The Private Tomb of Menna on the West Bank at Luxor
by Jimmy Dunn writing as Mark Andrews
The classical private tombs on the West Bank at Luxor (ancient Thebes) are referred to as being T-shaped, particularly those located on the slopes of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna in the area known as the Tombs of the Nobles. Repeatedly, we find an entrance corridor or a courtyard that leads into a wide vestibule, with another short corridor that leads into a long chapel, often with a small niche at its rear. The Tomb of Menna (TT 69) is completely classic in this regard.
Menna held the title, "Scribe of the Fields of the Lord of the Two Lands of Upper and Lower Egypt", as well as field overseer of Amun. However, these were probably not two separate positions. He probably supervised temple owned agricultural lands which were dependencies of state granaries. He is thought to have worked for the Temple of Amun at Karnak, supervising the measuring of fields, inspected the work on the land, prosecuted defaulters and recorded the crop yield. He lived during the 18th Dynasty and probably worked under both Tuthmosis IV and Amenhotep III.
An interesting aspect of this tomb is the details that Egyptologists can gleam from subtle differences in the artwork. Private tombs often reflect the style imprinted by the current pharaoh. For example, Tuthmosis IV favored lean female figures in artwork, while Amenhotep III was more prone to voluptuous curves. Also, Tuthmosis IV preferred almond shaped eyes with relatively round pupils that barely touch the lower lid, while Amenhotep III's females had closed, slanted, almond shaped eyes with pupils that touch almost half of the upper eyelid. Egyptologists are actually able to date tombs to various pharaohs from these differences.
Menna's wife, Henuttawy (Henut-taui), may also have been literate, as we find a scribal palette depicted under her chair in several tomb scenes. We know that Menna and Henuttawy probably had several sons, one of which followed in his profession, as well as three daughters, including one, Amenemwaskhet, who was a lady-in-waiting in the court of the pharaoh.
Menna's tomb is often a favorite of tourists, because of the sophisticated paintings and the decorative program that is one of the most complete in the Theban necropolis. Menna's family is prominent in these decorations, and many of the scenes are very touching. As might be expected, agriculture is also extensively documented.
Entering the tomb and making a left turn in the vestibule, we first find four registers with different stages of reaping and of the wheat harvest. These activities are carried out under the supervision of scribes who record the yield. On the next shorter wall, we find a scene of Menna and Henuttawy before a table of offerings. They are worshiping the god, Osiris, who is seated on a throne inside a chapel.
On the rear left wall of the vestibule are fragmentary scenes of the deceased and his wife at the funeral banquet, while on the right rear wall are scenes of the couple receiving offerings along with a list of the ritual offerings. On the next wall (the western wall) of the vestibule is a painting of a stele divided into three registers. In the upper register, we find Re-Harakhty, along with the main gods of the funeral cult. The middle register is a double representation of Menna and Henuttawy who are seated, and in the lower register the couple is shown in an act of worship. The right front wall of the vestibule has various offering scenes.
Entering the Chapel, on the long right wall we first find scenes of bearers of offerings and the funeral procession, followed by the deceased being judged by Osiris. At the back on the short wall is the niche for statues of the deceased and his wife. Note the lack of a false door often found in other tombs.
The right wall of the chapel is probably the most interesting within this tomb. The opening scenes of this wall depict a young daughter of Menna picking lotus flowers while another carries lotus flowers and the birds that they have caught. The next scene is well known, showing the natural bounty to be found in the marshes among the papyrus and lotus plants. Swarming with life, we find flocks of birds intermingled with butterflies, as well as nests with eggs. There is also a cat and rodent who appear to be after the bird's eggs.
The next scene is very much like one found in the tomb of Nakht (TT 52). This leads us to believe that the same artist worked in both tombs, probably early in the reign of Amenhotep III. It is a double scene, showing Menna standing on a papyrus fishing boat. His wife and sons are also present. On the right, Menna is shown harpooning two fish, while on the left, he is shown with a throwing stick used for hunting birds.
The final scene is in several registers. The top register depicts a pilgrimage to Abydos with a fleet of boats returning to Thebes. In the lower registers we find scenes dedicated to the rites carried out before the mummy, with the "Opening of the Mouth" ceremony being prominent.