Tomb Chapel of Raemkai: East Wall

Old Kingdom

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 102


Like the north wall, the east wall is close to the chapel entrance and thus to life on earth. East wall decorations tend to be especially concerned with the fruitfulness of the agricultural land, which guaranteed continued offerings for the tomb owner's funerary cult. Depicted on this east wall are a presentation of animals and birds, a row of female personifications of agricultural estates, and the grain harvest. The figures face into the tomb and toward a large image of the deceased, which in turn faces the entry as if coming forward from the interior. The pictures on this wall should be viewed from right to left, the primary direction of writing in ancient Egypt.

Bottom Register: The Grain Harvest.
Egyptian pictorial narratives often follow the comic-strip concept, in which activities are broken into separate stages, depicted consecutively. However, Egyptian artists did not isolate separate moments into individual frames but represented them side-by-side, as if they happened simultaneously. Raemkai's harvesting scene is an example of such a serial narrative. On the right, four reapers cut the grain stalks, which a fifth man ties up under the supervision of an overseer (inscription: …his barley for the funerary estate). Farther to the left the sheaves- now wrapped in cloth-have been loaded onto the backs of donkeys, who carry them to the threshing floor (inscriptions: go, you! taking [the grain] by donkeys). The threshing floor occupies the left end of the register. Beside a large pile of sheaves (inscription: sheaves) donkeys are driven to tread the grain (inscription: trampling out the threshing floor of barley). Finally, a man sweeps the threshed seed and chaff mixture into a conical container where it awaits winnowing. The container is festively decorated with papyrus umbels.

Women Carrying Goods
In the second register from the bottom, twenty-two women carry baskets on their heads that are filled with goods. They are not servants but exquisitely adorned ladies wearing collars, bracelets, anklets, and elaborate wigs. The inscriptions in front of each provide the names of the agricultural villages or estates that the women personify. They are thus comparable to figures such as Roma or Britannia, which in western art represent respectively, the city of Rome and the country of Great Britain. The names of this tomb owner's agricultural estates are, from right to left: carob grove, mouth of the blocked canal, Horus's hour, indigent field, melon field, Hebnenet grove, truncated field, non …. fishers' settlement, Inbebu, Shefet field, Isesi's mound, field of the acquaintances, field of the unique incarnation, pondweed plot, eye of Iunmutef, isle of Sobek, Hudu, two pitchforks, Iawetet, preeminent is its maker, new field.

The Procession of Birds
The Nile marshes teemed with one of the richest bird populations on earth, both indigenous and migratory. The ancient Egyptians were keen observers of their animal world, and there are specific names for many of the bird species in the ancient Egyptian language. The images created by artists are so accurate that modern designations of species can often be determined. (We owe the identification of the birds depicted here to Peter Capainolo of The American Museum of Natural History.) Large birds at right: gray crane (grus grus), Damoiselle crane (anthropoides virgo), young gray crane, gray crane. Upper line of birds, from right to left: gray goose (anser anser), white-fronted goose (anser albifrons), white goose, goose, duck (anas clypeata), duck (anas acuta), duck. Lower line of birds: gray goose (anser anser rubrirosris), ?, duck, ?, duck, pair of Nile geese (alopochen aegyptiaca), coot, dove.

Men Accompanying the Birds
The two men in front of the birds are the "Scribe Nebihuef, Ka-servant of the funerary estate" and a "Ka-servant." The men at left are the "Ka-servant Shedwi-Khufu" and the "Ka-servant Kaiemankh."

The Presentation of Desert Animals
In the third preserved register from the top, the tomb owner's attendants bring six steppe animals before their lord. The beginning of a horizontal line of inscriptions describes the scene as "making (their) way to (let him) look at what are his, which are brought." The animal attendants are called Ka-servants, meaning they were employed on the estates that supplied the provisions for the tomb owner's funeral cult. Their names are, from right to left (after a first now-destroyed figure): Werka, Menka, Qaamaat, Nikaiankh, Nira, Ptahshepses, and Niptah. The animals they bring are identified as, again from right to left: two domesticated white oryx, a domesticated ibex, a domesticated female antelope, a domesticated gazelle, and a gazelle (which Ptahshepses carries on his shoulders).

The Presentation of Cattle
In the second preserved register from the top, three longhorn cattle (designated as stable bull, longhorn, and stable bull) are led by unnamed herdsmen. They are preceded by the "Scribe Nisuwesret." After the bulls comes a man leading a cow (stable cow). A calf (calf), a shorthorn bull (stable bull), and another man follow. The horizontal heading describes this cortege as "bringing greetings (to let the tomb owner) see what is brought from his estates that are in the Delta." In the rest of the line, now missing, other regions of Egypt may have been named.

Dancers in the Uppermost Register
Seven male dancers and five female musicians are extant in the uppermost preserved register. The dancers raise their arms above their heads, and lift their proper right feet. They wear collars and courtly kilts with starched fronts. The women, adorned with collars and anklets, clap their hands to accompany the men's dance. Singers and musicians playing flutes and harps may well have been depicted on the missing blocks above and to the left. The depiction of festivities involving lavish meals, music, and dancing introduced an atmosphere of exuberance into the tomb and thus contributed to the affirmation of life that was one of the main aims of all Egyptian funerary art.

Large Figure of the Tomb Owner
The right side of the wall is dominated by a figure of the tomb owner. Beside him, grasping his staff and right leg, are his two small sons. As Egyptian children do in many representations, they carry hoopoe birds in their hands. Whether these birds were pets or served some symbolical role is not known. The inscriptions associated with the large figure were not altered when the tomb was adapted for Raemkai. Only the titles and name of the original owner, Neferiretenes, were erased, and even among them, the easily adaptable epithet "honored by his lord," located above the head, was left untouched. No attempt was made to insert Raemkai's name and titles.

The Vertical Column of Hieroglyphs in Front of the Tomb Owner
The words in the vertical column in front of the large figure of the tomb owner serve as a caption for the whole scene: "Seeing the greetings brought [from his estates at] the Thoth-feast and the Wag-feast." A feast for the moon god Thoth was celebrated in connection with the thirteenth month of the lunar year, which was periodically inserted into the Egyptian calendar. The Wag-festival was the first important feast after the ancient Egyptian New Year.

Tomb Chapel of Raemkai: East Wall, Limestone, paint

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East wall, register 3, left