Visit to the Department of Ancient Egypt
and Sudan at the British Museum
back to BM
On March the 3rd 2010 I joined the class of the Birkbeck College course "Real life at Deir el-Medineh"
(taught by Rosalind Janssen). We visited the library of the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan at
the British Museum with Rosalind and Jac Janssen. Rosalind's module is all about the minutiae of daily
life in a New Kingdom settlement. It aims to increase our understanding of the social life of the Ancient
Egyptians, as revealed by archaeology and texts, and to foster an awareness that real life was similar
to – yet different from – our own. Marriage, adultery and divorce, the roles of the village doctor, the
wise woman and the scorpion charmer, punishing crime, worshipping the ancestors, earning a living, going
to parties, doing the laundry - are the topics of the classes.
On Wednesday ten objects originating from Deir el-Medina were awaiting us in the Ancient Egyptian
department's study area/library. All the photographs on this page were taken by Lenka Peacock by kind
permission of the Trustees of the British Museum.
To view the photographs taken in 2005 by Steve Bayley, visit
Stela of Paneb
From Deir el-Medina
19th dynasty, circa 1195 BC
Rectangular shape
Height: 19.3 cm
Width: 17 cm
In the top register : Paneb, a foreman of the
tomb-workers, is depicted kneeling, worshipping the
goddess Meretseger, who is in the form of a
serpent. The coiled cobra is doubtless Meretseger,
the goddess of the Theban necropolis.
The lower register : there are three kneeling male
figures, Paneb's descendants. On the right there is
Aapakhte, Paneb's son, together with his two sons -
Paneb and Nebmehyt. Aapakhte was accused of
crimes as an accomplice of his father.
Stela of Aapakhte
From Deir el-Medina
Late 19th dynasty, circa 1200 BC
Height: 21.2 cm
Width: 14 cm
Depth: 2.5 cm

Aapakhte is shown on this stela adoring the god Seth. The
craftsman's name is a play on the phrase
aa-pehty meaning
"great of strength", one of the epithets of Seth. During
Ramesside times Seth became a patron of Egypt along with
Amun, Ra and Ptah.

Aapakhte was the eldest son of the chief workman Paneb and a
royal craftsman in the Place of Truth. He was presumably
appointed deputy by his father some time after the latter
became foreman in Years 1-5 of Sety II and possibly after
Year 6 of Sety II when other deputies are attested. He may
have been named deputy prior to the death of Sety II. He
was presumably removed from office at the same time as his

Jac Janssen suggested it was likely the stela came from the
rock shrine of Ptah and Meretseger judging by the limestone
and the saw-cut bottom edge.
Stela of Nefersenut
EA 316
From Deir el-Medina
19th dynasty
Nefersenut was the biological father of Paneb.
A letter from Kenna to the god Amenhotep
O.BM 5625
From Deir el-Medina
Clearly dated, well-written in horizontal lines of hieratic script
This ostrakon deals with a dispute over the ownership of a chapel (hnw). It contains a letter, where Kenna
complains that Mery-Sekhmet wanted to share the chapel that Kenna has rebuilt and made his own.
Mery-Sekhmet then announced that a god had authorised him to share the place. Kenna decided to check
this with the god Amenhotep himself. The oracle confirmed that Mery-Sekhmet's story was untrue.  
verso  “…… share." So he said, speaking to the god.
When the scribe of the Necropolis [Hor]-sheri repeated
(it) to him, he said, "Give the chapel back to Kenna, its
owner! It is his through an order of Pharaoh, l.p.h., and
no man shall share it." So said the god, speaking, (in)
his presence, and in the presence of
the chief workman Nakhte-em-Mut
the chief workman In-Her-khau
the scribe Hori
the bearers of the god
the entire gang
at the entrance of the tomb of the chief workman Kaha.
He (Mery-Sekhmet) took an oath of the lord, l.p.h.,
saying, "As Amun endures, as the Ruler endures, he
whose manifestation is worse than death, (namely)
Pharaoh, l.p.h., my lord, if I revert and dispute it
(again), I (lit. "he") will get 100 blows, being deprived
of a share."
(Translation from McDowell, 1999, 177-178)
Amennakhte felt that he himself should have been chief workman and that Paneb had taken the job from
under him by bribing the vizier. His aim was to have Paneb dismissed on the grounds that he was
unworthy and incompetent. The charges he lists here vary from criminal offences to evidence of bad

The list of charges starts with claiming that he bribed the vizier with 5 servants to gain his appointment.
a)    He was charged with stealing ‘the cover of a chariot’ from the tomb of Seti II.
b)    Charges relating to goings-on with married women or women who were living with other men.  Hel
was one of the women mentioned. Herysunnebef, husband of Hel, was the other adopted son of
Neferhotep, and he later divorced Hel, as we know from another
c)    Stealing stones from the tomb of Seti II for use in his own tomb and using the workmen to work in
it (but maybe this wasn’t so bad as other people also used the workmen).
d)    The row with Neferhotep, which resulted in Paneb being punished by the vizier. Paneb appealed to
pharaoh himself and had the vizier sacked. Paneb evidently was in favour with the right people!
e)    He stole the bed from the tomb of a colleague on which the dead workman was lying.
f)    He stole a large spike and hid it behind a big stone when a search was made for it.

