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The Pronunciation
Ancient Egyptian

The issue of the pronunciation of the Ancient Egyptian language has recently
become confused by popular presentations that ignore some of the essential and
undoubted characteristics of Egyptian hieroglyphics, most importantly that
Egyptian, just as today is usually the case with Arabic and Hebrew, did not write
vowels -- except in late transcriptions of foreign (mainly Greek) words. For a time
French (vowels) and German (no vowels) scholars hotly debated this, but the
matter was settled more than a century ago. This is typically not explained to
people who are told that their names can be written in such and such a way in
hieroglyphics (cf. Nom en hieroglyphes), or who are simply told that the name of
the Egyptian sun god is "Ra" -- the pronunciation we find in the recent entertaining
but historically absurd movies Stargate (1994) and The Mummy (1999). Well, "ra"
may be Tahitian for "sun," but it is not Ancient Egyptian.

As it happens, the Egyptian dialogue in those movies, reconstructed by Stuart

Tyson Smith, avoids that mistake, for anyone who listens carefully; but the
misconception is perpetuated by the English dialogue, despite Dr. Smith's advice.
Indeed, although the Egyptians did not write vowels in Egyptian words, there is
evidence about what the vowels were in many words. But the evidence is for
different stages of the Egyptian language. For most of Egyptian history the
language written in actual hieroglyphics or in its cursive counterpart, hieratic, was
the literary language initiated in the XII Dynasty (1991-1786) of the Middle
Kingdom. That is called "Middle Egyptian." In hieroglyphics or hieratic, therefore,
one is only likely to encounter either Middle Egyptian or the earlier literary form
of the language, Old Egyptian, the language spoken in the Archaic Period (I & II
Dynasties, c. 3100-2680) and the Old Kingdom (III-VI Dynasties, 2680-2159).
While Sir Alan Gardiner, in his great and indispensable Egyptian Grammar
[Oxford University Press, 1927, 1964], says that Middle Egyptian was "possibly the
vernacular of Dynasties IX-XI," Stephen Fryer has brought to my attention recent
research to the effect that the literary language of the XII Dynasty was in some
measure an artificial attempt to return to the forms of Old Egyptian. Since the
political project of Egyptian Kings was always to restore things "as they were in
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the beginning," this is not surprising. Middle Egyptian, therefore, may have
something like the status of Classical Sanskrit, which restored and fixed the
forms of the language of the Vedas but could not undo all the changes that had
already occurred in the spoken language.

Although Middle Egyptian became the literary and written language, the spoken
language continued to change. The language of the New Kingdom (XVIII-XX
Dynasties, 1575-1087) and much of the Third Intermediate Period (XXI-XXIV
Dynasties, 1087-715) is then called "New" or "Late Egyptian." By the Ramessid
Period (Dynasties XIX & XX), most hieratic documents are in Late Egyptian. The
best evidence of the pronunciation of Late Egyptian, however, is from the
documents found in the diplomatic archives of Amenhotep III and Akhenaton at
Amarna, for these documents were kept in Akkadian, not in Egyptian. Akkadian was
the diplomatic language of the day, essentially the same language as its two
daughter languages, Babylonian and Assyrian; and its system of writing, cuneiform,
represented vowels. Late Egyptian grammar also begins to be revealed by
hieroglyphic inscriptions during the reign of Akhenaton, when the spoken language
briefly replaced Middle Egyptian. Thus, while Old and Middle Egyptian did not have
a definite article ("the"), Late Egyptian does, p3, later pronounced "pi" or "pe" in
Coptic -- though now it appears that this change had already begun in the actual
spoken language of the XII Dynasty.

Following Late Egyptian are two stages of the spoken language, Demotic (c. 715 BC-
470 AD) and Coptic (c. 400 AD-c. 1600). Egyptian words borrowed into early Greek
probably reflect Demotic (Greek demotikos = "popular") pronunciation. Demotic was
written in its own cursive script, so this form of the written language is also called
"Demotic." While the last hieroglyphic inscription was made at Philae in 394 AD,
not long after the Christian Roman Emperor Theodosius I (379-395) ordered the
closure of pagan temples, the last Demotic text is from 470.

Demotic writing disappeared only because, as the Egyptians themselves converted

to Christianity, they ceased to use the old script. Instead, they began to write in
the Greek alphabet, with the addition of seven letters borrowed from Demotic to
write sounds that didn't exist in Greek. Since vowels did exist in Greek, we
suddenly have the complete vocalization of the last stage of the Egyptian language,
which is then called "Coptic," from the Arabic term for Egyptian Christians, the
Copts, al-Qubt. (or Qibt.). That word was from, via Coptic, the Greek name for
Egypt, Aigyptos, which was derived from an Egyptian name for Memphis,
H.wtk3pth. (or 8wtk3pt8, see below for the use of the numbers), the "House of
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the Soul [K3] of Ptah." Ptah was the patron god of Memphis. The name Memphis
itself apparently comes from Mnnfr, originally the name of the pyramid of King
Pepi I of the VI Dynasty, "Enduring Beauty," or, with the name of the King
understood, "The Goodness of Pepi Endures". Coptic slowly died out as Egyptians
converted to Islam and Arabic became the spoken language.

Although it ceased to be a spoken language by the 17th century, Coptic remains the
liturgical language of the Coptic Church, to which 6% of Egyptians still belong, and
thus is as well remembered and used in that context as Latin is in the Catholic
Church or classical Arabic is in Islam. So even now Coptic is not a "dead" language
the way Babylonian is (whose last cuneiform inscription was in 75 AD). Jean
Franois Champollion (1790-1832) learned Coptic because he suspected it was the
same language written in the hiergylyphics of the Rosetta Stone. He was right, and
was thus aided in his epic decipherment. The Copts themselves recently achieved
international prominence when one of their number, Butros Butros-Ghali, served as
Secretary General of the United Nations. There is also now a large Coptic
immigrant community in the United States, swollen by people fleeing terrorist
activity by Islamic fundamentalists in Egypt.

