El-Amarna North Tombs

Situated to the northern end of the cliffs surrounding the Amarna plain, the North Tombs are just over 3km from the el-Till ferry landing. From the privately run resthouse at the base of the cliff, a long flight of modern steps ascends to the six decorated tombs open to visitors, which are divided into two groups. The view from the top of the steps gives the visitor a panorama of the northern end of Akhetaten and shows what a vast area the ancient city covered.

The North Tombs at el-Amarna

Tomb of Huya (EA1)

The first of the tombs, on a spur at the northern end of the group, belongs to Huya, ‘Steward of Queen Tiye’ and ‘Overseer of the Royal Harem and the Treasuries’. Huya appears to have taken his office after the death or retirement of Kheruef, whose tomb was constructed at Thebes and his title offers confirmation that Queen Tiye, Akhenaten’s mother and Great Royal Wife of Amenhotep III, was at least at some point a resident of Akhetaten. The tomb is one of the latest of the northern group and follows the usual plan of the Amana tombs, with an outer hall containing one remaining column, an inner hall and statue shrine.

The entrance corridor shows Huya worshipping the sundisc with accompanying text of a Hymn to the Aten. The wall scenes in Huya’s tomb are damaged, but depicted the deceased’s office in the employment of Queen Tiye, showing the Queen with her youngest daughter Baketaten in the company of the Amarna royal family at a banquet on the wall to the right of the doorway in the outer hall. The royal family, together with Queen Tiye are shown again on the eastern wall making their way to a solar temple which was built for the Queen Mother. The northern wall of the outer hall, to the right of the doorway, shows Huya receiving rewards from Akhenaten who is with Nefertiti in the window of appearances, and below is a damaged vignette of Huya supervising craftsmen at work, including sculptors carving a statue of Baketaten. The families of Akhenaten and Amenhotep III are both depicted around the doorway to the statue shrine, but whether this is an indication that Amenhotep III was still alive at this period is not clear. Huya is shown once more receiving rewards from the King in the scene to the left of the doorway.

One of the most important aspects of this tomb is that it gives details of the ‘Great Durbar’ of Akhenaten’s year 12 – a great state occasion at Akhetaten when the royal couple received tribute from their foreign vassals. It may have been for this occasion that Queen Tiye visited Akhetaten. The inner hall is undecorated but contains Huya’s burial shaft, over 10m deep. At the rear of the tomb is a small shrine decorated with offering scenes and containing an unfinished and mutilated seated statue of the deceased.

Tomb of Meryre (II) (EA2)

The tomb of Meryre is adjacent to Huya’s tomb at the northern end of this group. His titles include ‘Superintendent of the Harem of Nefertiti’, ‘Royal Scribe’ and ‘Overseer of the Two Treasuries’. The damaged scenes in the entrance corridor show the usual depictions of Meryre adoring the sun, with texts from a Hymn to the Aten. To the left of the doorway in the outer hall, Akhenaten and Nefertiti are shown seated beneath a canopy, while the Queen pours a drink for the King through a strainer. They are accompanied by three daughters.

To the right of the doorway in the outer hall is a scene depicting the King and Queen in the window of appearances with five princesses, handing out rewards and Meryre is shown receiving a gold collar. Following the wall around to the left (east) there are more scenes of the ‘Great Durbar’ of year 12, but this time more detailed than those in Huya’s tomb. There are many foreign envoys shown in their native dress and bringing exotic gifts, including animals, to Akhenaten.

On the north wall to the right of the doorway to the inner hall, Meryre is again shown receiving rewards from the King in the window of appearances. This scene which was mostly drawn in black paint is now very damaged, but it depicted the king in question as Smenkare, Akhenaten’s successor, accompanied by his consort Meritaten, Akhenaten’s eldest daughter. Although now invisible, 19th century copies of the cartouches show the names of Smenkare and his queen and probably date to his short reign after the death of Akhenaten. The rest of the outer hall is undecorated and probably unfinished by the time Akhetaten was deserted. A burial shaft intended for the outer hall was not even begun and the inner hall and statue shrine were also unfinished.

Tomb of Ahmose (EA3)

Ahmose was ‘Fanbearer on the King’s Right Hand’, ‘Steward of the Estate of Akhetaten’ and ‘Royal Scribe’ and his tomb is part of the southern group of the North Tombs. The style differs to the tombs of Huya and Meryre (II) in that it has a much longer and narrower outer hall with no columns. The figure of the deceased is carved in the entrance in the usual pose of adoration with texts from the Hymn to the Aten. Ahmose is shown with the symbols of his office, a fan and an axe, slung over his shoulder.

The King's subjects run before his chariot

Decoration in the outer hall is unfinished – on the right-hand wall the reliefs were carved but on the left-hand wall the scenes are partly drawn in the draughtsman’s red outline only. The plaster where it was carved was of poor quality and is now damaged. To the right a scene near the door depicted the King and Queen with three princesses.

The left-hand wall shows two registers. The top register depicts a royal visit to the Great Aten Temple, with the King and Queen in their chariot (drawn in red ink) and accompanied by four rows of armed guards, running before the King in a stooped posture. The register below shows the royal family seated inside the King’s house enjoying a meal and being entertained by musicians.

The inner hall is undecorated and contains two burial shafts (one unfinished). Beyond this is a statue shrine, which was also undecorated but contains a damaged statue of the deceased carved from the rock.

