Ancient Love into Eternity


(This was a scientific article written during my studies at Dept. of School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, Manchester University. This was a top ranked article, reviewed by three independent scholar of Egyptology and quoted in a number of similar works)



The tomb of Kahai, his wife Meret-yetes, and their son Nefer and other family members, is an exceptionally beautiful tomb from the 5th Dynasty (ca. 2465 - 2323 BC). This paper describe and discuss the conventions of representations of Kahai and Nefer's tomb paintings during the Old Kingdom. Colours, scales, orientation, style and symbols will be used as evidence to show how the tomb reflected life, but also became an interface for the dead to hopefully continue uninterrupted in afterlife. Only specific parts of all the tomb art is analyzed.


Kahai's tomb was discovered 1966 by, Moussa, & Altenmüller, (1971), during the German epigraphic survey, Saqqara.nl (2014), of Old Kingdom tombs. The tomb is dated from the early reign of Neuserre (2445-2421 BC), and located south of Unas causeway, near the southern enclosure wall of Djoser‟s Step Pyramid Complex of the Third Dynasty in Saqqara, Oser (2011).


The important location of this tomb indicates that it was possibly allocated and given to an official, recognized by the Pharaoh. Scientists from The Australian Centre of Egyptology, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia, returned to study this tomb in January and February, 2010, LifeScience (2013).


The large single room chapels, Kanawati (2001), indicates that rock-hewn tombs made it unnecessary to provide mastaba roofing and avoid multi-room constructions. The tomb is small and yet it has nine shafts, Kanawati (2001), indicating a number of family members without their own tomb.


Almost nothing remains of the wall decoration on the north wall, Oser, (2011), but visible traces can be seen of the canon of proportions.


Monolithic limestone makes up the west wall, Moussa, & Altenmüller, (1971), and here we find Nefer, and his parents, Ka-hai and Meret-yetes, false doors.


Kahai and Nefers tomb gives evidence of two-dimensional art, sometimes almost giving 3D life with colourful sunken reliefs of different depths. Kahai and his family must have had access to exceptional artists, using colours and motion to explicitly conceptualize a deeper and higher meaning of all the family members. Accepted symbols would express an underlying meaning, Griffiths (2011), based on a set of artistic conventions. The tomb is one of the most colourful from the old kingdom.


Registers were carefully arranged with the tomb owner looking out to the living, Griffiths (2011), and figures of living offering bearers looking in. Soft vertical and horizontal lines would guide the artists, and these lines would later develop into grid systems.


As pointed out by Griffiths, (2011), the body was a composite diagram of characteristic aspects of different body parts, acting as symbols. Faces would have side views, and eyes would appear to look at the viewer. Chests are seen from the front. When needed the person would have two right feet and the left and right arm would interchange. Males would usually look young and strong, and females sensual and slender. As we will see, Nefer is different.


On the eastern sector of the south wall, above the serdab slits, Oser (2011), we find a section of the wall that has raised reliefs, and inscriptions were painted. Most of this has decayed.


In Kahai's tomb many paintings reflect agricultural day-day life, but skilled workers are also making jewellery, building or sailing ships and artisans perform songs and music.


Recent work by Lashien (2013), now shows that Kahai buried his own son, and an inscription in the tomb indicates that Nefer's wife was pregnant by the time of her husband's premature death. This indicates, according to Lashien (2013), that Kahai was the real owner of this exceptional tomb.


Lashien's finding is contradicted by Oser (2011), who states that "From the inscription on his false door we know that Kahay was the first to be buried in the tomb,( sHD pr-aA wabt Nfr jrrw n jt.f sk xpw n kA.f rJmnt) ‟It is Nefer, superintendent of the palace and of the artisans workshop, who performed the rites for his father, when he went to his Ka in the west".


Nefer's tomb is also southernmost, indicating that he could be the main tomb owner, and he covers five registers at the south wall when receiving offerings from Ka priests.

Kahai 's numerous titles points towards an exceptional singer and artist, possibly during the reign of Pharaoh Niuserra. His titles, Oser (2011) includes "Kings acquaintance (rx nswt), Superintendent of the singer (sHD Hsww), "unique among the great and among the singers of the funerary estate" (wa m wrw Hsww Dt) and "beautiful voice for his master (mdt nfrt n nb.f)".


During the reign of Pharaoh Niuserra, Kahai 's son Nefer was the Supervisor of Artisans [or rather supervisor of the Royal Palace artisans] (sHD pr-aA wbt), and Director of Choir Singers (xrp Hsww), Dunn (2014) and Oser 2011.


