Tomb Chapel of Raemkai
- Old Kingdom
- Dynasty 5
- ca. 2446–2389 B.C.
- From Egypt, Memphite Region, Saqqara, North of the Djoser pyramid complex, Mariette D3, Egyptian Antiquities Service/Quibell excavations, 1907–08
- Limestone, paint
- Chapel: H. 213.4 x N-S axis: 434 x E-W axis: 117 cm (84 x 170 7/8 x 46 1/16 in.); Entrance: N-S. 55 x E-W. 137 cm (21 5/8 x 53 15/16 in.)
- Credit Line:
- Rogers Fund, 1908
- Accession Number:
The chapel of Raemkai was originally built and decorated for an official named Neferiretnes, traces of whose name and titles can still be made out on the false door. Either Neferiretnes had fallen into disgrace, or his family had died out, leaving no one to care for his tomb. The reuse of the tomb for Raemkai was most probably by royal decree and took place before the reign of Isesi (ca. 2381 BC).
The inscriptions call Raemkai (the name means “the sun is my life force”) “king’s bodily son,” and he may well have been a true prince, although we do not know definitely from which pharaoh he descended. His offices were predominantly religious in charater, but one title ("representative of el-Kab") points to an assoiation with ceremonies around the royal coronation, indicating that Raemkai was, at least on occasion, close to the king's person.
The fine relief decorating the tomb includes among other scenes bird-catching, butchering, baking and brewing, and a large scene of the hunt in the steppes with lasso and dogs.
Search for "08.201.1" to find detailed information about the individual walls and scenes.
The tomb was built and decorated for a judge and inspector of scribes, Neferiretnes, who lived sometime during the later Old Kingdom but who cannot be dated precisely. One scholar argues that the mastaba was built in the reign of Niuserre (Baud 1997, p. 77). The decoration of the chamber walls was completed at that time and belongs to the original concept.
At one point, the tomb was usurped by Raemkai ("the sun is my life force"), who was a "king’s bodily son." He may well have been a true prince, although we do not know definitely from which pharaoh he descended, although he might have been a son of Djedkare. He removed the inscriptions on the false door of Neferiretnes, but in such a superficial way that most can still be deciphered (see Curatorial Interpretation, figure 1). The process of reinscribing the false door was begun and carried out in a suspiciously crude way and left unfinished. The short-term usurpation by Raemkai is unusual and unexplained. The affair cannot have lasted more than a very few days, when work was stopped again. One has the impression that the usurpation was an overnight coup and was stopped soon afterwards.
Since the reliefs seem to belong to the original owner, they cannot be used for dating Raemkai’s interference. His names and titles appear in a crude way on the false door. His office as chief lector-priest was religious in character, but the title "representative of el-Kab" points to an association with ceremonies around the royal coronation, indicating that Raemkai was, at least on occasion, close to the king's person.
The tomb of Neferiretnes/Raemkai belonged to the group of mastabas directly outside the northern enclosure wall of the Djoser complex, which were cleared by Mariette from 1851 on. Mariette drew a sketch plan of the interior of the tomb but he did not continue his work to the east, where he would have soon found the Perneb mastaba (see 13.183.3). From Mariette’s counting sequence, one assumes that the Neferiretnes/Raemkai mastaba was directly west of that of Perneb. Quibell’s counting does not support this conclusion because he separates this tomb from that of Perneb by nine more tomb numbers. However, Neferiretnes/Raemkai was the earlier building in the area.
Several of these mastabas were dismantled by Quibell and sold to museums. Quibell says in the publication of his 1907/08 season: "Mariette, Mastabas, D.3: This tomb was this year taken down and sold to the Metropolitan Museum of New York." (Quibell 1907–08, p 24). Unfortunately, no plan of the exterior or information about the location of the mastaba exists. We therefore do not know how the tomb relates to the neighboring Perneb mastaba. Following Baud’s maps (1997), only a small corridor would have separated the two tombs, suggesting that Raemkai was only accessible through a narrow passage along Perneb’s west wall.
The rectangular chapel was oriented north-south with the false door in the west wall opposite the entrance. A side niche for storing cult equipment etc. is located behind the entrance passage, in the north wall.
The extraordinary fine relief decorating the tomb includes, among other scenes, bird-catching, butchering, baking and brewing, and a large scene of the hunt in the steppes with lasso and dogs.
Dieter Arnold 2015
Discovered by Mariette between 1858 and 1863; recleared in 1907-08 by Quibell on behalf of the Egyptian Antiquities Service and sold to the Museum in 1908.
Mariette, Auguste 1889. Les Mastabas de l'Ancien Empire: Fragment [de son] Dernier Ouvrage. Paris: F. Vieweg, pp. 178–81, no. D3 (with plan and good description).
Quibell, James E. 1909. Excavations at Saqqara 1907-1908, 3. Cairo: Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale du Caire, p. 24, no. 903.
Metropolitan Museum of Art 1911. A Handbook of the Egyptian Rooms. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, pp. 28 ff., figs. 8-12.
Metropolitan Museum of Art 1934. A Guide to the Collections, 1. New York, p. 5.
Metropolitan Museum of Art 1936. A Guide to the Collections, 1. New York, p. 5.
Metropolitan Museum of Art 1940. A Guide to the Collections, 1. New York, p. 5.
Phillips, Dorothy W. 1942. Ancient Egyptian Animals, Picture Books (Metropolitan Museum of Art), New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, pl. 9-12, 14.
Hayes, William C. 1953. Scepter of Egypt I: A Background for the Study of the Egyptian Antiquities in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: From the Earliest Times to the End of the Middle Kingdom. Cambridge, Mass.: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, pp. 94-102, figs. 54-57.
Metropolitan Museum of Art 1962. Guide to the Collections, 3. New York, p. 7, fig. 6.
Porter, Bertha and Rosalind L.B. Moss 1978. Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Reliefs, and Paintings: Memphis.Saqqara to Dahshur, vol. 3, part 2.1. Oxford, pp. 487-488 (sketch plan).
Baud, Michel 1997. "Aux pieds de Djoser: Les mastabas entre fossé et enceinte de la partie nord du complex funèraire." In Études sur l'Ancien Empire et la nécropole de Saqqâra dédiées à Jean-Philippe Lauer, pp. 69-87.