There are different kinds of signs used in Ancient Egyptian writing. "Ideograms"
represent whole words, usually with a two or three consonant root, as in Arabic or

Hebrew. Thus the glyph is the word "good" or "beautiful," or "be good,"
"beautiful," "happy," although it is a picture, according to Sir Alan Gardiner, of the
heart and windpipe (it looks like a banjo to me). An ideogram that is an image of its

object is a "pictogram," like the glyph for the scarab or dung-beetle, , or like

that for the sun, .

However, if the consonant root of the ideogram or pictogram occurs in other

words, it can be transferred to use as a "phonogram," simply representing the
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sounds. Thus the glyph , a picture of a gaming board, is used as a

"biliteral" phonogram in many words, e.g. mn "remain," mnkh "efficient," mnt

"thigh," in the common name of the god Amon, etc. The glyph can be used as
a "triliteral" phonogram to mean "become" or can occur in khprsh, a certain blue
crown worn by the king. This could be confusing, so words are often also written
with "generic determinatives," glyphs that were not pronounced but indicated what

kind of thing a word was, e.g. which shows that a word is the name of a god,

or which shows that a word has something to do with writing. This

device was also used in cuneiform.

Besides phonograms that stand for two or three consonants, there are also 24 (or
25) signs that represented single ("uniliteral") sounds, the Egyptian "alphabet."
These were originally ideograms also, and some continued to stand for common

words. For instance, is the picture of a mouth, is used to mean "mouth,"

"language," etc., and is a uniliteral sign. These alphabetic signs were frequently
written with ideograms or pictograms as "phonetic complements," both to provide
reminders about pronunciation and to distinguish meanings, as when grammatical
endings differentiate between nouns and verbs, or between singular and plural. For
us, the alphabetic signs can conveniently be used to represent and discuss Egyptian

Note that Egyptian glyphs have a front and a back. All the images above and below

face to the left, e.g. the alphabetic sign , which indicates that the text is
to be read from left to right. This is conformable with the usage of English and
other European languages. However, although this would be familiar and agreeable
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to the Egyptians, Egyptian usage was ordinarily to write from right to left, as
today is done in Hebrew and Arabic. They indicated this direction by having all the
glyphs face to the right instead of to the left, which transforms the sign for d

above to . Much the same thing was done with the Greek alphabet, whose
left to right form consisted of mirror images of the original Phoenician letters
that had been adopted and that were at first written, like Phoenician, right to left.
The Egyptians also often wrote from top to bottom in narrow columns, so Egyptian
text could even be easily integrated into Chinese and Japanese books.

Resources on ancient languages are sparce today. For a long time the only Coptic
grammar I had seen, some years ago in the UCLA Research Library, was in French,
for Catholic missionaries to Egypt (I think this was A. Mallon's Grammaire copte
[Imprimerie catholique, Beirut, 1956]). Now, one kind of thing that seems to be
easily obtainable are reprints of older, even much older grammars. Thus, British
American Books (Willits, California), has reprinted Henry Tattam's Coptic
Grammar of 1830. The print is clear and it looks to be a fairly complete grammar
(for its day and age), but it lacks a vocabulary list. Similarly, a reprint of William B.
MacDonald's Sketch of Coptic Grammar of 1856 is available from the same
publisher, but its usefulness is compromised by its being a hand written text. I
have just obtained, however, a good modern grammar, although it is intended as a
textbook more than a scientific description of the language: Introduction to
Sahidic Coptic, by Thomas O. Lambdin [Mercer University Press, Macon, GA, 1988].
Although set up in courier, which makes the whole thing look like typescript, the
book has a clear Coptic typeface. It also has a 150 page Coptic-English glossary.

For Egyptian itself, there are more reprints. Many books by E.A. Wallis Budge are
available from Dover, but they are grotesquely out of date and perhaps had better
be avoided -- a generation or more of readers may be hopelessly confused by
Budge's use of vowels. Better is Egyptian Hieroglyphic Grammar: With
Vocabularies, Exercises, Chrestomathy (A First-Reader), Sign-List & Glossary by
S.A. Mercer, reprinted from 1926 by Ares Publishers (Chicago).

Still without peer, and still in print, is Gardiner's Egyptian Grammar. A new
grammar of similar quality, with vocabulary, James E. Hoch's Middle Egyptian
Grammar [ISBN 0-920168-12-4], although "not entirely finished" and provided
only in spiral binding, has now become available, either from Benben Publications
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(1483 Carmen Drive, Mississauga, Ontario L5G 3Z2, Canada) or from James Hoch
himself. I have also just obtained A Late Egyptian Grammar, produced postumously
from the materials of the great Egyptologist Jaroslav Cern by Sarah Israelit
Groll and Christopher Eyre [Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, Roma, 1993]. This
treatment looks grammatically thorough, exhaustive, and exhausting, but doesn't
have a vocabulary list.

A vast graphic type font set for Egyptian and the hieroglyphic text processing
programs "Glyph for Windows" and "MacScribe" used to be available on line at The
Extended Library, but the site no longer seems to exist. The font set itself, which
uses the same classification system as Gardiner's Egyptian Grammar, is now
accessible at Hieroglyphica. I do not know where the original Publications
Interuniversitaires de Recherches Egyptologiques Informatisees [edited by
Nicolas Grimal, Jochen Hallof, Dirk van der Plas, Utrecht, Paris 1993] has moved.

The following table presents and discusses the alphabetic hieroglyphic signs in the
order of phonetic type used by scholars. A number of the sounds do not exist in
languages like English but still do exist in Arabic, which is distantly related to
Egyptian: So Egyptians today can still vocalize sounds from the ancient language
that otherwise would be unpronounceable in other modern languages. When I
visited Egypt, Egyptian guides who could read hieroglyphics appeared to enjoy using
the sounds that they could pronounce but that many European tourists had never
heard before. Terms for the sounds are those used in the Phonetic Symbol Guide,
by Geoffrey K. Pullum and Willian A. Ladusaw [University of Chicago Press, 1986].
The discussion of the glyphs is mainly based on Gardiner. A recent technical
discussion of Egyptian phonology (and grammar) may be found in Ancient Egyptian,
A linguistic introduction, by Antonio Loprieno [Cambridge University Press, 1995].
Note that audio files may take some time to load.

