TT52, the tomb of Nakht and his wife, Tawy

The tomb complex is located in the Theban necropolis, a genuine "city of the dead", which lies on the western side of the Nile valley, about three miles from the river, opposite modern day Luxor and the Karnak temple complex. It is situated towards the foot of the slope of the northern part of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, between the south-east corner of the Upper Enclosure and the south-west corner of the Lower Enclosure (see the plan below). Located in this hillside and plane are today about 210 decorated tomb complexes, more than half of which date to the 18th dynasty, with the remainder mainly dating from the 19th and early 20th dynasty. In antiquity there were probably about twice this number, half of which have been lost or destroyed. Approximately 50 tombs remain which were decorated during the reigns of Thutmosis IV and Amenhotep III. It is located fairly close to tomb TT38 ( Djeserkareseneb) and tomb TT69 ( Menna). These two tombs share many of the same decorative features.

TT52 presents the common type of tomb complex of the 18th Dynasty, which consisted of an open courtyard, then the two internal chambers in the form of an inverted "T" structure, plus a subterrean complex. The tomb penetrates into the Theban hill in a north-north-westerly direction, although symbolically the courtyard should be oriented to the east (sunrise, the Nile, day and life), whilst the interior chambers should be to the west (to the setting sun, darkness and kingdom of the dead). The plan sections show this symbolic orientation and the description of the walls of the inner chambers will be referred to using this: the sun rises at the front of the complex and sets at the rear.

Dating of the tomb

The dating of this tomb is difficult, because apart from the inscriptions and representations from his tomb, there are no other monuments which provide information about his career as an official. There are no images in the decoration of his pharaoh or other known characters of his period. His title of "scribe" provides nothing, other than the fact that he could read and write hieroglyphs. His other title probably places him as a "serving priest of Amon", though with the name of Amon having been removed, it at least makes this reasonably certain.
The style of the paintings in TT52 are very similar to other tombs such as Djeserkarasoneb (TT38) and Amenhotep-si-se (TT75) and Nebseny (TT108), all of which are dated to the reign of Thutmosis (Tuthmosis) IV and contain a royal cartouche or inscriptions in their tomb complexes. The tomb complex of Menna (TT69) contains paintings of a similar style to those in that of Nakht and date to the period of transition between Thutmosis IV and his successor Amenhotep (Amenophis) III.

Details of the female figures, which in previous times were noble and austere, are now young, sensual and sophisticated. Their rounded proportions are revealed through the plaits of their hair and translucent dresses; additionally their large almond shape of their eyes are different from previous times. These things all indicate the decoration of TT52 was completed during the reign of Amenhotep III. Like many tombs in the Theban necropolis from this period, the short reign of Thutmosis IV meant that many tombs were actually completed in the reign of his successor, Amenhotep III.

One question worth asking is, that with the number of tomb complexes on the Sheikh Abd el-Qurna slopes, and the short period of time during which they were produced: "where did all the resources and man power come from?". Temples and the complexes of the pharaohs themselves were also being constructed, as well as other possible building and decorating projects. It is estimated that even a small tomb complex, like that of Nakht, would have taken about six months just to decorate it, which doesn't take into account the time required to excavate it and plaster the walls. There is no wonder that many of the images found in these constructions share great similarities.

  The topic of dating of this and other tomb complexes in the area, plus comparisons of the the decorative artwork and the resourcing for the production of the same, is covered in great detail in "Tomb Painting and Identity in Ancient Thebes, 1419-1372 BCE" by Melinda K. Hartwig.  

Modern history of the tomb

The tomb was found by European explorers in 1889, just a few years after it had been discovered by the local inhabitants of Qurna Village. Later, in 1889, the tomb was cleared by members of Antiquities Service.

