Egypt: The Private Deir el-Medina Tomb of Irunefer on the West Bank at Luxor

The Private Deir el-Medina Tomb of Irunefer

on the West Bank at Luxor

by Jimmy Dunn writing as Mark Andrews

The Tomb of Irunefer (TT290) is located in the Deir el-Medina Necropolis west of the Ptolemaic Temple of Hathor on the West Bank at Luxor (ancient Thebes). As with most of those buried in the tombs in this area, Irunefer was probably a worker in the royal tombs, though the reference we have for him simply provides that he was a "Servant in the Place of Truth on the West". Otherwise, we know that his parents were Siwazyt, a priest and Tausret, his mother, and that he was married to a woman named Mehytkhati, who probably shared his tomb. He probably lived during Egypt's 19th Dynasty, which was a fairly prosperous time in ancient Egypt, though under which king we are unsure.

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It was discovered by the French archaeologist, Bernard Bruyere in 1922. However, it had been robbed of most everything during antiquity. The only remaining funerary equipment discovered in the tomb were a few stele fragments and mere fragments of a wooden coffin.

Today the tomb complex of Irunefer consists of a surface offering chapel made of mud brick and a subterranean rock cut burial chamber. At one time, the discover believed it to have the typical small pyramid superstructure found in other Deir el-Medina tombs, though nothing of it survives today.

The above ground chapel has a barrel vaulted roof, and features a deep, vaulted stele niche centered in the long wall opposite of the entrance. There are also two stele receptacles on the short walls

The underground chambers are reached by way of a rock cut vertical shaft a few meters in depth. It is located in the courtyard, which is shared by a nearby tomb (TT291), in front of the chapel offset away from the chapel's entrance. At the bottom of this shaft four steps lead to a small, rock cut chamber. This chamber also gives into another tomb suite besides that of Irunefer, leading off to the left. To the right, it leads into a fairly large, irregularly shaped chamber. This in turn leads to a second mud brick lined vertical shaft along with a small rock cut stairway. This element finally communicates with the actual burial chamber belonging to Irunefer. This is a well finished tomb which is fully decorated.

The rock cut burial chamber itself is not unlike the chapel above It has a rectangular shaped floor plan along with a barrel style vaulted ceiling. The tomb was lined with mud brick which was then plastered over to make a good surface for the decorative theme. A platform for Irunefer's, and perhaps his wife, Mehytkhati, sarcophagi was created by elevating about one third of the floor at the rear section of the chamber.

The plaster in the chamber was first coated with a golden yellow paint, typical of the 19th Dynasty private tombs in this area. Afterwards, almost every available space was decorated with paintings of divine, human and animal figures. Dividing these scenes in vertical columns we find funerary texts in black glyphs between red registers rules.

Runefer must have been a rather dry soul during his life. Unlike other private tombs, there is none of the life we expect to find, as it lacks all normal depictions of daily life. Instead, we find very strict symbolic and funerary decoration and one must wonder about the influence of his priestly father. In fact, we find a scene depicting his mother and father wearing white wigs, and scaled somewhat larger than the tomb owner, a visual device found usually to convey their seniority to their son. The decorative theme displays scenes one might more likely find in a royal tomb, with depictions of various deities including Osiris, Ptah and Anubis, Ma'at (and perhaps Thoth as a baboon) as well as symbolism such as the Benu-bird and Irunefer's ka along with text from the Book of Gates.


Title Author Date Publisher Reference Number
Complete Valley of the Kings, The (Tombs and Treasures of Egypt's Greatest Pharaohs) Reeves, Nicholas; Wilkinson, Richard H. 1966 Thames and Hudson Ltd IBSN 0-500-05080-5
Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, The Shaw, Ian 2000 Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-815034-2