The tomb

Discovery

Quick review

The tomb of Queen Nefertari (QV 66), the favourite Great Royal Wife of King Ramses II (lifetime ca. 1303–1213 BC), was discovered by Ernesto Schiaparelli (1856–1928) in the Valley of the Queens in 1904. Her burial had been looted in antiquity, so no trace of the original entrance had been preserved. Besides the famous wall paintings, a series of broken remains (e.g. a damaged pink granite sarcophagus, broken furniture, jars, shabtis, other various small items), a pair of sandals and two fragmented mummified legs (parts of tibiae and femora) are preserved. All these items and the human remains are currently housed in the (Museo Egizio Turin, Suppl. 5154 RCGE 14467). (Table A in S1 File).

All photos of the tomb on the "Photos & Media" page

The tomb and its iconography

The tomb of Nefertari is arguably the most beautiful and well preserved tomb in the Theban necropolis.

 

It has been extensively documented and published and the state of preservation has given scholars the unique opportunity to study the decorative scheme as a whole. Several authors have given their theories as to the distribution of the imagery and religious iconography (e.g. Goedicke and Thausing 1971; Schmidt and Willeitner 1994; McDonald 1996; Leblanc and Siliotti 2001; McCarthy 2002 and 2006).

The tomb was constructed in a style similar to that of Seti I and Merenptah in the Valley of the Kings where the tomb descends by way of a long stepped corridor into a large pillared burial chamber (Goedicke and Thausing 1971, 35). In the case of Nefertari, the corridor essentially divides the tomb space into two with the antechamber and adjoining room providing one set of decoration and the burial chamber another.

 

The conception of death for the Egyptians was linked with regeneration and rebirth, primarily in two forms, one following the rising and setting of the sun cyclically and the other linked to a rebirth in the afterlife through the body of Osiris (Hornung 1999, 27). The tomb of Nefertari illustrates both of these concepts of rebirth through the choice of deities (Osiris and Isis are often represented but so are Ra-Harakty, Atum, etc.) and her choice of texts from the Book of the Dead found inside the tomb. The queen always appears by herself in her tomb without her husband Rameses II. Likewise, her skin is almost always painted in more masculine reddish tones rather than the typical female yellow, which suggests that by adopting typically male attributes, she was able to become Osiris and complete her transformation into the afterlife (McCarthy 2006, 116).

Copyrights AUC Press, Elisabetta Ferrero/Archivio White Star

In his article on the development of the tomb, Leblanc (1989, 245-7) proposed a model where the deceased needed first to be interred in the sarcophagus chamber (K). There she went through a stage of gestation after passing into the underworld (Egyptian duat) through the gates outlined in chapters 144-6 of the Book of the Dead which are found on the room’s walls. The images which appear on the wall are similar to those found in the vignette which accompanies chapter 182, “Book for causing Osiris to endure” (Goedicke and Thausing 1971, 37). The second step of ‘coming forth by day’ was then seen as taking place in the antechamber and lateral room where the spells from the Book of the Dead reflect the emergence and regeneration of the deceased. Chapter 17 in particular identifies the deceased with Atum and is one of the most commonly used chapters from the Book of the Dead with roots in the Coffin Texts (CT 335). The text gives the deceased the power to be reborn and to pass into the land of the living as they please. In the side room, there are located chapters 94 and 148 which have the titles: ‘Spell for obtaining water-bowl and palette from Thoth in the Necropolis’ and ‘Spell for initiating the spirit into the mind of Ra’ (Goedicke and Thausing 1971, 44).

 

Going beyond what Leblanc set out very briefly, McCarthy has created a similar but nuanced paradigm for the layout of the tomb (McCarthy 2002). For her, the antechamber and lateral side room (Chambers C and G) represent the horizon (Egyptian akhet) where the sun rises and sets. This is highlighted by the large image of the horizon painted over the entrance into the tomb. To the Egyptians, this was the liminal space between the physical world and that of the underworld through which the deceased must pass to be joined with Osiris. Chamber G highlights the union of Atum and Osiris in its illustrations. The wall which one faces when entering the room depicts Osiris and Atum seated back to back, while one of the most evocative scenes is found on the east wall of Chamber G and it features a syncretism of Osiris and Ra who is being protected by Isis and Nephthys. The hieroglyphic text which lies to either side of the mummiform god says, “Osiris rests in Ra” and “It is Ra who rests in Osiris.”

 

Staircase I Descending into the burial chamber, one follows the deceased into the duat where the body rests at night. This transition is illustrated by the seated Anubis jackals who keep watch at the entrance to the sarcophagus chamber. Once inside, the deceased passes through the gates of the underworld and arrives before Osiris, Hathor of the West and Anubis on the rear right wall. On the left side wall is a small recess with images of the mummiform sons of Horus which may have been where the canopic chest was kept. Of the two side rooms off the burial chamber, the one to the left (west) also contains images of the sons of Horus and Isis and Nephthys, while the rear wall has an image of the tomb of Osiris which is mythically located at Abydos. The right (east) side chamber has images of the queen before Hathor, Anubis and Isis as well as a large figure of Nut on the back wall. Both of these rooms were likely used as storage for the burial goods of Nefertari. The rear chamber is unfortunately in poor condition and has only a small amount of decoration remaining on the side walls. This style of decoration appears different from the rest of the tomb and may have been added later (Goedicke and Thausing 1971, 36). The center of the tomb is protected by four pillars each faced with djed column, a symbol of stability and of the god Osiris and it is there that Nefertari becomes Osiris who rests in the sleep of death (McCarthy 2002, 187-8).

Valley of the Queens Assessment Report, Volume 1 Conservation and Management Planning; GCI, Los Angeles, 2012

Additional facts

Hieratic inscription in a niche (Ba) on the west wall of chamber B, recording the delivery of plaster to two divisions of laborers.
Photo C. Chapoton

(1) [...q]ADA (n) ntj Hr wnmj (2) XAr 2
[...ntj Hr] (3) smHj m-mjtt xAr 1

(1) [... delivered...] plaster for those, who are (working) on the right side: (2) two sacks.
(3) and also [for those, who are (working)] on the left side: one sack.

September 29, 2018. Hieroglyphic transcription, transliteration and translation to Russian: Maxim Panov
Translation to English: Andrey Plaksin, Natalia Koroleva

© 2015-2020 Andrey Plaksin

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