As with all our "letters from Luxor" we own all thanks to Jean Smith and her colleagues at the Egyptian Society of South Africa for allowing us to post our articles also here. For the original article (accompanied by many other interesting topics) is published in the societies news magazine, Shemu, which we are proud to be supporting!
Today’s letter from Luxor takes us to Wadi el Gharbi; a large valley to the south of Wadi el Sikkat and the unfinished tomb of Hatshepsut. In addition to a number of well trodden ancient pathways, connecting this part with surrounding valleys in the Theban Mountains, Wadi el Gharbi contains several textual and pictorial graffiti, ancient excavations with debris heaps, pottery shards, smaller structures of stacked stone, and areas of limestone and flint chippings; all of which indicate some form of ancient activity (tombs, stations, smaller settlement, etc.). Red bricks combined with pottery fragments suggest a continuation of activity also into the Graeco-Roman and early Coptic periods. In spite of local tomb robbers’ insistent attempts, however, no tomb has been found to this day. This fact combined with the valley’s remoteness and rather difficult terrain still leave archaeologists without any firm evidence of why the ancients came here.
Now, let us take a closer look at some of the graffiti presented in this magnificent and, from an archaeological point of view, mysterious valley. Riding in from the plain of Malqata, we leave our horses in the shade from a big rock in the middle of the valley and continue on foot as the landscape changes from sand and pebbles to large stones and boulders. Climbing up past the first mountain obstacle, we turn to our right and reach a semi-circled area, centered around a large fractured cliff block that was displaced most probably by a heavy rain (flood) judging from its natural surroundings. This specific area is of great interest for several reasons as it displays not only royal cartouches and associated pictorial graffiti, but also etched figures expressing worship, and later, more abstract geometrical patterns indicating a continuation of ancient presence in this particular place.
Two examples of cartouches providing the name Amenhotep are found close together. Contextual carvings show several ducks, a detailed uraeus, a full anthropomorphic figure, and a depiction of a head decorated with the blue crown; the latter suggesting a royal figure in either a cultic or a military position. While the cartouches belong to Amenhotep (II), the royal head with the blue crown may well be connected with another important character, although belonging to a later period. This natural amphitheater was given its archaeological name – Cirque de Hérihor – by J. Černý and his colleagues based on the repeated textual reference to Hérihor, High priest of Amun (1080-1074 BCE). Five hieroglyphic graffiti of Hérihor have been recorded previously, to which we can add another two in a nearby location within the same valley.
Little is known about Hérihor’s background, although he is believed to be of Libyan descent, and before becoming a High priest of Amun, he served Ramses XI as a military officer. Also being as a priest in the Temple of Khonsu at Karnak, Hérihor eventually rose to the position of High priest and assumed the full royal titles towards the end of Ramses XI’s reign, leading to a temporary division of the Two Lands with one ruler in Thebes and another in Tanis. From an archaeologist’s point of view, one of the more interesting facts about Hérihor is that his tomb, together with that of his associate Piankh, has never been found, leading some scholars to believe that a joint tomb is to be found within the valley that holds Hérihor’s name.
Several additional textual graffiti are connected with the theories of an undiscovered royal tomb in Wadi el Gharbi. For example, there are records of a previously unknown deputy of the Crew, Montuseankh, a workman named Pinudjem, but more importantly, one inscription dates to year 21 of Smendes, theorized to have visited the valley to inspect the tomb of Hérihor and Piankh.
To reconnect with our two previous letters, this valley shows various additional examples of the hieroglyphic sign, which was interpreted by not only H. Carter, but by also some his followers still today as a tomb marker. Most recently, A. Peden emphasises the location of these signs as marking the area of the tomb of Hérihor and Piankh. As said before, however, we consider this sign to represent an offering table, and many of these signs in this valley are placed in a later pictorial context including several pentagrams (all with corresponding carving/etching technique of a rather simple nature). Therefore, we consider these signs to indicate a continuation of ancient presence in the valley rather than connecting them with any royal burial.
Containing a royal tomb or not, the importance of the valley cannot be questioned as it documents also the names of the scribes Buteamun, Ankhefenamun and Nebhepe, along with the royal workmen Amun (neb) nesttawynakhte, Nespautytawi, Penhiribtahutnakhte and Dikhonsiry. In our next letter we will continue further into this spectacular valley and explore further the graffiti of the ancients.