The picture of The picture of The Egyptians The picture of The picture of a
a vulture, this a flowering wrote the a forearm, quail chick, this
represents reed, this was previous letter this is simply a "w"
the sound of a originally a "y" twice in certain represents a (labial glide).
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"glottal stop" (palatal glide) contexts. Since strongly However, like

(or "glottal and could still this was usually guttural "y," the "w" has
plosive"), be written at the end of a become very
which is a that way (or word, it has consonant, the weak and
brief closing the German been argued 'ayn in Arabic. sometimes
of the wind version of a that this is the The throat disappears.
pipe, like a "y", j). The same usage as in contracts but While it is
little cough. special symbol Hebrew or does not close tempting and
This is the often used Arabic and that (a voiced sometimes
Hebrew aleph, for this it actually pharyngeal compelling to
the Arabic sound, represents the fricative). read it in some
hamza, or the however, is vowel of a long Egyptians contexts as a
English the letter "i" "i." It is hard to today have no vowel, as in the
Cockney with an argue with this. trouble with name of the
pronunciation apostrophe Where "yy" is this, but it is builder of the
of "t" in instead of the usually written a sound that Great Pyramid,
"bottle." A dot. The "y" in inside words, as does not occur khwfw, "Khufu,"
special symbol Egyptian was in the Demotic in Indo- we usually don't
is used for so weak that word for European have any
this in it was rarely "Greek," Wynn, languages and evidence about
transcription pronounced. which is clearly has that. "W" is
type fonts for Words from "Ionian," disappeared written "ou" in
Egyptian. In beginning with there is little from other Coptic, but this
ASCII text, I "y," like the doubt that a Semitic is because
use the name of the long "i" is languages, as there is no "w"
number "3." god Amon, meant. it did from in Greek and
Loprieno (p. simply begin In Coptic. "ou" can make
31) points out with vowels in transcription, Transcription do. When it is
that 3 the evidence "yy" is usually type fonts followed by a
corresponds of vocalization written "y" (in represent this vowel, there is
to an r in that we have. contrast to the with a large not much
Semitic How this "i" + apostrophe apostrophe ambiguity. Thus,
languages and contrasts with for "y") -- or that is wshb, "answer"
so, for an 3 is a good "jj" if "j" is concave to the in Egyptian, is
uncertain question -- used for the right, like a ousheb or
period of Hoch simply undoubled pried open "c." wsheb in
Egyptian says that's sound. These As in some Coptic.
systems for
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history, may what it can are noncommital Arabic, we can Similarly,

have been be; but some on the issue of use the
some version languages, like the letter being number "9."
of an r ("a Hawaiian, a vowel.
uvular trill") in make a real
Egyptian. Now distinction
"The One"
Hoch between
(female, for a
emphatically words or
goddess) in
denies that 3 syllables
Egyptian, is
was ever a beginning with
glottal stop (p. a glottal stop
9) but gives no and words or in
reference. syllables Coptic.
beginning with
vowels. We
don't have
about Ancient
Egyptian to
know if that
was the case
In ASCII, it
will be
necessary to
use "y," a
question mark,
"?," which is
used for a
glottal stop in
some systems
for Arabic, or
perhaps the
number "7."
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The picture of The picture of The picture of a The picture of The picture of
a foot, this is a stool, this is horned viper, an owl, this is water, this is an
a "b" (voiced a "p" this an an "f" an "m" "n" (alveolar
bilabial (unvoiced (voiceless (bilabial nasal nasal resonant).
stop/plosive). bilabial stop). labiodental or resonant).
B's in Note that p bilabial
Egyptian often doesn't exist fricative).
correspond to in Classical
m's in Hebrew Arabic, which
or Arabic. means that
Thus the root words from
slm in Arabic Coptic like
or shlm in "pa" ("the")
Hebrew, turn up as
"peace," "to "ba" in Arabic.
be healthy,"
etc., is snb in
Similarly, b's
in such
languages can
turn up as m's
in Egyptian:
Rmnn for

The picture of The picture of The picture of a This is a The picture of

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a mouth, this a reed shelter wick of picture that "an

is an "r" (a in fields, this twisted may be a
resonant is a simple "h" flax, this placenta,
whose (a voiceless represents because it is animal's belly
varieties can glottal another used to write with teats," this
no longer be fricative). strongly "placenta," represents a
determined guttural but it is hard softer form of
for ancient consonant, an h to see how it kh (a voiceless
Egyptian). which, like 9 is palatal instead
Note that above, occurs pictographic. of a velar
there is no l in with a strong It represents fricative), as in
Egyptian. contraction of the sound kh the German
Usually the throat, but which occurs pronunciation of
Egyptians just without voicing in Hebrew and ich (not German
pronounced (a voiceless Arabic, in the dialect
foreign l's as pharyngeal German pronunciations
r's. When fricative). This pronunciation as ish). The
Greek names, is the letter h.a of Nacht, or Egyptians didn't
like in Arabic, in the always
"Ptolemaios" another sound Scottish distinguish this
or that Egyptians pronunciation from kh
"Kleopatra," today can still of "Loch" (a themselves. Ch
were later pronounce voiceless velar could be used to
transcribed, without fricative). kh transcribe it, if
the biliteral difficulty. It is is an adequate this weren't
sign rw was not like the "ch" transcription, easily confused
used for "l." in "Channakah" though with tsh below.
Loprieno (p. in Ashkenazi underlined to Now Hoch says
31), however, Hebrew. This emphasize that this simply
advances the presents special that it is a has "an unknown
opinion that difficult for digraph. value," but
the contrast ASCII suggests it may
between r and representation. have been like a
l may not have Some typescript Welsh ll. This is
been lost in all systems for interesting,
dialects of Arabic use a since the Welsh
Egyptian, capital "H," but ll had also been
suggested as
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since here I will the original

independent continue with a pronunciation of
l's emerge in postscript the Arabic d.d.
Coptic and period, as for
also seem to Arabic, though,
have been continuing the
indicated by use of numbers,
an nr and considering
"grapheme" in its similarity to
Late Egyptian the original
texts that glyph, the
reflect the number 8 might
spoken be good.

