Digital Epigraphy in the Tomb of Djehuty (TT 11) at Dra Abu el-Naga (Part 1)

Feb 9, 2021

Written by Daniel M. Méndez-Rodríguez, Egyptologist, and Carmen Ruiz Sánchez de León, Digital Artist, Epigraphers at the Spanish mission at Dra Abu el-Naga / ‘Djehuty Project’


A Spanish archaeological mission coordinated by the Spanish National Research Council has been working at the hill of Dra Abu el-Naga North since January 2002. The mission is also known as the ‘Djehuty Project’, and a summary of each of the nineteen archaeological seasons hitherto carried out is available at their website.

When fieldwork began in January 2002, the innermost chamber of Djehuty’s tomb-chapel (TT 11) was filled to the ceiling with debris, which fell through two large holes in the ceiling that communicated with two tombs located further up the hill (fig. 1). The debris fell towards the entrance and occupied the innermost half of the central corridor as well.

Figure 1. The tomb of Djehuty filled with sediments prior to its excavation (Drawing by Carlos Cabrera).

While the architects were looking for a way to prevent the debris from falling inside the structure, a member of the team, Ana de Diego, made the first drawings of the inscriptions and scenes that were then visible. The aim was to begin the study of the tomb’s decoration and learn more details about its owner, who was ‘overseer of the Treasury’, ‘overseer of the works (of the artisans)’ and ‘overseer of the cattle of Amun’ under the joint reign of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III, ca. 1470 BC. The first drawings were made using FreeHand. Although the photographs used as a base were far from perfect, the drawings could be collated, corrected, and completed in subsequent campaigns.

The next phase of the epigraphic work inside the tomb of Djehuty consisted in changing to Adobe Illustrator and using new photographs taken already in better conditions, that is, orthophotographs, as a basis for the drawings. The latter incorporated shading inside the incised signs to emphasise the relief, and were again collated. At this point, the problem of the debris falling down and inside the tomb had already been solved, but the walls of the chapel and the corridor were covered with a layer of mud that concealed the reliefs and inscriptions. It became necessary to wait for the restoration team to clean and consolidate the surface in order to trace them properly. 

Finally, in 2018 the cleaning and consolidation of the walls of the innermost chamber and the corridor were finished. At that time it was decided that the epigraphic drawing would progress from the innermost walls towards the outside (the interior of the tomb is 17 m long; fig. 2). After carrying out a thorough photo session, it became clear that, due to the numerous and different type of damages on the walls, even the best photography was unable to capture the artistic value of the composition as a whole and of the individual figures carved in relief. For this reason mainly, it was decided that the quality of our epigraphic work should be refined in order to be able to show the high quality of the workmanship and beauty of the decoration. To achieve this goal the methodology of the epigraphic drawing had to be modified.

Figure 2. The tomb of Djehuty tomb after the archaeological excavation (Drawing by Carlos Cabrera).

1. New phase in the digital epigraphy of the ‘Djehuty Project’

In the 18th season of fieldwork, carried out in January and February 2019, a new phase began in the epigraphic recording. Novel techniques and digital procedures from the Epigraphic Survey of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago were applied, but adapting them to the specific features of the tomb of Djehuty. The decorative program of this funerary monument stands out for its originality and the quality of both its design and execution. The different destructive phenomena that have affected the tomb precluded the use of photography as the sole means of recording. Photographs do not do justice to the exceptional quality that the reliefs and inscriptions originally had. For this reason, documentation through digital epigraphic drawings has been chosen to highlight the artistic qualities of the monument (fig. 3).

Figure 3. Detail of one of the funerary ritual scenes in the chapel.

The epigraphic work during the 2019 season focused on the chapel, that is, the innermost chamber, expressly dedicated to the mortuary cult of Djehuty and his parents (fig. 4).

Figure 4. Three-dimensional model of the tomb of Djehuty. From left to right: courtyard and façade, transversal hall, corridor and chapel.

The dimensions of the chapel are approximately 3.43 x 5.40 x 2.35 m. From an architectural point of view, the chamber stands out for two main characteristics. Firstly, in the western wall there is a niche with carved seated statues of the owner of the tomb flanked by his parents (fig. 5). Secondly, in the northern half of the chamber there is a burial shaft, located in an area raised about 45 cm. This shaft leads, through another room and a second shaft, to the burial chamber where Djehuty should have been buried.

Figure 5. West wall of the chapel with the seated statues of Djehuty and his progenitors.

2. Preliminary epigraphic analysis

The first task of the epigraphic work was the meticulous inspection of the walls’ surfaces to identify all the elements intended to be recorded, which will be detailed below. The reliefs and inscriptions of the chapel are carved combining two techniques: raised and sunk relief (fig. 6). This implies that the epigraphic documentation should visually distinguish them clearly in the form of representation.

Figure 6. Combination of different techniques used in hieroglyphic signs: raised and sunk relief.

The diversity in size, both of the signs and figures in the reliefs, makes it necessary to establish clear drawing conventions for the proper representation and visualisation. The inscriptions include hieroglyphic signs of at least three different sizes (small, medium, and large), depending on the relevance and location of a given text. Measurements may vary depending on each specific sign, but if a comparison is made between a specimen of the phonetic sign m (G17 in Gardiner’s list), the difference in size is as follows (table 1):

Table 1. Size comparison between examples of sign m (Gardiner’s G17).