Other charges include sitting on the king’s sarcophagus when the king was in it, drinking and urinating. He
also stole a model of a gilded goose from the tomb of Henutmire who was a wife of Ramesses II and
daughter of Seti I. The goose was found in his house, and it may have been with this crime that Paneb
went too far.

How far are all these charges reliable?  Some of them are not uncommon, but Paneb may have overdone
things with the number and variety of his misdeeds. The alleged bribery of the vizier may in fact have
been a gift, which Paneb gave in thanks after the event.
Hieratic papyrus
EA 10416 (recto) (see verso here)
From Deir el-Medina
Ramesside, possibly 20th dynasty
Length: 28 cms (frame)
Width: 27 cms (frame)

[Somewhat later]
the people shouted: "Eight full months
until today he is sleeping with that woman, although he is
not her husband. If he was her husband, would he then
not have sworn an oath concerning that woman?"

[Further on in the letter, the author says to the woman]:

"Why did you receive him to sleep with him repeatedly?
If you want him, let him go to the court with his wife
[to get a divorce] and let him swear to stay with you. If
you do not do that, it is your own risk. I will not keep
back the people another time".
Ostrakon of Khnummose
From Deir el-Medina
Late 19th or early 20th dynasty
Painted limestone
Black and red ink
Height: 16.5 cm
Width: 20.2 cm
Figured ostrakon showing the workman
Khnummose worshipping the serpent form of the
goddess Meretseger. The accompanying text also
mentions his sons Penniut and Weskhet-nemtet.
The drawing is on one side only. The initial red
lines of the drawing are corrected in black ink.
Jac Janssen suggested that this ostrakon had
been used as a stela and that the work was not
Papyrus Salt 124 (verso)
EA 10055
Late 19th dynasty, c. 1200 BC
From Deir el-Medina
The papyrus contains the petition of the workman Amennakhte denouncing the
crimes of the foreman Paneb
1. Shaw, Ian, Nicholson, Paul: British Museum dictionary of ancient Egypt
London: British Museum Press, 1995.
2. Janssen, Rosalind and Janssen, Jac. J.: Growing up and getting old in ancient Egypt
London : Golden House Publications, 2007.
3. McDowell, A.G.: Village life in ancient Egypt : laundry lists and love songs
Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1999.
4. Pharaoh's workers : the villagers of Deir el-Medina / edited by Leonard H. Lesko
Ithaca : Cornell University Press, 1994.
5. Les artistes de Pharaon : Deir el-Médineh et la Vallée des Rois : Paris, musée du Louvre, 15 avril - 5 aout 2002
Paris : Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 2002.
6. Bierbrier, Morris : The tomb-builders of the pharaohs
Cairo : The American University in Cairo Press, 1982.
7. The British Museum hieroglyphic texts from Egyptian stelae etc. Pt. 12 / edited by M. L. Bierbrier.
London : British Museum Press, 1993.
The page was last modified on January 14th 2011
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The goddess
Hathor sits on
the throne and
sceptre in her
left hand. She
wears a crown of
uraei, consisting
of 24 cobras.
The lower register shows three
kneeling figures. On the left there
is Nefersenut's eldest son Paneb,
who was to rise to the post of
foreman of the workmen, next to
him his son Aapakhte, and on the
right there is the son of Paneb's
daughter, Paneb's grandson. Four
generations of Paneb's family are
depicted here.
Ancestor bust of Muteminet
EA 1198
Possibly from tomb 373 at Thebes
19th dynasty
Height: 51 cm
Width: 26 cm
Thickness: 29 cm
Date of acquisition: 1897
This finely carved bust is incised with three
columns of hieroglyphic text. The main text
bears a dedication to the sistrum-player of
Amun, Mut, and Khonsu, called Muteminet

. The back of the bust is roughly
finished. The bust has been severely damaged
at the base and its back with much loss of
the stone surface. There are a few gouges on
the body and its face. Traces of black ink
are left in the hieroglyph in the central
column of the text.
A parallel bust of Pendjerti, husband of
Muteminet, was discovered in the tomb of
their son Amenmose, no. 373 at Thebes.
There is little doubt that this bust was one
of a pair from that tomb. The royal scribe
Amenmose is attested on several monuments
and flourished in the reign of Rameses II (L.
Habachi in 'Studies in Honor of George R.
Hughes' (Chicago, 1976), 83-103.
From Deir el-Medina
Ramesside (late 19th dynasty)
Height: 12.5 cm
Width: 15 cm
Thickness: 4.5 cm
on one side (convex) only, seven lines of
an incomplete text concerning payment
made by Amenemope to the carpenter
Meryre for a bed.
Text: J. Černy and A.H. Gardiner,
‘Hieratic Ostraca’ (Oxford 1957), pl.
Nefersenut is
depicted in the top
register kneeling with
a brazier containing
an offering before
the seated Hathor.
Ancestor busts

