1. The burial chamber of
Rashepses at Saqqara
In 2012 Hany Abdallah El-Tayeb was awarded a grant from the EES Centenary Fund, which
enabled him to excavate the burial chamber of the Saqqara tomb of Rashepses.
The tomb of Rashepses (LS16), dating to the reign of
King Djedkare, is situated just to the north of Djoser’s
Step Pyramid complex at Saqqara and has been known
since the early 1800s. However, a large part of the mastaba
had remained unexcavated until 2010 when I re-started
archaeological work at the tomb for my PhD.
Neither the burial chamber of the tomb nor its point
of access are mentioned in previous studies (Lepsius,
Denkmäler, pp.165-170, pls 60-64; Porter & Moss,
Topographical Bibliography III2
, pp.494-496; Quibell,
Excavations at Saqqara (1907-1908), pp.23-24, pls 60-61.2)
so one of the aims of the renewed exploration was to
investigate the tomb-owner’s burial apartment.
In 2010, a square shaft (1.90m along each side) was
found in the area north-west of the false-door room. The
shaft fill consisted of a mixture of local limestone, sand
and fragments of pottery, with a few human bones. At a
depth of 11m an entrance led from the south wall of the
shaft into a large burial chamber which measures 5.4m x
5.0m, is 2.5m high and has painted decoration.
Painted burial chambers are known at Saqqara from the
late Fifth/early Sixth Dynasty but Rashepses’ tomb, of the
reign of King Djedkare, seems to be the earliest known
example. At Giza the earliest painted burial chambers date
to the time of Djedkare/Unas (e.g. that of Senedjemib-
Inti - see Kanawati, Decorated Burial Chambers, pp.43–46).
Three walls, those on the east, west and north, of
Rashepses’ burial chamber were decorated. Cut into the
bedrock, they were first plastered and then the scenes
were painted. Some parts of the decoration are in bad
condition and damaged, but many parts are surprisingly
well preserved, still showing the bright colours used by
the ancient artists.
The east wall contains three niches with floors slightly
Plan of the tomb of Rashepses with the burial chamber. Drawing by
Mohammed FathyThe location of the tomb of Rashepses
The titles and name of Rashepses, written inside the burial chamber
2. higher than the floor level of the chamber.
Each niche measures 1.0m x 1.4m. The lintel
above the niches is inscribed with the titles
and name of the tomb-owner:
‘..Seal-bearer of the King of Lower Egypt,
Hereditary Prince, Chief Justice and Vizier,
Overseer of the Scribes of the King’s
Documents, Overseer of a Troop-house/
Work-place, Overseer of the Nomes of Lower
Egypt, King’s Liegeman, Staff of the rekhyt-
people, Juridical adj-mer Official, Support of
knmwt, Priest of Maat, Rashepses.’
Rashepses’ title of Vizier is otherwise found
only in the main entrance of the tomb and
on some blocks that were discovered in the
last season. Of his 33 known titles, Rashepses
lists only 11 in his burial chamber; perhaps
the ones that he considered most important
The west wall of the chamber has two
niches: a large one, which contains a limestone
sarcophagus, and a smaller niche probably
intended for the canopic jars. A fragment of
a human skull (probably that of Rashepses
himself) was found inside the sarcophagus,
and a part of a limestone canopic jar was
discovered next to the small niche. The walls of the
niche are decorated with the palace-façade motif. The
north end of the west wall is covered with a beautifully
painted scene, which depicts rows of different animals
(all males). The scene consists of five registers described
here from top to bottom:
Register 1 shows four partly damaged oryx, which were
called in ancient Egyptian ma-hedj. They have typically
long and only slightly curved horns, and they are painted
white with red-brown throats and bellies, and with dark
brown colour around their eyes. Around the necks of
each oryx is a rope tied to a wedge in the ground.
Register 2 contains four screw-horn antelopes (ancient
nu-dju). The front parts of their bodies are painted a
bright azure colour while their hind-quarters and legs
are white. They also are tied with ropes around their
necks to wedges.
Register 3 displays five Nubian ibex (wild goat, ancient
nia), which are marvellously coloured. The first ibex is
coloured light brown, as is the second one though only
its head and legs are visible. The other three are painted
brown, with individual dark hairs executed by the artists
over the background hair-colour. Shadows visible around
the figures of the animals provide evidence of the artist’s
corrections, as he at first painted them too large and had
to revise his drawing at a smaller scale. The ibex are also
tied to wedges by ropes around their necks.
Register 4 is much damaged but still shows parts of
four gazelles (ancient gehes), painted red, with only their
bellies and mouths white. Above the first and the second
gazelles are the remains of a badly damaged hieroglyphic
text describing each of them as a ‘young gazelle’. The
ropes around the necks of the gazelles can be seen but
the wedges are lost.
Register 5 includes a damaged scene of slaughtering
cattle with the first two butchers carving a white and
black ox whose throat is red with blood. Above the
scene, a hieroglyphic text reads: ‘choice cuts of a young
ox’. Three more male figures are partly preserved in the
register; two seem to be dealing with another bull, and
the text above them reads ‘pull toward you strongly’.
The third man has a large knife and the text above him
says ‘sharpening of the knife’.
The decoration of the rest of the burial chamber includes
offering lists, depictions of offerings and offering-bearers.
From the south part of the chamber, a sloping passage
leads up to ground level. It is closed by a large limestone
block and has not yet been explored, but probably
leads from the floor of the open courtyard to the burial
chamber. It will be investigated in the coming season.
q Hany El-Tayeb is an Inspector of the Ministry of State for Antiquities
at Saqqara. See also El-Tayeb, H, The false-door of Rashepses from Saqqara
LS 16 (QS 902), French Institute in Cairo (in press). He is grateful to
the Ministry of State for Antiquities for permission to publish the tomb
and to include details of its excavation in his PhD research and would
like to express his warm appreciation of Robert Anderson’s generous
support. He is indebted to Hana Vymazalova and Filip Coppens for
reviewing his English. Photographs by the writer.
A brilliantly-coloured scene with animals on the west wall of the burial chamber