The tomb has five false doors on the west wall, and Kahai and his son Nefer, have their titles on top of two of these doors.

Kahai, Nefer, and his son Khenu's, false doors along the western wall, Dunn (2014) , Oser (2011), presents Kahai 's and Nefers names and all their titles. Nefer's two brothers, Wer-bauw and Sen-yetef,had false doors, but not the third, Ikhy, Oser (2011). The torus moulding and cavetto cornices typical for the middle of the 5th Dynasty, Oser, (2011), is absent in Nefer's tomb.


Kahai 's wife Meret-yetes was priestess of Hathor and Neith , Oser (2011), and she is decribed as priestess of Hathor, "lady of the sycamore tree, in all her beautiful places (m swt.s nbwt nfrwt)". The love between Kahai and his wife Meret-yetes, is expressed in an exceptional way on the west wall even during the Old Kingdom.


The couple seems to look at each other in affection and Meret-yetes has put her stretched right arm around Kahai 's shoulder. Ka-hai is painted in red ochre, whilst Meret-yetes appear in yellow ochre. This could well symbolise red (deshr), Reiblein (2011), representing the opposite of the life-giving mother in yellow (khenet). Griffiths (2011), suggest that women are yellow because they might spend more time indoors, away from the sun.

Figure 1: Ka-hai and Meret-yetes (www.livescience.com/41237-love-revealed-in-egypt-tomb.html accessed 12 April 2014).



Kahai is dressed with a black wig, a collar and a leopard skin where the claws can be seen around his left shoulder. The upper line of Kahai's leopard skin is absolutely straight, and the extended line hits Meret-yetes eye, and she would then look at his heart. He is holding a staff in his left hand, possibly as a sign of power, and a sceptre in his right hand.


Meret-yetes has a black long wig, a choker, and a tight dress with shoulder straps. Her right breast is uncovered. As a symbol together with the tight dress, this could represent fertility, love and affection. Her left ear is disproportionate big. Since this is not the Pharaoh hearing everything, she might instead be listening to her husband's famous voice! They both seem to have proportionate and equal size, clearly indicating that they have equal status.

Tombs during the fifth Dynasty often included paintings with the deceased overlooking work and activities which had been a part of their lives, Peck (1972). Traditional offering scenes are also seen over each false door. These offerings, Collier and Manley (1998) could be perpetuated in pictorial (art) and verbal form (writing). Traditional offering formulas are expressed above all false doors on the Western wall, except Nefer's brother Wer-Bauw, Oser (2011).


Offering formulas were generally a fixed combination of word, Collier and Manley (1998). The upper lintel of Kahai 's false door, Oser (2011), reads; "An offering which the king gives and an offering which Anubis gives, foremost of the divine booth, that he be buried in the necropolis, honoured by the god (Htp dỉ nsw ḥtp(di) Inpu xnti zH nTr qrstw.f m Xrt-nTr imAxw xr nTr). [Author has changed j in favour of i]. When the offering formula was expressed, Collier and Manley (1998), the deceased became officially blessed in light of performance, and also personally eligible for partaking in offerings conducted in major cult temples during festival occasions.


On both the north and south eastern wall two figures are looking towards each other, observing the busy work of all the workers. These figures cover three registers and are in better condition than the two lower ones. The caption above the northern figure thought to be Nefer and his wife, reads, Oser (2011) "Viewing fishermen, fowlers and scribes of his estates of Lower and Upper Egypt, (mAA HAmw aHw zSw n njwt.f nt mHwj Smaj)". The southern man is thought to be Nefers father, Ka-hai. By overlooking the estate, Dunn (2014), they both ensure that the land is fertile and productive, providing their Ka's in eternity.

In the upper registers on the mid east wall, naked males are harvesting papyrus. This used in the next section to bind the skiff (spt smh), Collier and Manley (1998). Further down a fording scene shows cattle bred and tended, crops harvested, bread baked, and foremen counting the catch of fowlers. In the lower register three girls with tight dresses are clapping hands while four girls are dancing. They perform in front of someone that is seated with offerings behind the chair. Agricultural scenes during the mid 5th Dynasty are unusual, Harpur (1987), and Nefer's tomb chapel is the only found.