Seventy-five examples of small anthropoid or ancestral busts have been revealed during excavations
at Deir el-Medina. They generally do not bear any inscriptions. Typically small, they measure from 10
to 25 cm in hight and are made of limestone or sandstone. We can assume that most were originally
painted as remains of pigment on some are evident. The gender of the most of the busts is open to
The figures are referred to as 'ancestor busts'. It is thought that they were placed in the small shrine
areas which seemed to form part of
private homes, and played a part in the private devotions of the
family. Five busts were found in houses at Deir el-Medina, where they could have been placed in wall
niches in the first and second rooms. The wall niches are comparable in size, so this seems probable.
Rather than representing anyone in particular, the busts anonymous nature suggests that they represent
all the ancestors whom the family might wish to commemorate. Another theory is that they represent
"the able spirit" of those, who had been authoritative in life, by inference, the older members of the
community. In troubled times people turned to them for help, i.e. to a parent still remembered, not to an
ancestor of long ago. Some of these must have been older women.
Similar objects have been found at fourteen other sites from the central Delta to the Third Cataract.
They were found in or near houses as well as in tombs and temples. Whether the context was domestic
or religious we cannot be sure, but it is understood that for the worshiper the ancestor busts conjured up
memories of a deceased relative.
Ancestor bust
British Museum EA 73988
19th dynasty, 1295-1186 BC
Provenance unknown
Limestone ancestor bust with finely modelled head,
on which are remains of red paint. The face is
surrounded by the lappets of a long wig. Lower part
of the figure is smooth and undecorated, finished
off flat at the base.
Height: 14.4 cm
Width: 8.8 cm
Stela with inset ancestor bust
British Museum EA 270
19th dynasty, about 1295-1186 BC
Probably from Deir el-Medina
This unusual monument incorporates two miniature ancestral
busts above a scene showing the dedicator (name lost)
worshipping another bust.
Height: 23 cm
Width: 15.2 cm
Thickness: 4.5 cm
The stela is in a poor state of preservation. The surface is
very worn with the loss of much of the plaster surface in
the upper part. The lower register has faded badly. There
is a large piece missing near the bottom of the stela, and
the upper edge of the stela is also chipped.
Ostrakon of a goose on her nest
EA 56706
Ink drawing on one side
19th or 20th dynasty
The drawing depicts a goose on her nest, with four eggs
shown beneath the bird. In the upper left corner are two
very faint drawings of goslings in red. Possibly painted
black over a red draft.
Width: 8.2 cm
Height: 6.5 cm
Top: Rectangular smoother with integrated handle
EA 5986
It is carved from one piece of wood. Such tools were
used for smoothing plaster, for example in painted tomb
chapels, or on the surface of mud brick house walls.
Height: 5.8 cm
Width: 4.3 cm
Length: 17.2 cm
Middle: EA 6045
Bronze chisel with a wooden handle and copper alloy
blade. The blade flares out at the cutting edge.
Length: 25.4 cm
Bottom: EA 15740
Bronze chisel, square-sectioned at one end, and tapering
to a cutting edge.
Length: 12.7 cm
Scribal palette
EA 36825
18th dynasty
Length: 29.8 cm
The upper surface is cut with a row of 9 oval ink wells on the right
of the palette. There are two longer and narrower ink wells in the
left corner. These wells bear traces of the red, yellow and black
pigments used by the owner. A column of inscription, set within a
recess, starts with the title 'outline draughtsman (
sesh-qed)', but
the name of the individual has been erased (other than the male
determinative). Beneath the pen-slot, a horizontal inscription
'the outline draughtsman, Min-nakht, true of voice'.
Beneath, in thick ink strokes, three signs are roughly drawn: a
falcon head wearing a sun-disc and uraeus, and two examples of a
disc and crescent.
The top left corner bears an incised inscription on the thickness of
the palette, wrapped around the corner: 'Amun-Ra' and 'Ptah lord
of Maat'.
Pigment samples
EA 5563, EA 5568-9
Small pieces of Egyptian pigments.
Egyptian blue was the principal
pigment used for blue colour in
Egyptian paintings and upon
sculpted surfaces.
After discussing all the objects prepared for us in the Library, we went to see several objects exhibited
in the public galleries of the British Museum. First we went to the Nebamun's gallery to see the objects
used by the workmen form Deir el-Medina:
Paint brush
EA 36893
Paint-brush formed from sticks bound together and
frayed at one end; stained with red paint.
Length: 28.2 cm
Below: Palm fibre brushes
EA 5555.1-3
The brushes are bound with strings
and cut at either end.
Length: 13 cm ; Diameter: 1.9 cm
Originally purchased from Henry Salt
Paint brush
EA 36889
Paint-brush made from fine palm fibres,
bound with strung fibres. The fibres have
been cut at one end to create a brushing
tip. Traces of red pigment are preserved
on the brush end.
Length: 24.7 cm
Diameter: 2.8 cm
EA 36892
Fibre brush held together with bitumen at
one end, and bound with cord.
Length: 21.5 cm
After visiting the Nebamun's gallery we went into the Gallery 62 and looked at a couple of ancestor
busts and a stela with two busts inset into it: