The mastaba tomb of Nikauisesi

General plan of the area
The mastaba of Nikauisesi is situated in the north-east sector of the necropolis of Saqqara, not far from the edge of the plateau, just to the north of the pyramid of Teti, the first pharaoh of 6th Dynasty. The tomb occupies a prime site in the Teti Cemetery, being immediately to the north of the mastaba of Kagemni and can be found at the upper-right of the site plan opposite, indicated in red text.
The tomb was discovered in 1979-80 by the Supreme Council of Antiquities (then called the Egyptian Antiquities organisation) under the Directorship of Dr. Mahmud Abder-Raziq. Although briefly referred to in Egyptological publications, this important tomb was, in 2000, fully recorded and published as a joint project between the Australian Centre for Egyptology and the University of Suez Canal in Egypt.
The mastaba is currently open to the public.
This Osirisnet documentation has only been possible with the aid of the ACE publication for the descriptive information (having mainly black/white photographs) and colour photographs provided by five other sources, in particular Christian Mariais who provided several hundred giving full coverage of all the upper chambers.

  The publication "The Teti Cemetery at Saqqara: Tomb of Nikauisesi, Vol. VI - ACE Reports No. 14".
It contains 74 text pages, 2 colour plates, 71 b/w plates and line drawing (many of which are fold-outs).
The details which it contains are greater than found in these pages.
The publication is produced under auspices of The Australian Centre for Egyptology.

This and the other ACE publications can be ordered from Oxbow Books.
You can also purchase it in other specialised book shops.
By purchasing this publication, you will indirectly help Australian Egyptological research.


Relationship to Kagemni mastaba

Layout plan of Nikauisesi mastaba

Even though much smaller than the mastaba of Kagemni, it still contains five chambers (four of which are decorated) plus a serdab and an inner courtyard with stairs leading to the roof. The entrance and chambers I to IV are decorated in relief (mostly painted). The main burial shaft is located in chamber V, a later intrusive shaft is located at the southern end of chamber III and another smaller one being located in the courtyard, in the south-west corner.
Two burial chambers exist, the main one being the deepest and belonging to Nikauisesi, whilst the other (accessed via the shaft in chamber III) is of a later date. The third shaft, of the courtyard, now lies under a new paving floor, so no information is known of any chamber which it might access.
A great many shafts were found in the street at the front of the mastaba and also adjacent to the west, north and south external walls. These are shown on a plan of the area published in 1987, in MDAIK 43.
The main burial chamber, that of Nikauisesi, although found to be disturbed, yielded both human remains and a good quantity of small finds.


Within the complex there are several named people. No wife is named or even appears on the walls. Although different names are given to a person identified as "his eldest son" it is possible that these are just variations and refer to the same (only) son. A great many other people are named within the decoration of the walls, 38 in total, being co-workers and people possibly dependant upon Nikauisesi; there are also 7 unnamed individuals. In addition, there are 3 dogs named on the north wall of chamber II.

As far as is known, his name is not found in any other tomb complex. One man of the same name is represented, along with other officials, in the reliefs of the Unis causeway. Another man named Nikauisesi also held the office of overseer of Upper Egypt and is mentioned in a royal decree of Teti, for the benefit of the temple of Khenti-amenti (a jackal-headed deity) at Abydos. It seems possible that all occurrences may refer to the same individual, that of our Nikauisesi.
"Isesi", the abbreviated form, has been found only once in the inscriptions of the complex (on the east wall of chamber IV), and is accompanied by the text rn.f nfr : "his beautiful name".
Evidence suggests that Nikauisesi was born and most probably started his career under King Isesi, hence indicating that he may have added this part of his name (in the cartouche) later, originally being named as "Nikau" only.

