The decorations in a tomb were designed to not only give the deceased access to the afterlife, but also let them emerge into the sunshine each day and mingle with the living. This active part of the soul was the ba, shown as a bird (often a falcon) with a human head and the face of the deceased. The ba-bird could enjoy the warmth of the sun on its face, and feel the soft cool breeze of the north, and return these sensations to the mummy in its chamber.
This scene is Theban Tomb 359, that of Inherkhau, who was part of the sheltered community of elite craftsmen at Deir el-Medina under both Ramesses III and Ramesses IV in the 20th Dynasty. This was a tough time for Egypt. The world’s first recorded strike took place when the royal tomb builders downed tools and staged a sit-in over non-payment of salaries (rations).
Despite the hardship, Inherkhau managed to build two tombs. The first, smaller one, was intended for himself alone, while the larger one was built for his family.
Here you can see Inherkhau in his finest clothes and wearing an elaborate wig, in adoration of his ba, perched on the roof of Inherkhau’s tomb chapel. The hieroglyphic text provides “words for transforming into a living ba, to be able to enter and leave, and to remain at those places which he desires....”
Text and Photo: Jaap Jan Hemmes.
Enjoy the full article on how to read the symbols in New Kingdom tombs in the current issue of Nile Magazine. Subscribe to the print or digital editions from the Subscribe page, and enjoy your Nile time!