Two beautiful boats at the far end of the eastern wall take up two registers. One is departing southbound with its sails up. The second boat is being rigged by 14 men, and the boat has, unsurprisingly 14 oars. This boat is also turned southwards like most of the crew. Two helmsmen in the stern are steering, whilst a third seems to mark the water depth. The most striking impression though, is that we again find further evidence of the canon of proportions. On top of the cabin a man is stretching a rope that leads to a second man having climbed along a rope to what appears to be the base of a triangle. Following his rope we find the third man completing the triangle. He is also holding a long staff in his left hand, and in a strange posture he is holding his right arm like a triangle behind his head. Although not measured live, a test has been done to check if the numbers between these three men, equal a2 + b2 = c2. The actual numbers turns out to be (4)2 + (5)2 = (6.4)2 When measuring from the right hand of the man on the cabin, the result is almost perfect 6.4. This is yet another example of hidden mysteries, objects, proportions and deeper meaning within tomb art from the Old Kingdom. Two vessels of this type being depicted in the same composition, Oser (2011), is unique in the Old Kingdom.


Figure 2: Relief boat (www.natgeocreative.com/photography/121656 accessed April 2014).



Figure 3: Relief boat with marked triangle (www.natgeocreative.com/photography/121656 accessed April 2014).

The south wall shows Kahai 's son Nefer as a rather corpulent figure, overseeing offerings by leaning on his staff, possibly suggesting some sort of illness. Hemiparesis usually cause weight bearing on the healthy side. His right hand is tucked under his kilt, which is considered unusual, Oser (2011). This could indicate palsy. His left breast is unusually enlarged (gynecomastia) which is a sign of overweight, an inherited disease, side-effects of medication or an endocrine disorder (author is a physician).


During the 4th Dynasty figures were oriented right to left, Barta (2004), but on the south wall of Nefer's tomb, figures are oriented left to right.


Figure 4: Tomb of Kahai and his son Nefer (www.livescience.com/41237-love-revealed-in-egypt-tomb.html accessed 12 April 2014).



The three upper registers contains traditional offerings of food and wine, presented on chests and stands, and in jugs and baskets. In front of three men with geese's and two with goats, walks a man with burning incense.


On the damaged western sector of the south wall, Nefer is sitting on a stool before the offering table, Oser (2011), where an invocation of "thousand of bread, a thousand of beer" ( xA t xA hnqt) offerings can be read.


Nefer's wife Khensuw is sitting in the lowest register. She is small but protected by Nefer's kilt that carries the unmistakably canon of proportions, symbolising the golden triangle of 3-4-5. Whilst smelling a looped lotus, Khensuw is seated in a crouched position, Oser (2011), and she wears the singers diadem made from lotus. During the 5th and 6th Dynasty the lotus was generally grasped under the calyx by the fist or with closed fingers, Barta (2004),


The lotus is a symbol of the sun, creation, death and re-birth and the Osirian funeral culture. Khensuw lightly touch an offering table full of bread and fruit in front of her, whilst and an attendant have possibly washed his hands from a water jug before serving her. Behind her attendant, two males are playing the bnt harps, Manniche (1975), with shovel ends. The white background along all the art in this tomb, emphasize the painted sunken reliefs, but also symbolize purity.


Behind Nefer his three siblings, Oser (2011), Sen-yetef, Ikhy and Wer-bauw are each covering two registers.


The two lower registers show a continuation of daily life, provision of food and wine was not all that had to transition into the Ka spirits of the deceased. Song and music had been and should continue to be a natural part of afterlife.


In the second lower register an official seems to hold a fox-tail whisk, Oser (2011). It is possible that this is actually used as a simple sistrum. Two chironomists sitting opposite two instrumentalists, are directing the music by listening with their right hands to their ears, and their left hands invoking the flute music. As pointed out by Oser (2011), this could be an early form of solfege. One musician plays a brown long ended flute, the mAt, Manniche (1991). The other plays a single-reed double clarinet, mmt, Manniche (1975).


The tomb art in Ka-hai and his family members tomb in Saqqara, is conceptual, and unusually colourful despite the age. Kahai and his family's last resting place, gives evidence of agricultural scenes and two vessels that are exceptional representations from the middle of the 5th Dynasty.


Kahai and his wife Meret-yetes express love and closeness that in most cases would only be seen in tombs during the New Kingdom. It has been shown that what appears simple is complex and sometimes offers cues to medical and geometrical solutions.


As symbolic representations the tomb owners Ka, his double, is provided with entertainment, just like his khat, the physical form receives nourishment. In Ka-hai and Nefer's tomb, artisans persistently seems to convey conceptual art where each object has an underlying purpose. In line with the strict rules guiding the Old Kingdom art, nothing appears without a deeper and symbolic meaning. The main purpose was to provide the deceased in an eternity with symbols and art that came alive when the Ka of the deceased used the false door. Death and re-birth could finally unite.







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