First Intermediate Period restoration: The Tomb of Henu

In some of the Old Kingdom rock tombs a hieroglyphic text was carved by a man named Djehutinakht son of Teti, who was a provincial governor during the late First Intermediate Period. In these texts he claims that the tombs of his ancestors had fallen into ruin, and that he restored them. To investigate what he meant by this restoration, we excavated the five tombs at Dayr al-Barsha in which such a text is preserved. This led to the discovery of the intact tomb of Henu, a First Intermediate Period official who was buried in a chamber that was added secondarily unto an Old Kingdom tomb.

 The Old Kingdom tomb belonged to Uky and originally consisted of one room with two square shafts. Against the rear wall, rock-cut statues of the tomb owner and his wife are preserved. In the south-east corner of this room, a doorway was added at a later point in time, leading to a small room with a low ceiling in which the burial of Henu was located.


Henu’s burial was found at the bottom of a 3,5m deep shaft, in a burial chamber just large enough to hold the wooden box coffin and a few funerary offerings. Both the coffin and the objects are extremely well-preserved since the original blocking of the burial chamber was intact, which consisted of loosely piled blocks of limestone. The coffin is decorated with a line of hieroglyphic texts running around each of the vertical sides and one line of text on the lid. These texts belong to a type of offering formulae addressed to the gods Anubis and Osiris, but in addition they also provide the name of the deceased: Henu. He bears the titles of “Ruler of a Domain” and “Unique Courtier,” both indicative of a subordinate official in the provincial administration. On the eastern side of the coffin two eyes are painted that allow the mummy of Henu to gaze out to the rising sun.

On top of the coffin two wooden sandals had been placed for Henu to wear in the afterlife. Furthermore two funerary models stood on top of the coffin, which portray scenes of daily life in miniature. The first scene shows three women grinding grain. These women were even dressed with real miniature linen skirts that were remarkably preserved. A second funerary model is extremely rare and portrays the production of mud brick. One man is working clay with a hoe, two others are carrying a bag of clay with a yoke on their shoulders, while a fourth man is forming a line of finished mud bricks.

 Next to the coffin, on its eastern side, four more models were found. The largest one is a statue of Henu himself depicted in official dress. The fine details in his facial expression testify to a high level of craftsmanship. In front of him two funerary models stood that show women in the process of brewing beer and making bread, two commodities that form an absolute necessity in the afterlife. Behind the statue of Henu was located a large model boat with two groups of rowers and a lotiform bow and stern. There are five rowers on each side, three standing men at the bow, and a helmsman at the stern. In order to facilitate the placement of the boat model between the east wall of the chamber and the coffin, the oars and the two steering oars had been placed between the men on the deck of the ship. However, all ten oars were recovered and could be replaced in their original positions in the hands of the rowers.

Inside the coffin the intact mummy of Henu was found. The mummy was thickly wrapped in linen bandages, enveloped by a shroud. The facial features of the deceased are roughly modelled in the linen bandages. Underneath his head an inscribed wooden headrest was found confirming the name of the deceased to be Henu.

The quality of the models is remarkable. Some are delicately carved and painted, the bodily proportions of the figurines being rather realistic. In quality, they are comparable to the best of their time. Like those, they are characterized by realistic, though, in Egyptian art, unusual details, like the dirty hands and feet of the brick makers.
How does this burial of Henu fit in with the First Intermediate Period restoration text? It can be suggested that the funerary cult in the Old Kingdom tombs had ceased by the late First Intermediate Period. Perhaps the governor Djehutinakht added new shafts to the tombs for some members of his entourage, thus reinstating the funerary cult there. This reinstatement might be what the ‘restoration texts’ refer to in reality, rather than any kind of architectural restoration, since the original Old Kingdom owner of the tomb would also benefit from this renewed activity. If this is the right interpretation, the other tombs where Djehutinakht left behind ‘restoration texts’ may also have had First Intermediate Period occupants.

Read more?

DE MEYER, M. (2005), 'Restoring the Tombs of His Ancestors? Djehutinakht, Son of Teti, in Deir al-Barsha and Sheikh Said', Internet-Beiträge zur Ägyptologie und Sudanarchäologie 5, p. 125-135. link

DE MEYER, M. (2007), 'The Tomb of Henu at Deir el-Barsha', Egyptian Archaeology 31, p. 20-24.

DE MEYER, M. (2009), 'Leben im Miniaturformat', Antike Welt 4, p. 37-41.