The tomb of Benia TT343, supervisor of construction work, is situated at the foot of the south-eastern hills of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, in midst of further tombs of the 18th and 19th dynasty. Dating the tomb precisely is a difficult task and is still debated, because there are no names of rulers mentioned anywhere in the tomb. The next tomb maybe contemporary and certainly the next geographically is that of Amenhotep TT345 from the time of Hatshepsut and Thutmosis III.
According to Helck, there is a vertical (social level) and a horizontal (chronological) sequence in the tombs of the el-Qurna hills. The location of Benia's tomb is therefore within the inferior limestone area at the foot of the hill, which matches his middle class position in the hierarchy of royal officials, whereas his horizontal tomb position suggests a date at the time of Hatshepsut. Art-stylistic reasons come from the time of Hatshepsut until Amenophis II, even leading into the late 18th dynasty:
- The ground plan, in the form of an inverted T, is typical for the time of Amenophis II- Thutmosis IV, but there are earlier examples from the time of Hatshepsut onwards.
- The style and clothes are typical for the early 18th dynasty.
- The combination of painting plus relief comes either from the time of Hatshepsut/Thutmosis III or Amenophis III/Akhnaton.
- The lozenge and zigzag pattern of the ceiling starts from the time of Thutmosis III, but are predominant between Amenophis II to Thutmosis IV.
- The wigs only occur between Thutmosis III - Amenophis II.
- Tombs naming the valley temple of Thutmosis III belong to the time of Thutmosis III - Amenophis II.
- The title imj-rA-saAw.tjw
"overseer of the Seal-bearers"disappears after Amenophis II.
Scholars date Benia's career, because of this, into the second half of the reign of Thutmosis III.
The name of the tomb owner "Ben-ia" is Asiatic, that is to say more explicitly a Hebrew name, with the meaning "Son-of-Jah (we) ". Therefore he has a theophore name, including the short form of the name Jahwe, a God which some scholars believe to have its origin in the land of Midian. He was most certainly an Asiatic, maybe a Hebrew foreigner, working in the middle class of administration. Therefore he received a second, Egyptian court name "Pahekamen" with the meaning of "The-ruler-remains". The construction and meaning of the name indicates, that this is a typical court name. The formula Ddw n.f (=called) always introduces a court name after a foreign name. The element HqA (-heka-) within court names is typical for the 18th dynasty. He calls himself with his court name 23 times, and never just by his birth name, Benia.
The names of his parents may suggest that he was born of a mother who originally came from Mitanni, Tirukak. The name of his father is possibly Hethite or Hurritic, Irtenena, or El-tau-na-na.
- Xrd n kAp
"Student of the Royal School". As to his being a student of the royal school and a foreigner suggest during New Kingdom, that he was of a somewhat lower rank of officials and lower priests. He was educated either at court with the princes or in the residence. But his rank was not predestined to reach a higher social and official level.
"Overseer/supervisor of the (construction) Works". Sometimes there are epithets to this title like
"all construction of the king"or
"of the king in Thebes"or
"in Karnak". One Scene in his tomb depicts him receiving a supply of precious items from the Treasury (per hedj) of Pharaoh or the temple of Amun.
- imj-rA-Hmwt n nb tAwy
"Overseer of the Craftsmen of the Lord of the Two Lands".
"Overseer of the Seal-bearers". In this function he had to inform the vizier once a month about the income and expenses of the pr-aA, "pharaoh", in presence of his subordinates.
Two of these are titles of construction work.
The titles and education make it obvious that everything he has received in Egypt, he owes to his king, which is expressed in his second name, the court name. He was a courtier or attendant (Smsw) of the pharaoh.
The anonymity of the king in the tomb, is remarkable. He is called the
"Lord of the two lands",
"the perfect God",
"king" or "Lord". It was suggested that this was due to the unclear relationship towards the throne in the interim period of Hatshepsut to the reign of Thutmosis III.
The forecourt is surrounded on three sides by a stone wall made of limestone, to prevent falling stones and garbage from the surrounding houses of the current inhabitants of Qurna.
Ongoing reconstruction and restoration work has been done and changed the state of the tomb since the last photographic documentation of 1927 by Mond and Emery. The tomb has been under restoration since 1925-26. After the tomb had been thoroughly cleaned, an iron door was set into the entrance and the disturbed architectural areas and reliefs were infilled with concrete. Later there was some more work done by Siegfried Schott between 1931-37.
