Theban Tomb 45

Where is Theban Tomb 45 situated?

Theban Tomb 45 is situated in the Theban necropolis on the west bank of the Nile, opposite modern Luxor. The Theban necropolis is a UNESCO world heritage site and constitutes one of the largest ancient burial sites in the Near East. The site comprises numerous monuments, including the famous royal tombs of the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, but also more than 400 private elite tombs, as well as memorial temples, and remains of royal palaces and domestic communities.   

Theban Tomb 45 is situated in the area of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, which has a large concentration of private elite tombs, most of which date to the 18th dynasty (ca. 1539-1292 BCE). Theban Tomb 45 is situated close to the well-known tombs of Ramose (Theban Tomb 55), Userhat (Theban Tomb 56) and Khaemhat (Theban Tomb 57) which are open to the public. One of the aims of our project is to prepare Theban Tomb 45 for opening to the public as well, by carrying out a range of heritage preservation and site management activities in close cooperation with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities.

Who built and decorated Theban Tomb 45?

Theban Tomb 45 was built and partly decorated in the 18th dynasty during the reign of Amenhotep II (ca. 1425-1400 BCE) for a man named Djehuty and his family. Djehuty was “scribe of the offering-table of Mery, high-priest of Amun”, “head of all the weavers of Amun”, and “steward of Mery, high priest of Amun”. This means that Djehuty was charged with overseeing the household of Mery (the owner of Theban Tomb 95) as well as with overseeing the weaving workshop that was attached to the temple of Karnak. Djehuty is depicted in the tomb with an unidentified woman, probably his wife, as well as with his mother, whose name is also Djehuty.  

About 200 years later, in the early Ramesside period, the tomb was reused by a man called Djehutyemheb, who was “head of the makers of fine linen of the temple of Amun”. His family members are also depicted in the tomb: his father Wennefer, who was “head of the weavers of the temple of Amun”, his mother Isis, who was “songstress of Amun”, his wife Bakkhonsu, who was also a “songstress of Amun”, and their children and grandchildren.    

Why is it important to study Theban Tomb 45?

Theban Tomb 45 is a fascinating case of tomb reuse: the tomb was built and partly decorated with painted scenes and texts around 1400 BCE for a man named Djehuty and his family. About 200 years later, the tomb was reused by Djehutyemheb and his family. Even though the practice of tomb reuse calls to mind images of usurpation, tomb robbery and destruction, this particular tomb was reused in a non-destructive manner, with consideration for the memory of the original tomb owner. Instead of vandalising an earlier tomb and whitewashing its walls in order to replace the original decoration with his own, the second tomb owner left most of the tomb decoration in its original state. He added his own decoration only to walls sections that had been left undecorated by the original tomb owner, and he retouched a number of the original paintings. For example, he altered the garments, wigs, and furniture depicted in the tomb to conform to contemporary style and taste.

Recycling the past: tomb reuse in Ancient Egypt

The double occupation of Theban Tomb 45 and the way in which the second occupant dealt with the original decoration make it an excellent starting point for a research project on the mechanisms and motives behind tomb reuse in New Kingdom Egypt, carried out by Dr. Carina van den Hoven. Tomb reuse was a widespread mortuary practice in Ancient Egypt. Consequently, much information is available in terms of archaeological data. However, there is a surprising lack of academic research on this topic. Traditionally, studies of burial monuments have mainly been concerned with their original construction and decoration, and with their original tomb owner(s). The continued use and reuse of tombs has long been of marginal interest to researchers. This is indeed surprising, because the continued use and later adaptations of monuments are all part of a monument's 'life history'. Another problem in the study of tomb reuse is that the phenomenon is generally documented only as part of the life histories of individual tombs, i.e. detached from its wider historical, cultural, and geographic context. Dr. Van den Hoven’s research project takes a new approach and explores tomb reuse in terms of the theoretical concepts of space and memory. In doing so, she aims to go beyond the investigation of apparent motives associated with individual cases of tomb reuse, and to present an innovative understanding of the collective way in which the Ancient Egyptians used and interacted with the landscape and its monuments in order to connect with their own past and ancestors. This new approach opens the way for cross-cultural comparison of the ways in which societies regard the dead and their own past, an important aspect of the wider phenomenon of cultural identity that is still relevant today. The fieldwork project in Theban Tomb 45 forms the starting point for this research project, but the evidence will be contextualised within the wider mortuary landscape of the Theban necropolis.

