, the artists performed a final touch-up, filling in what had not been filled in before, putting color inside the hieroglyphs and white around them, wherever they were needed.

The Condition of the Tomb 72

The Cleft in the Ceiling

As we described in our report to the Permanent Committee last season, the ceiling of the Transverse Hall is cut longitudinally in half by a major cleft in the rock that runs from the northeast corner to the southwest corner of the hall. Apparently, this crack is a continuation of the same fissure that arcs through the rear of the neighboring tomb of Senenmut (TT71). In the Tomb 72, the tomb of Rây, the ceiling on the east side of the cleft lies 3-5 cm. lower than that of the west, indicating that the eastern slope of the hill in this section of Qurna had shifted downward in antiquity. That the Egyptians encountered the crack while building the tomb, or that it occurred specifically at that time is indicated by the great amount of coarse mud plaster and large limestone flakes which they placed into the cleft, and thereafter which they covered over with the finely decorated gypsum plaster. In any event, it is certain that the shifting and cracking of the Qurna slope could not have occurred after completion of the tomb.(9)

The Sooting and Burning of the Plaster

As we already described to the Permanent Committee, most of the painted plaster in Tomb 72 is lost from the walls and ceilings; only about 35% of the painted plaster survives inside the tomb. The remaining 65% of the wall and ceiling surface consists of the bare native rock, which is a soft and friable limestone of poor quality.

A large percentage of the ceiling and decorated plaster of the Transverse Hall, south wing, is covered with thick black soot, resulting from the cooking fires of a later domestic occupation. Based upon a Coptic graffito inscribed on the north wall of the Long Corridor, this occupation was probably during the Coptic period. The entire south wall (TS) is covered with soot, while slightly more than half of the east and west walls are also covered. Close examination of TS and TW 6 suggests that 50% of the ancient pigment under the soot is burned and irretrievably damaged. Cleaning the soot from these walls would reveal scorched and discolored hieroglyphs. On the other hand, most of the pigment in TW 5 and TE 5-6 apparently is still intact under the soot. Cleaning these walls should reveal well preserved hieroglyphic decoration. Interestingly, small sections of original undamaged color shows through the soot and damage of TS. These undamaged areas were the locations of ancient wasp nests that once covered the wall before the burning. Later, these nests fell away or were removed. The presence of the nests indicates a period time when the tomb lay open and derelict before its reoccupation, smoking and burning.

The Condition of TS Ceiling

Only about 15% of the decorated plaster ceiling survives in the Transverse Hall, and there most of it is in the south wing of the hallway. The best preservation is found in the section of ceiling between TE 4-5 and TW 4-5. The decoration consists typically of three vertical bands of hieroglyphic texts running along the east and west walls and the center of the ceiling. Each of these bands is separated by wide areas of a colorful diamond pattern, representing the usual stylization of the weaving pattern of burial cloth. Of the three bands, the text above the east wall (TE 4-5) is the most fully preserved and with the clearest colors, i.e., blue glyphs over red banding. The center band is in a worse condition, as less than a meter of text survives. Here the blue hieroglyphs show a moderate lightening of color due to fire-heating damage. The vertical text in the western band (above TW 4-5) shows the worst condition of the three. At the northern end, the red band has survived the heating well, although the blue glyphs are so light in places, they appear faded. In one section, the red band is burned to white powder; the blue color of the glyphs is entirely gone, but it has left a negative impression of itself, as the color of the red from beneath shows through. Thus, the impression is of red hieroglyphs on a white-powder background. The sequence of events is quite clear: first the red band was drawn and colored; the blue hieroglyphs were then painted on it; the band was fired and burned, during which the blue pigment protected the red below, while the uncovered red was burnt to white powder; ultimately, the blue was burnt or worn away, preserving its impressions as red hieroglyphs beneath.

The ceiling is unsooted over TW 4-5; it is heavily sooted over TW 6 in an area of the ceiling previously fallen down. The soot is heaviest over the south wall (TS). Here is thick soot over powdered burnt plaster. We see similar heavy sooting and powdered plaster above TE 6, where the narrow corner of the wall and ceiling survives. Here on the east side, where the ceiling has collapsed, and the plaster does not survive, the natural white color of the limestone is clear. Thus, this section collapsed after the burning. However, on the opposite side (where the great cleft cuts through the southwest corner of the hall), where the ceiling has collapsed, and the plaster likewise does not survive, the exposed limestone has been burned to black. Interestingly, one small section within this blackened area over TW 6 is white and unburned. The evidence suggests the following chronology for the history of TS Ceiling: the builders encountered a great cleft in the ceiling while building the tomb (or else the crack occurred during the building); it was filled in and plastered over; sometime later the section over TW 6 collapsed, destroying the decorated plaster; thereafter, the south section of the hall--wall and ceiling--was burned; initial stages of the burning might have actually caused the earlier collapse of the section over TW 6; the burning probably loosened other areas, which ultimately fell down in two sections after the burning, leaving their surfaces white.

The Rainfall of 1990-1991

Despite the burning and sooting of the plaster, the cleft in the collapsed ceiling, and the friable character of the exposed rock, Tomb 72 is in a remarkably stable condition. This fact was clearly demonstrated during the heavy rainfall and flooding that occurred in Luxor and Western Thebes on December 31, 1990. While other tombs were alleged to have had some water inside them, Tomb 72 remained dry, showing no evidence of taking any water. There was no trace of water or moisture or any related damage. There were no puddles of water or water stains on the plastic floor covering, nor was there any observed dampness under the plastic or on the walls. Also, there was no fallen plaster, stone, or newly deposited soil on that plastic. As a matter of fact, the plastic floor covering was instrumental in confirming that no stone, dirt, plaster, etc. had fallen from the walls or ceiling of the tomb throughout the season. We were very alert for any material appearing on the plastic that would reflect shifting of the rock or deterioration of the structure. Our preliminary conclusion is that currently, the structure of Tomb 72 is in a stable condition.

1. Tracing on photographs is the primary method utilized by, among others, the Centre de Documentation des Antiquités Égyptiens and the Oriental Institute Epigraphic Survey at Chicago House, Luxor. (return)

2. This negative film is actually commercial Eastman 35mm movie film. (return)

3. Porter and Moss, Topographical Bibliography I/12, p. 142, (4) and (5), respectively. (return)

4. W. Helck, Urkunden der 18. Dynastie, Heft 17 (Berlin, 1955), 1457-58. (return)

5. This title appears in the vertical bands on the ceiling of the tomb. (return)

6. Davies and Macadam, Corpus of Inscribed Funerary Cones, no. 297. Presently the tomb contains several examples of corniced shape burnt bricks. In future seasons of the project, we will examine these for similar titles of the deceased. (return)

7. The red outlines still show on the unpainted plaster in many signs. (return)

8. The brush strokes of the first coat of white paint are clearly traced around the signs. In certain examples, that white paint sloughed on to the signs and had to be "cleaned up." (return)

9. Since the tomb of Senenmut predates that of Rây, the fissure there occurred before the construction of the former or only shortly thereafter. (return)

Reports Page

Theban Tombs Publication Project Home Page

P. A. Piccione Home Page