The Tomb of Queen Meresankh III


This is a transcription of the audio and annotations at the Tomb of Queen Meresankh III on the Giza Plateau. Learn more about this tour, Queen Meresankh III, and the Giza Expeditions at the Giza Project at Harvard University.

Narrator: 

The Giza Plateau, sacred burial place of many of the kings of Egypt’s 4th dynasty, their family members, courtiers, and high officials, King Khufu built the first and greatest of the three pyramids here four and a half-thousand years ago. 

He also planned out the great eastern cemetery next to his pyramid so that his wives, siblings, and descendants might be close to him for eternity. Queen Meresankh’s father was Kawab, the eldest son of the king, whose mastaba tomb is placed very close to the pyramid, and her mother, Hetepheres II was the daughter of king khufu.

Meresankh: 

My name is Queen Meresankh III, and my tomb, unique and splendid, is also located here in the eastern cemetery. Unlike the monuments of my relatives, my beautifully-decorated offering chapel is actually located partially beneath the ground, under the stone-built tomb itself. Let me show you.

The walls of my offering chapel are carved and painted with scenes of the people and objects that I wanted to have with me in the afterlife. The most significant of these people are my parents, my children, and my family’s faithful steward who served us for many years as did his son after him. 

Narrator:

Queen Meresankh’s father, Kawab, the king’s eldest son of his body and chief lector priest is the largest painted figure in the tomb, as is befitting a royal prince. He stands dressed in a priestly white sash behind a scene of her mother, Hetepheres and her, sailing on the Nile river, and picking papyrus plants to offer to the great goddess hathor. Before them, offering bearers carry baskets on their heads of bread, fruit, and meat, while others trap birds and herd animals which will become part of the funerary feast and tomb offerings. 

Meresankh:

My mother and I appear again on the opposite wall, this time, standing with my children, including my eldest son, Nebemakhet. Like his grandfather, Kawab, he’s dressed to reflect his role as chief lector priest. Later in his life he rose to the highest office in the land, that of vizier, chief administrator of Egypt and prime minister to the king. 

It is vital that my tomb be provided with all the different types of statuary, clothing, and furniture and other goods that I might need in the next world. All of these things are depicted on my chapel walls so I’m certain to be well-supplied forever even if the actual objects and offerings placed in my burial chamber are stolen or destroyed over the centuries. 

My steward, Khemetnu was also an overseer of the priests, who would’ve  been in charge of these offerings. He is shown standing before a false door, a portal through which my spirit could return to this world to enjoy the offerings that would’ve been placed here. 

Narrator:

In the northern chamber of the offering chapel is a row of ten statues, cut into the living rock of the wall, an uncommon way of decorating tombs at Giza. All these statues represent women, which is exceptional in the male-dominated society of Egypt. Although they are not labeled, they clearly serve to emphasize Meresankh’s position among her queenly relatives. 

Meresankh: 

This emphasis continues in my western chamber, with two more pairs of female statues embracing and holding hands to indicate maternal love and affection because the west is the land of the dead. This chamber is the main area for my funerary cult where select priests would come to present food and drink offerings to my spirit before yet another false door. 

At certain times of the day, sunlight would shine through a window in the front of my chapel and fall directly on this false door, highlighting its fundamental importance as the center of my cult. 

In the floor in front of it is a shaft over 5 meters deep leading to my underground burial chamber where my great granite sarcophagus remains. This underground room would’ve been filled with the sorts of luxurious and costly items that appear painted on the walls of my chapel up above. 

My mother gave me this black stone sarcophagus which she originally had made for herself and inscribed with her own name and titles. She had my name carved on it so that it might hold the wooden coffin in which I was buried and protect my body through the ages. 

Hidden and secure though my burial chamber may be, that is sadly no guarantee that greedy tomb robbers or other unwelcome strangers will not find it and plunder its treasures in the future. 

Narrator:

After several centuries, Queen Meresankh’s tomb will be lost to the sands of time to await rediscovery in 1927, more than 4000 years later by archaeologist George Andrew Reisner of the Harvard University / Boston Museum of Fine Arts expedition. Like those who walked the cemetery in ancient times, he will recognize this monument as unique, among the most splendidly decorated, well preserved tombs known. 

Annotations: 

Who was Queen Meresankh III? 

Queen Meresankh III was the granddaughter of King Khufu ( builder of the Great Pyramid) and wife of either Khafre or Menkaure. Her unique underground chapel (labeled G 7530-7540) preserves beautifully carved and painted scenes of the queen and her royal family, as well as servants, artisans, and funerary priests. The scenes also depict the sort of rich burial goods that would have been placed in Meresankh’s tomb: statues and fine furniture; boxes containing food, clothing, and jewelry; even a representation of the black granite sarcophagus that was actually found in situ in her burial chamber. 

