Theban Tomb #89 Epigraphic Project

Theban Tomb #89 was built by Amenmose who served King Amenhotep III (1391 -1353 BC), King Tutankhamun’s grandfather. The tomb is located on the west bank of the Nile at Luxor, Egypt, among some 500 tombs that dot the hillside, dating roughly from 1500 - 1200 BC. The project’s goal is to record and interpret the paintings on the tomb walls.

The tomb plan consists of a courtyard and two rooms carved into the limestone escarpment. About half of the tomb decoration remains. Depictions of the tomb owner have been eradicated in all instances but four. There is no clear reason for this, perhaps the later occupants disliked or feared the images.

The outer room contains scenes that are common to most Theban tombs: fishing and hunting in the marsh, a lively banquet scene, and an offering to Osiris, god of the underworld. The wall containing an account of Amenmose’s career is entirely destroyed, which leaves us with only the clues presented in the other paintings. By far the most interesting depiction in the outer room is a scene featuring the manufacture of incense—unique in the tomb painting repertoire. Ingredients for making incense were imported from Arabia and Africa, relating this scene to one in the inner room, showing Amenmose receiving these ingredients from “the great ones of Punt”, a mysterious land probably located in present-day Somalia.

Also in the inner room, one wall painting portrays tribute and trade items from the Aegeans, Nubians and Syrians, which Amenmose presents to his enthroned king. The other paintings in the inner room depict the funeral procession, a common theme showing tomb furnishings and the coffin being dragged by oxen (much damaged). Adjacent to this scene is the depiction of the “Opening of the Mouth Ritual”, which provides a glimpse into the elaborate funerary rites practiced at the ancient tomb.

The study of the tomb decoration provides a small window into the life of this man. He was intimately involved with the king, as evidenced by his presentation of tribute and trade items to the king. He himself travelled out of the country to trade with the Puntites and produced a wealth of imported products for Egypt’s luxury economy. He was also an able industrial baron, supplying the lucrative incense market. He stressed his piety by adding two depictions of himself worshipping Osiris and placing his funeral ritual in a prominent position.

Amenmose’s most important title was “Steward in the Southern City” (Thebes/Luxor); it positioned him as both a state administrator and the king’s liaison with the powerful temple complexes in the area. This identity as a “double VIP” is underlined by the mix of political and religious themes in his tomb, thus stating his close connection to both power bases.

Co-directed by

Roberta L. Shaw, Assistant Curator
Lyla Pinch-Brock, Departmental Associate

This project has been made possible through the generous support of the Department of Museum Volunteers Acquisition & Research Fund, and by an equally generous anonymous donor.


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