Tom of Petosiris (71)

The Ancient Egypt site of Tuna el-Gebel borders Amarna. It is a little over four miles west of Hermopolis and just west of the modern village of Deirut. It was the necropolis of Khmun (Hermopolis Magna). It is located in El Minya Governorate in Middle Egypt on the edge of the Western Desert; a large site functioned as the necropolis for the ancient town of Khnum or Hermopolis. The cemetery was located 11km from the city, in an area which is perhaps better known as the north-western boundary of Akhenaten’s city of Akhetaten and is marked by a boundary stela.


The ruins of Tuna el-Gebel are scattered over an area of about three kilometers. The oldest monument found here is one of six stelae on the boundary of Akhenaten's ancient city, which shows the king Akhenaten and Nefertiti in various poses. It is a part of a rock-cut "shrine" a little way up the escarpment. To the south is the late necropolis of el-Ashmunein (ancient Hermopolis) Apart from material of Ramesses II that may have been out of context, the earliest objects found here are Aramaic administrative papyri of the 5th century Persian occupation discovered in a jar in the catacombs of ibis and baboon burials, which are the largest feature of the site and include a baboon sarcophagus dated to Darius I.


Several underground cult chapels cased with limestone blocks formed the entrance rooms into the ibis galleries. The rooms were up to 15 meters long and contained cult niches with facades decorated with the shape of superimposed chapels carrying uraeus friezes. These animals were sacred to Thoth. Most of these mummies were destroyed by robbers, and date mainly to the Greek and Roman periods of Egypt. A temple of the Macedonian period was incorporated into the catacombs. A selection of pottery, bronze statuettes and mummies is displayed in the museum in nearby Mallawi. Ibis and baboon are the two chief sacred animals of Thoth, the god of el-Ashmunein.


Today, the site is also known for the remains of Ptolemaic and Roman chapels and tombs. There are a variety of funerary chapels in the shape of small temples. The more elaborate examples have an Egyptian pronaos at the front with walled up intercolumniations and small windows in theshape of chapel facades. Behind the pronaos are the actual cult chapels with wall recesses, apses and wall paintings. Some chapels are temples in the pure classical style, while others represent houses in mixed pharaonic-Greek style.


The best known structure is the unique tomb of the family of Petosiris, which probably dates to the early Greco-Roman period. He was a high priest of Thoth. The tomb takes the form of a temple with an entrance portico and a cult chapel behind. The burials are in underground chambers. It is unusual in that the tomb paintings, which depict scenes of daily life and of offering bearers, combine Egyptian and Greek styles, having for example, traditional Egyptian farming scenes but with people dressed in a Greek fashion. In the chapel of the tomb, the plinth, which is decorated with bearers of offerings, is said to be a true masterpiece. In addition, text within the chapel contains important texts, including an extensive description of works in the temples of Hermopolis.


Tuna el-Gebel was the scene of a great discovery of Egyptian faience during the mid-1890s, a contemporary of Myers and one of the earliest students of Egyptian glazed wares. It is also confirmed by the large number of faience objects with a Tuna el-Gebel provenance which began to enter the major Egyptian collections at this time, many of them by way of the German dealer Reinhardt. The local people, clearly, had stumbled onto a rich and undisturbed area of the cemetery, which they were working carefully and with great profit.


Across the river from Tuna el-Gebel, a desert valley called the Wadi el-Nakhla breaks through the cliffs and runs in a southeasterly direction. Apart from the limestone quarries of various periods, it contains a number of rock-cut tombs. This is el-Bersha (actually the name of a nearby village) where the nomarches of the Fifteenth Nome of Upper Egypt during the 11th and 12th Dynasties have their tombs. These are not in good repair, but there are about ten tombs from that period (possibly more), and others in various zones dating back as far as the Old Kingdom, and into at least the Ptolemaic Period.


Excavation work at el-Bersha appears to be ongoing by a Belgian Mission. The most spectacular of these is the tomb of the "Great Overlord of the Hare nome" called Djehutihotep, who lived during the reigns of Amenemhet II, Senusret II and Senusret III. The west wall of the inner room of the chapel bears the famous scene of the transport of a colossal statue from the calcite quarries at Hatnub.


It should be noted that this area, sometimes referred to as Deir el-Bersha, also probably contained a good many monks during the Christian Period, who used some of the tombs for housing or other purposes. Also nearby is the 5th and 6th Dynasty tombs of the governors of Hermopolis at a location known as Sheikh Said. Many of their names can still be read in the inscriptions