The tomb of Kha
|It is not difficult to build up a picture of Kha as an individual - it is demonstrated by the number of
items inscribed with his name or objects that belonged to him by virtue of his trade and rank during his
lifetime. We also have insight into his personal life through his clothes, jewellery, furniture, toiletries
and favourite pastimes. Approximately 196 objects can be attributed to Kha (Meskell,1998,372).
|Senet was the most popular board game played by the Egyptians. It was played either on elaborate
inlaid boards or simply on grids of squares scratched on the surface of a stone. The two players each
had an equal number of pieces, usually seven, distinguished by shape or colour, and they played on a grid
of thirty squares known as perw (houses) and arranged in three rows of ten. Moves were determined by
throw-stics or astragalus (knuckle-bones with 4 distinctive sides). The object was to convey the pieces
around a snaking track to the finish, via a number of specially marked squares representing good or bad
fortune. The senet game was usually, as here, on the underside of the board box. On the upper face of
the box another type of game - referred to as the Asiatic Game or Twenty Squares is shown below.
Kha's wooden gaming-board with a little pull-out drawer to hold the pieces was most likely to have been
used during his life. A sliding bolt kept the drawer from opening when the game was being carried
|In the foreground, there are 4 wooden smoothers or
irons for papyrus or perhaps pestles to grind pigments
and a wooden instrument, the function of which has
been debated by archaeologists for the last 100 years.
Most views concluded this was a balance. At the end of
July 2011 Amelia Sparavigna, a physicist at Turin
Polytechnic, suggested that it was a different
architectural tool – a protractor. The key, she says,
lies in the numbers encoded in the object's ornate
decoration, which resembles a compass rose with 16
evenly spaced petals surrounded by a circular zigzag
with 36 corners.
|Merit's bed was found made up with
sheets, fringed bed covers, towels and
a wooden headrest encased in two
layers of cloth. It is almost identical
to Kha's bed, except that it is
smaller. The rectangular board is at
the foot of the bed rather than being
a headboard. The bed rests on lion
feet, raised on cylindrical wooden pads
painted red. The rest of the bed is
painted white. The bed is no longer
displayed with a number of layers of
bedding that ranged from fine to heavy
linen as seen in the picture taken in
|The wig is probably the finest of Merit's belongings. It
was made of long human hair (about 54 cm long),
elaborately crimped (Vassilika,2010,54). It was
designed with central parting, the tresses are plaited
at the ends. Three long thick plaits are positioned at
the back of the wig, two thinner plaits frame the
face. The whole wig is held together by an elaborate
inner system of knots and weaves. The style, which
covered the ears, was popular during the second half of
the 18th dynasty.
|The tomb contained 26 knee-length shirts and about 50 loincloths,
including short triangular pieces of material that would have been
worn in the context of agricultural or building work. 17 heavier
linen tunics were provided for winter wear, while 2 items described
as "tablecloths" were among Merit's clothes. Kha and his wife each
had their own individual laundry marks, and it is known that there
were professional laundry men attached to Deir el-Medina.
|Two shabtis of Kha were deposited in the burial chamber. One of them along with agricultural tools, was
placed inside a model sarcophagus, quite similar to the external coffin where the body of the deceased
rested (Inv. Supl. 8337-8341). Merit did not have funerary statuettes.
|In the season of 1906 Ernesto Schiaparelli and his 250 workers had been working for four weeks at the
site of Deir el-Medina with little results to show for their relentless shift work until they came across a
tomb. They were working at the top of the western cemetery in the area of the decorated chapel,
surmounted by a small pyramid, already discovered by Bernardino Drovetti in the early years of the 19th
century. The name Kha was known from the walls of that chapel and strangely enough Kha's funerary
stele (below right) had made its way to the Turin collection decades before Schiaparelli's work at the
site. Kha's tomb's burial chambers escaped discovery because they had not been located beneath the
tomb chapel as is usual, but rather within the hill opposite.
|"The mouth of the tomb was approached down a flight of steep,
rough steps, still half-choked with debris. At the bottom of this
the entrance of a passage running into the hillside was blocked by
a wall of rough stones. After photographing and removing this, we
found ourselves in a long, low tunnel, blocked by a second wall a
few yards ahead. Both these walls were intact, and we realized
that we were about to see what probably no living man had ever
Arthur Weigall, the Antiquities Service Inspector
|Entrance to the
of the objects from
the tomb of Kha in
the Turin Museum.
|View of the slopes of Deir el-Medina's western cemetery,
where the tomb of Kha is situated
|When the flight of the steps near the hillside was discovered,
Ernesto Schiaparelli was accompanied by the Antiquities Service
Inspector Arthur Weigall to discover where the passage leads.
|The two walls were removed. Now the two excavators were standing in a roughly cut corridor of about
standing height. Lined up against the wall on the left were pieces of burial furniture, several baskets, a
couple of amphorae, a bed and a stool and a carrying-pole. At the far end of the corridor was a simple
|"The wood retained the light colour of fresh deal, and
looked for all the world as though it had been set up
but yesterday. A heavy wooden lock held the door
fast. A neat bronze handle on the side of the door
was connected by a spring to a wooden knob set in the
masonry door post; and this spring was carefully
sealed with a small dab of stamped clay. The whole
contrivance seemed so modern that professor
Schiaparelli called to his servant for the key, who
quite seriously replied, "I don't know where it is, sir"."
|With no key to open the door, the lock was carefully cut with a fret-saw to gain access to the chamber
beyond. When the door swung open for the first time in more than three thousand years, the burial
chamber was revealed.
