Tomb of Nefersekheru on the West Bank at Luxor

The Tomb of Nefersekheru

by John Watson

Nefersekheru and his wife in a posture of worship

During the last part of the reign of Ramesses II, Nefersekheru was a Scribe of Divine Offerings of All the Gods, as well as an officer of the Treasury at Thebes. He had at least three wives that we know of, consisting of Nefertari, Ma'atmut and Sekhemwy, along with a number of children.

The tomb of Nefersekheru (TT 296) is situated at Luxor in a part of the West Bank necropolis known as al-Khokha , sharing the same entrance court as TT 178, belonging to Neferrenpet. It was built on the eastern end of the 18th Dynasty tomb of Djutmose (TT 295), on a hill that divides Deir el-Bahri from the Sheikh 'Abd el-Qurna necropolis. It shares many stylistic similarities to the tomb of Neferrenpet. In fact, given the two men's titles and their dates, they almost certainly knew each other and were even involved in many of the same activities. It can be informative to visit both tombs to compare the different ways their artists treated similar topics. Though there is a substantial overlap in subject matter, there is also a distinct difference in style.

The tomb is notable for its elaborately decorated ceiling, which combines a wide variety of fine, geometric patterns. This type of ceiling is rare, and even more so for its vividly preserved colors.

Detail from the ceiling in the tomb of Nefersekheru

The tomb itself consists of a long hall that opens off of a courtyard. On the outside of the tomb, the entrance is flanked by columns of offering texts, while on the doorjambs, Nefersekheru and one of his wives, Nefertari, stride forward. They walk out of the tomb toward the rising sun on the left side, and on the right, they walk in, toward the setting sun, accompanied by texts to Osiris.

Within the first chamber, Nefersekheru and Nefertari are depicted in two very similar scenes on the right (south) side of the east wall. To the left, closest to the doorway, they stand in front of a shrine with an open, hinged wooden door. Two feline-like demons sit holding knives in their paws within the shrine. To the right, the couple stand before another shrine. This one contains four demons in human form. These scenes represent chapters of the Book of Gates, in which Nefersekheru and his wife ask permission of the demons to pass through the gates that stand between them and the netherworld.

After being granted permission to enter the netherworld, we next find the couple standing and making offerings. There are four tables piled high with flowers, lettuce, breads and other food.

The scales used for the Judgement of the Dead

To the right of this scene, the jackal-headed god Anubis leads the couple into the court of Osiris for the ceremony of the Weighing of the Hearts. There, it will be determined whether the deceased have behaved well enough in this life to be blessed in the next one. Accompanied by Isis and Nephthys who stand behind him, Osiris sits in an elaborately decorated shrine. The Four Sons of Horus rising from a lotus blossom watch as Thoth and Horus weigh Nefersekheru's heart against a figure of Ma'at, that symbolizes truth, correctness and justice. Should the scales not favor the deceased, Ammit, a beast combining the fearsome features of a lion, a crocodile and a hippopotamus, sits between the couple and the balance, waiting to devour them.

In the next register down, we find Nefersekheru and his wife standing beside a T-shaped pool filled with lotus flowers and fish, the Tilapia nilotica, called bolti in modern Egypt. Date palms grow near the shore, laden with fruit and filled with birds' nests. The Tilapia fish were particularly popular in ancient Egypt. They carried their young in their mouths and were therefore associated with ideas of creation. Their bright colors when breeding also reminded Egyptians of solar deities, and otherwise, they were plentiful and they tasted good. Here, Nefersekheru and his wife dip cool water from the pool to drink, some of which escapes their hands.

This scene represents Chapter 62 of the Book of the Dead, which reads, "May the cool water of Thoth and the water of Hapi be open for the Lord of the Horizon, the pools of the Field of Reeds serve me, limitless eternity is given to me, for I am he who inherited eternity, to whom everlasting was given."

To the right, the couple takes part in a festival for the goddess Bastet. The couple sits in front of a huge pile of offerings of Sycamore fruit, bread, lettuce and onions. Behind them stands a nude girl who may be their daughter, while a sem-priest offers incense and water. Before him, another daughter, Isis, kneels in mourning. Her hair is disheveled and her expression is one of significant grief.

The next scene to the right depicts the couple once again sitting before an offering table, receiving water and incense from a sem-priest. Afterwards, they are once again portrayed sitting in a kiosk, playing a game of senet. To their right, King Amenhotep I and his mother, Ahmes-Nefertari, both of them elaborately clothed, sit in a kiosk before a mound of offerings being presented to them by Nefersekheru.

To the left, on the south wall, scenes depict Nefersekheru and his wife worshiping Osiris and Hathor on one side, and Anubis and Isis on the other. They flank a sealed doorway leading into an undecorated room and a passage to the undecorated burial chamber.