Some destruction goes back to ancient times, especially to the faces of the people in the tomb. Some destruction has been as a consequence of erasure during the Amarna period of the name of Amun, of the plural of the word God, of everything related to the temple of Karnak.
It is not clear who made the very obvious and large number of drops of paint all over the tomb painting. Some scholars propose that this was done in antiquity, some propose this was due to the restoration work at the beginning of the 20th century.
The tomb itself is in a very good condition, which results from the fact that it has never been inhabited by people as a house.
A metre of sand and debris were found on the tomb floor, which contained the relics of five plundered mummies.
The tomb has a very common feature of this time: An undecorated forecourt, cut into the cliffs and two rooms above ground, describing an inverted "T". A transverse room, as wide as the forecourt and a narrow longitudinal room with a niche for statues of the tomb owner and closest family members.
Within the forecourt are two openings, which are actually shafts: a round one and a rectangular one, which are the entrances to a subterranean system of corridors, which are connected with the corridor system of the shaft in the transverse room. The corridor gravel was thoroughly searched in 1926, without giving any hint towards the burial equipment or tomb owner.
The entrance door was heavily restored with cement, but parts of the titles and names are still visible ().
Two roughly hewn steps lead down into the transverse room. The ceiling of this room is slightly higher towards the entrance. The walls are carefully chiselled. The ceiling becomes steeper toward the north. In the floor of the south-western side is the opening of a burial shaft (), to the bottom of a false door.
An uneven, rough threshold leads from the transverse room into this second room (). The ceiling is inclined 20 cm. from east to west. Into the upper west wall has been hewn a niche for three seated statues.
There are the usual forms of decoration within the decorated rooms:
- there is an undecorated base part of 75 cm. in height, which is topped by a ribbon painted in yellow, black and red of 14 cm. height.
- the scene panels are surrounded by a ribbon of alternating red/green/yellow/blue/red/green rectangles or alternately yellow/green/red/blue/yellow/green, in which the singular colours are separated by two thick black strokes.
- the uppermost part of each wall consists of a painted kheker-frieze .
The general background colour of the walls is white. The hieroglyphs received a white layer first, before being painted in there final colours, to make the colours brighter. The range of colours, as so often, uses black, red, green, rose-red, red-brown and white, but seldom uses blue or yellow. The colours blue, black and green are very faded, especially the black, which has faded in different stages between real black and several tones of grey.
The outline drawing was done in a red-brown around the brighter areas.
It is static, quiet and homogenous or even uniform. This is mainly due to the lack of real contrasts, partly because of the lack of outline drawing or the faded black. The tones are more pastel colours. In part, this effect is produced by mixing or painting over one colour with another.
The transverse room is executed in bas relief, the longitudinal room is executed in painting. The hand of the painter was more at ease and was more creative than the engraver, but this may be the result of the technique. Here more details are expressed by painting.
An interesting fact is the very well planned symmetrical composition of the painted scenes around the central east to west axis of the tomb. The symmetry of the scenic pairs is sometimes a fixed symmetry, sometimes the symmetry is with the opposite wall, sometimes the symmetric pairs are placed side by side, looking in the same direction and the only variation would be, if the tomb owner is sitting or standing.
In the inner room the tomb walls opposite each other are in symmetry, just like in the transverse hall the north stela wall and the south false door wall are symmetrically planned.
It is explained by Guksch with the assumption that Benia, as a foreigner in Egypt, wanted to keep to the boundaries of a "normal" Egyptian tomb painting repertoire by choosing only what all others had depicted. The small size of the tomb may also have restricted the choosing of the scenes.
One striking thing about this tomb, is the very sparse representation of women. Benia was not married and had no children. There are no females among his servants, the musicians, the guests who attend the funeral banquet. His mother is the only female character of the tomb.
Most certainly in the time of Amenophis III, the tomb must have been robbed already. Also from this time period, some red outline drawings have been added to the walls, mostly women, but occasionally of men. These pictures must have been made by the people of the first intrusive burials, by someone who was obviously married and had need for the portrayal of a woman for his resurrection rites, as the wives usually held the important role, as Isis was to Osiris, in the rebirth of the tomb owner.
One of these images can be seen under Benia's seat on the north section of the east wall of the transverse room.