Stelophore statue of Nakht
Re-coloured: Jon Hirst

Its details were recorded by Norman de Garis Davies between 1907 and 1910, for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and published in 1917. It was during this survey by Davies, that he discovered that the Antiquities Service had not cleared the burial shaft nor chamber, due to the fact that no plans existed. It was during the undertaking the clearence of these, that among the objects found by him, in the debris of the burial shaft, was a fine stelophore statue of Nakht, measuring about 40cm in height. During its transport to America in 1915, on board the steamship "Arabic", the piece was lost in an attack by a U-boat, in the Irish Sea, leaving us with just a few black and white photographs.
Images of the walls of the complex, which appear in most modern publications, were created many years ago and show the original brightness and clarity of the colours. These have become faded in many places today, less than a century after the tomb's discovery. This is mainly due to the flood of tourists who have visited the tomb in the last decades. The ongoing decomposition can be seen in the fine cracks which have formed in the paint, which then flakes away from the wall in small particles. Also the breath from the many tourists causes a fungal growth, which also has a bad effect on the quality. This resulted in protective measures having to be taken by the Supreme Council of Antiquities, especially of the decorated walls. Before these measures, the tomb was already small, but with the addition of protective glass, there to prevent the hands (or breath) of the tourists from touching the decoration, the tomb became even more claustrophobic and a rather less pleasant place to visit. This restricted the number of visitors which were allowed to enter at any one time, even making access by wheelchair impossible. The reflective nature of the glass and the small amount of lighting (what there is comes from ground level) now made even the viewing of the decoration difficult. But, like so many tombs of the area, its content is still worth the effort of visiting because it contains some unique pieces of Egyptian artwork.

Another major change which has happened between the time of Davies and now, is that the courtyard has been filled and reduced to just a modern set of steps leading to the entrance. This difference can be seen by comparison of the two photos above.


The structure of the complex corresponds to the most common "T" type of the 18th Dynasty, each varying in size, dependant on the status of the owner: firstly a courtyard, open to the valley, then two chambers in the excavated part. The tomb complex of Nakht is of a modest size, with the internal structure consisting of a transverse chamber (approximately 5 x 1.5m.) followed by an inner one (approximately 2.5 x 2.2m. - only just longer than wide), thus combining to form the shape of an inverted "T". The wall of this rear second chamber is pierced by a niche, possible intended for a small statue.
The tomb penetrates the Theban hillside in a north-north-westerly (magnetic orientation) direction, but the first, transverse chamber is slightly rotated clockwise by approximately 10 degrees, following a more east-west orientation. This first chamber is divided by the entrance from the courtyard and the doorway to the inner chamber. The average height of the two chambers is just less than 2 metres.

• As with many Theban tombs, the one of Nakht is unfinished. Not only did the inner chamber not receive even the beginning of decoration (although it was plastered in readiness), but many incomplete areas can even be seen in the transverse chamber, particularly where columns created for the descriptive texts remain empty, and a totally missing lower register on the left side part of the entry wall, as seen when facing it. Some Egyptologists have proposed that this is evidence that Nakht’s tomb, along with others, may have been originally created and decorated as a generic tomb, to be assigned by the vizier to his favoured officials.

• A shaft descends from the floor of the inner chamber to the undecorated subterranean burial chamber, investigated by Davies. The stelephorous statue was found in this shaft.


  • Nakht , whose name means "strong", held the positions/titles of "scribe" and "serving priest". The scanty information which can be gained about him from this complex is not supplemented anywhere else. All that can be gained from here is that his wife, Tawy, was a chantress of Amon, and that her son was called Amenemapet.
The title "scribe" (which is usually placed second) simply means that he had received the education of an official, whilst his other, that of "wenuti" is so rarely used (even in other tombs) that it must indicate a very secondary function. Within the texts of the walls (and the small statue) this word is written in five different ways ( , , , and ). In each case this was followed by the name "Amon", and which in each case has been removed. The title indicates a class of priest or temple official whose duties and rank are not very clear. Its use to identify an individual is very rare. It clearly refers to members of a roster whose period of service was fixed to certain hours of the night or day. It would appear that they were laymen, summoned to perform short duties of service in the temple and who thought of it as an honour to fulfil the simplest tasks, thus explaining why few officials carried the title except those who, like Nakht, had no other definite positions of office in administration. Thus the translation as "serving priest" or probably more correctly "priest of the hours" (of "Amon") seems appropriate. The determinative , found at the end of two versions of the word, used rarely in this tomb, is also associated with the word "astronomer", and has given rise to the thought that Nakht may have been an "astrologer" of the temple of Amon (although the word "temple" is never included in the texts.
His titles and name are usually followed by the hieroglyphs for "true of voice", interpreted as "justified" or "deceased". This originates from the fact that the dead person must appear before Osiris and the scales of truth (the "weighing of the heart ceremony"), where his heart is weighed against the feather, the symbol of the goddess of truth, order and justice, Ma'at. If the heart equals the weight of the feather then the person is proved true and honest, i.e. justified, and can proceed into to afterlife. The scene of the "weighing of the heart" does not appear in this tomb.

