G7530 - 40, the double-mastaba of Meresankh III .
and its rock-cut chapel, G7530sub
We greatly thank Christian Mariais and Christiane Hachet, without whose help these pages would not exist.
Whilst the pyramids and the sphinx are by far the best known monuments at Giza, the area also shelters an enormous private necropolis, a real town, consisting of mastabas or rupestral tombs belonging to dignitaries of the IVth dynasty. Alas, very few are open to visitors, but in March, 2012, the SCA (Supreme Council of Antiquities) announced that the tomb of Meresankh III, closed until now, was safe to have special authorisation, and to be opened to the public. The tomb is in the eastern cemetery, and presents considerable historic and artistic interest, and as such it is one of the best preserved of the site.
Grand-daughter of Kheops (aka. Khufu, about 2600-2555 BC), wife of Khephren (aka. Khafre, about 2548-2522), the queen's burial illustrates the importance of the royal sons and daughters in Egypt of the IVth Dynasty, a period at the peak of the Old Kingdom, which saw the craftsmanship of sculpture and painting reaching an extreme sophistication.
The cultural evolution of the state and society was greatly inspired by the ascent of the creative solar god Re, who, from that time, would occupy a major place in religion, ethics and the idea of the state in Pharaonic Egypt. The first appearance in the royal titles of name "son of Re" in reference to the sons of Kheops.
THE NECROPOLIS OF KHEOPS
To east and west of the great pyramid of Kheops and the three pyramids of his queens are two important private necropoles composed of hundreds of mastabas, arranged geometrically in parallel rows, bordering real mastaba streets (see cm_008) strictly prioritised, as was the court. These cemeteries would function until the end of the Old Kingdom.
It was about creating a city for the living ka, reproducing the royal setting in the beyond. The king's ka, whilst leaving his pyramid, was thus able to meet the kas of his parents, family and servants, as he did when alive.
The western cemetery: used since the first part of the reign of Kheops, it was intended for senior officials.
The eastern cemetery: its occupation started late in the reign of Kheops, in the form of mastabas or rupestrian tombs. It was essentially intended for members of the royal family, as well as for very high dignitaries (these were often the same at this time period). Closer to the pyramid, can be found eight large double mastabas for the children of Kheops.
Very well ordered ("by level"), this cemetery was extended further, to the south (GIS south).
Since Reisner, the tombs belonging to these cemeteries carry a number of four digits preceded by the letter G, the first digit indicating the row.
The men working on the construction sites of the pyramids and in these mastaba areas of the IVth Dynasty were settled to the south of a massive wall (called "the wall of the ravens") which separated them from the royal necropolis; they had their own cemetery, different from that of the nobles.
MERESANKH AND HER RELATIVES
The queen's name is sometimes transcribed Mersyankh, "the Living One loves her", nevertheless, the name version of Meresankh, "she loves life", is retained practically everywhere.
• Her father was prince Kawab, eldest son of Kheops by the queen Merytytes I, to whom the mastabas G7110+20 was assigned.
• Her mother was Hetepheres II, a daughter of Kheops, who therefore married her biological brother. Four children of the couple are known: Duaenhor, Kaemsekhem, Mindjedef and our Meresankh. Kawab should have followed Kheops, but he died before him. Hetepheres II became queen by getting remarried to her stepbrother Djedefre, who succeeded to the throne on the death of Kheops. After only eight years of reign, he died without an heir, and the power passed to another son of Kheops, Kephren. The transmission of power seemed to be made without any problem.
Hetepheres II had to have been a very important person, to whom her daughter probably owed everything, as found without doubt in the chapel of this daughter.
• Meresankh III married her uncle Kephren, biologic brother of her father, Kawab, of whom she later had several children: a daughter named: Shepsetkau and four sons named: Nebemakhet, Duaenre, Niuserre and Khenterka; some are named in the chapel. The heir to the throne isn't represented there and, therefore, it is difficult to explain why major privileges were granted to her. For example, only the royal wives are represented seated on a chair where a lion is engraved, a royal prerogative. She would proclaim herself as "daughter of the king, of his body, wife of the king" (see cm_072_02); the precision "of his body" indicates a biologic filiation, whereas the title "daughter of the king" can rarely be only honorary. It is likely that Meresankh III had, at one time or another, played a role in the transmission of power, but which one is uncertain.
