The blog post for the final week of the Thebes course has been written by Sandra Ottens, who has been working as a secretary at the municipality of Amsterdam for thirty years. Sandra studied Egyptology at Leiden University (BA and MA) from 2006 to 2012. She started blogging about her Egyptological adventures when her class attended a two-month study semester in Cairo, visiting a large number of excavation sites. Sandra joined the excavations in Amheida (Dakhla Oasis) as an assistant epigrapher to Professor Olaf Kaper for one season in 2012. She wrote her MA thesis on the Seven Hathors, a group of seven goddesses who predicted the fate of new-born children.
The Egypt Centre course on Thebes, the city of 100 gates, and the elaborate parade of the royal mummies through the streets of Cairo to their new home in the National Museum of Egyptian Culture have reminded me of a paper I wrote about royal tomb construction management in the New Kingdom while I was a Master’s student at Leiden University. During the New Kingdom the pharaohs were buried in the Valley of the Kings, and other members of the royal family were buried in the Valley of the Queens. For the production of these tombs, the Egyptian state recruited crews of skilled workers and artisans who were housed in the village of Deir el-Medina (fig. 1). The villagers kept a very elaborate administration of the various stages of the building process. Only fragments of this administration have survived, but together they give interesting insights into the project organisation.
|Fig. 1: The village of Deir el-Medina|
The workers were paid on behalf of the state with regular deliveries of food, drink, and supplies that were sent from various temple institutions. The village administration bureau kept a log of all the deliveries received on each day and organised the distribution of the rations among the employees. It is likely that the artisans who worked on the royal tombs also helped to create the tombs of the high officials that are scattered around the hills of the West Bank, and that they received additional payments for that work (fig. 2). It is not clear how much time they would have had for these extracurricular activities, but I assume they may have been helped by other workers who were not part of the official royal tomb crew.
From the administration we know that the crew that was employed for the work on the royal tomb usually consisted of forty–sixty men divided into two teams, which were referred to as the left and the right side. The documentation suggests that a crew of workers was installed at the beginning of each pharaoh’s reign (fig. 3). The men were required to swear an oath of office in the presence of the vizier, because their work was obviously highly confidential in nature. It is likely that the crew would start working on a pharaoh’s tomb in the early years of his reign, but their work may also have been divided across several locations, whenever tombs for other royals were needed.
The administration tells us that there were regular inspection visits, probably to check the progress of the work. We know that detailed plans of the tomb were drawn, that the dimensions of the tomb were measured, and that these measurements were used to calculate the time it would take to carve a tomb out of the rocks and to decorate it. There were also attendance sheets, keeping track of the workers’ attendance and absence. The high officials who were in charge of the building project would have been able to use these documents to check the quantity and quality of the work, so that they could send regular progress reports to the royal court (fig. 4).
After the work on the royal tomb had been finished, the tomb would be ready and waiting for the inevitable funeral of the pharaoh. The royal mummy parade through Cairo has given us an interesting modern insight into the kind of ceremony that might have been performed for an ancient Egyptian royal funeral (fig. 5). The actual burial in the Valley of the Kings would probably have been done with only a select group of people, for reasons of security. The Deir el-Medina administration tells us that the workers were sometimes employed to move items of tomb equipment, always under the strict supervision of a number of high officials.
|Fig. 5: Royal Mummy Parade, Cairo, April 3rd, 2021|
I have turned the paper I wrote into an article about the various stages of the royal tomb building process.
The Dutch version, which was published in Ta Mery (stichting Huis van Horus) in 2013, can be found on my blog: https://egyptoblogie.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/bouwmanagement-in-het-dal-der-koningen/.
The English version can be found here: https://egyptoblogie.wordpress.com/2021/04/06/construction-management-in-the-valley-of-the-kings/.