The mastaba of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep

The mastaba tomb of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep is located in the northern area of Saqqara, the great necropolis of Memphis, the Old Kingdom capital. It had been buried under the 700 metre causeway (), which joins the mortuary temple and pyramid of the pharaoh Unas (last king of Dynasty V) to the valley temple, it lay undiscovered until 1964. The causeway had to be partially destroyed in order to uncover the mastaba section of the tomb complex (the rear portion of which is excavated into the bedrock). Its discovery lead to what is probably one of the most beautiful tombs in the whole area. Being situated close to the step pyramid of Djoser and that of Unas, it forms part of the group monuments on the site most often visited by tourists. It is sometimes known as "the tomb of the two brothers".
Due to being located under the causeway of Unas, it must precede the reign of this pharaoh. Therefore, an approximate date for the mastaba is towards the end of the reign of Niuserre (c. 2460-2430) or at the latest, that of his immediate successor, Menkauhor (c. 2430-2420).


This tomb is unusual because it consists of a dual chapel complex, dedicated equally to two deceased persons. One was called Niankhkhnum - "life belongs to Khnum" and the other Khnumhotep - "Khnum is satisfied" (), two anthroponyms based on the ram-headed god of Elephantine (Aswan).

The association of these two men in the same tomb can be explained by their close relationship: they were brothers. One suggestion is that they were twins, but there is no actual evidence for this. A more recent suggestion is that were conjoined twins. Others have speculated that there was a homosexual relationship, though this hardly seems likely given that their wives and children are depicted regularly in the tomb.
A good article, covering all of the above, was produced by the .
In my humble opinion: these were just two very close brothers, who shared the same lifestyle working for the king; who collectively paid for the construction of a joint tomb (in phases) so that they could be together in the afterlife. JJH

Throughout the tomb a regular emphasis is given to Niankhkhnum in the programme of decoration which could signify that he was the elder of the two, also the fact that on the rear wall of the second vestibule (at the south of the courtyard) Niankhkhnum has a much older "eldest" son than Khnumhotep.

Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep were "prophets of Ra" in the sun temple of Neussere, the 6th king of Dynasty V, located at Abu Gurab and also "wab priests" of the pyramid located there and called "The foundations of Niuserre are stable". However, they were both best known as "supervisors of the manicurists in the royal palace".
Their titles are encountered several times throughout the complex, in one form or another. In total these amount to:
  Supervisor of the manicurists of the palace
King's administrator
Priest of Re in the sun temple of Niuserre
Wab-priest of the mortuary temple of Niuserre
Wab-priest of the king
Confidant of the king
Privy counsellor
The one honoured by the great god
The one whom his lord loves every day


Several walls within the chapel complex show the two deceased with family members, but usually with only one of them, as is the case of the walls of the second vestibule. However larger family groups appear on two specific walls: The south wall of the first vestibule (where part of the immediate family of each deceased are shown hunting and fishing), the east wall of the first chamber (with their parents and siblings) and the south section of the west wall of the antechamber (with all of their children). From these the following family tree can be derived.

The following names are also provided in form, in italics. The vocalisation from the hieroglyphic form has always been a matter of personal choice and is another reason for also providing the names in the M. de C. form.

The father and mother of the two deceased can be identified with reasonable certainty (although they are not actually specified as such), from the east wall of the first chamber. They are Khabaw-khufu xa-bAw-xwfw (their father) and Rewed-zawes rwD-zAw.s (their mother).

In total, the two deceased appear to have had six siblings :
three brothers :
Titi tjtj, Nefernisewet nfr-njswt, and Kahersetef kA (.j) -Hr-st.f
and three sisters :
Neferhotep-hewetherew nfr-Htp-Hwt-Hrw, Mehewet mHwt and Ptah-heseten Hztn-ptH.

The family of Niankhkhnum consisted of :
his wife : Khentikawes xntj-kAw.s
three sons : Hem-re Hm-ra, Qed-unas qd (w) n.s and Khnumhezewef Xnmw-hzw.f
three daughters : Hemet-re Hmt-ra , Khewiten-re xwjtn-ra and Nebet? nbt
and one grandson : Irin-akheti jrjn-Axtj (son of Hem-re and his wife, Tjeset Tzt).

In the case of Khnumhotep, his family consisted of :
his wife : Khenut xnwt)
five sons  : Ptahshepses Spss-ptH, Ptahneferkhu nfr-xw (w) -ptH, Kaizebi kA (.j) -zbj,
Khnumheswef xnmw-Hzw.f and Niankhkhnum -the younger nj-anx-xnmw nDs
and a daughter : Rewedzawes rwD.zAw.z.
The last son of Khnumhotep was probably named after his uncle.


The mastaba tomb is one of the largest in the Saqqara necropolis and appears to have been enlarged and changed during its construction, possibly in three phases.
The initial complex (phase 1) possibly consisted of only the northern half of the now long antechamber, cut into the natural limestone rock. This was then extended southwards (phase 2) to twice this length and probably included the addition of the offering chamber. The remainder (which includes the second vestibule which leads to the original antechamber) was added by building forwards using the common stonework mastaba construction (phase 3), with sloping sides to increase stability.
The floor level of the original rock-cut section of the complex is approximately 0.80m above that of the addition mastaba-built section, with the floor level of the second vestibule being the same as the original section and having a small flight of steps leading up to it.
This addition included, commencing from the new pillared entrance and vestibule, two new chambers (only one of which is decorated), an open courtyard (also undecorated) and finally the second vestibule, which leads to the rock hewn antechamber. The height of the first vestibule and following two chambers is restricted only by the roofing blocks of the mastaba. Thus, with a height of just less than 4 metres, these all appear extremely tall and narrow. These areas are connected by short decorated corridors (with the exception of the one between the first and second chambers), the height of which is not much greater than their doorways, about 2 metres.
Throughout, the decoration is shared by the two deceased. Slight emphasis is given to Niankhkhnum over his brother Khnumhotep, such as priority position on walls.
All of areas were accessible to the living, for performing the cult worship, with the exception of the burial chambers, the main entrance to which is located in the floor of the second vestibule.
Much of the original colours have survived, although damage can be found throughout the complex. Some of the original stonework, belonging to the mastaba, was found to have been used in the construction of the causeway to the pyramid complex of Unas.
Throughout, the decorated walls are edged at the bottom with a coloured stripe below which is an undecorated dado (averaging 1 metre in height) of courser stone. Originally, the sides and top of all the decorated walls were edged with a coloured ladder design and at the very top a geometric design; most of these have disappeared, although they do still exist in places.