The mastaba of Mereruka 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. During this period power of the pharaohs was declining as can be seen in the comparatively small size and poor construction of their pyramids. However, increasing power attained by the large aristocratic families became apparent in the size and quality of the decoration of their mastabas. Two mastabas, located next to each other, are of special importance, that of the vizier Mereruka and that of (his predecessor). Mereruka's is by far the more complex and is located to the west of the other. It is not given over totally to Mereruka; his chambers will be given the prefix "A" (see ). The south west quarter was designed as being a separate set of chambers for his wife, ; her chambers will have the prefix "B". The main structure was later extended at the north for his son, ; his chambers are prefixed "C". Both of these areas have their entrance from within the part of the complex devoted to Mereruka.
Even though the mastaba of Kagemni was known from the mid-1800s, that of Mereruka remained unknown until it was discovered by J. de Morgan, the then director general of the Services of Antiquities, in July 1893. The Service built up its walls, roofed it, and opened it to the public. However, by 1912 it had once more to be freed from encroaching sand.
The first serious publication of the mastaba, by Prentice Duell, did not appear until 1936, although a rather brief summary had been produced some 40 years earlier by Georges Daressy. It is on these publications that the following information is based. The accompanying photographs come from a variety of friends of this Osirisnet site. Many of the drawings used throughout are based on those of Duell's publication.
Any measurements given in the following are my estimates, derived from Duell's plan of the mastaba. Duell did not provide any accurate ones. Curiously, no general survey has been published since that, even though incomplete, of Duell, which relates back to 1936. This presentation will thus try to propose, besides the classic approach, some new data.
Mereruka, his "beautiful" (or chosen) name Meri , as with all high officials, he was attributed with dozens of titles (see ), some of which were purely honorific, but some were of functions which he actually performed. He would have held many of these before taking on the high office of vizier. Nowhere within the mastaba is there a comprehensive list.
Out of these many titles, it is particularly worth noting that Mereruka succeeded Kagemni as "
Vizier of the King (Teti) of Upper and Lower Egypt", an office which made him the second most powerful person in the state, as both Prime Minister and Chief Justice.
Among his other titles are the following :
• Inspector of the priests attached to the pyramid of Teti
• Governor of the palace
• Scribe of the divine books
• Overseer of the royal record scribes
• Chief lector-priest
• Director of the scribes of the archives
• Director of all the works of the king (i.e. minister of public works and possibly architect)
Nedjetempet, her "beautiful" name Tiyet , mother of Mereruka. She is designated as "relation" or "acquaintance" of the king. Her mastaba is to the north-west of the Mereruka/Kagemni group (see the ). Her name appears three times in Mereruka's mastaba; twice on the north wall of chamber A13, either side of his statue ( and ) and once at the southern end of the east wall of the same chamber.
Watet-khet-hor her "beautiful" name Seshseshet is the wife of Mereruka (). She held no administrative offices, but did hold religious titles. She was
"eldest daughter of the king, of his body", which made Mereruka the son-in-law of a king, very likely of his master, Teti. See the .
Meryteti, his "beautiful" name Meri (like his father) (). He is designated as both "eldest son of Mereruka and of Watetkhethor" and, in a somewhat contradictory way,
"eldest son of the king, of his body". His name, Meryteti, means "beloved of Teti", referring to the reigning sovereign. By inheritance, he held many of his father's titles, but in addition he held the titles of
"lector-priest of his father" and
"inspector of the priests attached to the pyramid of Pepi" (successor to king Teti, after the short reign of Userkare). His wife, Nebet, is named in Meryteti's own portion of the complex. For everything about Meryteti, and his part of the total mastaba, see the .
Pepyankh , another son. He usurped Meryteti's extension to his father's mastaba and removed the "Mery" from the Meryteti on the inscriptions of both Meryteti's and his father's mastaba (but not from those in the section belonging to Watetkhethor). The chambers were eventually restored to Meryteti.
Five other sons, whose names are Memi , Khenti , Apref , Khenu and Nefer , are among the other people depicted or mentioned on the walls of different chambers. Memi, is designated like Meryteti as "eldest son" (doubtless by a previous wife). It has been suggested that Memi and Pepyankh may have been the same person; having changed his name to Pepyankh.
There is also a daughter, Ibnebu , her mother being Watetkhethor, thus she was the sister of Meryteti. She is depicted only once in the total mastaba, in chamber B01 of Watetkhethor's section of the structure and is named here as
"Her daughter, her beloved, of her body". Although she is shown as a fully developed woman, she is obviously young because she has her hair in a plait adorned with a disc.
Ihy , Mereruka's brother, is depicted several times, but most memorably in well-rounded form, seated in a papyrus boat on the of chamber A4.
The brothers of Mereruka, including Ihy, are named on the south wall of chamber A10 and the north wall of chamber A13. Seven of the nine named in A13 held the position of "guard" (or "one who precedes"), a position probably held by Mereruka in his early career.
No less than a hundred other people, priests, minor officials and servants, are also depicted on the walls, most of whom have no identifying text.
