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The Tomb of Si-Amun at Gebel (Jebel) al-Mawta in the Siwa Oasis in Egypt


The Tomb of Si-Amun at
Gebel (Jebel) al-Mawta in the Siwa Oasis

By Jimmy Dunn writing as Kelly Smith

Ground Plan of the Tomb of Si-Amun at Gebel al-Mawta in the Siwa Oasis of Egypt


Of the Tombs at Gebel al-Mawta in the Siwa Oasis of Egypt, the best known and most documented is that of Si-Amun. Ahmed Fakhry, who investigated this tomb refers to it as the most important tomb at Gebel al-Mawta and the most beautiful of any in the oasis of the Western Desert. The tomb dates to about the 3rd century BC. It was discovered in October of 1940 and unfortunately, some of its decorations were badly damaged by soldiers in the Siwa at that time, who cut away parts of the painted plaster. The tomb, as with others in the area, was robbed during the Roman Period.

Si-Amun, the owner of the tomb, appears to have held no official titles, therefore holding neither a religious or administrative post, but it is clear from his tomb that he was an individual of some importance with the financial resources to construct one of the finest tombs in the necropolis. He must have been a great landowner or a rich merchant and he may have been Greek, though he was certainly a follower of the Egyptian religion. In fact, his name means "the man of Amun", a common Egyptian name, though his father was called Periytu, which is my no means an Egyptian. His mother's name was Nefer-hert, an Egyptian name meaning "the lady with the beautiful face". While neither of his parents are depicted in the tomb, it does contain representations of the tomb owner, his wife and two sons. He is depicted with a beard and thick, black, curly hair and a fair complexion. His wife, named Re'-t, has a reddish brown complexion. The oldest son was fair skinned like his father, while the younger one had a darker complexion like his mother. The younger son is dressed like a Greek boy of his age during that period.

Si-Amun in his yougest Son  Depicted in his tomb at Gebel al-Mawta in the Siwa Oasis of Egypt

In Ahmed Fakhry's opinion:

"Si-Amun's father was a Greek who immigrated to Egypt from Greece or more likely Cyrene, married an Egyptian lady and adopted the Egyptian religion. Although Si-Amun married an Egyptian, his pride in his Greek origin caused him to grow a beard and thick, black, curly hair in the Greek manner, and dress his son like a Greek child."

During the period that Si-Amun lived in the Siwa Oasis, the region was a very important caravan station between Cyrene on the coast and the Sudan. Since its founding the oasis was a very important commercial center.

The tomb of Si-Amun itself lies only a short distance west of the tomb of Mesu-Isis, one of the few other decorated tombs in the necropolis. It opens to the north, and has a plan that is similar to that of the tomb of Mesu-Isis. There is a courtyard that proceeds the tomb entrance, in which two other tombs were cut, one to the east and the other to the west. A flight of steps leads to the entrance of a longitudinal chamber followed at its end by the burial chamber. The entrance to the tomb is decorated in the cornice fashion, but the facade bears not inscriptions and there is no trace of colors from paintings.

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Within the first chamber, five recesses each were cut into the eastern and western walls during the Roman Period and used for family burials. Many mummies were found in these recesses when the tomb was discovered, but all were very badly mummified and very few objects were found with them. They ended up being sold to the soldiers occupying the area.

The carving of these recesses demolished not less than one-fourth of the original painted scenes, but in spite of this and the disfiguration of many of the scenes after the tomb's discovery, it still preserves much of its ancient painting, both on the walls and on the ceiling. Furthermore, the rock is good, the plaster used to coat the walls was of a very fine quality, and the artists who drew and painted the figurers were exceptionally skilled. They were most likely brought in from the Nile Valley to decorate the tomb.

On the west wall of the first chamber, the scenes occupy two registers. The northern half of the upper register depicts the afterlife Judgment Hall. Here, Osiris is seated in his shrine and in front of him, the heart of the deceased is weighed before forty-two deities. To the right of the scale is a netherworld monster and the tomb owner, protected by the goddess Ma'at. Unfortunately three recesses were cut from this scene, demolishing most of it, but parts of it are preserved, including Osiris. A large part of the text which accompanied the scene is preserved.

Nut Stand's before a Sycamore Tree in the Tomb of Si-Amun

Depicted in the bottom register, near the entrance, is Si-Amun sitting on a char with his younger son, also with thick, black, curly hair and wearing a short Greek cloak, before him. Nearby stands the goddess Nut beside a sycamore tree. In her right hand she holds a tray with offerings of bread and incense, while in from her left she pours water from a vase into a pond. Within the stream of water are a chain of symbols representing life (Ankh signs). To the left of this scene, Si-Amun was represented praying to several deities. The goddess Isis and the Bennu-bird are preserved.

The scenes continue on the southern half of the west wall where, in the upper register, a false door was painted. To the false door's left sits Si-Amun on an unusual chair, holding a long staff of ebony worked with god. To the right of the false door once stood six deities, though only two, Re-Horus and Nephthys, are preserved.

In the bottom register is an embalming scene, with the mummy lying on a Osirian bed. Here, Anubis works over the body while Isis stands at the mummies head and Nephthys at the feet. Behind Nephthys stand the Four Sons of Horus.