Nikauisesi held the following multitude of titles, 16 in total:
 • imi is : "he who is in the chamber".
 • imi-r wabti : "overseer of the two workshops".
 • imi-r prwi-nbw : "overseer of the two houses of gold".
 • jmi-r Smaw : "overseer of Upper Egypt".
 • imi-r kAt nb(t) nt nswt : "overseer of all the works of the king".
 • iri-pat : "hereditary prince".
 • iri nfr-HAt : "keeper of the head ornaments".
 • wt inpw : "embalmer of Anubis".
 • mniw Nxn : "keeper of Nekhen".
 • HAti-a : "count".
 • Hri wrw : "chief of the great ones".
 • Hts inpw : "... of Anubis". The meaning of Hts in this title is unclear.
 • hri-Hbt : "lector priest".
 • hri-Hbt Hri-tp : "chief lector priest".
 • smr weti : "sole companion".
 • sDawti-biti : "treasurer of the king of Lower Egypt".

Date of his burial
While there is little doubt that Nikauisesi constructed his mastaba during the reign of Teti, it is more difficult to ascertain whether he ended his career under Teti or one of his successors. Under his image in the fowling scene in chamber I is a text inscribed in black ink. This reads: "The eleventh year, first month of the inundation season, day 20. Burial in the necropolis of the hereditary prince, the treasurer of the king of Lower Egypt, Nikauisesi". No king's name is given, but this could only be Teti or his son Pepy I. The highest date so far known for Teti is recorded on graffiti from the quarries of Hatnub, stating: "regnal year six". So, if the date from this mastaba refers to Teti, it would record a new and higher year of his reign. However, if it refers to Pepy I's reign it would fall within the known twenty-five years of this king.
Nikauisesi's skeletal remains, found in his sarcophagus, were subjected to two independent examinations. In both cases, the conclusion was that he died between 35-45 years of age, relatively young.

 His parents 

Nothing is known of either his father or his mother, neither are named in the scenes of the chambers.

 His wife 

No wife appears in the current surviving scenes or inscriptions of the complex, but judging from the number of "eldest sons" represented, it is possible that he was married more than once. It is not impossible that a wife was depicted in the now missing sections of the wall decoration. She would, however, normally have been depicted in the fowling scene, but no wife appears here, which is very conspicuous. Perhaps his wife (or wives) was not alive when Nikauisesi decorated his complex.

 Son or sons 

Three names are given to figures who are identified as "his son" and in most cases also as "the elder" and "sole companion".

Nikauisesi, named after his father, is found in several locations, as will be seen later, when the walls are discussed in detail.

Nikauteti appears on the west thickness of the entrance doorway, whilst the son on the east thickness is named Nikauisesi.

Meryisesi appears only on the north wall of chamber I. He bears the titles: "privy to the secrets of the house of morning" and "senior lector priest".

Lost name. A man is shown between the legs of the tomb owner in the fowling scene, on the east wall of chamber I, the text is almost lost, but this may also be the son Nikauisesi, for although he wears a sash, like Merysesi, what remains of the name confirms that it is not him.

On the facade, west of the entrance, Nikauisesi (the son) is referred to as "the black, the elder". On the west thickness of the entrance doorway, Nikauteti is also identified as such.
The most problematical name is Nikauteti, but because he also referred to as "the black, the elder" and appears on the west thickness of the entrance, which is the same side where the son Nikauisesi described likewise on the facade, it seems certain that these are of the same person, and that he acquired the name Nikauteti during his life. The four names (including the "lost name") appear to belong to the same son.

 Other people 

With so many other named (38) and unnamed (7) people portrayed in the wall scenes, it is best for these to be mentioned within the descriptions of such.

 The dogs 

On the north wall of chamber II, there are three named dogs. These are: "Bai", "Baq" and "Idi".

THE MASTABA COMPLEX - more general information

Reference should be made to the location plan and also the actual mastaba plan, both of which are found above.


This mastaba is physically located exactly between those of Kagemni and Hesi, both of whom left biographies outlining their careers under Isesi, Unis and finally Teti. It can be assumed that Kagemni was somewhat older than Hesi because he started his career under Unis, whilst Hesi did not receive his promotion until the reign of Teti. That Nikauisesi was perhaps slightly older than Hesi, may be inferred from the fact that his tomb was the first to be constructed, since Hesi's used the existing west wall of that of Shepsipuptah, which in turn used the east wall of Nikauisesi. While there is little doubt that Nikauisesi constructed his mastaba during the reign of Teti, it is uncertain as to whether he ended his career under this king or one of his successors.
The date of the burial of Nikauisesi has already been discussed above and from this can be deduced more information about the date of the mastaba.