What are the aims and objectives of the TT45 Project?

Theban Tomb 45 was discovered by Robert Mond in the winter of 1903-1904. Not much is known about this tomb. Its highly interesting and beautifully preserved decorative programme was documented only in part in 1948 by Nina and Norman de Garis Davies. The textual programme of the tomb has never been examined and no art-historical analysis of the painted decoration has ever been done. Furthermore, no active conservation plan has been carried out for this tomb so far. The main aims of the fieldwork project in Theban Tomb 45 are to carry out conservation, documentation, publication, art-historical analysis, heritage preservation and site management activities. The acquired data will be documented and published using the most recent tools and developments in the field of Digital Humanities. The project also provides opportunities for further training of Egyptian team members in conservation, site documentation and archaeological research.  

Full conservation treatment

When Theban Tomb 45 was discovered by Robert Mond in the winter of 1903-1904, he quickly cleared the tomb of sand and rubble and copied some of the inscriptions. As the tomb was left without a protective door, it had been damaged when Norman de Garis Davies started work in the tomb in 1907. Some emergency repairs have been made in the past, but so far, no active conservation plan has been carried out for this tomb. One of the main aims of the TT45 Project is to carry out a full conservation programme for the tomb, so that its painted decoration will be preserved for future generations.

Non-invasive digital documentation and publication

Another important aim of the project is to fully record the entire decorative programme of the tomb as precisely as possible, using the most recent tools and developments in the field of Digital Humanities, including high-resolution digital photography, photogrammetry, digital epigraphy, digital reconstruction, and digital imaging technology. As such, this fieldwork project aims to contribute significantly to the development and application of non-invasive digital technologies to Egyptological site documentation and publication. The final digital documentation and publication of the tomb will be detailed enough to assist future generations of scholars in their research without the need of physical access to the tomb.

Art-historical analysis of the painted decoration

Another important aim of the project is to systemetically study the painted decoration of Theban Tomb 45, through a combination of art-historical visual analysis and non-invasive archaeometric analysis. The detailed analysis of the painted decoration of Theban Tomb 45 allows the team to determine precisely which areas of the original 18th dynasty tomb decoration have been repainted in the Ramesside period, and to identify the various ways in which these repaintings and retouchings have been carried out.

Outreach activities

The team actively contributes to safeguarding the archaeological heritage of Ancient Thebes through the organisation of educational and outreach activities for the local community in Egypt as well as for the donors of the Luxor Archaeological Heritage Foundation and other interested persons. These activities include the organisation of an annual study-day on a topic related to ancient Thebes, the development and maintenance of the project website, and the dissemination of the research results of the team concerning the TT45 Project as well as concerning Egyptology in general.

Site management activities

Towards the end of the project the tomb will be prepared for opening to the public. In this context, a number of site management activities will be carried out in close cooperation with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, such as the installation of barriers or glass panels to protect the paintings from incidental damage, the installation of a new protective door for the tomb, the installation of a new lighting system, and the installation of information panels in English and Arabic informing visitors about the tomb. Considering the proximity of the tomb to the parking area, possibilities for disabled access to the tomb will also be explored.

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Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, view on Theban Tomb 45 and the Ramesseum. © TT45 Project.

Entrance to Theban Tomb 45. © TT45 Project.

Theban Tomb 45. © TT45 Project, Matjaz Kacicnik.

Theban Tomb 45. © TT45 Project, Matjaz Kacicnik.

Kampp plan

Plan of Theban Tomb 45. From: Friederike Kampp, Die Thebanische Nekropole: zum Wandel des Grabgedankens von der XVIII. bis zur XX. Dynastie. Mainz am Rhein 1996, p. 243, fig. 140.