DISCOVERY OF THE TOMB
This took place on April 23, 1927 and the following is what was said by Reisner in the "Bulletin of the Museum of Fine Craftsmanships" of October 1927:
"On the very last day of the season, the gangs were clearing the eastern face of the third mastaba in the fifth row from the west, when a doorway was unexpectedly revealed in the rock under the eastern wall of this mastaba. Later we found that two stairways led down from the floor of the street to the level of the doorway, which was about two meters below. Above the doorway were inscribed the titles of a princess and queen named Meresankh. As soon as the debris in the doorway was photographed we cleared away enough of the sand at the top to crawl in; and getting our heads, one at a time, just inside the doorway, we saw a rock-cut offering chapel consisting of three rooms. The entrance to the main room was blocked by a cone of sand and stone, on the top of which we were lying (see reisner_02). Our eyes were first startled by the vivid colours of the reliefs and inscriptions around the northern part of this large chamber. None of us had ever seen anything like it."
This is in the seventh row of the eastern cemetery and is composed of a surface mastaba, a stone built chapel and a funerary chamber (see plan , ch-01 and Dunham_plan B). The graffiti of masons indicates that the chapel was created in the 13th year of the king who is not named, but who can only be Kephren. The surface mastaba, necessarily previous, probably dates from year 1 to 5 of the same sovereign (Reisner).
1)- Initially, this represents a double mastaba, G7530 + 40
It was probably destined for Hetepheres II and was built during the reign of Khephren. It is adjoined to G7520, which it extends southwards, seeming to form a single unit. It is currently greatly damaged (lateral side view is opposite; for the view from above see cm-097). This surface mastaba measures 47.50m north-south and 16.88m east-west and doesn't include a funeral shaft.
On its face, a chapel in blocks of thin limestone measuring 4.75 x 1.50m was arranged in the masonry of surface; it includes, west side, a deep niche decorated as in a palace facade.
Dunham and Simpsons also speak of an outside chapel in stones, incomplete, beginning flush with the southeast corner of the mastaba and extending northward for a minimum of 14.75m. and a width of 3.80m. The explanations and the plan which they produced are however confusing, and it is somewhat impossible to understand the basic idea which they wanted to describe, unless the monument has since been destroyed or moved.
2) - Secondly, the rock-cut chapel, G7530sub, was excavated and decorated under its northern part by Hetepheres II, for her daughter Meresankh III, who died before her.
This information is known by the addition of an inscription to the existing decoration and inscriptions on the sarcophagus, which stipulate that this was given by her mother, Hetepheres II. Hetepheres never used this complex, and Reisner thinks that she was buried in mastaba G7350.
Two stairways had been dug in the street separating the mastaba of Meresankh from G7650, one to the north, the other to the south, leading under the first part of the construction, into the base rock.
3)- This subterranean chapel is interesting in many respects
This was used at the time of the queen's burial - and probably afterwards, because it remained accessible for a long time - to place offerings as well as for various ceremonies, notably the ritual of 'Opening of the Mouth', which appeared about this time. Originally, the aim was to enliven a royal or divine statue. It would be practiced on everything which could receive a divine presence and would be used also for the deceased. In the Old Kingdom, the ritual was performed on the deceased's statuaries and not directly on the mummy in his coffin, as would be the case in the New Kingdom. This possibly explains the profusion of statuary in the chapel.
• This chapel is one of the better preserved, and certainly one of the most beautiful of the necropolis of Giza. The technical creation and the talent of the sculptors and painters show a high degree of mastery and, very rare, two of the craftsmen are named in the monument.
• Its positioning in relation to the overlying mastaba is unique. Usually, the chapels are on the same level as the actual mastaba, either on its external face, or included in the masonry.
• There are sixteen statues built into the walls, an unusual number. Among these, ten women's statues of the north wall reveal the importance granted to the women of the royal family.
• The iconographic program of the chapel inspired the following generations. Some scenes would indeed become classics and would appear well placed in the decorative programs of many funerary Egyptian monuments, until the Ptolemaic period.
It is the actual chapel (G7530sub), with its three chambers and funerary chamber, which will be fully described in the following pages.
The chapel neighbourhood
Access to the chapel and burial chamber of Meresankh III is from a small open courtyard, of 3.0 x 2.4m, situated 2.0m below that of the street level of G7500 (see cm-122 south view, and cm-106 north view). It is reached by the steps leading down from the south and north. The well-preserved south staircase includes five slightly sloping steps (see cm-110). The north staircase extends from a higher level and includes about twenty steps (see cm-125).
