"Let a tomb be made for me in the orient moutain of Akhet-Aten, and let my burial be made in it, in the millions of jubilees which the Aten, my father, decreed for me. Let the burial of the King's Chief Wife Nefertiti be made in it, in the millions of years which the Aten, my father, decreed for her. (And) let the burial of the King's Daughter Meritaten be made in it […] And let a cemetery be made for the Mnevis Bull in the orient mountain of Akhet-Aten, so that he may be buried in it. Let there be made tomb chapels for the Greatest of Seers, for the God's Fathers of the Aten and the (?) of the Aten in the orient mountain of Akhet-Aten so that they maybe buried in it" (Akhenaten, Earlier Proclamation, year V, after Murnane).

All tombs are located on the east bank of the Nile. The necropolis is referred to as "The Mountain of the East". The tombs are variously referred to as "the place of favor" and "the place of the favorites".

Boundary stela U Stèle frontière U

The construction of monumental tombs at el-Amarna was announced in the first set of Boundary Stelae. In the so-called "Earlier Proclamation" of Akhenaten's regnal year 5, on Stela K, three members of the royal family (Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and princess Meritaten), the Mnevis bull, and certain priests (the "Greatest of Seers" and the "God's Fathers of the Aten") were designated as beneficiaries of tombs to be constructed. But tomb owners bear the designations of officials in the military and civil services, in the temple and royal economies, and in the service of the households of the royal family.
Despite this proclamation of the sovereign, only about fifty tombs have been started, of which twenty-four bear inscriptions and only one (Any's TA 23) probably served in a funeral. This correlates with the 130 to 240 higher-ranking officials that we estimate to have been present at el-Amarna.
Significantly, tombs in an advanced state of completion were owned by individuals holding offices in the service of the royal family, in the temples, and also in law enforcement, as exemplified by the tomb of the local chief of police, Mahu (TA 09). In contrast, TA 12 (Nakht-Pa-Aten), the tomb of a vizier, the most important person in the state administration, was left in a very early stage of construction.

Amarna tombs are much less known to the general public than those of Luxor, firstly because of the remoteness of the site in relation to major centres, secondly because of their appearance: the grey walls, often very damaged, have lost their colours and do not attract the eye.
Yet they are very interesting monuments due to their originality and whose study is indispensable to understanding the Amarna period. Indeed, their architectural changes, quirks in representation and changes in the decorations allow us to penetrate the heart of the theological system created by Akhenaten who is at the centre. Not to mention that it is only here that all the hymns to Aten are to be found (Great Hymn and Small Hymns).

Why have so few tombs been started?

We are reduced to hypotheses, because if the short period of site occupation (about 12 years) is a major reason, it does not explain everything.

It is assumed (without being absolutely certain) that the privilege to create a tomb in his holy city was granted by Akhenaten himself, who perhaps has not given many such permissions.

A major obstacle was the low number of available artisans.

It is likely that a number of officials were sceptical about the future of religious reforms introduced by Akhenaten and any long term survival of local burials.

Notables coming from this province have certainly preferred to be buried in the familiar cemetery of their Nome rather than in this corner of the desert where their funerary cult had little chance of their being kept up.


It was John Gardner Wilkinson, who in the 1820s was the first to notice the originality of the Amarna tombs. Then Robert Hay and Nestor L'Hote also copied some reliefs. The first significant publication was that of Karl Lepsius in his Denkmäler.
The standard publication on the Amarna tombs remains that of N. de Garis Davies, "The rock tombs of el-Amarna", published in six volumes in the early twentieth century. By this time, Davies had to rely on previous descriptions including those by Lepsius to restore areas that had meanwhile disappeared.
These rock chapels have suffered due to the poor overall quality of the rock, wilful destruction in the post-Amarna period (persecution of the memory of Akhenaten), Coptic monks and modern looters, squatters and vandals.