The picture of The picture of The picture of a The The picture of a

a piece of a bolt, this pool, this was an picture of basket with
folded cloth, was a "z" in "sh" just like in a hill- handle, this is a
this is an "s" Old Egyptian English, slope, this was regular "k"
(voiceless (voiced Hebrew, and like the qaf in (voicless velar
alveolar alveolar Arabic classical stop/plosive).
fricative). In fricative). In (voiceless Arabic
Old Egyptian Middle palato-alveolar (voicless
this was Egyptian, fricative). uvular
contrasted however, z stop/plosive).
with "z," and came to be That is a "k"
is in that used to write that is
context s's. pronounced at
transcribed the soft
with an acute palate, at the
mark on top. back of the
In Middle mouth, rather
Egyptian, than on the
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however, both hard palate,

s and z were further
used to write forward, as a
s's. "k" normally
is. This is no
from a "k" in
Hebrew, but
most Arabs
can pronounce
it properly,
even though
there are
variations in
spoken Arabic:
Sometimes it
is replaced by
a glottal stop
(in Lebanon
and Egypt
itself); and in
the Gulf it is
voiced (a
voiced uvular
plosive), like a
pronounced on
the soft
palate, as it is
in Persian
position only),
borrowed it
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from Arabic.
In Coptic it
became a "k."

The picture of The picture of The picture of a The picture of The picture of a
a stand for a a loaf, this is tethering rope, a hand, this is snake, this has
jar, this is a a "t" this is simple a a "d" (voiced become a "d" or
"g," (voiceless "t" in Coptic, dental or a "t" in Coptic,
pronounced as dental or and has turned alveolar but is thought
a stop, like alveolar into a "t" in stop/plosive). to have been a
the English "g" stop/plosive). many Middle "j" as in the
in "gun" Egyptian words, English "jump"
(voiced velar but is thought earlier (voiced
stop/plosive), to have been palato-aveolar
not like the pronounced like affricative). It
palatal the "ch" in can correspond
affricative English "church" to a "j" (jm) in
English "g" in earlier Arabic. Thus,
"ginger, which (voiceless for the Arabic
is like the "j" palato-aveolar root mlj, "to
in "jump" (a affricative). tsh suck" or
"dj" or "dzh"). would be good "suckle," we
for find

"breast," in Old
Egyptian. This
had already
become simply
mnd in Middle
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Since not everyone studying Egyptian, or even reading it professionally, wants to

tangle with the problems of restoring its pronunciation, two convenient devices
have been adopted:

1. Add "e's" where necessary. Thus, khpr gets pronounced as kheper, and nfr
gets pronounced as nefer.
2. Since few non-Arabists have occasion to learn to pronounce 3 and 9, just
pretend they are the vowel "a." So r9, the sun or the sun god, R, gets
pronounced ra. In context, this is unobjectionable, but as people have
gradually gotten the idea that r9 was really pronounced ra, Alan Gardiner's
own warning might be repeated (his italics):

But it must never be forgotten that the vocalizations thus provided

are purely artificial makeshifts and bear little or no relation, so far as
the vowels are concerned, to the unknown original pronunciations as
heard and spoken by the Egyptians themselves. [p. 28]

Some words, of course, can be restored. For an example, one of the names of
Amenhotep III was Nbm39tr9 (a tongue-twister if there ever was one), meaning
"R is the Lord of Truth." But we have the whole name in Akkadian from the

Amarna archive: Nimmuara or Nibmuara. For the first word, "lord," , the
vowel is clearly an "i," nib. The second word is an important word to the Egyptians,
m39t, "truth" and "justice." Mua raises a couple of questions: Where is the "t"?
And where does the "a" go? The "t" is the feminine ending for a noun. In two
related languages, Hebrew and Arabic, this is also the case; but for both of them
the "t" is usually not pronounced in the singular. The same thing seems to have

happened in Egyptian. The verb m39 is usually written with the

interesting glyph , which is a combination of a pictogram for "sickle," m3,

with an obscure glyph that turns it into the phonogram m39. This is rather like
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what happened with Chinese characters, though the device advanced no further in

The noun m39t is written with the glyph , which originally was a pictogram
for "feather," shwy, then became a phonogram shw as in Shw, the god of the air,
"Shu." The feather is then used for an ideogram or generic determinative in one

writing of m39t as , and finally becomes an ideogram in

. The feather was evidently the symbol of the goddess M39t, and her
image always made for a determinative or ideogram in an alternate writing,

. The word m39t is often written as Maat with the vocalization

convention mentioned above. Now, however, we can see that the main vowel was a
"u," and, from the information about syllable structure in Coptic, we can say that
the "a" is the vowel of the feminine ending, without the t. So the full vocalization
for Late Egyptian was mu39a.

Egyptian may seem more guttural than the reader expects, but that is
characteristic of the group of languages to which Egyptian belongs. Only Arabic
still preserves all the sounds, but even Hebrew still writes them in the traditional

The last part of Amenhotep III's name is the name of the sun god, R9. R9 itself
we know from Coptic as R. This comes out in Akkadian as Ra. Thus the central
vowel is a long "i." It is the general impression that long "e's" in Coptic come from
long "i's" in Egyptian. The Akkadian version doesn't show us the 'ayn, but it does
throw in an extra "a." Such an "a," however, is a familiar phenomenon from Hebrew
and Arabic. Guttural consonants are hard to pronounce at the end of words. The
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word "Messiah" in Hebrew is actually written as

though it were pronounced Mshcha, but this is a convention to indicate that it is
really pronounced Mshach, with the "a" inserted to ease the transition from the
long "i" to the "ch." No such writings occur in Arabic, but in spoken Arabic it is
clear that a transitional "a" is frequently inserted in words like rh., "spirit," or
the imperative verb "go!" That comes out as rah.. Egyptian certainly did the same
thing. R9 would have been difficult enough to pronounce that it became Ra9 in
speech, which is what got picked up in the Akkadian transcription. The
accompanying diagram shows the difference between an ideographic and a phonetic
writing for r9. Note that the difference between the word r9 meaning "sun" and
R9 meaning the "sun god" is the generic determinative for "god."