Tomb of Meryre (EA4)

The most beautifully decorated and most elaborate of the North Tombs belongs to another Meryre (probably no relation of the Meryre who built Tomb 2). He held the titles of ‘High Priest of the Aten at Akhetaten’ and ‘Fanbearer on the King’s Right Hand’. This tomb has the added feature of an antechamber before the outer hall. In the entrance to the antechamber Meryre adores the rising sun, with prayers to the Aten. At either side of the antechamber false doors have been carved and decorated with tall floral standards and cartouches of the King, Queen and the Aten. An elaborate doorway leads into the outer hall, its entrance depicting Meryre and his wife, Tenre, adoring the Aten.

The tomb of Meryre

On the right-hand side of the outer hall two of the original four wide columns are still in situ. To the right of the doorway is a colourful depiction of Akhenaten and Nefertiti with two of their daughters (Meritaten and Meketaten), presenting a laden offering table to the Aten. A multicoloured rainbow is shown below the sundisc. Meryre as high priest is the figure in front of the King. Following the wall around to the left, Meryre accompanies the royal family on a visit to the Great Aten Temple. Many soldiers, attendants and foreign representatives accompany the procession. The royal family are shown standing in the temple with piles of offerings below. Boats are moored on the river bank in the scene below.

The temple sanctuary is shown to the right-hand side of the north wall. A doorway leads into the inner hall, depicting Meryre adoring the Aten. The scene to the left side of the doorway reflects that on the right, with the temple sanctuary with its pylon entrance and flagpoles. Temple staff prepare for the King’s visit.

The western wall shows scenes similar the eastern wall, with the King and Queen going by separate chariots to the Great Aten Temple, with four princesses following in two smaller chariots behind. There is a great deal of detail shown here and the reliefs retain much of their original colour. The King’s house is again shown at the left-hand side of the west wall, followed by the King and Queen in the window of appearances rewarding their loyal subjects with gold collars.

Once more this tomb was unfinished. The inner hall had provision for four columns but these were abandoned and the statue shrine behind was also unfinished.

Tomb of Pentu (EA5)

Pentu was ‘Royal Scribe and Physician’ and ‘Chief Servitor of the Aten in the Estate of the Aten in Akhetaten’. The design of this tomb is similar to that of Ahmose, but little of the decoration now remains. The usual scenes in the entrance hall, depicting Pentu are badly damaged, but there are several Greek graffiti from early visitors etched onto the walls.

The long outer hall has little remaining decoration. The right-hand wall shows only traces of a red outline drawing depicting the King’s house at the end closest to the doorway. There are two niches cut into the wall from a later habitation of the tomb chapel.

On the left-hand wall, closest to the doorway, the King and one daughter can be seen before the Great Aten Temple. As the royal family travel to visit the temple in their chariots, Akhenaten is shown with Nefertiti and three daughters. Further to the right Pentu is shown being appointed to office and rewarded with gold collars by the King. In the lower register freight ships are moored on the river bank. The scenes are very damaged.

The inner hall contains Pentu’s burial shaft and both this chamber and the statue shrine are undecorated. There is no remaining statue.

Tomb of Panehesy (EA6)

Panehesy held the title of ‘Chief Servitor of the Aten in Akhetaten’. His tomb is another of the better decorated of the North Tombs, with superb reliefs and a lot of remaining colour. It is situated at the far southern end of the North Tombs group and was at one re-time used as a Coptic church. The decorated façade of the tomb is better preserved than in the other Amarna tombs, showing scenes of the royal family worshipping the Aten with attendant dwarves. In the entrance corridor the King and Queen are shown wearing elaborate crowns, and include a depiction of Mutnodjmet, Nefertiti’s sister, although damaged.

The tomb of Panehesy

Above the inner doorway to the outer hall, there are some very clear cartouches of the Aten, Akhenaten and Nefertiti, which are not defaced as they are in other tombs. The south and east wall, on the right-hand side show Panehesy being rewarded with gold collars by the King and Queen and the royal family once more in chariots with their guard of honour. In the centre of the wall a stairway leads to an unfinished burial chamber. On the western side of the outer hall the chamber has been enlarged by the early Christians, with the lower part of the wall cut away and a small baptistery constructed in the northern wall. On the remaining upper part of the western wall the King and Queen are depicted standing on a ramp celebrating a ritual at the Great Aten Temple, showing details of the pylon entrance with flagpoles and animal slaughter court. The southern wall to the left of the entrance shows Panehesy once more being rewarded by Akhenaten wearing the red crown in the window of appearances. Two of the pillars in the outer hall are very well preserved, showing typical Amarna style of construction.

The area around the doorway to the inner hall is partly covered by plaster with painted Coptic decoration. In the entrance Panehesy is portrayed as an obese elderly man, with his daughter, adoring the sundisc. The inner hall is undecorated, but on the east wall a flight of 43 steps leads down to a second burial chamber. Panehesy’s statue which once would have graced his shrine at the rear of the tomb is now destroyed, but on the right-hand wall there are remains of decoration depicting funerary offerings. The deceased sits at an offering table with his daughter, his sister and her two daughters behind him.

The scenes decorating the North Tombs have a distinctive Amarna style of their own, with natural and graceful painted reliefs showing how the style of art changed throughout the period. The striking difference between these and the Theban tombs of Dynasty XVIII is in the fact that it is the royal family who take precedence in the tomb decoration, replacing the more religious themes dominating earlier tombs.

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