At the southern extremity of this courtyard (see cm-110) still exists part of an oblong compartment, maybe a serdab having contained the beautiful statuette of Hetepheres and Meresankh (more details of this can be found on page 4).
At the north extremity is a quite small room forming an appendix. The end wall is created as a false door (see cm-108 and cm-118).
Flanking the entry facade and doorway of the chapel are two monolithic upright limestone pillars, which extend forwards from the upright surface of the main outer wall. These were created in order to support an architrave, which is now extinct. These pillars, as well as the now lost lintel, which surrounded the main doorway (slightly inset), are the only elements of the chapel to have not been carved directly in the rock.
A protective stone awning currently overhangs the entry, occupying the place of the extinct architrave. It is therefore impossible to photograph properly the inscriptions of the facade, and it is necessary to refer to the image of Reisner (see reisner-03).
(See dunham-IIa and dunham-fig2.) This presents a well marked, very visible profile. In a very unaccustomed manner, the inscriptions on both sides of the entry provide only the dates of the death and funeral of Meresankh.
1) - The uprights
North side (on the right) (see cm-123 and cm-132)
"Daughter of the king, Meresankh, year 1, 1st of Shemu (i.e. 1st day of the summer season), day 21, going to rest with her ka, going to purification" The queen has therefore died, and has been transported into the building of embalming.
South side (on the left) (see cm-130)
"Wife of the King, Meresankh, year after 1, 2nd of Peret (i.e. year 2, 2nd day of the winter season), day 18, her arrival at her beautiful tomb".
The time period between the date of her death and that of the burial is thus 273 or 274 days, clearly more than the supposed seventy days traditionally dedicated to mummification. A mystery also exists: Reisner places these dates in years 1 and 2 of the reign of Shepseskaf (the last sovereign of the IVth Dynasty, approx. 2503 - 2498), whilst Derry based the period presumed from the skeleton, thinks that the king in question was Mykerinos (father of Shepseskaf). In any case, both are at the end of the IVth Dynasty.
2) - The lintel (see cm -131)
"The beholder of Horus and Seth, the great favourite of the Two Mistresses (Nebty), the follower of Horus, great of favour, the beloved of Thoth and Horus, his companion, daughter of the king, of his body, wife of the king, Meresankh.".
The Nebty or the Two Mistresses relates to the two tutelary goddesses of Lower and Upper Egypt, respectively the goddess Wadjet, with the cobra head, of Buto in the Delta, and the goddess Nekhbet, with the vulture head, of Nekheb (el Kab). It is therefore about paying homage to the one who unifies the two lands under his authority.
The myth of Horus and Seth to the IVth Dynasty
|| Seth of Nubet (or Seth the ombite, Seth the former)
The god Seth, who is mentioned here, is Seth of Nubet (Ombos, Nagada) who possessed a specific sanctuary ('per-wer', the name of the oldest national shrine of Upper Egypt) in the Vth nome of Upper Egypt, and not Seth the Heliopolitain, brother and assassin of Osiris. He is associated with the red crown. In the predynastic period, the city of Nubet and that of Nekhen (Hierakonpolis), whose god was Horus (the former), played a major economic and political role. Their confrontation and the annexation (real or not) with kingdom of Nubet with the one of Nekhen became a founding myth, which would also serve to evoke the annexation of the Delta by Upper Egypt, the white crown swallowing the red crown (Pyramid Texts 243a and 410a). Subordinate to Horus, Seth formed with him an "appeased" and "pacified" couple, and one would see, for example, Unas (last king of the Vth Dynasty) being crowned by Horus and Seth, or, in the Middle Kingdom, the two gods uniting the plants of Upper and Lower Egypt in the sema-tawy symbol, formed from lilies of Upper and papyrus of Lower (see symbol), decorating the throne of Sesostris I. The divine couple is hierarchised and can be designated as Horus and Seth, where, following Mariette, Weill, Barguet... like an entity, "Horus and Seth", representing the monarchic authority itself.
Later, the Pharaohs would integrate this Sethiene dimension in their titulature, with the name 'Horus of Gold', the distant embodiment of Horus of Nubet ('nbwy' means 'The Two Lords (Horus and Seth)').
This Thinite myth of Seth the former must be distinguished from the one of the murderous Seth who killed his brother Osiris, because he is much later, appearing in the Vth Dynasty, at the same time as the Osirian dogma.