A statue, presumably of one of Nefersekheru'w wives

On the rear, or west wall in the center, two scenes of Hathor emerging from the fountain surmount the central Osiris niche in the rear wall of the chamber. Separating the scenes are a djed-pillar, Isis knots, nefer signs and Eyes of Horus. The niche, flanked by personified djed-pillars and figures of Nefersekheru, contains a broken statue of Osiris. Three men kneel before the offering tables in a small register below the statue niche. A scene on the right end of the wall shows Osiris sitting in an elaborate shrine with Isis and Nephthys behind him.

On the left, or south half of the rear wall, Nefersekheru himself is dressed in the panther skin of a sem-priest. He, holding a censer, comes before Osiris with his wife and son. His wife brings a bouquet of papyrus and an instrument used in the cult of Hathor. His son, who is identified as a scribe in the army, carries a duck. In a damaged part of the scene, Osiris sits before them in an elaborate shrine, with Isis standing behind him. An accompanying text is a hymn to Osiris.

The next scene to the right depicts Nefersekheru and his wife before Osiris, who this time is accompanied by Horus, behind him, and Isis, in front. Once again, the text is a hymn to Osiris.

In the lower register to the left, a sem-priest stands before Nefersekheru, his wife, and their daughter, Heretperi, a chantress in the Temple of Amun. The priest stands before small tables laden with loves of bread, and offers incense. To the right, a second sem-priest stands before tables with burning candles and food offerings. Nefersekheru and his wife sit in front of these tables on a low dais.

Farther to the right, a third sem-priest with a censer and a kebeh-vessel used for purifying using cool water stands before a harpist. The harpist sits cross-legged on the ground playing his instrument while Nefersekheru, his wife and a young lady listen.

On the northern, right half of the rear wall, Isis and Nephthys stand behind Osiris, who is seated in an elaborately adorned shrine. The Four Sons of Horus rising from a lotus flower are before him. Nefersekheru and his wife, Ma'atmut, stand before all of these deities, worshiping them and presenting offerings. Once again, the accompanying text is from a hymn to Osiris.

Horus and Osiris sit before offering tables

To the right of this is a very complex scene painted brightly in yellow, pink, red, blue and black. Symbolically rich, it depicts Nefersekheru standing to the left in a pose of adoration, and surrounded by nine columns of a hymn to the sun god, Re-Harakhty. In two half registers to the right, the souls of Buto and Hierakonpolis surmount a kneeling image of Nefersekheru. The souls of Buto and Hierakonpolis are in adoration before the central scene in which a personified djed-pillar with human arms holds an ankh-sign, itself with arms that present the solar disk to the goddess Nut. She reaches out from heaven for the offering. To the right of the djed-pillar is a kneeling Isis, while to the left is Nephthys. Underneath each of them stands a ba-bird with arms extended in adoration. Behind these figures, the red granite mountain of the west is drawn with undulating lines and small red dots.

To the right on the north wall, in a large niche, two of his wives flank a seated figure of Nefersekheru. The lintel is adorned with reclining Anubis-jackals, Hathor-headed columns and kheker-friezes.

On the front east wall, to the left (north), just to the left of the entrance, we find Nefersekheru and his wife standing before a table of offerings. Here, some sixty rectangles of text are from Chapter 125 of the Book of the Dead. This is the so-called Negative Confession, a list of evil deeds the deceased claims he did not commit during his life. Among others, he claims not to have robbed anyone, never stolen food, never cursed a god, never told a lie or gossiped and never caused terror or become violent.

The common courtyard of these tombs

Left of this scene, we once again find Osiris sitting in an elaborately ornate shrine, this time with the goddess Ma'at. In front of them, Thoth holds an ankh-sign and a was-scepter in his right hand, while in the left he holds a flail. After having passed the weighing of the heart ceremony, Thoth is about to introduce Nefersekheru to Osiris.

To the right and below, two half registers depict the funeral procession of Nefersekheru. Here, four men pull a sled holding a box of canopic jars. Preceding them, men carry a bed and clothing, jugs and a mummy mask to be placed in the tomb. Women sit on the ground in poses of mourning, as men drive a cow and her calf along the procession.

A floor plan of the tomb of Nefersekheru

In the lower register, contained in an ornate shrine, the mummy of Nefersekheru is pulled forward by four cattle, as priests purify the shrine with water and incense. At the front of the procession, women mourners stand weeping and wailing. Here, the image of a woman, naked to the waist with her torso drawn frontally, is uncommon in ancient Egyptian art. To the left, priests offer purifying water before a pile of offerings. Behind the offerings, a mourning woman kneels in front of an elaborately wrapped mummy of Nefersekheru. The mummy stands, surrounded by flowers, before his tomb which is surmounted by a pyramid superstructure. Here, the goddess Hathor emerges from the red granite mountain at the entrance to the netherworld as a cow, prepared to greet this Inew arrival.

n a lower register at the right, a tree goddess exits a Sycamore tree to pour libations for the kneeling figures of Nefersekheru and his wife, who extend their cupped hands to receive the sacred water. Two sons and three daughters kneel and drink of the libations behind the deceased, while a ba-bird stands at the base of the tree, also drinking from its cupped hands.