A Visit to Deir el-Medina

Clockwise from Upper Left:  Deir el-Medina, tomb of Anherkha, Final Judgment, tomb of Senutem (Photos by Don Knebel)

            Today, in our continuing tour of Egypt, we visit Deir el-Medina, the site of an ancient Egyptian village that housed tomb workers and contains tombs of important local officials.

            In about 1500 B.C., when Egyptians began entombing their pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings near modern Luxor, they built a town about two miles away for the tomb builders and their families.  The town, named “The Place of the Truth,” was occupied until interment in the Valley of the Kings ended about 400 years later.  At its peak, the town included 68 four or five-room stone houses on a 1.4-acre site.  Letters found at the site, written on ostraca and papyrus, tell about the lives of workers and their families.  The paid workers were given time off, during which they constructed tombs for themselves and for those who supervised their work.  Because most of those tombs were never ransacked, the art inside is some of the best of all Egyptian tombs.   On the south end of the workers’ village is the underground tomb of Anherkha (Inherkhau), a foreman, and his family.  The yellow walls contain a number of colorful scenes, including one showing the sun god Ra, depicted as a cat, killing Apep, the god of disorder, shown as a snake.  Also on the south end is the tomb of Senutem (Sennedjem), a scribe, and his family.  The tomb was discovered intact in 1886 and contained a large quantity of important grave goods, including furniture.

            At the north end of the workers’ village is a temple to the goddess Hathor, begun by Pharaoh Ptolemy IV Philopator in about 210 B.C.  The small temple, enclosed by a wall, includes a rare depiction of the final judgment, in which the heart of the deceased is weighed against a feather to determine the person’s afterlife destination.  The temple was later used as a Christian monastery, which gave rise to the name “Deir el-Medina” which means “Monastery of the City.”

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