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Recent Work in the Tomb of The Overseer of Chanters Panhesy TT16

Dr. Suzanne Onstine is Assistant Professor in the History Department at the University of Memphis, in Memphis, Tennessee.  Her lecture topic: TT 16; the Tomb of Two Rameside Chanters.

Dr. Onstine first learned of Theban Tomb 16 during a Fellowship in Egypt in 2007, when she visited Luxor to look at possible project sites.  She found it to be beautifully decorated, and learned that only the first room of the tomb had ever been documented and published. Best of all the occupants of the tomb had been Panesy, an Overseer of the Chanters of the Offering Table of Amun, and his wife, Tarenu, who had been a Chantress of Amun – chanteresses being a topic near and dear to Dr. Onstine’s heart. Thus that 2007 visit turned into an epigraphic project whose work began in December of 2008.

 TT16 is one of the Tombs of the Nobles, located on the west bank of the Nile, near the Valley of the Kings.  Like many such tombs it is located in the middle of an occupation environment, and until recently had a house sitting atop it, and like many tombs in this area TT16 has suffers from water damage.   It was looted sometime after 1965 when the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) cleared the two large rooms of the tomb and did some stabilization of the wall plaster, as there are now sections of decorated plaster walls which have been removed.  For many years the SCA has wanted to relocate the inhabitants of the village and remove the structures to protect the tombs many of them covered.  In the past several years the occupants were finally relocated and the houses bulldozed, exposing a number of tombs. Though TT 16 has always been open, its entrance was impacted by the house removals above.

 TT16 is in an area specifically known as Dra Abu el Naga, near the road with leads to Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple at Deir el Bahri and is on the down-slope of a hill.  In 1932, when the tomb was first recorded, only one room was identified. Today the tomb is known to have two rooms and a long, winding corridor leading to – presumably - a burial chamber. Nothing beyond the two rooms has been completely excavated or mapped however.  Most recently, clearance in front of the tomb following demolition of the house above, has revealed the presence of an open court, with a modern retaining wall above the tomb entrance..  Two modern alabaster factories sit to each side and in front of the tomb and it was necessary for them to use a generator vice local power, were the source of poached electricity for work in the tomb.

As a result of the demolition project, the inside of the tomb was covered with a fine layer of dust which had to be removed before any real work could begin.  The tomb is cut in an area of poor conglomerate limestone so the chamber walls were faced with mud brick walls which were then plastered with mud and finished with a layer of fine gypsum plaster, on which the tomb’s decorations were applied.  The owners of the tomb, Panesy and Tarenu, probably lived during the reign of Ramses II.  As the king’s name does not appear in the tomb, dating is based on artistic style and the presence of Nebsumenu, who is known to have been Ramses II’s Steward, appearing in and identified in procession scenes in the tomb. 

Both Panesy and Tarenu, as noted earlier, were Chanter and Chantress of Amun.  Amun was the state god of the New Kingdom and a huge cult supported his worship.  Tarenu was one of some 860 women whom Dr. Onstine has identified as Chantresses of Amun.  Her job would have been to be present in the temple and at ceremonies playing a sistrum and chanting appropriate songs.

Panesy was not only a Chanter, but Overseer of all the Chanters of the Offering Table of Amun, and is pictured in his tomb leading a procession of chanters out of the temple – probably Karnak Temple - followed immediately by his brother, Pawah, who was a Chanter of the Offering Table of Amun as well – clearly a pious family.  It is unusual for ancient Egyptians to be pictured at work, so to speak, doing a specific thing that was part of their job.  Panesy had as well a second title, Priest of Amenhotep of the Forecourt (the deified Amenhotep I, first king of Dynasty 18 ).  The “forecourt” seems to be referring to the area in front of the temple. Amenhotep I and Ahmose Nefertari, his mother, are both prominently displayed in the tomb in several places – just inside the door and at the rear – as well, Amenhotep I is portrayed as an oracular statue atop a golden throne on a sledge.  The cult of Amenhotep I during the Rameside era was clearly well established and the area around Dra Abu el Naga is known to have been a major cult center.  The king’s mortuary temple is located at Dra Abu el Naga as is his tomb and both are quite close to the tomb of Panesy and Tarenu. 