The whole burial was orderly and carefully placed within the space. The principal items were still covered
with dust-sheets that were still strong to the touch. The floor was neatly swept by the last to have
left. A single papyrus-column lamp-stand made of wood supported a copper-alloy saucer still containing
the ashes produced by its ancient flame.
"One asked oneself in bewilderment whether the ashes here, seemingly not cold, had truly ceased to glow
at a time when Rome and Greece were undreamt of, when Assyria did not exist, and when the Exodus of
the Children of Israel was yet unaccomplished".
The tomb and its contents reflected the owners' personal wealth, their particular position within the
society and their life history. It suggests a picture of a prosperous, 18th dynasty home, packed away in
preparation for re-use in the afterlife.
Low tables were piled with food offerings: vegetables, heavily seasoned minced greens ( Kha was nearly
toothless when he died), mashed carob, grapes, mumusops fruit and dates, salt, cumin, braids of garlic
and juniper berries.
|Let us walk through this door in the Turin Museum and not only look around at the objects on display but
also look over our shoulder and look back across time, across centuries.
All photographs of the objects from the museum's collections are © of Museo Egizio di Torino.
Unless otherwise stated, the photographs were taken by Hans Ollermann in 2010. I would like to express
my heartfelt thanks to him for supplying me with his excellent photographs.
|The tomb belonged to Kha, a royal architect, and to his wife Merit. Kha was active during at least
three and possibly four reigns - those of Tuthmosis III (1504-1450 BC), Amenhotep II (1453-1419
BC), Tuthmosis IV (1419-1386 BC) and Amenhotep III (1386-1349 BC), pharaohs of the 18th dynasty.
|loaves of bread in a wide range of
shapes and sizes
|Pottery vessels, some elaborately decorated, contained fine wines, grapes and flour. Some rims are
firmly shut with bands of linen.
|Baskets for the storage of food
|Two-handled pottery storage jar. The body is
painted with rishi (feather) decoration, the
linen-covered neck with religious symbols: a
white nefer-sign, a black neb-sign and a black
and white painted wedjat-eye. It can be read
as "all good and healthy things". A hieratic
docket records Kha's name. The vessel might
have contained wine.
|The decorated wooden linen chest is painted with naive scenes of the deceased and his wife seated
before a loaded offering table and attended by their son presenting a lotus bouquet. There are 10
columns of hieroglyphic inscription. The coffer was packed with 12 textiles and a small fringed rug.
|Kha's mummy is better preserved than that of his wife. Neither body was embalmed. An X-ray analysis
has shown that Kha has a gold "necklace of valour" around his neck under the many layers of tight
wrappings. This type of ornament was supposedly bestowed upon individuals by pharaoh himself. His body is
decorated with additional fine jewellery. He was buried with a wide collar made up of a string of gold
rings. A long necklace of spun and plaited gold supporting a heart scarab, a tyt amulet probably of
carnelian, a ururet amulet in the form of a snake's head, probably also in carnelian, on his forehead; a
pair of gold earrings and a bracelet on each arm made of a strip of gold (Meskell,1998,373).
|Merit's beauty case
Brightly painted wooden box
containing cosmetic vessels:
high-necked blue faience jar,
alabaster jar with silver handle, 3
covered alabaster jars, conical jar
of horn with bronze handle and
removable base decorated with a
Inside Merit's cosmetic and trinket
boxes were also her work-basket
with needles, 3 bronze razors, 3
wooden pins, wooden combs. Larger
decorated chests were packed with
|From Kha's personal items we get sense of
his responsibilities, rank and Pharaoh's
admiration for his skills. His cubit rule is
covered in gold leaf - it was a personal gift
from Amenhotep II as reward for the rapid
construction of a building. His scribal pallets
and a writing tablet are beyond the cubit rule
on the right.
|The tomb contained many pieces of furniture: apart from Kha's and Merit's wooden beds complete with
wooden headrests and linen, there were several decorated and white painted storage chests packed with
clothing and other objects of daily use; a brightly painted and inscribed chair, a painted stool, 2 white
wooden tables, a small wood and ivory box and a single, folding, duck-headed stool.
The low wooden stools belong among the most commonly found furniture in Egypt. Ten stools were found
in Kha's tomb. Some were painted white like the acacia one below on the right, some had lion paw feet.
