"The Bird Tomb" of Neferherenptah at Saqqara

"The Bird Tomb" of Neferherenptah
at Saqqara
by Jimmy Dunn

The depiction of a rising flock of birds from a thicket that provides the Mastaba of Neferherenptah with its popular name,

Though relatively small, there are some impressive tombs south of the processional ramp of Unas at Saqqara, almost all of which are rock cut, dug into the limestone rock of the plateau. They all date to the 5th Dynasty and before the reign of Unas. Discovered by Ahmed Moussa between 1964 and 1972, they all have somewhat similar layouts and consist of usually a single room. They mostly were owned by relatively low ranking individuals who lived in the court and functioned as officials, craftsmen, royal hairdressers and manicurists. However, their vivid, well-preserved colors make them worth a visit.

A rare scene of a cow being milked

One Such tomb is that of Neferherenptah. His title was "Head of the Hairdressers of the Great House", and he was the father of a judge and scribe named Ptahshepses. The tomb itself is popularly referred to as "the Bird Tomb", due to several depictions within it.

Among these tombs is that of Neferherenptah, who's tomb is located several dozen meters west of the mastaba of Mehu, in a slightly more elevated position. This tomb, like the others in this sector of Saqqara, has only a single chamber, which is accessed by way of a modern stairway located directly below the processional ramp of the Unas Pyramid. Its construction must have actually been abruptly interrupted by the construction of the processional ramp of Unas, which makes it possible to date the tomb to the period immediately preceding the king's ascent to the throne, around 2310 BC.

Watering Onions

Just inside the entrance to the tomb, on the right hand wall, are five registers of reliefs, some of which are unfinished, depicting men tending cattle, preparing food and the mating and calving of cattle. They also reveal scenes of milking a cow, which are rare, and servants bringing wine-jars as offerings to the ka of Neferherenptah.

Harvesting Onions

On the rear wall there are unfinished depictions which have been sketched out in red orchre and finished in charcoal. These scenes were intended to be cut in relief, but this carving was never performed. Here, the scenes are of additional agricultural activities, including men picking sycamore figs, netting and caging birds, including pigeons, fruit-picking, gardening and perhaps the plowing of fields. There is also a scene of men picking and treading upon grapes for the production of wine. In the garden scenes, one may clearly make out the watering and harvesting of onions. One register also depicts huge, rounded baskets of fruits and vegetables that have been gathered by the servants, while another man is seen carrying papyrus stalks in his arms. Here, we also find, high on the wall, the beautiful representation of a bird hunt, with a flock of birds rising into the air from a papyrus thicket, which gives the tomb its popular name.

Huge baskets of fruits and vegetables being harvested

Also on the left hand side of the rear wall is an unfinished and uninscribed false door.

Ground Plan of Tomb

Ground Plan of Tomb






Reference Number

Atlas of Ancient Egypt

Baines, John; Malek, Jaromir


Les Livres De France

None Stated

Illustrated Guide to the Pyramids, The

Hawass, Zahi; Siliotti, Alberto


American University in Cairo Press, The

ISBN 977 424 825 2

Treasures of the Pyramids, The

Hawass, Zahi


American University in Cairo Press, The

ISBN 977 424 798 1