The largest signs are located in the doorframe and in texts accompanying the largest figures within the decorative program: Djehuty and his parents. These signs display the greatest detail, in the carving, modelling and polychromy. Medium-sized signs also contain certain details and polychromy, although to a lesser extent than large-format signs. They are used to identify figures, actions, and elements of the scenes. Inscriptions with large and medium size signs usually include the title and name of the owner of the tomb. Finally, the smaller signs are almost always carved in sunk relief and are used in specific cases, such as in the list of offerings. This heterogeneity requires a differentiation in the graphic representation that enables a clear reading of the drawing (fig. 7). In addition, the high quality in the execution of both the signs and figures manifested itself in a careful modelling of the relief, suggesting volumes. These volumes should be also represented to achieve an optimal visual understanding and a greater appreciation of the tomb’s artistic quality.

Figure 7. Difference between small and large-size signs.

Similarly, it is relevant to consider the heterogeneity of the figures’ size represented in the scenes. Depending on the specific individual rendered, its context, and location, figures can cover one, two, or three registers (fig. 8).

Figure 8. Relief with figures of different sizes.

A digital epigraphic drawing must reflect the history of the tomb and include the traces of the different vicissitudes reflected on its walls over the centuries. To accomplish this, it is advisable to consider first all the phenomena that affect reliefs and inscriptions and the different forms of deterioration. There are areas damaged by different destructive agents, both natural and human. Among the erosions of natural origin, those related to fire, water, and wind stand out, since they have caused the degradation and almost total disappearance of the reliefs and inscriptions in some areas (fig. 9). The fire has also caused the walls to blacken in several places. Another erosive agent is salts, which emerge in certain areas exposed to higher humidity, destroying and deforming the original carving of the reliefs.

Figure 9. Reliefs and inscriptions eroded by natural agents.

With regards to anthropic phenomena affecting reliefs and inscriptions, one must highlight the deliberate and selective destruction called damnatio memoriae. This type of damage is evidenced by intensive hacking that mainly affects the name and representation of the deceased and his closest relatives, his father and mother (fig. 10). Additionally, in other parts of the tomb Hatshepsut's name suffered damnatio, and the name of the god Amun has also been hacked out during the Amarna Period.

Figure 10. Damnatio memoriae of an ibis sign, generally used to write the name of Djehuty.

Another issue related with the history of the tomb that should be recorded in the epigraphic drawings is the different phases in which the decoration was carried out. The most paradigmatic example is the erasure of hieroglyphs and scenes. This is due to a change in the distribution of the decorative program during the construction of the funerary monument itself. Thus, in some places on the panels one can see erased traces of previous decorative elements (texts, figures, etc.) that do not belong to the final stage of the wall decoration.

The repair of certain parts of the walls where the quality of the rock was poorer or where a carving error had occurred must also be documented. The repairs were carried out by inserting a patch stone, that is, a custom-carved ashlar embedded in the holes made on purpose. In areas of smaller size and depth, the hole was filled with plaster. This served not only to level the wall, but also to complete the texts or draw parts of the scenes affected by cracks or small cavities (fig. 11).

Figure 11. Hieroglyphic signs modelled on the plaster that fills the holes and cracks.

Other notable anthropic alterations took place centuries after the monument was built and decorated. The tomb of Djehuty and other funerary structures nearby, such as -399-, and those belonging to Hery (TT 12) and Baki, underwent a radical transformation. Their walls were broken down to connect them and turn them into an underground complex of catacombs. This led to the destruction of several decorated surfaces. An example of this transformation is the construction of a staircase on the north wall of the chapel of TT 11 that interrupts the reliefs (fig. 12).

Figure 12. View of the staircase built in the northeast corner of the chapel.

Witness to the reuse of funerary spaces and impact on the original decoration of the walls is the presence of a large amount of demotic graffiti. They were written in red ink during the 2nd century BC by priests in charge of depositing animal mummies inside the tombs. One of these graffiti is preserved in the chapel (fig. 13).

Figure 13. Demotic graffiti written with red ink (2nd century BC).

Unfortunately, the destructive action of looters can also be seen in much more recent times, mainly in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and this affected a considerable part of the tomb decoration. Certain parts of the walls were looted due to their special artistic beauty to be sold in the antiques market (fig. 14).

Figure 14. Traces of looters on the south wall of the chapel.

The digital drawing of the walls may also consider the contemporary interventions carried out by the team of restorers from the Djehuty Project, with the aim of cleaning, consolidating, restoring and visually homogenizing the walls of the tomb and the original architectural space of the rooms.

The inclusion of all the previously mentioned elements in an epigraphic drawing that merges into a harmonic representation and does not reduce the legibility of the representation is a great challenge. 

In the followi-up article (Part 2), the digital epigraphic work methodology applied and adapted specifically to the tomb of Djehuty is being described.

1 comment(s)

Laurence W Lance

May 4, 2021

Would it be possible, and if so, will a restoration of the missing and damaged portions of the tomb be attempted?

May 5, 2021

Hi Laurence, thank you very much for reading digitalEPIGRAPHY and for your valuable comment! As this article was written by the epigraphers of the "Djehuty project," I am not the one to offer you specific details about restoration. However, the common procedure with documenting an Egyptian tomb is to physically restore damaged structural elements and ultimately open it for the public. This also involves filling in holes/damaged parts on the wall using mortar, but usually doesn't mean adding any missing decorative elements. Right now, epigraphy in Djehuty's tomb implies documenting the reliefs on the wall. I hope it answers your question! Please, check digitalEPIGRAPHY regularly to read more about tomb documentation in our upcoming articles. All the best, sincerely, Krisztian Vertes

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