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Theban Tombs Publication Project
The Tombs of Ahmose (no. 121) and Rây (no. 72)
by Peter A. Piccione
© 2000. All rights reserved.

Drawing: Opening of the Mouth Ceremony; detail from the tomb of Rây
Drawing: Opening of the Mouth Ceremony of Rây,
Theban Tomb no. 72, axial corridor, north wall

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THE purpose of the Theban Tombs Publication Project is to document the history, architecture, decorations, and contents of two rock-cut noblemen's tombs located at the top of the hill of Sheikh abd el-Gurna in Western Thebes, Egypt. Nearly four thousand years old, these tombs date to the Egyptian New Kingdom. They were owned, respectively, by the high priests, Ahmose (tomb no. 121) and his son, Rây (tomb no. 72).

Photo: tomb of Rây, facade
Facade of the tomb of Rây
In two successive generations, these priests directed the mortuary cult of King Thutmose III in the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egyptian history,
mid-second millennium B.C. Ahmose also served as Second Prophet of Amun-Ra (i.e., second high priest) at the great Temple of Karnak.

In 1998 project staff discovered new official titles

A multi-disciplinary documentation effort of epigraphy, archaeology, and conservation
of Ahmose in a previously inaccessible part of his tomb: "Chancellor and Overseer of Upper and Lower Egypt," suggesting that he might also have commanded a high civil authority in addition to his priestly powers.

Of eight major temples that existed in Western Thebes at that time, Rây was the high priest in five, while his so-called "brothers" were said to be priests in the others. Hence, Ahmose and Rây apparently headed a family of priests that controlled most of the temples in Western Thebes. Given its prominence, Ahmose's family was probably closely allied to the Thutmosid Egyptian royal family. Thus, an important part of the project is an historical study of this priestly family, its members, origins, social position, and political relations to Egyptian royalty.

The mainstay of all archaeological measurement is the meter stick.

THIS project combines in unique fashion the methods of archaeology, conservation, art history, philology, epigraphy, and social history to produce a multi-dimensional record of the tombs, and it uses that record to help formulate socio-historical analyses of Egyptian civilization.

The tombs of Ahmose and Rây require study and conservation now. The architecture of Rây's tomb is unique among all Theban private tombs, since its facade--with its system of colonnades, ramps, and terraces--is actually executed in the style of a royal terrace temple, the most famous example of which is the picturesque temple of Queen Hatshepsut and that of Thutmose III at Deir

"The architecture of Rây's tomb is unique..., since its facade ... is actually executed in the style of a royal terrace temple...." el-Bahari in Western Thebes.

Neither tomb 72 nor 121 has been systematically studied and published previously. Sadly,

through the years, tomb 72 has suffered intermittent vandalism, and both tombs have been subject to erosion that is endangering their carved and painted decorations, some of which are crumbling.

The mainstay of all archaeological measurement is the meter stick.

TO date, the Theban Tombs Publication Project has engaged in five privately financed field seasons. In that time, it has completed pre-conservation photography of the decoration and inscriptions on photo: Opening of the Mouth ceremony, tomb of Ray the walls of the tombs. It has also prepared controlled hand-copies of many of the hieroglyphic texts and scenes as a prelude to making the actual facsimile drawings. Because of the general fragility of the wall surfaces, the project plans to trace the drawings on precisely aligned photographs, rather than to trace the walls themselves. In 1996, the project cleared the entrance of Ahmose's tomb and fitted it with a modern doorway and iron door. In October 1998, the project began the conservation of the tombs with a formal condition survey, undertaken by the project's chief conservator. This effort marked a first step toward conserving and restoring the two tombs.The elaborate and detailed study entailed an exhaustive physical survey and micro-examination of the tombs to assess the condition of the structures, their stability, the factors affecting the walls and ceilings, the composition and integrity of the brick and plaster work, paint pigments, and painted decorations. Through this survey, we are now formulating an effective course of treatment for the tombs and a financial budget for the work.

The mainstay of all archaeological measurement is the meter stick.

"Both tombs have been subject to erosion that is endangering their carved and painted decorations, some of which is crumbling."

REMAINING field work includes: excavate, repair, and preserve exterior and interior areas of the tombs, including the painted decorations and sculpted inscriptions; rebuild the exterior facades where necessary and feasible; construct a path around tomb 72 for local adherents to the popular Muslim prayer-shrine located just above the tomb; reassemble the broken fragments of the carved granite stelae; expedite the final epigraphic photography of the wall decorations and stelae, and prepare facsimile drawings of the wall-scenes
and objects.

The final publication of the tombs of Ahmose and Rây will include: detailed descriptions of the tombs and their contents, color and black-and-white photographs, archaeological and architectural plans and drawings, 3-dimensional reconstructions, epigraphical facsimiles of the hieroglyphic inscriptions and decorations, as well as their translations. It will also include an historical study of the tombs' owners and their family, reconstructing the position and status of the family in Egyptian society. The publication and conservation of the tombs will serve to document these remarkable structures and to preserve them for future generations.

frieze of udjat-eyes; the udjat was the eye of Horus, an amulet to ward off evil

History of the Project

IN its first two field seasons, 1990 and 1991, the Theban Tombs Publication Project was conducted under the aegis of the Serapis Research Institute, Chicago, while it received significant logistical and organizational support in the field from The Oriental Institute Epigraphic Survey at Chicago House, Luxor (Egypt). From 1993 to 1997, the project was sponsored directly by the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE), although its funding still derived from Serapis. Since Fall 1998, the project has been co-sponsored by both the Serapis Research Institute and the University of Charleston, S.C., which has joined the ARCE consortium of Egyptological research institutes for that purpose. Thus far, while Charleston has provided domestic research expenses (office, supplies, etc.), funding for expenses related specifically to the 1998 fieldwork (i.e., travel, hotel, insurance, local salaries, transport, equipment, etc.) was maintained through Serapis. However, it is anticipated that in the future, the University of Charleston, S.C., might also coordinate some share of the international field expenses.

frieze of udjat-eyes; the udjat was the eye of Horus, an amulet to ward off evil

For more information on the Theban Tombs Publication Project
or to enquire about making a donation, please write to:

Theban Tombs Publication Project
University of Charleston, S.C.
66 George Street
Charleston, South Carolina 29424

Currently, donors to the project receive a copy of the Serapis Research Institute's tax-exempt letter for their files and a receipt according to IRS standards. Potential donors may also write for a copy of the project's most recent annual field report.

The Serapis Research Institute is a not-for-profit, tax-exempt educational organization incorporated in the State of Illinois. It was founded in 1979 by professional Egyptologists as an independent organization for research and publication on ancient Egypt. The Serapis Research Institute publishes the scholarly journal, Serapis: The American Journal of Egyptology. Serapis is designated by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service as tax exempt under section 501 (c)(3) of the U.S Internal Revenue Code. All donations to the Serapis Research Institute are deductible for income tax purposes to the fullest extent permitted by law. A copy of Serapis' official tax-exempt letter is available to any person considering a donation to the project. Please write to the address above.

Khepri, the winged scarab, the form assumed by the sun god at the dawning of the new day

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