Despite the small size of the tomb it can hardly one of a poor man or a person of no important position. To have the wherewithal in order to produce a tomb of this quality he certainly had something, perhaps he had close connections with the royal court or the royal family itself, although there is no indication of this in the tomb decoration. Regarding the period in which he lived, there can be not doubt, the erasure of the name of Amon from the texts in the complex shows that it was at least prior to the Akhenaton era. As discussed above, the relationship of the decorative style indicates that he must have lived during the reign of Thutmosis IV and Amenhotep III.

  • His wife, Tawy , is identified most commonly in the tomb as "his beloved, the chantress of Amon". Her identity only appears five times, and her name only four times, each time the deletion of the name "Amon" has also removed other characters.
  - On the north wall, upper register, she is "His sister, his beloved, the chantress of [Amon], Tawy.". On the lower register, the columns above the couple have been left without text.
  - On the south wall, she is only mentioned in the badly damage area of the false door (centre top), where all that remains for certain is "mistress of the house".
  - On the east wall - left-hand side, there is only room for "His sister, the chantress of [Amon], Tawy, justified.". However, only the last two characters of "His sister" and "justified" have survived the removal of the name "Amon".
  - On the east wall - right-hand side, she is named once: "His sister, his beloved, with a place in his heart, the chantress of [Amon, Tawy], justified." Here her actual name has been lost by the removal of "Amon".
  - On the west wall - right-hand side, she is mentioned twice in the upper register on the left-hand side. Firstly in the blue text, as: "His sister, the chantress of [Amon], mistress of the house, Tawy." Then, in multi-colour, as: "His sister, his beloved, with a place in his heart, [the chantress of Amon], Tawy."
  - On the west wall - left-hand side, no text to identify her has survived, the only text is that which states that the son is hers.
Note that she is only referred to as "justified" twice. Also, again only twice, is she referred to as "mistress of the house", which actually identifies her as "his wife"; the term "sister" being used for both "wife" and "sister".
Tawy held the title as "chantress of Amon", like most women with any resemblance of rank, thus it is uncertain that the title entailed anything other than being possibly associated with the temple of Amon, just as her husband was.

  • Children :
Amenemopet , who is not described explicitly as Nakht's son, appears on the rear wall - left side, in the bottom register of the scene of "Beautiful Festival of the Valley". He is actually identified as "her son" and may have been from a previous marriage of Tawy. In the one and only occurrence of his name, as elsewhere, the hieroglyphs spelling the name "Amen" (often used in names for "Amon", although the hieroglyphic spelling is the same) has been removed.
Other sons and daughters doubtless appear in the tomb, but were never specifically inscribed as being such or even named.

  • Parents and other family members : there is no mention of his or his wife's parents in either the texts or the imagery. Nor are there any indications to their ancestry. Neither is there any information about the previous marriage of Tawy, other than the fact the son is identified solely as hers.

Translations and line drawings
In the following pages, some of the text translations and some of the line drawings (and some colour images) are based on those from "Tomb of Nakht at Thebes", Publications of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Volume I; 1917; by Norman de Garis Davies. Also, some of the line drawings which appear at the beginning of the description of each major wall section were provided by the kind permission of Dimitri Laboury, from "Une Relecture de la Tombe de Nakht (TT52, Cheikh 'Abd el-Gourna)".