The cemeteries of ancient Egypt, especially those of the successive royal capitals, are among the most substantial and impressive anywhere in the world. The earliest were in the north, centred on the pyramids on the west bank of the Nile opposite Memphis. A second series of pyramids was later built around El-Lisht, site of the capital during the Middle Kingdom.

The most famous of all the cemeteries, however, is that of Thebes in southern Egypt (seen right), which dates mainly from the New Kingdom (1552–1069BC) when Thebes was the centre of an empire stretching from northern Syria to southern Nubia.

The Ancient Egyptians understood the concept of life and death in a very literal sense, providing the deceased with everyday objects and luxury items, decorating the walls of their tombs with scenes of harvests, hunts and feasts.

From their tomb scenes we are able to see the Egyptians as they saw, or would have liked to see, themselves while the objects left with the dead provide direct evidence of technology, craftsmanship and trade. Paradoxically it is from burial sites that we learn most about daily life in ancient Egypt.

The wealth generated by the empire enabled the Egyptians to adorn eastern Thebes, the city of the living, with the monumental temples of Karnak and Luxor (seen right).

On the opposite bank of the Nile, a necropolis or city of the dead was created to house the tombs of nobles, courtiers and officials and, in a secluded valley behind – the Valley of the Kings – the tombs of the pharaohs themselves.

Nebamun's Banquet

Among the most important scenes found in all tombs were the feast and party. On the one hand it was important that the deceased tomb-owner should be provided with regular food and drink for his proper posthumous survival but equally important was his enjoyment in the after-life, and what better way to do this than to entertain his friends at a banquet.

“Dancing Girls” is a fragment from a Theban tomb which has never been satisfactorily identified. It is thought to have belonged to a Theban official called Nebamun and on stylistic grounds it may be dated to the reign of King Amenophis 111 (c.1417 – 1379BC).

In part of the upper register of “Nebamun’s Banquet” men and women sit together on high-backed chairs and open work stools. Here in the lower register two young girls weave in a dance of oriental sensuousness accompanied by four ladies playing the double flute and clapping their hands.



By T G H James

British Museum Press, 1985

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The Times Atlas of Archaeology

Times Books Ltd, 1988

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Dr C Scarre

Times Books, London 1989

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