The Tomb of Userhat (TT56)

The Tomb of Userhat (TT56)
On the West Bank of Ancient Thebes (Modern Luxor)

by Jimmy Dunn

Userhat and his wife, Mutneferet in his tomb number TT56 on the West Bank at Luxor

The tomb of Userhat has been open to the public for many years, and is therefore one of the better known non-royal tombs on the West Bank at Luxor (ancient Thebes).

Userhat held various titles during the reign of Amenhotep II of 18th Dynasty. His titles, provided on his funerary monument, include "royal scribe", Overseer and Scribe of the Cattle of Amun", Bread counting scribe in Upper and Lower Egypt", and "deputy Herald". He was also referred to as a "child of the royal nursery, suggesting that he was brought up in the royal court as one of the companions of the royal children and was a close friend of the king in adulthood. His most prominent title was 'Scribe who counts breads in Upper and Lower Egypt'. His wife was a lady named Mutneferet, who bore the title of "royal ornament". Userhat's tomb can be found in the village area of Sheikh 'Abd el-Qurna, south of the tomb of Ramose (TT55).

The painted tomb of Userhat is well-preserved with unusual scenes of many subjects, although its decoration was not complete. In the 18th Dynasty, the plan of the upper rooms of tombs often, though not always, took the shape of an inverted letter T, providing a broad entrance hall and a corridor leading to an inner chapel. This tomb represents a perfect example of this type of New Kingdom tomb.

Apparently, a younger girl making an offering to two of Userhat's daughters in a banquet scene in his tomb

The passage leading into the tomb is inscribed with texts of offering formulae to Amun-Re, Re-Horakhty and Osiris on the left and Osiris, Anubis and Hathor on the right. The lintel depicts Userhat and his wife before Osiris.

Entrance Hall

In the first hall, to the left of the entrance (North wall), Userhat can be seen in the company of his wife Mutnefert and a daughter, offering to Osiris and Hathor, Mistress of the West.

The next five registers on this wall depict Userhat's duties as a grain accountant and other agricultural scenes. Recording of heaps of grain is undertaken before him while above two persons prostrate themselves before some merchandise. Further behind we see a row of men carrying boxes on their shoulders. Above this, in three register, we find rows of cattle being inspecting and 'overthrowing bulls' in order to brand them. The hieroglyphic caption to this picture reads: 'Bringing all good things by these herdsmen to the royal scribe, deputy herald, Userhat.' The representations of the cattle are painted in the full range of available colors, though on this wall the black pigment has faded or completely vanished.

Agricultural scene in the tomb of Userhat showing cattle

Turning the corner, the next side wall represents a painted round-topped stela which includes a double-scene of Osiris before offering tables and the tomb owner praising the god on either side.

Turning the corner once more, the east side of the southern wall shows Userhat and his wife with two daughters and a son making offerings to them. A tiny monkey can be seen under Mutnofert's chair, beside her mirror, and under Userhat's chair his quiver of arrows and his scribal equipment.

A son and two daughters making offerings to Userhat and his wife

A winged sun-disc hovers over the scene and rows of offering bearers can be seen on either side.

Banqueting scenes representing the 'Beautiful Feast of the Valley' follow on this wall. Though the scenes are somewhat difficult to make out, we find a male harpist, a girl playing an oboe and clappers providing the musical entertainment. The upper register shows female guests at the banquet.

The west side of the south wall shows soldiers being given provisions and other non-combat military scenes. Although Userhat was not called 'scribe of recruits' it is obvious from the motifs depicted that this was where his duties lay. Officers appear seated in rows before plentiful supplies of food, wine and beer, but the troops are lined up waiting for baskets of bread. A supervisor with a whip checks the rations as they are taken from the storehouse. The columns for inscriptions were left unfinished, so we do not know if any of the figures are meant to be Userhat himself.

A military scene showing, among other things, a barber shaving the head of new recruits

Another scene is apparently unique in Egyptian art. It depicts recruits at leisure and having their heads shaven. Some crouch on the floor and others on three-legged stools. Below, right, two people even seem to compete for the privilege of sitting on a folding stool, while the barber works on his clients beneath a sycamore tree.

The right-hand side of this wall shows a red-headed Userhat making offerings to the king, Amenhotep II, in a kiosk, who is accompanied by his bodyguards. The king sits on his throne under a canopy facing Userhat, who presents him with an elaborate gift consisting of a table loaded with fruit and decorated with tall bouquets and a swag of grapes.

The false door in the tomb of Userhat

Turning the corner once more, the next end wall shows the traditional image of a painted false door. Here, the tomb owner and his wife are seated before offering tables and their son Usi as sem-priest performs the ritual offerings and purifications at the beginning of the 'Opening of the Mouth Ritual'. The couple is being presented with the 'bouquet of Amun', an episode in a series which took place at the Feast of the Valley when offerings were traditionally made to deceased relatives.

Finally, coming back to the tomb entrance, on the right-hand side of the entrance wall there are offering scenes. Seated women are depicted with children in their laps and servants behind suggesting that they may be the wet-nurses of Userhat's children.

The Chapel

The doorway into the chapel, the inner most focal point of the tomb, is elaborately painted with a striped cornice and the lintel over the entrance shows the deceased Userhat before Osiris and Anubis, funerary gods, in a double-scene. There are offering texts on either side.

Hunting scene with Userhat in his chariot

The left side wall of the chapel is painted several registers. Here, Userhat is shown hunting in his chariot drawn by a chestnut and gray horse, firing his arrows at a collection of fleeing desert animals including gazelle, hares, fox and hyena, with his military escort following behind. This scene has significances beyond simply hunting, for it probably also represents the deceased taming the chaos of the desert.

Below is a conventional fishing and fowling scene where Userhat, with his family (and cats), stands poised to throw his hunting stick from a papyrus boat. In his other hand he grasps three birds. A throwing stick has already felled one bird above a stylized papyrus thicket, while others fly away. In the following scene, Userhat spears fish with a forked harpoon.

Usherhat fishing with a harpoon

Userhat fishing with a harpoon

In the scene below men are trapping fowl in a draw-net and offering the produce to Userhat and his wife. Next depicted is a damaged scene of the grape harvest, with baskets of grapes and wine jars waiting to be filled. A scribe records the vintage. Userhat is making an offering to the serpent-goddess Renenutet (Termuthis). Turning the corner, we find a statue niche on the southern, back wall of the tomb, which once held the statues of Userhat and Mutnefert, but little remains today.

Nich in the back wall of the chapel

Niche in the back wall of the chapel

The funerary procession

Finally, turning once more, the scenes on the next wall are shown in three registers and depict the funeral procession and the ritual of 'Opening the Mouth'. All of these scenes are directed towards the left and the interior of the tomb. In the lower register, the traditional conveyance by boat to the West Bank of the Nile is depicted, where Userhat's sarcophagus in a boat is being toad by four others on its sacred journey, and in the middle register, people bring the items necessary for a proper burial. In the upper register, mourning women and priests proceed a short procession of men. The coffin of Userhat, which is perhaps covered by a cloth with red and white stripes, is placed on a boat which is then pulled along the desert on a sledge. Below, a shrine is being moved in a similar fashion.