The Egyptian pronunciation of Ra9 may seem difficult and strange. It then may be
interesting to note that an important name from Hebrew would have posed similar
difficulties. Jesus in Hebrew would have been Ysha9, from the root ysh9, "to be
saved, helped, victorious." The 'ayn, indeed, may have no longer been pronounced in
Jesus's day. Where it would be pronounced, in Arabic, a curious thing has
happened: Although the original form of the name is preserved, as Yas9, the name
occurs much more commonly with the 'ayn transposed to the front, as 9s. This is
certainly easier to pronounce, though why the change occurred in this word and not
in others is a good question.

Another example of vocalization we might consider is the word "Pharaoh." This

comes from Hebrew, Par9h. In Egyptian we find pr93, which means "Great House."

The glyph means "great," and means "house." This became a

synonym for the king about the time of Akhenaton. Saying "The Great House" did
such and such would be equivalent of saying today that "the Palace said" or "the
White House said," in referring to the actions of a monarch or the American
President. With Hebrew as the evidence, we could say that pr93 would have been
vocalized par93 in Late Egyptian.

Finally, let me mention an Egyptian word that ended up as a part of California


When I was a child and visited the nearby old California mission at San Fernando, I
was impressed how cool it was in the summer with its thick adobe walls. Later I
discovered that adobe wasn't always used in such missions. All the missions in San
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Antonio, Texas, five or more, were built of the plentiful Texas limestone. Several
California missions, like Carmel and Santa Barbara, also ended up with stone
churches. Actually, neither adobe nor stone are the best things for earthquake
country like California -- they are brittle materials and result in the sudden
collapse of structures. But at least repairing earthquake damage to adobe might be
easier than repairing cut stone: The great stone church at San Juan Capistrano
still is a ruin from its collapse in the earthquake of 1812.

Now, "adobe" is the Spanish word for mud brick. There is a folk etymology for this
in Spain, but it actually seems to have been borrowed from the Arabic word

, "the mud brick." Spanish has quite a few words from Arabic whose
origins don't often get acknowledged. Spanish words that begin with "al" are always
suspicious, but in this case the word in Arabic begins with a "sun letter" ("t."),
which means that it assimilates the pronunciation of the "l". But 'at.t.b, is not
ultimately from Arabic: It was itself borrowed from Coptic, which has the word

, "mud brick"; and, as we might expect, the Coptic word is ultimately from

the Middle Egyptian word for mud brick, , with a phonogram for
db and an ideographic determinative for "brick".

Thus, looking at the California missions, we use the same word for the same
objects that the Egyptians commanded the Israelites to make for the palaces of

Egyptian Royal Tombs

of the New Kingdom

In the American Museum of Natural History of New York City, in the Africa
section of the Anthropological part of the museum, there is a cut-away model of an
Page 18 of 37

Egyptian Royal Tomb of the New Kingdom (XVIII, XIX, & XX Dynasties, c. 1575-
1087 BC) [note]. Such tombs were carved into the cliffs of the Valley of the Kings,
across the river from the Egyptian capital at Thebes ( Ipet or Opet to the
Egyptians, the modern Luxor and Karnak). The Greeks evocatively called the tombs
"hypogea," i.e. the "things under the earth" (Latin singular, "hypogeum").

The model, however, bears little resemblance to any actual tombs, except for
having a succession of corridors and chambers. No attempt was made to reproduce
the plan of any particular tomb, or even a general plan that demonstrates the
common features of the tombs. If there were no common features to these tombs,
that would be understandable. But quite the opposite is true. The tombs, for all
their individuality, share a basically identical plan, which evolves slowly. The model
tomb may owe more to Hollywood than to Egyptology. Since so much about Egypt
anymore seems derived from fiction, imagination, mythology, and even politics, it is
not surprising that such inattention to history and detail should have occurred: It
is of a piece with the items in the museum gift shop that show children, or even
adults, how to write their names in hieroglyphics, without bothering to inform them
that the glyphs identified as vowels were actually consonants -- since the Egyptians
didn't write vowels, as is usually still the case in modern Arabic and Hebrew. This
has only been well understood for over a century. (See "The Pronunciation of
Ancient Egyptian.")

Although the royal tombs of Valley of the Kings are fascinating and numinous
objects, it is rare to find any explanation of their structure. The first discussion I
ever saw of the pattern and individual parts of the tombs was in an appendix of
John Romer's Valley of the Kings [William Morrow and Company, 1981, pp. 279-
281]. At the time I saw the model in the Museum, it didn't seem quite right; but I
had to go back to Romer's book, which I vaguely remembered, to see just how
arbitrary the model was. Before finding Romer, I had read many books about Egypt
without ever seeing a general discussion of the tomb plans. Usually, books showed a
few plans, typically the same ones, made some general comments about the tombs
straightening out after Akhenaton, and that was that. Pretty much the same tombs
are shown from Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt's Tutankhamen [New York
Graphic Society] in 1963 to the The Penguin Guide to Ancient Egypt [Penguin
Books], by William J. Murnane, in 1983. Romer's own book is no exception.

In Desroches-Noblecourt, besides that of Tutankhamon himself, we see the tombs

of Thutmose III, Amenhotep II, Thutmose IV, Akhenaton (from Amarna),
Haremhab, Seti I, and Ramesses IV. In the Penguin Guide the emphasis was
Page 19 of 37

probably on tombs that could easily be visited by tourists at the time: Thutmose
III, Amenhotep II, Tutankhamon, Haremhab, Seti I, Merenptah, Ramesses III,
Ramesses VI, and Ramesses IX. Romer had a few extra tomb plans in his book,
including the known part of tomb KV 5, which later turned out to have large
unexplored parts, but no unusual royal tombs. Reading books about Egypt from
about 1962 to 1994, I never saw a plan of the tomb of Ramesses II, Amenhotep
III, or even Seti II. The latter was often mentioned because Howard Carter used
it as a laboratory for the objects brought out of Tutankhamon's tomb. Romer's
book actually showed part of a plate from the great French Description of Egypt
that showed a small, roughly accurate, plan of the tomb of Amenhotep III (p. 42);
but no corresponding modern plan was provided. At the same time, Romer's fine
book about the tomb workers' village at Deir el-Medina, Ancient Lives [Holt,
Rienhard and Winston, 1984], really has nothing about the tombs; and in the
otherwise wonderful companion television series, also called Ancient Lives, he often
talks about or visits an individual tomb without even mentioning whose tomb it is.