A- Akhetaten, the city of the Sun

The city of Akhetaten ("Akhet-Aten', "Horizon-of-the-Aton" or "Horizon-of-the-Solar-disk ") was created from nothing by the will of the pharaoh Akhenaten expressed in year 5 of his reign. It is located on the site of Tell el-Amarna, about halfway between Thebes (Luxor) and Memphis. The city was occupied for fifteen years before being abandoned and dismantled. It was occupied by from 20 to 40 000 people, and was built in a vast sandy and inhospitable semi-circle, not previously inhabited. It is bordered for the most part of its circumference by hundred metre high cliffs, which dominate a high desert plateau. There are 12 kms between the two furthest points, north and south, of the semi-circle where cliffs almost reach down to the Nile; the maximum distance between the river and the cliffs is about 5 km. These plateau and cliffs are interrupted here and there by dry valleys or wadis (river beds), one of which leads to the royal necropolis. South east, the plateau descends into an irregularly flat tongue of desert of about 3 km wide.

B- The tombs

The tombs of notables are excavated in the cliffs that encircle the city, "The great and venerable hill of Akhetaten"; "The mountain east of Akhetaten, the place of Maat". They are therefore, like the city of Akhetaten, on the right bank of the Nile. This choice "insists on an eternal life emanating from this world rather than a life coming from death and taking place in another space" (Martinez).

The tombs are divided into two groups, north and south of the wadi leading to the royal necropolis. Each group constitutes the end point of a network of tracks interconnected with the city.
The tombs are in varying degrees of completion and are remarkably diverse - and this diversity must be taken into account when analyzing them.
Today, it is generally accepted that work began and was completed in both groups at the same time.

Authority to create a tomb was doubtless given by Akhenaten himself, but it is not known who selected the location of the concession, nor what criteria. Note that, besides the numbered graves, there are as many unnumbered: sometimes barely noted, we know nothing of their owners ().

1) - Tombs of the northern group

( and )

The facade is carved into the vertical
cliff overlooking the entrance.
La façade est taillée dans la falaise
verticale qui surplombe l'entrée

Located northeast of the city and near border stele V, they are divided into two groups separated by a wadi, tombs No. 1 and No. 2 in the north, and No. 3-6 south. They are at a height of 85m carved out at the base of a vertical cliff overlooking a slope formed from rocky debris. Most were made with two rooms in succession, with a niche for the statue of the deceased at the end of the second room. These tombs were occupied by Christian monks, who have sometimes added rooms and who converted the large tomb, No. 6 Panhesy, into a church.

a) - Six tombs are numbered

(only the main titles of the owners are mentioned here) :

Tomb TA 01 : Huya is "Overseer of the Royal Harim and of the Treasuries, and Steward of the Great Royal Wife, Tiye".

Tomb TA 02 : Meryre (II) is "Royal scribe, Steward, Overseer of the Two Treasuries, Overseer of the Royal Harim of Nefertiti."

Tomb TA 03 : Ahmes is "True Scribe of the King, Fan-bearer on the King's Right Hand, Steward of the Estate of Akhenaten."

Tomb TA 04 : Meryre is "High priest of the Aten in Akhetaten, Fanbearer on the Right Hand of the King". His case is very interesting, as we have seen, as he is probably the same person as Meryneith, owner of a tomb at Saqqara.

Tomb TA 05 : Penthu is "Royal scribe, First under the King, Chief servitor of the Aten in the Estate of the Aten in Akhetaten, chief of physicians".

Tomb TA 06 : Panehsy is "Chief servitor of the Aten in the temple of Aten in Akhetaten". So this is the High Priest of the Aten.

b) - The desert altars


This term describes a group of three mud brick structures, aligned along the northern slope. Each consists of a platform which is accessed by a one or four ramp (s). Their function remains hypothetical, but it is likely that they are related to the funeral cult of some of the northern tomb group deceased which included two priests, Meryra (Tomb No. 4) and Panhesy (tomb No. 6). It is possible that the delivery ceremony of the tribute in year 12 was held here (see page 3).

2) - Tombs of the southern group

Left: tombs, South Group. Right: the facade
of TA 20 (anonymous) is cut down into the bedrock
À gauche, tombes du Groupe Sud. À droite, la façade
de TA 20 (anonyme) est taillée vers le bas, dans le socle rocheux

This is the largest group, with 19 numbered tombs.
They were excavated in a series of low cliffs to the south and east of the city () in a very poor quality rock. Their entry, usually at a lower level (), is regularly silted up. Their plan is more diverse than that of the northern group tombs, but they are less impressive.

