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The Tomb of Irukaptah At Saqqara


The Tomb of Irukaptah

At Saqqara

by Jimmy Dunn writing as Alan Winston

The chapel, with engaged statues, in the tomb of Irukaptah, the Butcher


Irukaptah, also know as Khenu, was "Head of the Butchers of the Great House" and "Waab Priest of the King". Hence, his 5th Dynasty tomb at Saqqara frequently known as the "Butcher's Tomb". It is located on the south side of the causeway of Unas near a bend. It is dug entirely out of the rocky wall. This is a well preserved example of Old Kingdom rock architecture that retains much of its painted decorations. Besides the owner him self, at least nine other members of his family were also interred in this tomb.

The entrance to this tomb faces almost north, with an entrance chamber that then angles into a more or less rectangular offering chapel that is oriented almost exactly north-south. Within the chapel, an outstanding feature is the large number of engaged statues, some left in various stages of completion which provide valuable information on the progressive steps in the execution of rock-cut statuary.Of course, butchering scenes are quite prominent within the tomb.

Floorplan of the tomb  of Irukaptah

Detail of one of the  engaged statues in the tomb of irukaptah

Just to the left of the entrance there are two registers at the top of the wall depicting men making a bed and brining a chest. Below, are two statue niches that continue around on the eastern wall. The statues bear the names and titles of Irukaptah's family members on the jambs. These colorfully painted statues are unusual because the technique of cutting them from the rock of the tomb wall is found nowhere else at Saqqara, in only a few tombs at Giza from this period. The statues are painted with reddish-brown for the skin, yellow kilts and brightly colored sashes. Short black wigs, typical of the Old Kingdom Period, adorn the heads of all of the men. However, the statue on the end of the row is unfinished, and beyond it are preliminary sketches for statues painted in red ochre that were never carved out.

Above the statues on the eastern wall are the famous scenes of butchering, which takes place in the presence of the deceased. While one figures holds the legs of an ox, one of the butchers skins the animal with a knife, while another cuts into the entrails and uncovers the ribs. The deceased can also be seen seated before tables laden with offerings in various containers.

Preliminary sketch  for an uncut statue in the tomb of Irukaptah

Further down the eastern wall, Irukaptah is depicted in a boat, together with his family, fowling with a throw-stick. Other men in smaller boats also partake in the sport, netting birds and fishing. Next, there are four registers of scenes with brightly decorated ships, probably hauling cargo, with sails that bellow in a strong wind. Behind the sails are cabins. Unfortunately, only the top two registers remain intact. Further along the eastern wall is a very deep niche, and above it, a painting of a seated Irukaptah.

Butchers at work

Butchers at work

Some of the Famous Butchers Scenes in the Tomb of Irukaptah

At the back of the tomb are five shafts that have now been filled in and on the walls are depicted various naval scenes together with representations of hunting in the swamps.

Irukaptah before a table of offerings in his tomb

Ships, probably hauling cargo

Irukaptah before a table of offerings in his tomb; Right: Ships, probably hauling cargo

On the western wall near the back of the chapel is a false door, and towards the entrance four more rock-cut statues in niches consisting of three males and one female, though these were never painted. An unfinished seated statue was also found within this tomb.

References:


Title

Author

Date

Publisher

Reference Number

Art of Ancient Egypt, The

Robins, Gay

1997

Harvard University Press

ISBN 0-674-00376-4

Atlas of Ancient Egypt

Baines, John; Malek, Jaromir

1980

Les Livres De France

None Stated

Early Dynastic Egypt

Wilkinson, Toby A. H.

1999

Routledge

ISBN 0-415-26011-6

Illustrated Guide to the Pyramids, The

Hawass, Zahi; Siliotti, Alberto

2003

American University in Cairo Press, The

ISBN 977 424 825 2

Treasures of the Pyramids, The

Hawass, Zahi

2003

American University in Cairo Press, The

ISBN 977 424 798 1

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