Among the ancient Egyptians, the dead continued to maintain an interest in the fortunes of the successors. While the dead controlled the destinies of the living, the dead were also dependent on the goodwill of the living for the prayer and the sustenance which would sustain them in the next world. Tombs, therefore, were not just places which held the bodies of the dead, but were temples where the living continued to provide support for them. This was true not just of the Pharaohs, but also of the nobility.

Beginning with the New Kingdom, the Pharaohs began to use rock-cut tombs which were hidden in the Valley of the Kings. The valley is mostly white limestone. The tombs are constructed by chipping tunnels into the limestone. These tunnels go into the bedrock. The limestone is soft and can be polished and painted.

The nobles—people who served the Pharaohs as viziers, courtiers, officials, and even artisans—soon followed suit and began to have their tombs constructed in the Valley of the Nobles which is just east of the Valley of the Kings. Within this valley are six cemeteries with approximately 900 elite tombs, of which 400 date to the New Kingdom.

Valley of Nobles Air

Shown above is the Valley of the Nobles.

The chapels for offerings are usually constructed in an inverted T-shape. The offering chamber is entered directly from the courtyard and is generally wider than it is deep. In the west well were often free-standing statues or rock-cut images of the deceased and members of his family.


Shown above is a figure of a scribe.

A false door in the chapel enabled the spirit of the deceased to enter and leave the chapel.

The walls are usually decorated with scenes of the tomb owner carrying out his official duties. These scenes memorialize his achievements and serve to guarantee his eternal place in the Egyptian cosmos. The scenes make sure that the deceased will have a successful rebirth and eternal existence in the next world. They celebrate and perpetuate the life that the tomb owner had lived on earth.

Tomb TT3

Shown above is Tomb TT3

Taken collectively the images of the tomb walls in the Valley of the Nobles provide a visual record of the official and private lives of the aristocracy and their servants. These images provide a glimpse into the cosmopolitan nature of New Kingdom society with images of foreigners bringing gifts to the Pharaohs, as well as images of exotic goods from Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Cyprus, Nubia, and Punt (Somalia). The tomb paintings also show the sophisticated clothing and hairstyles of the aristocratic class, as well as their entertainment (banquets, dancing, music) and religion.

The scenes on the walls of the tombs and chapels of the nobles follow similar patterns: it was as if they had pattern books and the noble would choose which scenes to include. Each tomb has its own architectural form and the placement of the images within the tomb are also unique.

Tomb 52

Tomb 52 Wall

Tomb 52 wall 2

Tomb 52 (shown above) was built for Nakht, a scribe and astronomer during the reign of Pharaoh Tutmosis IV.

The tombs and their chapels were sacred spaces where the deceased could be transformed into spirits which were able to live eternally in a land beyond the earth. Mortuary priests and the relatives of the deceased would come to the chapel to make offerings and to say prayers for their ancestors. The tombs in the Valley of the Nobles were a way of bringing the worlds of the living and dead together.

Originally posted to Ojibwa on Sun Apr 10, 2011 at 09:06 AM PDT.

Also republished by Pink Clubhouse, Progressive Friends of the Library Newsletter, SciTech, and History for Kossacks.

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