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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Sobhy

Virtual Tour to Tomb of Menna in the Theban Necropolis

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Cut into the cliffs of the Theban necropolis in Luxor’s West Bank, the tomb of Menna is known for the colorful and remarkably well-preserved paintings that adorn the chapel walls. The tomb has been one of the chief attractions on the West Bank for the last several centuries. In the fall of 2007 and 2008, ARCE president emeritus Melinda Hartwig directed a project to conserve the wall paintings in the tomb of Menna. Georgia State University, in partnership with the American Research Center in Egypt, several European centers of archaeometry and the Supreme Council of Antiquities (the predecessor to the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities) with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development carried out the project.

Although little is known about Menna, his tomb provides some insight into his life as a member of ancient Egypt’s elite class. Titles that appear in his tomb indicate he was a scribe and an overseer of fields belonging to the pharaoh and the temple of Amun-Re. In the book published on the project, The Tomb Chapel of Menna (TT69): The Art, Culture, and Science of Painting in an Egyptian Tomb - the fifth installment of the ARCE Conservation series - Hartwig explained, “Menna would have supervised a number of field scribes and reported to the central field administration in the office of the granaries of the pharaoh.” She further added, “From the scenes depicted in his tomb, we can see that Menna supervised delegations who measured the fields, brought defaulters to justice, inspected field work and recorded the yield of the crop.”

As the owner of the tomb, Menna is the central character in the chapel’s decorative program. In almost all of his depictions, Menna wears the sbyw-collar, known as the Gold of Honor. This indicates he was recognized formally by the king. Menna’s wife, Henuttawy, appears in nearly every scene in the tomb chapel (a sculpture bust of her is in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo). Her primary title was the Chantress of Amun, a position occupied by noble women in the 18th dynasty. Henuttawy may have been the daughter of the Second Prophet of Amun, Amenhotep-si-se. Her other title, Mistress of the House, indicates that she owned property when she married Menna.

The detailing and overall style of the tomb paintings are specific to the reign of Amenhotep III. On this point, Hartwig elaborated, “Similar ochre-toned skin color between men and women, faces with small noses and mouths, elongated eyes with pupils that disappear under the upper eyelid, and straying wig tendrils are common in figures that date to the reign of Amenhotep III.”

Additional support for this date is provided by the tomb architecture and the prominent appearance of the sbyw-collar, which Hartwig suggests was received by Menna during one of Amenhotep III’s Sed Festivals. An especially notable image in the tomb is a scene depicting the Weighing of the Heart, which is one of the first times such a scene appears in an elite Theban tomb. As described in the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, the scene depicts Osiris, the god of the dead, weighing the heart of the deceased against the Feather of Truth to judge the morality of a life.

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