Since its appearance at the very start of pharaonic civilisation, the funerary superstructure known by its Arab name of "mastaba" (English "bench") basically consists of a solid mound, usually made of stone rubble covered with a facing of limestone blocks, carefully levelled and smoothed. It generally adopts the form of a truncated pyramid, a symbolic evocation of the original mound, the first land to emerge from the primordial swamp (the Nun) at the dawn of creation. Dynasty VI marks the height of the sumptuous development of the family funerary chapel, the magic interface between the world of the living and that of the dead.
Even though the external form of the mastaba did not radically change during the Old Kingdom, this was not the case with the interior spaces. Despite individual necropolis variations, a common global process of increasing size and diversification became apparent, no doubt affected by the sociological and historical reasons given above.
After its restoration in the late 1800's and early 1900's, the overall external dimensions of the mastaba are : 23 metres east-west, 30 metres north-south extending to 41 metres when including Meryteti's addition and 4.5 metres high. The internal height of the ceiling is currently just over 4 metres.
The entrance to the mastaba faces south, not east as was customary.
This was probably due to an agreement between Kagemni and Mereruka. There is evidence in chamber A10 to indicate that this was in fact the eastern pillared portico, the originally intended entrance. What is now the east wall of this chamber, shows the signs of four pillars matching the four which now stand down the middle of the current chamber. This east wall was built as infill between the pillars, then decorated. The agreement was probably due to the fact that Kagemni wanted to extend his mastaba westward to provide additional storerooms. This is further discussed when dealing with chamber A10, later.
A low temenos wall, decorated with repeated figures, names and titles of the owner, formed a forecourt in front of the facade. The mastaba is faced inside and out with limestone, that used inside being of a finer texture than the rest, but it is likely that the core consists of inferior blocks or rubble. The exterior walls have the usual slope to aid stability. Throughout the structure the upper parts of the walls and pillars are lost; except for a fragment of the south wall of chamber A8 and two from the south wall of chamber A13, and two parts of the north, east and south walls of chamber A10, which have survived to practically to their full height. The scenes on each wall were topped by a kheker pattern, which still exists in places. (See ).
The chamber walls and pillars were covered with fine reliefs cut into the limestone surface and, painted. The decoration is a combination of painting and sculpture, yet at the same time being an integral part of the architecture.
The tomb was probably lit and ventilated by shallow horizontal openings cut at intervals along the tops of the walls just under the ceilings, the shafts leading to the outside then being cut diagonally through the roof slabs. Though some sunlight would penetrate into the chambers, the interior of the mastaba must at best have been in semi-darkness.
Mereruka's mastaba complex is the largest, by chamber count, in Egypt; containing no less than 31 upper chambers (which include both actual rooms and large passageways, but not the small interconnecting sections between chambers). From these, 21 are devoted to Mereruka himself (chambers prefixed A), 5 are designated to his wife Watetkhethor (chambers B) and 5 added for his son Meryteti (chambers C). In addition to these, there are 3 well shafts and their associated burial chambers. Mereruka's access shaft is located with chamber A11; those for both his wife and his son, are not accessed from within one of their chambers, but from the roof. Chamber B2 in his wife's section is actually a flight of stairs. Of Mereruka's 21 chambers, 10 were fully decorated from floor to ceiling. Although these walls have not survived to their full height, what remains is usually well preserved.
The combined mastaba is a highly complex spatial and iconographic structure and is of considerable interest. Certainly, the complex layout of the internal chambers could be considered as a maze; on entering with only a small lamp and no map, it would be very easy to become lost, were it not for the occasional sky-light.
[Perhaps, time permitting and availability of full photographic coverage, I will be able to create a 3D tour (with minimal lighting).
With the tomb of Mereruka, the concept of a solid mound with "excavated" chambers is forgotten. His mastaba complex, though maintaining the normal outward appearance, internally contains more space than solid material. The numerous chambers are separated by solid walls, though of variable thickness. His internal design has moved to the far extreme from the original designs.
An examination of the plan also shows quite clearly that the main area (chambers A), devoted to Mereruka himself, forms a rotated L-shape enclosing the suite of chambers devoted to his wife WatetKhethor (area of chambers B). At a later date the mastaba was enlarged at the northern end to accommodate the chapel complex for his son Meryteti (area of chambers C). This was accomplished after the reliefs in the pillared hall (A13) had been completed, with the entrance to Meryteti's first chamber cutting through the established reliefs.
Thus the great Mereruka embraces his wife to the south west and is accompanied by his son to the north; a symbolic family group.
The following pages will only cover that part of the mastaba belonging to Mereruka himself. From here on these chambers will always be referred to with their "A" prefix, so as to differentiate them from any possible reference to the other two areas. At some future date, separate pages will be produced dealing with these other two sections.
The decorated areas of Mereruka's personal section of mastaba, as already stated, consisted of 10 chambers (A1, A3, A4, A6, A8-A13). To these can be added the majority of doorway thicknesses at the entry to the decorated chambers. Inscriptions can be found above the doorways to chambers A14 and A16.