The most important are:

Tomb TA 07 : Parennefer, is "Royal craftsman, Washer of hands of His Majesty". This is the only person we are sure had already started a tomb in Thebes (TT 188), which he abandoned to begin another in Amarna.

Tomb TA 08 : Tutu is "Chamberlain, Chief servitor of Neferkheperura-waenra (the King) in… (damaged text)… of the Temple of the Aten in Akhetaten, Overseer of all works of His Majesty, Overseer of silver and gold of the Lord of the Two Lands".

Tomb TA 09 : Mahu is "Chief of police of Akhetaten".

Tomb TA 10 : Ipy is "Royal scribe, Steward".

Tomb TA 11 : Ramose is "Royal scribe, Commander of troops of the Lord of the Two Lands, Steward of Nebmaatra (Amenhotep III) ".

Tomb TA 12 : Nakhtpaaten is "Prince, Chancellor, Vizier".

Tomb TA 13 : Neferkheperu-her-sekheper is "Mayor of Akhetaten".

Tomb TA 14 : May est "Fan-bearer on the right hand of the King, Royal scribe, scribe of recruits, Steward of the house of Sehetep-Aten, Steward of the house of Waenra in Heliopolis, Overseer of cattle of the estate of Ra in Heliopolis, Overseer of all the works of the King, General of the Lord of the Two Lands".

Tomb TA 15 : Suti is "Standard-bearer of the guild of Neferkheperura (Akhenaten) ".

Tomb TA 16 : It has no decoration and thus no indication as to who owned it. Nonetheless it contains a handsome and finely carved columned hall brought almost to completion.

Tomb TA 19 : Setau is "Overseer of the treasury of the Lord of the Two Lands".

Tomb TA 23 : Any is "Royal scribe, Scribe of the offering-table of the Aten, Steward of the estate of Aakheperura (Amenhetep II)".

Tomb TA 24 : Paatenemheb is "Royal scribe, Overseer of soldiery of the Lord of the Two Lands, Steward of the Lord of the Two Lands".

Tomb TA 25 : Ay is "God's father, Fan-bearer on the right hand of the King, Overseer of horses of His Majesty". It is he who will succeed Tutankhamun and whose reign will end the "Amarna period".

The architecture and the work in the tombs

1) Architectural elements

The plan of Amarna tombs is very different from the classic XVIIIth Dynasty's ' inverted T' shaped plan. Instead, there is no standard model for the Amarnian tombs: they vary in their dimensions, their plan, the presence or absence of columns…
According to Arp, the size of the tomb, or the existence of a columned hall, are not related to the importance or number of titles of the owner, but with the location of the tomb and the quality of the rock. Thus the general Ramose, who lived in one of the largest mansions in Akhetaten, has only a modest tomb, TA 11.

Facade of TA 11
south group tomb
Façade de TA 11
tombe groupe sud

The facades

They are up to five meters high and, on average, nine meters wide. They are cut into the cliffs. In the northern group, the workers took advantage of a natural overhang to hew the facades, while in the southern group, the rock slope had to be cut down first until a vertical wall of the right height was achieved before the interior was excavated.
The facades have a flat surface, probably because it was thought that they would be decorated at a later stage of the construction.

The columns

Broadly speaking, a distinction can be made between two different types of room in an Amarnian tomb:
• square or rectangular rooms with columned halls on one side
• rectangular rooms without columns on the other.
Thus, room sizes vary depending on the choice of forms and combinations thereof. The North tombs generally have two small rooms, while the South tombs generally have one large room.

The fluted columns were designed in the form of closed papyrus bundles. They stand on round bases, those close to the entrance axis sometimes bearing decorated tablets. Each column terminates at the top in a square abacus bearing inscriptions. The architraves and other areas of the ceilings also bear inscriptions and painted patterns.

The presence of columns creates a space reminiscent of a small temple, sometimes very impressive (). This is the continuation of a tendency initiated shortly before at Thebes (the tomb of Ramose TT 55 is an example) and that will be found especially at Saqqara: the temple-tomb.