Si Amun seated holding the Symbol of Life and the Symbol of Breath

The last scene in the bottom register presents Si-Amun, seated on a chair and holding the symbol of life in one hand and the symbol of breath in the other. Before him there is a box which is surmounted by instruments used in the Opening of the Mouth ritual. At the other side stood the deceased's eldest son, dressed in the leopard skin of a priest and holding in both hands instruments used in this ceremony. Si-Amun's wife is shown standing behind him. Regrettably, sometime after 1965, someone managed to cut away the whole figure of Si-Amun.

The wall facing the tomb entrance in which the burial chamber was cut was also once decorated, but unfortunately, nothing now remains.

The mummy within a boat in the Tomb of Si-Amun in the Siwa Oasis

On the East wall, beginning at the entrance to the tomb, in the north corner, the decorations were divided into two registers. In the bottom register, the mummy is shown inside the canopy of a boat which rests on a wheeled cart drawn by two people. To the left of the canopy appears the ba-bird with its human head. To the left of the ba-bird is the old jackal god, Wepwawet. The prow of the boat is in the shape of a lotus flower, but we cannot tell of its stern as this part of the depiction has been destroyed. The boat is preceded by the standards of the gods Horus, Thoth and Anubis.

Towards the northern end of the eastern wall there is also a representation of a false door. To the right of this we again find Si-Amun with the vulture goddess Nekhbet hovering over his head. Behind him is once again a box of instruments used in the Opening of the Mouth ritual. His son is also once again present in his leopard skin garment, this time holding in his left hand the Wer-Hekau used for this ceremony. The vulture goddess was drawn by a very skillful and hand very carefully and tastefully painted. It was complete when the tomb was discovered.

There is also a scene of Si-Amun is praying to a number of deities, and a rich table of offerings probably was destroyed when one of the recesses was cut into this wall. The deities include Amun at the forefront, who is followed by a female goddess, most probably his consort, Mut. Behind Mut stands Hathor, looking to the right and holding the god Douamutef in her hands.

Si Amun with his son behind  him and the ulture goddess Nekhbet overing over his head

On the other side of the recess are two deities looking to the right. The first one is the lion-headed god, Mahes, while the other is a female, holding in her right hand the sistrum of Hathor. The last preserved scene on this wall depicts Si-Amun in a standing position while praying to Osiris and Isis.

Some of the decorations on these walls are incomplete, for we can see the guiding squares drawn by the artists prior to the final work. Nevertheless, the details of the clothes of the deities are very carefully executed and they represent some of the best examples of Egyptian art from this late period.

There is a top frieze on the walls of this tomb with two designs. The one nearest to the entrance consists of un-inscribed cartouches above which appears a line, four centimeters broad, divided into small squares. The cartouches repeat in groups of two blue followed by two yellow, each group being separated from the next by three broad lines rounded at the top. Below the cartouches there is also a frieze of rosettes. Each rosette appears inside a small square, with eight petals and a point in the center. The second design consists of a broad line of inscriptions at the top, with a band of small squares of geometric designs. These surmount a fairly long representation of the sing of the sky.

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The ceiling of this tomb is beautifully adorned and better preserved than the walls. After the tomb was discovered, attempts were made to remove pieces of the painted ceiling, but after the debris were cleaned out the ceiling was out of reach.

The ceiling is divided into three sections. Above the center of the first chamber, five broad, horizontal lines, each of a different design, cross to the east and west walls. The first one contains an inscription written in yellow characters on a blue background. The second is painted blue, while the third is a good imitation of wood. The fourth is composed of a double row of yellow stars on a blue background, and the fifth is painted yellow.

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From these inscriptions to the back of the tomb, the painted ceiling consists of a line of hieroglyphics in the center flanked to either side by alternating rows of falcons and vultures with outstretched wings, holding feathers in their claws. The falcons represent Lower (Northern Egypt) while the Vultures represent Upper (Southern Egypt). Each has two stars on each side. On each side of the rear division, two different kinds of rosettes appear in a painted band.

Nearest to the entrance of the tomb, the ceiling has a horizontal line of inscriptions followed by a representation of Nut, the goddess of the sky. her body is colored light brown, though her face was already damaged when the tomb was discovered. Over her head, which is turned toward the tomb entrance, the sign of the sky is filled with stars. Under her feet is the symbol of earth, colored yellow to represent sand with black dots representing pebbles. The winged sun emerges from the middle part of her body. To both her right and left, the blue sky is filled with yellow stars, and at both sides there are three boats with a representation of water under each. These are the six boats of the sun's journey by day and by night. They are all of the same general shape, with sterns and prows shaped like flowers. However, their interior details vary, as do the deities depicted in each.

One of the sun boats, this  one depicting the first hour of the sun when the god Kheper comes out  fo his egg. Isis and Nephthys help, while Horus stands near the steering  oars and Thoth stands behind Nephthys

Ahmed Fakhry thought that it was entirely possible that other tombs, perhaps even exceeding the refinement of this one, would be found at Gebel al-Mawta, but that has not so far been the case. Perhaps future excavations might reveal more.

Resources:


Title

Author

Date

Publisher

Reference Number

Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, The

Shaw, Ian; Nicholson, Paul

1995

Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers

ISBN 0-8109-3225-3

Siwa Oasis

Fakhry, Ahmed

2004

American University of Cairo Press

ISBN 977 424 123 1

Western Desert of Egypt, The

Vivian, Cassandra

2000

American University in Cairo Press, The

ISBN 977 424 527 X

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Last Updated: Aug 4th, 2011

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