This was all very frustrating and often seemed very peculiar. Didn't anyone know
what the tomb of Ramesses II looked like? Finally, the situation has been
remedied. Now, recently published, The Complete Valley of the Kings, by
Nicholas Reeves & Richard H. Wilkinson [Thames and Hudson, 1996], actually
shows all the tombs, usually with 3-D cut-away diagrams as well as with flat plans.
The book also uses much material, and is clearly part of the same publishing
project, as Reeves' The Complete Tutankhamun [Thames and Hudson, 1990].
Reeves and Wilkinson also discuss the evolution of the tombs, though in a different
fashion than Romer's brief appendix. On the other hand, both of Reeves's books
come disturbingly close to the format of coffee table art books, with illustration
overwhelming text.

Now I suspect that the good information that has recently become available about
the tombs is the result of the "Theban Mapping Project." Accurate surveys simply
did not exist for most of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, but the mapping and
surveying project of Kent R. Weeks, at the American University of Cairo, has now
provided such information. This also led to the rediscovery of tomb KV 5. The
story of all this, including information about the Mapping Project, can be found in
Weeks's The Lost Tomb [William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1998].

There is another recent good coffee-table-art-book-like book, the Guide to the

Valley of the Kings, by Alberto Siliotti [Barnes & Noble Books, 1996]. This book is
a little less and a little more than it might seem: Less because it does not cover all
Page 20 of 37

the tombs of the Valley, as Reeves and Wilkinson do, but

more because it actually goes outside the Valley and
covers the Valley of the Queens, the mortuary temples,
and various private and noble tombs in the Theban hills.
Indeed, Siliotti's book is the only one I have seen with
an actual map of the Valley of the Queens.

Siliotti's book is more lavishly illustrated than Reeves

and Wilkinson, with many large photographs of the walls
of the tombs. This is nice in itself. The book also has a
feature missing in Reeves and Wilkinson: showing
elevations as well as plans of the tombs. There also are
three dimensional exploded drawings, but these are not
quite of the quality of Reeves and Wilkinson. All of
these details are priceless when we get to the tomb of
Nefertari (QV 66) in the Valley of the Queens. The
favorite queen of Ramesses II (strangely put in the
"Twentieth" Dynasty in the section heading), Nefertari
was honored with an exquisite tomb, which now stands as
one of the best preserved of all the tombs of Ancient
Egypt. Recently restored and reopened, the tomb is
nevertheless a fragile object to which admission is limited. But Siliotti's treatment
leaves the reader nearly with the sense of having been there, not only using two
very large and elaborate three dimensional drawings, but indicating in the drawings
where the many photographed details are to be found. There is also an extended,
discursive textual description, so that the whole section on Nefertari covers
fourteen large format pages. Such a section all but pays for the price of the book
in its own right.

The section on the private and noble tombs of the Theban hills continues the
profuse illustration and explanation, giving a much better idea of the tombs than
the other thorough treatment I have seen, in The Penguin Guide to Ancient Egypt.
Since the photographs are all in color, it also conveys a better sense, in one
respect, of the Tomb of Menna than even the Manchester Metropolitan
University's site on the Tomb of Menna, which uses old black and white pictures.

Another pleasure of Siliotti's book is that it contains only one picture of a mummy.
The Egyptians did not spend their time looking at dead people. Indeed, since bodies
returned from the embalmer elaborately wrapped, the Egyptians saw much less of
Page 21 of 37

the dead than we do. Siliotti does not mar the beauty of the tombs with out of
place, juxtaposed dead faces.

Nevertheless, even with these fine new books, mysteries remain about the royal
tombs. The Egyptians never did say what each part of the tombs was really for;
and we find ourselves in the embarrassing position of having a complete set of
tomb furniture, from Tutankhamon's tomb, without knowing how this should be
distributed in a complete royal tomb; for Tutankhamon's tomb, hurriedly prepared
for the premature death of the king at the age of only about 18, is, as Romer says,
a "hole in the ground," compared to a proper royal tomb. Tutankhamon's tomb was
clearly not originally intended to be a royal tomb at all. The speculation is that the
elderly Aye, some uncertain relative or in-law of the royal family, and the
successor to Tutankhamon, had been given, when the prospect of his becoming king
was remote, the privilege of preparing a tomb in the Valley of the Kings. His tomb
was then pressed into service for Tutankhamon. The tomb that may have been
begun for Tutankhamon, over the hills in the "Western Valley" parallel to the Valley
of the Kings, where Amenhotep III was buried, was then taken over by Aye.
Although Aye's reign was short and little progress was made on it, that tomb
nevertheless is far larger than Tutankhamon's and is clearly of royal design.

To get some idea of the complete elements of an Egyptian royal tomb, the tomb of
Thutmose IV is a good place to start. Although Thutmose's reign was short and his
tomb is incomplete, the incompleteness only involves the decoration. The rooms of
the tomb have themselves all been completely cut, but no extra flourishes have
been added, as might have happened in a longer reign. The tomb is also significant
in that it displays for the first time all (or nearly) the elements that will continue
to occur in royal tombs until the end of the XX Dynasty. The names of the rooms
and corridors are a combination of modern designations, usually descriptive ("the
Well"), and ancient names ("the god's first passage"), as these are known from the
documents, ostraca, and graffiti left by the actual scribes and workmen who were
responsible for building the tombs (discussed the most completely by Romer).
Page 22 of 37

The dates given for Thutmose IV (as for

the New Kingdom itself above) are from
Sir Alan Gardiner's great history of
Egypt, Egypt of the Pharaohs [Oxford
University Press, 1966] and, secondarily,
from Reeves & Wilkinson.

