Tomb Chapel of Raemkai: North Wall

Old Kingdom

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 102


In a tomb chamber like this one, which is entered from the north side of the east wall, the east and north walls are closest to the entrance and thus to life on earth. The following scenes are presented on the north wall: outdoor life with herds, fish preparation, baking and brewing, and offering bearers directed toward the niche in the lower part of the wall.

The Life of the Herd
The feet of men and animals are still visible in the uppermost preserved register. Scattered bushy plants indicate that this scene takes place on the steppe. Enough remains to reconstruct a bull copulating with a cow on the right, while on the left the birth of a calf is assisted by a kneeling herdsman. To his right, an overseer leans on a staff (although in an unusual detail, the staff itself is missing). The ancient Egyptians were extremely successful cattle breeders, and the frequent depictions of herds in tombs testify to their strong belief in nature's ability to continually renew itself.

The bakery activities on the right are represented somewhat out of sequence, probably because of lack of space. The narrative starts with the two female millers (inscriptions: grinding) in the third preserved row. They are kneeling and bend forward, the typical pose of ancient Egyptian millers, who ground grain on hard millstones. Above them are two other women who refine the flour before turning it over to the bakers. The inscription above the woman on the right says "cleaning," and she appears to be tossing the plate in her hands so that the flour is flung into the air, an activity that may help remove the last remaining husks. Her companion to the left sifts the flour (inscription: sieving). The two bakers at the far left of this register knead dough on a low table. The loaves are then baked in the oval molds that the man below them heats on a small fire. He stokes the flames with two sticks.

The brewery scene begins in the bottom right register, with a woman heating conical bread molds. She shields her face from the heat of the flames. Behind her, a man bends over a large vat in which he prepares the dough that is then transferred into the heated molds, a row of which is standing ready above. Finally, the brewer seen left of center presses the baked loaves through a sieve into another vat. Facing him is a squatting man, who prepares the jars that will eventually hold the fermented beer.

The Preparation of Fish
On the left side of the second preserved register from the top, a man with the slight hump of an elderly laborer sits on a woven mat under a papyrus bush. He is gutting and cleaning a great number of fish, brought to him by two men who carry a huge basket on a pole over their shoulders.

Tomb Chapel of Raemkai: North Wall, Limestone, paint

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