Chambers A1, A3, A4, and A6, may be regarded as corridors leading to the offering-tables in chapels A8 and A11, and also to the large statue of Mereruka enshrined above an alabaster altar in the large, six-pillared ceremonial or cult chapel A13. The storerooms are grouped along a corridor in the north-west corner of his tomb, well out of the way. Storeroom A15 has the remains of a stone shelf along its east side. Chapels A8 and A11, along with the serdab (A7) and its approach (A6), centre about the tomb shaft, contained in chapel A11, thus forming the nucleus of the structure. Since there was no exterior stela, a false door was provided in the west wall of Chapel A8 to allow the entrance of Mereruka's ka into the mastaba; hence it could continue in a direct line through the second false door, at the end of chapel A11, and enter the tomb shaft and the tomb chamber itself. The serdab (A7) once contained statues of Mereruka. A small opening for ceremonial purposes connects the serdab with chamber A6.
The small doorway leading to chamber A2 was cut through the wall of chamber A1 after the decoration of the latter had been completed. Possibly as an afterthought, the chamber was cut out of what had been a corner of solid masonry. Although its entrance was cut through an important relief, there seems to be no reason for this chamber unless it was intended as antechamber for the adjoining the vestibule.
In the decorated chambers, the imagery of the walls is placed above a metre high dado, from which they are separated by a broad red (above) and yellow bands edged with black lines. In many cases these colours have been worn away by time or have faded to various shades of blue. It also appears, without much question, that the dado area of all the chambers was originally painted black.
Apart from the blue backgrounds of the marsh scenes, the paint on the walls and pillars in chamber A13 and traces on the walls in the other chambers would indicate that the backgrounds of all the imagery was dark-grey. The exception being in chamber A10, where the backgrounds are blue-grey; this was probably also true for chamber A12, which was decorated at the same time and by the same artists.
The colours are best preserved on the north wall of chamber A1, the west wall of chamber A10 and sections of the north and east walls of chamber A13. Decoration of the walls of all the other chambers are almost totally without colour, the reds of the male skin tones and dark backgrounds being predominant. The most extensive remains of the dados and colour bands can be found on the west wall of and north wall of .
Originally the mastaba of Mereruka consisted of only two sections, the larger part being for himself, with the south east corner being that of his wife, Watetkhethor. Later the mastaba was extended at its northern end, for their son Meryteti, an entrance for which was cut through the already fully decorated north wall of chamber A13, at its eastern end.
It should be noted that Meryteti was not the eldest son of Mereruka, His eldest son was named
Memi, later to be called
Pepyankh; the son of a previous marriage.
Because Watetkhethor is depicted with Mereruka throughout his chapel (A chambers) and that Meryteti appears in only three scenes in the last decorated chambers, it can thus be reasonably assumed that he was born after the decoration of his father's chapel was well advanced. He appears regularly in the chambers of his mother's chapel, consistently as
"Her eldest son", thus it seems reasonable to assume that her chambers (or at least the decoration of them) were started after his birth.
The chambers of chapel "C" was presumably prepared for Meryteti by his father. Nims (see bibliography) suggests that
'Meryteti bore the high titles of Mereruka as his hereditary right and that he was shown as an adult in anticipation of his attaining manhood. That Memi (the real eldest son of Mereruka by a previous marriage) was passed over and that Meryteti becoming heir of Mereruka was probably due to the position of Meryteti as grandson of the King, Teti'.
Meryteti's good fortune appears to have changed with the death of Teti (and probably the death of his father), and the succession of Pepy I. At this point Mereruka's eldest son changed his name to Pepyankh and claimed his right to section C of the mastaba complex. Minimal changes to the inscriptions were made in favour of the new owner, but no changes were made to the scenes. The frequently repeated title
"king's eldest son, of his body" was changed to
"Mery, his eldest son, of his body" which could also apply to Pepyankh. The name
"Meryteti" was replaced by
"Pepyankh"; no other titles were erased. Some changes were made with respect to Meryteti in Mereruka's chapel, but none in the chapel of Watetkhethor.
Possibly after the appointment of Pepyankh to an important provincial position, the chapel reverted back to Meryteti. The restored owner then changed the
"Pepyankh", which like all such names, occurs at the end of a set of titles. The Pepy cartouche was incorporated into a new title for Meryteti, that of
"Inspector of priests of the pyramid of Pepy"; thus became . Three more titles were added after this. When the changes and additional titles were required at the end of the text above horizontal registers, enough space was not always available; the text was thus extended downwards into the image area, frequently eliminating the end of the scene in order to make room.
The figures and inscriptions of Meryteti's wife and sons and also the names of servants are later additions to the original scenes. These probably relate to the re-ownership of the chapel by Meryteti.
It was at this time that Meryteti (it is assumed that it was he) hammered out the figures and names of his elder brother, from chamber A13.
However, the asumption that Pepyankh was able to usurp (even temporarily) the tomb of his younger half-brother might not be justified. Not only was Meryteti a nephew of Pepy I, but the change of ownership may have been mutually acceptable.
Meryteti's chapel was almost certainly started towards the end of the reign of Teti and was most probably completed towards the middle of the reign of Pepy I.