MATHIEU Bernard : "Seth polymorphe : le rival, le vaincu, l'auxiliaire, ENIM 4, p. 137-158, 2011.
Translated here into English by J.J.Hirst with minor changes and additions.
The title "The one who sees Horus-Seth", or "Horus and Seth" is regularly carried by the queens of the IVth to VIth Dynasty, who thus considered their spouse as the one who unites and reconcile the antagonists in the Two Lands. As is the case here, this title is associated most of the time to a Horian reference, to mark the predominance of Horus over Seth.
As Gauthier summarised it: "To see the king, meant to be admitted, without witness, to contemplate his beauty and to adore his divinity in intimacy, which was a unique privilege, reserved to only the wife of the Pharaoh-god, to the queen".
Its length is about 1.65m and its width, initially 0.85m, enlarging after the drum to 1.30m to include the wooden access door.
1) - The drum over the doorway (see ch-169)
It should be remembered that this supposed to represent a rolled up curtain, which served to close the openings into the houses of the living. The text says: "The one who sees Horus and Seth, the great favourite, the royal wife, Meresankh".
2) - North door jamb (see dunham-3a)
Situated on the right on entry, the panel is divided in two parts: Anubis at the top and the queen below, with both of them facing east, out of the mastaba. Because of the nature of the rock, it was plastered, and the actual decor incised into plaster.
a) - Anubis
He is represented in the form of a reclining canine, with his tail descending behind the image of Meresankh. Around his neck he wears a piece of cloth as a scarf. He is accompanied above and below by the following text: "An offering which the king gives, and Anubis, foremost of the divine booth, to a spirit who is noble in sight of the great god, lord of the desert". This last epithet designates Anubis himself.
b) - The queen
She is designated as "The beholder of Horus and Seth, daughter of the king, greatly praised, wife of the king, Meresankh". She wears a large tripartite wig and a tight-fitting dress with supporting straps, but no jewelry. Her right hand hangs down her side, whilst the left is held across her chest.
In front of her, the "funerary priest, Rery" pushes a hyena (see ch-164). It is perplexing to think of the use that the Egyptians made of this smelly animal, because it is difficult to think that they may have even eaten some of it. Beneath, a man pulls a male oryx (see ch-165).
Behind the image of the queen are two women, one above the other. The upper one holds a chest on her head. The other approaches holding in one hand a large fan or sunshade, which also rests on her shoulder, and in the other she holds a smaller fan (see ch-166).
3) - South door jamb (see dunham-3b).
This is similarly sub-divided to the other facing wall. Again Meresankh faces out of the mastaba, to the east.
a) - Anubis
He is represented identical to his other image (see ch-160). He is accompanied by the text: "An offering which the king gives, and Anubis, he who is in the west, the Lord of the Sacred Land (Ta-Djeser = the necropolis), to the spirit who is noble in the sight of the great god, lord of the Sacred Land."
b) - The queen (see cm-120).
Meresankh's wig and dress are identical, but this time she wears a choker around her neck and a necklace on her chest. With a delicate gesture, she holds the stem of an open lotus flower, which is the symbol of rebirth, in front of her nostrils, breathing the fragrance. She is identified as: "The beholder of Horus and Seth, the great favourite, the companion of Horus, beloved of him, the follower of Horus, wife of the king, daughter of the king, Mersyankh".
• Behind her stands a woman holding in one hand a bird, and with the the other she balances a chest on her head. Beneath her, a second woman advances, also balancing a chest with one hand, but this time on her shoulder, and in the other hand she holds a strangely shaped fan.
• In front of her stands an official character (see ch-158-159), identified by the column of text behind him as: "The royal purification priest, honoured before his Lord, Khemet[nu]". He is clothed in a loincloth and a short wig; he holds in front of him an unscrolled papyrus (more probable than a board, in spite of the rigidity of the representation). The text in front of him states: "Presenting the document of the funerary-priest for inspection, by the overseer of funerary priests, Khemetnu". This represents one of the first known scenes of this type. In the rare cases where the papyrus is detailed, is usually found an invocatory offering list, a list of reverted offerings, of perfumes, of the service records of the funeral priests, a funeral domain induction, a census of livestock, etc.
Thus, from the entry, the visitor, the officiating priest and the deceased queen can be assured that the funerary service was, is and will continue to be eternally given.