The height of the rooms is more or less fixed, about 4 m, and the construction work started from the ceiling downwards to floor level; thus, the sculptors could work without scaffolding, and as soon as the surfaces of walls and columns had been created, they could be decorated. But many columns have been left blank because of the lack of specialized craftsmen.
Architraves and door tops sometimes have a grooved cornice, which can be monumental, as in the tomb TA 25 of Ay.

Niche and statue

One or more statue of the tomb owner seem to have been a feature intended for all the tombs at el-Amarna, but were executed only rarely; only four are still in situ, the best preserved beeing the 'engaged' statue (= directly carved into the rock) in the tomb of Any.
The statue was placed in a niche, either at the end of the main axis of the chapel or on the sides in the case of a large columned room. Very few of these niches have been completed.

Underground structures

Underground structures are sometimes funerary pits, sometimes stairs (), which are found most often in the first room. Stairs or shafts, both lead to a small, rough-hewn, burial chamber, only one of which appears to have been used for a burial.

2)- South Group, North Group

The tombs are remarkably diverse and this diversity needs to be taken into account when analyzing them. Despite all attempts, it is impossible to establish a classification or a hierarchy between them or from one group to another.

The tombs of the

They consist of two rooms on the main axis and a statue niche at its end; a shaft usually leads from the second room to the burial chamber. The decoration, if it exists, was only executed on the walls of the first room. The second room shows no hints of having been prepared for any decoration.

The tombs of the

Ten out of sixteen show a rectangular columned hall, transverse to the main axis and exhibiting up to 24 columns. Statue niches were generally planned to extend to the sides between the rows of columns (e.g., TA 08, TA 14), but also at the end of the main axis.
In the tombs with rectangular columned halls transverse to the axis of the entrance (e.g., TA 14, May) the access to the burial chamber is always a staircase, starting from the ground and virtually hidden between the columns. Wall decoration in these tombs is always restricted to the inner walls on both sides of the entrance.

3) Work in the tomb

The quality of the limestone at el-Amarna is very poor, and therefore much work and preparation were needed to gain smooth surfaces. Large quantities of flint nodules had to be removed from the limestone, leaving behind holes that needed to be covered with plaster. Consequently, much of the relief decoration was executed in plaster. The high volume of plaster used, however increased the tomb decoration's vulnerability to destruction and natural decay.

Several separate types of trades occur on the site. They do not work as teams, but are detached from a common pool without coordination.

Quarrymen start the work

Quarymen began the work at ceiling level, and then they cut out the stone downwards, almost to the level of the future floor. This is precision work because it requires them from the beginning to have an overview of the room and mentally to leave enough surplus rock to allow for the finer work that follows. At this stage the rock fissures are filled with plaster already.

Then follows another team of stonemasons

They refine the work of the quarrymen to reduce the diameter of the columns to that they will have at the end of the work.

A third team provides the final proportions

This is the most important work since it provides the final appearance. Chisel marks are removed by abrasion and by using plaster coating.


The plaster must cover all surfaces other than the floor. These two teams employ highly skilled workers who can work "by eye".

Then come the artists

They sketch the scenes and hieroglyphics to be painted in black ink. A master artist then made the corrections in red ink. some of these sketched scenes still remain, for example in the tomb of May.

Next engravers come in to work

They carve scenes and texts in the plaster and sometimes in the underlying limestone. Their role is primarily to give permanent shape and contours for the work of the colourist, which explains why these engravings are not of exceptional quality.

Finally, it's time for the colourists

They paint the scenes, hieroglyphs and the ceilings. It is hard to imagine this with the grey aspect most of the walls now present, but originally they were painted in colors as vibrant as the Theban tombs. It is the fall of their plaster and soot trails from lamps… that make their décor often uninviting.

3) The scarcity of labour

Obtaining these work crews had to lead to fierce competition amongst tomb builders and was thus certainly a good mark of the favour enjoyed by the tomb owner from the sovereign. The gradual completion of the main monuments of the city had certainly freed up some categories of workers. However, the vast work program launched by Akhenaten in the royal necropolis had to mobilise for itself at least two special trades in the work of the tombs, the quarrymen and plasterers.
It is the shortage of skilled labour, more than the abandonment of the city, that would explain why the tombs are unfinished. The small number of craftsmen also explains the remarkable stylistic unity of the decoration of these tombs.