The Tuesday Tomb returns as a fortnightly feature with the tomb of Maya and Meryt. The Saqqara tomb was the first Egyptian tomb that I ever entered and it is one of my personal favourites.
Maya was Overseer of the Treasury and Overseer of Works during the reign of Tutankhamun in the Eighteenth Dynasty. He is also known to have served under the General Horemheb when he became pharaoh. He died in Year 9 of Horemheb’s reign and his wife, Meryt, was already deceased by this time. They were buried together in a tomb close to that of Horemheb in Saqqara.
The tomb was partially excavated by the archaeologist Karl Richard Lepsius in 1843 but was eventually covered by sand and lost again. The tomb was re-discovered in 1986 by a joint expedition of archaeologists from the Egypt Exploration Society in London and the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden, Netherlands and excavated between 1987 and 1991. They had begun their attempts to rediscover the tomb in 1975 and were finally rewarded 11 years later when Professor Geoffrey T. Martin and Dr. Jacobus Van Dijk located the burial chamber 18 metres below the surface.
Professor Martin said: “We were in total darkness for about 15 minutes…Suddenly we glimpsed wonderful reliefs and were extremely startled to find ourselves in the antechamber leading to a burial chamber. My colleague looked across at an inscribed wall and said, ‘My God, it’s Maya’.”
The tomb is very similar to that of Horemheb and is composed of a pylon, an outer courtyard, a statue chamber flanked by two storerooms, an inner courtyard, and three offering chapels. The tomb appears to be unfinished with columns running along the west side of the outer courtyard only. The outer courtyard has a mud floor and is lacking reliefs. The pylon is built from mudbrick rather that being finished in limestone.
The lowest subterranean section of the tomb comprises three beautifully decorated chambers. Relief scenes show Maya and Meryt before numerous gods and goddesses. The figures and texts are decorated predominately in yellow with some use of blue and black detailing.
Although the tomb had been plundered, fragments of jewellery, furniture and coffins indicate that the burial was a rich one. A beautiful limestone stela was found in one of the two chapels that were discovered outside of the tomb. The stela depicts a priest by the name of Yamen, offering to the deceased couple, Maya and Meryt.
It is presumed that the funerary cult of Maya and Meryt was left in the care of this priest by Maya’s half-brother, Nahuher, after he had taken care of the burial. Maya and Meryt had two daughters but no son to perform their funerary cult duties.
Many statues from the tomb have been on display in the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden since 1823 including a particularly beautiful statue of Maya seated beside his wife.
Skeletal remains found in the tomb have been analysed and appear to belong to Maya, Meryt and their relatives.
Bibliography and further reading:
Aston, D.A., and Aston, B.G., The Tomb of Maya and Meryt, III: The Pottery (in preparation).
Martin, G.T., et al., The Tomb of Maya and Meryt, I: The reliefs, Inscriptions, and Commentary (London, 2012).
Raven, M.J., et al., The Tomb of Maya and Meryt, II: Objects and Skeletal Remains (Leiden/London, 2001).
Saqqara.nl, Tomb of Maya and Merit (found in 1986): http://www.saqqara.nl/excavations/tombs/maya–merit