 Structural features 

The entry to the large multi-chambered mastaba of Nikauisesi is located on the north side (the south side of the mastaba itself) of the east-west narrow street immediately behind that of Kagemni. The location does not indicate any relationship, date-wise, between the two mastabas, but may possibly suggest that the site of Nikauisesi's mastaba was allocated in the original planning of the cemetery, presumably early in the reign of Teti.

Constructed entirely of good quality and well dressed limestone blocks, this was the first of a group of tombs built to the north of that of Kagemni. The south and west walls are free standing. The mastaba of Shepsipuptah was built (from brick) against the east wall, and that of Hesi was built (from stone) behind the north wall. It has been determined that the ground level of the area, outside Nikauisesi's mastaba, is approximately 54 metres above sea level. Externally the mastaba measures 12.6m (east-west) by 13.3m (north-south) with an original estimated height of 3.85m. This large area is almost fully occupied with the five rooms, a serdab and an internal courtyard from which stairs which would have originally lead to the roof.

The entrance and four of the rooms are decorated in relief. As already stated, the main burial shaft is located in chamber V, with another later intrusive shaft in chamber III and another smaller one in the courtyard. All external walls have a slight inward slope of 1° and are formed of two parallel walls of stone, each being 35-40cm thick, with stone chips and rubble filling the intervening spaces which vary in width from 15-40cm. Most internal walls, similarly constructed of two stone walls and a fill between, have a thickness of approximately 1 metre.

All walls, external and internal, have retained at least four courses of stonework which enabled accurate measurements of all areas, except the damaged upper part of the open staircase in the north-west corner of the mastaba. The variations in the original solid ground level were evened using a fill of rubble and there is visible evidence that limestone paving was laid over the entire area, with the walls constructed on top of this paved flooring. Some new paving was laid during restoration and it is now not always easy to distinguish this from the original. The height measurements used from here were taken from the existing paved floor. The original internal height of the mastaba was determined by the lintel above the main entrance and the eight fully preserved courses on the north wall of chamber I. Chambers I-IV and the serdab were almost certainly roofed with large limestone slabs, whereas the courtyard almost certainly was left without a roof. It is uncertain whether chamber V, with a width of 2.9m, was ever roofed. Two original slabs, of different sizes, were used by restorers in the modern roofing of this chapel, but the original location of these is unknown.

 Comparison with neighbouring mastabas 

Like the mastaba of Kagemni, this one was entirely constructed of stone. Later mastabas used mud brick for their external walls, or were even built in the available space between earlier mastabas, using their adjoining walls to reduce the cost. Like the earlier mastabas, that of Nikauisesi was almost square in shape, being about 12.6m (east-west) by 13.3m (north-south).
Like that of Kagemni, the complex has a staircase leading to the roof, whereas that of Mereruka (later and immediately to the west of that of Kagemni) does not, but that of his wife Watetkhethor, which adjoins it, does. However, like these later mastabas, a shaft of Nikauisesi is located in the floor of the chapel chamber rather than accessed from the roof. This probably shows that Nikauisesi's complex represents a transition between two styles, because of the fact that it incorporates both a staircase to the roof and an internal shaft.
Unlike the mastaba of Kagemni, where the chambers occupy a limited portion of the total ground area, Nikauisesi's, like that of Mereruka, occupy nearly the total area of the mastaba.

 General decoration 

Artistically, the reliefs, in particular those at the facade and entrance, are of a very high quality comparable with those of other fine complexes of Teti's reign. Inside the complex the reliefs are of an inferior quality, but this is not unusual as these would not be normally visible. Even the superbly decorated mastaba of Kagemni had some of its interior chambers decorated in inferior quality reliefs compared with those of the entrance and some of the other rooms.

The figures and inscriptions on the facade were produced in sunken relief of a good quality and fine detail. The decoration on the entrance thicknesses and elsewhere inside are in raised relief. Although the general quality of the relief is excellent on the facade and entrance thicknesses, it is only moderate in chamber I. However, that of chamber IV is definitely poor and there is no decoration in chamber VI. On the walls where the scenes are divided into registers, the lower registers are better than that of the upper ones, which is also observed in other mastabas.