New Tombs Depict Elite’s Dream World : Egypt: Crypts for Pharaonic officials were more like museums than burial chambers. The fine paintings found there also revealed farming and other scenes of daily life.


Two belong to high priests, others to a construction chief, a butcher and a barber. Over there rested brothers who cleaned the Pharaoh’s knees.

They are Egypt’s newest tourist attractions: seven tombs of Pharaonic officials separated by 1,000 years.

Three were gouged from the rocky desert hillsides of Luxor’s west bank, among the Tombs of the Nobles. The others are in Sakkara, an ancient burial ground 17 miles south of Cairo and the Giza Pyramids.


Officials say the restored tombs include some of the most spectacular scenes of Pharaonic Egypt’s daily life found among the thousands of tombs excavated over the centuries.

Until recently, all seven were closed to tourists.

Antiquities chairman Ibrahim Bakr described those at Luxor, opened in April, as “more like wonderful, colored museums than tombs.”

Excavators working on a hillside dotted with tombs removed tons of rubble last winter to get to the Luxor tombs.

They date from the illustrious 18th Dynasty, which began 3,500 years ago, lasted almost 250 years and produced some of the most famous Pharaohs. Among them were the warrior Pharaoh Tuthmosis III, the queen-turned-Pharaoh Hatshepsut and Tutankhamen, the boy Pharaoh.

The three tombs were burial places for the high priests Userhap, who served Tuthmosis I, and Khons, whose Pharaoh was Tuthmosis III, and for an early 18th-Dynasty construction foreman named Benya.

Brightly colored paintings, filled with detail and feeling, cover the chamber walls.

Perhaps the most elaborate is Userhap’s tomb. His artists used blues and oranges for the dominant scene: spirits of the priest and his wife portrayed as human-headed birds perched on branches of a sycamore tree.

Mohammed Saghir, antiquities chief at Luxor, said the tombs were opened not only to display their beauty, but also to offer tourists more to see, and to help other monuments in the process.

“We’re trying to keep everybody from visiting the same tombs at the same time,” he said. “By opening new sites, we can close tombs to let them breathe. And, hopefully, tourists will decide to stay longer.”

About two dozen tombs on Luxor’s west bank normally are open to tourists.

Some, for kings and queens, contain religious scenes. Others were built by officials whose work pleased their Pharaohs so much they were allowed the bonus of ornate tombs.

Throughout Pharaonic history, tombs of officials displayed advanced artistic creativity, especially in scenes of everyday life.

Wall paintings portray farming, vineyards and winemaking, herding, hunting and fishing. There are dancing girls, tradesmen, scribes and craftsmen, domestic life and religious themes.

Some of the scenes still are duplicated in the Egyptian countryside.

Sakkara’s tombs contain some of the greatest surviving scenes of daily life, carved a millennium before Luxor’s monuments, and the four new ones are among the best.

The tombs of the two knee-cleaning brothers date from the Fifth Dynasty Pharaoh Neuserre Izi, who reigned 34 years and died in 2392 BC.

Reliefs describe their jobs as keeping the Pharaoh’s knees and fingernails clean, either by doing the job themselves or supervising others. The tombs also contain scenes of boating and fishing, perhaps in memory of sporting days on the Nile.

In the butcher’s tomb are scenes of cattle and meat processing, and splendid ones of farming, fishing and wildlife.

Gorgeous scenes of bird hunting and nesting adorn the tomb of the official in charge of cutting the Pharaoh’s hair. It is called Tomb of the Birds.

Zahi Hawass, head of antiquities for the pyramids and Sakkara, said Egyptologists always wanted to see the barber’s tomb because of its beauty, but it was too fragile for tourists until restoration was completed last year.