The plan is somewhat schematic (like the

others provided here) and should not be
taken as a scale map of the tomb. There
were, of course, no gilt shrines found in
Thutmose IV's tomb, but these are
included for comparison with
Tutankhamon's tomb below, where they
were found. The "pall" is a cloth canopy
hung on a frame between the first and second shrines. Both shrines and pall are
clearly indicated, but not named, on the surviving papyrus plan of the tomb of
Ramesses IV. It was not clear what they were until their discovery in
Tutankhamon's tomb.

The most striking thing about Thutmose IV's tomb are the two right angle turns
by which the tomb comes around into a U shape. This is reminiscent of the
Pyramids of Amenemhet III (1842-1797) of the XII Dynasty, at Hawara, and of
Khendjer (c.1747) of the XIII Dynasty, at Saqqara [cf. I.E.S. Edwards, the
Pyramids of Egypt, Pelican, 1961]. However, the similarity of plans, although often
commented upon, may be completely coincidental: In those pyramids there is
clearly only one burial chamber, and the whole way into that chamber consists of
corridors that are multiplied merely to deceive tomb robbers.

The burial itself in the pyramids frequently would not have been distributed into
different rooms. Before deception was desired, earlier pyramids sometimes just
consisted of a single corridor leading directly to the burial chamber (e.g. Khafre of
the IV Dynasty and Sahure of the V Dynasty). Extra chambers (as in Khafre and
especially in the complicated Great Pyramid of Khafre's predecessor Khufu) often
seem to occur only because of changes of plan. However, some regularity was
achieved in V and VI Dynasty pyramids, where the entrance corridor leads to an
antechamber, on whose right (west) is the burial chamber, and on whose left (east)
is a room with niches, facing the false door on the mortuary temple on the east
Page 23 of 37

face of the pyramid. The room with niches resembles additional chambers that
occasionally occur, as in the pyramid of Menkaure in the IV dynasty, and that
suggest a storage as well as a ritual function. Most pyramids, in addition, have a
subsidiary pyramid or tomb that seems to have been provided for the king's Ka,
the peculiar "double" of the Egyptian theory of the soul. Now it is proposed that
even the three rooms in the Great Pyramid reflect ritual functions that persist and
are simply reflected in a more economical form in the V/VI Dynasty pattern. The
newest ideas in this respect may be found in another Thames and Hudson product,
The Complete Pyramids, Solving the Ancient Mysteries, by Mark Lehner
[Thames and Hudson, 1997], which does for the pyramids, with an exhaustive
catalogue, what Reeves & Wilkinson did for the Valley of the Kings. Lehner is also
the kind of person of whom too little is seen in academic and political debates
about Egypt: a professional Egyptologist -- in this case a Visiting Assistant
Professor of Egyptian Archaeology at the Oriental Institute of the University of
Chicago and the director of the Giza Plateau Mapping Project in Egypt since 1984.

Whatever may eventually be deduced about the meaning and develoment of

pyramid burials, New Kingdom tombs like that of Thutmose IV consist of more
rooms, of clearer meaning or function, whose layout and pattern of development
persist for centuries. Unlike the XII Dynasty pyramids, serious attempts at
deception become clearly impossible where robbers are not going to be deceived by
plaster or rubble instead of native limestone walls or floors. The typical comment
that a room in a New Kingdom tomb may represent a "false burial chamber" cannot
be taken seriously: No robber, even one unfamiliar with the tombs (unlikely), would
be deceived by a "burial chamber" with no sarcophagus and with an obviously
excavated, even if blocked, exit. Internal deception was possible in pyramids where
all internal walls, above ground, will be artificial. The only hope of concealment for
New Kingdom tombs was in the concealment of the entrance itself, which was why
Thutmose I located his tomb in the Valley of the Kings in the first place. In the XX
Dynasty even that effort was abandoned after the Valley had become crowded
with tombs, though the concealment of the entrance actually did work for one
tomb: Tutankhamon's. Therefore, none of the parts of these tombs can be
explained or dismissed as "false" burial chambers.
Page 24 of 37

Apart from Thutmose IV, other XVIII

Dynasty tombs contained only one right
turn (Thutmose III and Amenhotep II), or
turned in the other direction, into a dogleg
(Amenhotep III). Haremhab eliminated the
turns, and this has often been said to be
due to the solar theology of Akhenaton
(which Haremhab otherwise detested). As
Reeves and Wilkinson point out, however,
Akhenaton's tomb at Amarna doesn't
necessarily exhibit the innovations it is
usually credited with: It basically looks like
an unfinished traditional tomb, complete
(except for an expected corridor, "the
god's fourth passage") to the first large
room, the "Chariot Hall," which has been
pressed into service as the burial chamber.
The one excavation out of that room is,
indeed, at right angles to the axis of the
tomb. Otherwise the tomb displays other
major off-axis developments, two complete
"suites," one for the premature death of
the princess Meketaten, the other,
unfinished, for the Queen Mother Tiye. Those literally tangential developments
may be why less effort could be spared for further conventional development along
the main axis of the tomb. The overall effect, then, is not of the straightening out
of the tomb, but of stunting, and of lateral development -- little of which is found
later, as we shall see.

Given the basic impression of Thutmose IV's tomb, whose elements will shortly be
examined in detail, it may be compared with that of Tutankhamon. (This plan is also
somewhat schematic, but it is roughly to the same scale as the plan of Thutmose
IV's tomb -- a full size model of Tutankhamon's tomb has been recreated, with
considerable detail except for the burial chamber, in the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas,
Nevada -- though the model appears to have adobe walls and a dirt floor sprinkled
with straw, rather than the cut, solid limestone of the original.) There are few
similarities, and it has been a major problem of deduction both to match up the
equipment of Tutankhamon's tomb with where it would have gone in a complete
Page 25 of 37

royal tomb and to imagine what essential ritual functions, if any,

the actual parts of Tutankhamon's tomb were expected to
perform. The most complete interpretation of the latter I have
seen is in Desroches-Noblecourt. Her basic ideas about the
tomb are shown in a diagram (#149) on page 246 of her book,
reproduced in purple on the plan here.