Dr. Onstine noted that the decoration of Theban Tomb 19, that of Amenmose who lived during the reign of Seti I, is very similar to that of TT16.  It too features specific rituals associated with the cult of Amenhotep I.  The temple dedicated to Amenhotep I and Ahmose Nefertari which once stood at Dra Abu el Naga is completely ruined now.  It was excavated in 1913 but only an indistinct heap of rubble marks the stop today.  The temple, however, may be depicted in one of the scenes in the tomb of Panesy and Tarenu, where Panesy is shown in an attitude of reverence before a very orderly offering table next to a temple pylon. 

Other important scenes which appear in Panesy’s and Traenu’s tomb are: offerings to the gods associated with the Book of Gates, a tree goddess offering to the deceased, priests offering to the deceased, the funerary procession, the goddess Hathor emerging from the mountain, and a scene of the tomb owners confronting a demon who challenges him as he attempts to enter the afterlife.  The tree goddess scenes are quite wonderful.  One depicts the goddess Nut pouring libations from the tree for Panesy and his Ba, welcoming them into the afterlife.  Another scene features the couple sitting before a potted sycamore fig tree receiving a libation from the goddess – thus an unusual representation of the goddess as a potted plant!

The procession scene shows the mummy on the funerary bed which is on a sledge, being pulled by oxen to the tomb, followed by his canopic chest.  There are many scenes of the deceased receiving offerings from priests, and there are rather humorous agricultural scenes which include recalcitrant cows who would prefer to lay down on the job and a angry donkey nearby who is clearly braying loudly.

At the time that the tomb was cleared and repaired, the long hall was not published.  Thus, digital epigraphy in that hall is where Dr. Onstine and her team have begun work.  Digital epigraphy is faster, less costly, and less likely to damage the surviving decoration than traditional epigraphic methods. The digital images are used with Photoshop to trace the images and produce a line drawing.

 What lies in the future for this tomb?  Dr. Onstine listed four major objectives for the near several work seasons:

  • Clean the smoke damage in the tomb, especially in the second room;
  • Consolidate the looters damage so no further deterioration occurs;
  • Resolve structural issues in the passage that leads to the burial chamber;
  • Deal with the fragmented human remains in the passage of which there are lots.

 The smoke damage is almost certainly the result of a fire which occurred somewhere in the passage to the burial chamber and blackened the ceiling and much of the walls of the second chamber.  Maybe looters set the fire to burn away materials and would release the precious metals; maybe the authorities set it to smoke out someone hiding in the tomb.  Its origin is unknown, but the damage it did is very real.  The ceiling is beautifully decorated with scenes of flying birds but the burn damage is extensive. 

 The damage to the wall decoration by looters is some of the worst damage in the tomb.  It is reasonably certain that the looting occurred sometime between  the 1960s when the SCA worked in the tomb and the 1980s when a locked door was finally installed.  The looting damage has left the mud brick wall behind exposed and deteriorating.  The wall must be stabilized and the edges of the cuts conserved so additional loss of painted plaster can be minimized.  Interestingly the looters targeted generic scenes in the tomb and avoided the “famous” scenes which would be easily identifiable. Thus some important scenes do still exist.  They took most of the head shots of Panesy and Tarenu and targeted specific areas where they could remove the scene without having to take identifying text.  One positive aspect of the damage, is that it revealed the building technique used by the tomb builders in this area of poor stone.  As noted previously, they used mud brick to create a flat surface then plastered it with a layer of mud before finishing with a layer of gypsum plaster on which the decoration was applied.

 There are lots of human remains in the passage to the burial chamber as well as lots of rock fall.  Much of the ceiling of the passage has collapsed.  The human remains need to be collected and analyzed to determine if it is worth clearing the passage and excavating to the burial chamber. 

 Dr. Onstine is hoping that is may be possible in future to identify some of the looted frescos, as some my well be in public institutions today.  She and her team hope to be back in Luxor at work on the tomb in October of 2009.