There were two brown leather-bound stools and one folding stool. Two were thick tripod stools of the
type used by artisans in workshops.
|Within Kha's coffin was one of the earliest copies of the Book of the Dead on papyrus. It is
13,8 metres long and is illustrated with high quality coloured vignettes accompanying 33 chapters.
Schiaparelli found it folded on the second sarcophagus.
|Section of the well preserved funerary
papyrus. The deceased and his wife,
hands in adoration, are received into
the presence of Osiris, ruler of
eternity, enthroned beneath a
flower-bedecked canopy. A heaped
offering table stands before the shrine
to demonstrate the couple's piety.
|The mummy of Kha's wife Merit was contained in a rectangular outer shrine containing a singular inner gilt
anthropomorphic coffin and a mummy mask made of stuccoed linen. The striped wig was marked out
alternatively in blue paint and gold leaf. The face was gilded, eyebrows and eye sockets inlaid in blue glass,
and the eyes made of opaque white and translucent black glass. It is likely that she died before her
husband, as her body was placed in a coffin originally constructed for Kha, and inscribed with his name. It
was a less expensive assemblage than the series of coffins Kha was buried in. There is no evidence that
Merit died suddenly or prematurely, but it appears that afterlife preparations in Deir el-Medina were
concentrated around the lives of husbands, rather than their wives (Meskell,1998,373). The choices made
at the point of burial were made by Merit's husband and possibly their sons, Nakht and Userhat. Her own
personal possessions (e.g. wig, toiletries, clothes and furniture) were included for her use in the afterlife,
but although some 196 objects could be attributed to Kha, only 39 could be attributed to Merit individually.
6 items were inscribed with names of both of them (Meskell,1998,372).
Bronze vase stands. The stand on
the right has got pierced
decoration of lotus flower motif.
|Merit's body was not prepared and wrapped as well as Kha's. As a result her mummy is not as well
preserved. Neither body was embalmed. When Merit's mummy was x-rayed, it revealed a broad collar
made up of eight strings of hard-stone plaques, two pairs of gold earrings and a girdle hanging low on her
pelvis consisting of eleven gold plaques linked by five strings of glass or faience beads. These plaques are in
the form of bivalve shells, which were symbolic of female sexuality in ancient Egypt
(Meskell,1998,373-375). Merit had considerably less jewellery than her husband and it was made from
less expensive materials. Evidence from the Western Necropolis at Deir el-Medina reveals noticeable
disparities in the quantity and quality of goods provided for women throughout the 18th dynasty. This may
reflect something of the relative social status of men, women and children during life, not merely in death.
For the elite at Deir el-Medina, the tomb was very much a male sphere and revolved around a man's life
on earth (Meskell,1998,375).
|The page was created by Lenka Peacock.
The photographs were taken by Su Bayfield, Hans Ollermann, Dik van Bommel and Lenka Peacock.
|Funerary mask of Merit
Linen stuccoed and covered in gold
leaf, inlaid with stone and coloured
This mask was fitted over Merit's
head. The glass imitates more
precious lapis lazuli, turquoise and
carnelian gem stones. The mask
was found slightly crushed and
needed conservation. The left eye
was restored and recently the
mask was reshaped and
|Once the vessels and combs were
put inside the case, the internal
lid was put on to ensure extra care
against damage and then the lid
was secured with a cord, tied in a
"figure 8" between the
button-shaped knob on the lid and
the other one on the short side of
the box. The case was then sealed
with a mud seal
|The years of exposure have taken
toll on these textiles and so they
were removed from artificial
lighting and the bed is now
displayed as seen in the picture on
Painted wood, fibre base
Height: 66.5 cm
Length: 177 cm
Width: 76.5 cm
The textiles show woven lotuses.
One was found on the high backed chair of the
deceased, under his wooden statuette.
The pottery water-flask
(so-called pilgrim's or travel
flask) was a pottery form
introduced in the New Kingdom.
Both flasks are decorated with
concentric circle motifs. The flask
on the right has got the carrying
|Bronze basin and jug.
Both were expertly hammered
from a single sheet of copper
alloy. Vessels like these were used
in ancient Egypt for washing hands
before and after meals.
|Containers for kohl.
Tube shaped containers
for eye-kohl, capped
|The wig was found in a wig box made of acacia
wood and measuring 111 by 49 cm. Its shape
resembles a shrine: the lid, which slopes towards
the back, closes against a palmetto cornice. It
was secured by a cord winding around mushroom
shaped knobs. A funerary offering formula in sunk
relief appears on the lid.
|The figure of Kha wears a shoulder-length
wig, his hands are lowered and the palms
rest on the apron of his kilt on which a
funerary prayer is written in yellow
pigment. Small garlands of real flowers
adorned the chest of the figure and
another one was draped on its base.
|Faience dish decorated with lotus
flowers and buds.
|Metalware. Kha's wealth was reflected in the number of metal vessels that were found in his tomb.
|Vase for libation