Meet the artists! 

While so many thousands of Egyptian craftsmen went nameless, Meresankh’s tomb actually includes the names of two ancient Egyptian artists on the south and east walls. To the left, the painter Rahay colors a standing female statue, while to the right, the sculptor Inkaef works on a seated one.

Preparations for the afterlife

It was vital to Meresankh that her tomb be provided with all the different types of statuary, clothing, furniture, and other goods that she might need in the next world–all of these things are depicted on her chapel walls so that she (and her surviving family) could be certain that she was well supplied for forever. 

Watch Meresankh give a tour of her tomb

Click here for Meresankh’s tour, and to see the bed, chair, and carrying chair on the wall here “pop off” as 3D objects, view the video from 2:50 onwards. For comparison, actual Expedition photos of some of the walls appear in the video as well. These date to 1927 and later.

Meet the artists

While so many thousands of Egyptian craftsmen went nameless, Meresankh’s tomb actually includes the names of two ancient Egyptian artists on the south and east walls. Here, the painter Rahay colors a standing female statue.

Meresankh’s Steward, Khemetnu

Meresankh’s Steward, Khemetnu, was an overseer of the priests like her father. He would have been in charge of the offerings placed in her tomb. Learn more about Khemetnu at http://giza.fas.harvard.edu/ancientpeople/563/full/

False door

This is a false door carved into the stone wall of the tomb. It was intended that the soul of Meresankh could pass back to this world through the door so that she could enjoy the offerings placed for her here. 

Offering bearers

Before Meresankh and her mother to the left, offering bearers carry baskets on their heads of bread, fruit, and meat while others trap birds and herd animals which will become part of the funerary feast and tomb offerings.

Kawab, Meresankh’s Father

Queen Meresankh’s Father, Kawab, the king’s eldest son of his body and chief lector priest is the largest painted figure in the tomb as is befitting a royal prince. He stands dressed in a priestly white sash. Learn more about Kawab on the Giza Project website at http://giza.fas.harvard.edu/ancientpeople/1242/full/

Meresankh and her mother sailing on the Nile 

This wall depicts Meresankh and her mother Queen Hetepheres II in a scene sailing along the Nile river and picking papyrus plants to offer to the great goddess, Hathor.

Window

This window shed light to the false door across Meresankh’s tomb that you can see facing it. There would’ve been wooden doors in the threshold between the window and false door that worshippers could’ve opened for ceremonies or other purposes so that light would fall directly in the central column on the false door. 

Meresankh and Hetepheres

Queen Meresankh III and her mother, Queen Hetepheres II, appear with Meresankh’s children as well as an image of her father (and Hetepheres’s husband), Kawab, who is similarly depicted on the adverse wall. 

For more about Meresankh and images of her and her mother, visit http://giza.fas.harvard.edu/ancientpeople/236/full/

Rock-cut statues

In the northern chamber of the offering chapel is a row of 10 statues cut into the living rock of the wall, an uncommon way of decorating tombs at Giza. All of these statues represent women, which is uncommon in the male-dominated society of Egypt. Although they are not labeled, they clearly serve to emphasize Meresankh’s position among her queenly relatives.

Western Chamber

The Western Chamber of Meresankh’s tomb was the main area of Meresankh’s funerary cult where select priests would come to present food and drink offerings to her spirit before yet another false door.

Pair of Rock-cut Statues

The emphasis of Meresankh’s position among her female relatives continues from the northern chamber’s rock-cut statues to the pair of female figures seen here carved into the rock of the western chamber. The statues are depicted embracing and holding hands to indicate maternal love and affection because the West is the land of the dead. 

False door

At certain times of the day, the sun would fall directly from the window in the east wall of the chapel onto the false door offering niche, above the burial shaft. This was most likely no accident.

Burial Chamber

Directly beneath the prominent false door in the western chamber of Meresankh’s tomb is this burial shaft and chamber over 5 meters below the upper level. Meresankh’s great granite sarcophagus remained here. This underground room would’ve been filled with the sorts of luxurious and costly items that appear painted on the walls of her chapel up above.

Sarcophagus

Meresankh’s mother gifted her a black stone sarcophagus which she originally had made for herself and inscribed with her own name and titles. She then had Meresankh’s name inscribed on it so that it would hold the wooden coffin in which Meresankh was buried to protect her body through the ages.