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The Tomb of Meresankh III (G 7530-40) At Giza


The Tomb of Meresankh III (G 7530-40)
At Giza
by Jimmy Dunn

Depiction of Hetepheres, Meresankh III, and her son Nebemakhet on the west wall of the main room


At Giza, while the Pyramids are undecorated, one of the most beautiful tombs (G 7530-40) in its eastern cemetery is that of Meresankh (Mersyankh) III, due to the quality of its bas-reliefs. Particularly striking is the well preserved colors in this 4th Dynasty mastaba, marking this as one of the most vibrantly decorated tombs every discover at Giza. Various scenes depict boating, offering bearers, scribes, craftsmen and agricultural production, together with many of Meresankh's relatives, including her mother, father and children.

Floor Plan of the Tomb

This tomb was built at a time when there were increasingly elaborate chapels and mastaba superstructures, together with a new type of burial place developed at Giza, probably late in Khafre's reign. These were rock-cut tombs, carved out of the bedrock and lacking a superstructure. Obviously, such tombs foreshadowed the type of burial place that was later to dominate Egyptian necropolises through the Middle and New Kingdoms at sites such as Thebes, Beni Hasan and Aswan. Meresankh's tomb is a particularly early example of a rock cut tomb, though located beneath a double mastaba type superstructure, thus combining the two tomb types.It is located just to the south of the huge tomb of Prince Ankh-haf (G 7510).

Meresankh, who died at about the age of 50, was the daughter of Kawab and Hetespheres II, who in turn were both children of Khufu. She eventually married her half brother, King Khafre.

This tomb has a floor plan consisting of two rectangular rooms, both of which are oriented north-south. An entrance stairway leads down into the large main chamber. Near the doorway texts provide for the tomb owner's name, titles and the date of her death. Within this first room, the walls are decorated principally with agricultural, hunting, fishing and nautical scenes. Meresankh and her mother are depicted gathering lotus flowers and catching birds with nets in the swamps. Here, Hetepheres wheres a black lappet wig and is clad in a long white tunic, standing in the front of a boat with her back to Meresankh, who wears a bandalette around her black hair and a blue bead net over a white garment. It should be noted that in other scenes, Hetepheres has blond or red-hair which is very unusual during Egypt's Pyramid Age.

The two artists, Rehay  and Inkaf, shown at work on two statues

The scenes on a small part of the eastern wall just to the left of the entrance, divided into five panels, are particularly interesting. They show the production of statues. Here, one scene shows an artist, who's name may have been Rehay, painting a statue of the queen, and close by, there is a representation of a sculptor named Inkaf who is creating a second statue of the princess. This is the first known reference to artists identified by name, and they may very well have also had the responsibility of decorating this tomb.However, below these scenes are other men shown carving the funerary sarcophagus and false door. Gold workers are also depicted smelting gold and making a palanquin.

One of the pillars  inside the tomb of Meresankh III

Adjacent to these scenes on the south wall are three niches that contain six high-relief engaged statues that depict six men who cannot be precisely identified. However, they are presumed to be scribes or priests.

At the northern end of this chamber are two square pillars, and further to the north the room has been extended. Depicted on the pillars is Meresankh shown facing into the tomb and dressed in an elegant white robe. Her two sons, Niussere and Duaenre stand at her feet. Niussere would eventually rise to the throne of Egypt. On the rough northern wall of the extension, an large niche was carved out to frame ten large statues of various women sculpted in high relief. They decrease in size from right to left. Regrettably, there are no individual inscriptions so it has been assumed that these are female family members, including Hetepheres, Meresankh her daughter Shepseskau, as well as other daughters.(Some scholars believe that these statues represent three instances of Hetephere, four of Meresankh and three daughters.)

Statues of Meresankh II and her family on the north wall of the main room

Above: Statues of Meresankh II and her family on the north wall of the main room

Looking through the pillars at the statues on the north wall


Above: Looking through the pillars at the statues on the north wall

On the western wall, together with an incomplete false door with a depiction of Meresankh seated at a table, to the south, there are also two large openings leading into the adjoining offering room. Within this second, smaller room, there is another agricultural scene on the small eastern wall. However, on the northern wall there is depicted the funeral banquet. Food and wine is being prepared for the banquet, while musicians, singers and dancers entertain Meresankh, who sits above holding a lotus flower and watching over the proceedings. These reliefs are unpainted. On the western wall there are two more niches flanking a second false door and containing two statues. These statues are presumed to represent Hetepheres and Mersankh III.

Dancers and singers at  the Funerary Banquet

Agricultural Scenes from the Tomb of Meresankh III

Agricultural Scenes  from the Tomb of Meresankh III

Agricultural Scenes from the Tomb of Meresankh III

Within this room is also a shaft that leads to the burial chamber, located about five meters deep. Within, Reisner, who excavated this tomb, discovered a black granite sarcophagus decorated with the palace facade. It was presented to Meresankh by her mother and within, Reisner found the mummy of Meresankh, which has since been transferred to the Egyptian Antiquities Museum in Cairo.

Meresankh III and Hetepheres II in the swamp gathering flowersDepiction of Meresankh's father, Kawab, in her tomb

Left: Meresankh III and Hetepheres II in the swamp gathering flowers
Right: Depiction of Meresankh's father, Kawab, in her tomb

Resources:


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

Complete Pyramids, The (Solving the Ancient Mysteries)

Lehner, Mark

1997

Thames and Hudson, Ltd

ISBN 0-500-05084-8

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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