The theme of fours is conspicuous in Egyptian religious

practice, and Desroches-Noblecourt evidently does not think it
accidental that Tutankhamon's tomb contains four chambers. The burial chamber,
with a ritual if not an actual orientation towards the West, is the "chamber of
departure towards the funeral destinies," as she says. The internment of the body
certainly is the beginning of the sojourn of the dead, and the Egyptians saw the
dead as departing "into the West." The room called the "Treasury" is then
interpreted to have a ritual orientation towards the North as the "chamber of
reconstitution of the body." Since the most conspicuous object in the Treasury was
a great gilt sledge holding the shrine containing the canopic chest, which holds the
king's viscera [note], this could well suggest the problem of reassembling the
king's living body.

That task, indeed, has a very important place in Egyptian mythology. After the
goddess Isis had retrieved her husband Osiris's murdered body from Byblos, their
common brother, Seth, the original murderer, stole the body, cut it into pieces,
and tossed them in the Nile. Isis then had to retrieve the parts of the body
before Osiris could be restored to life. Her search through the Delta, which is in
the North of Egypt, seems to parallel the "sacred pilgrimage" to cities of the Delta
that Desroches-Noblecourt relates as one of ritual acts of the funeral, as many of
the other objects in the Treasury seem to be accessories for that pilgrimage:

For the sovereign to be reborn it was necessary that a symbolic pilgrimage be made
to the holy cities of the delta, where since the most ancient times Egyptian kings
had always gone, among which was Buto their necropolis. The principal halts of the
journey corresponded almost exactly to the four cardinal points of the delta where
these cities were situated... Sais, to the west, represented the necropolis where
the body was buried; Buto to the north, with its famous canal, was an essential
stage of the transformations within the aquatic world of the primordial abyss,
evoking the water surrounding the unborn child; and Mendes to the east whose
Page 26 of 37

name could be written with the two pillars of Osiris, the djed pillars, evoking the
concept of air. There, said the old texts, the gods Shu and Tefenet were reunited,
or again, according to the 17th chapter of The Book of the Dead, that was where
the souls of Osiris and Re had joined. Finally, the southern-
most city which completed the cycle of Heliopolis, the city of
the sun, symbolizing the fourth [sic] element, fire, where the
heavenly body arose in youth glory between the two hills on the
horizon. [Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt, 1963, p. 238-9]

As these four cities parallel the four rooms of the tomb itself,
we seem to have a nice series of parallel symbols. If Sais, in the
West, was significant for its necropolis, then Sais, like the
burial chamber, can represent the departure into the West.
Buto itself, the northernmost city, then represents the site of
the actual "reconstitution of the body." What followed Isis's
reassembly of Osiris's body was its revivification. Mendes, in
the East, where the sun rises, would then seem to be the locus
for that, with the associations, especially with Osiris, that Desroches-Noblecourt
mentions. In the tomb, the small "Annex" is then associated with this ritual stage,
the "chamber of rebirth." The ritual pilgrimage then ends at Heliopolis in the
South, where the king, having been reborn, reassumes his throne, as Desroches-
Noblecourt views the "Antechamber" of the tomb as the "chamber of eternal
royalty." Her implication, however, that the four cities (and four chambers) also
correspond to the "four elements," earth, air, fire, and water, is anachronistic: the
"four elements" do not occur before the Greek philosopher Empedocles.

How these ritual assignments correspond to full-sized royal tombs poses some
problems. As related by Reeves, Howard Carter originally thought that
Tutankhamon's entire tomb was simply a version of the burial chamber in other
tombs. Carter thought that the "Antechamber" of Tutankhamon's tomb
corresponded to the pillared hall area of the burial chamber in a tomb like
Thutmose IV's, which Carter believed was the "Chariot Hall" referred to in the
ancient records. Since Tutankhamon's own chariots were in the Antechamber, that
room certainly should be considered the "Chariot Hall." Similarly, Carter thought
that the canopic furniture in a proper tomb would be placed in the somewhat
sunken "crypt" area of the burial chamber, while the objects of the "annex"
belonged in the four storage rooms that characteristically open off of the burial
Page 27 of 37

Now it appears, however, according to Romer, Reeves, and Wilkinson, that the
"Chariot Hall" was actually the first large chamber in the regular tombs, not any
part of the burial chamber. This also makes a lot more sense: The Egyptians went
to a lot of trouble to build a wall and seal a door between the Antechamber and
burial chamber in Tutankhamon's tomb, which hardly seems necessary if they were
supposed to be part of the same room. There may be a similar mistake over the
canopic furniture. Although in some tombs there is a sunken area in the "crypt"
that has been interpreted as a receptacle for the canopic shrine, in other tombs
(e.g. KV 55, which contained a body that may be Akhenaton) actual canopic jars
have been found in alcoves or rooms off of the burial chamber. Most importantly,
in the unfinished tomb of Aye, there is a unique representation of the four Sons of
Horus over the door into the only room excavated off of the burial chamber. That
is an unmistakable signal that the room was intended to contain that which the four
Sons of Horus protect, the viscera.

We are thus strongly motivated to suspect that one of the rooms off of the burial
chamber should contain the canopic furniture. In regular tombs, however, there
are usually no less than four rooms off
of the burial chamber. This is
interesting in itself. If the Treasury of
Tutankhamon represents the
"reconstitution of the body" through the
symbolic pilgrimage in the North, then a
set of four similar chambers could easily
correspond to the four destinations of
the pilgrimage. If one of those was
intended to receive the canopic shrine,
we would need to decide which one. We
might suspect it would be one of the two
rooms off the "crypt" area. As it
happens, one of those rooms (the one to the left when approaching the
sarcophagus) is substantially enlarged in the tombs of Amenhotep III and Seti I,
with minor enlargements in Amenhotep II and Haremhab. This seems unmistakable,
except for the theory that the enlarged room in Amenhotep III's tomb was
intended to receive the burial of Queen Tiye. Now, the only credible cases of
subsidiary burials seem to involve predeceased children. Why it should be thought
necessary or proper to bury Queen Tiye in Amenhotep III's tomb is mysterious.
Instead, Akhenaton, her son, seems to have planned to have her buried at Amarna;
Page 28 of 37

but she was then apparently buried in her own

tomb, KV 55, from which she was retrieved and
included in the great mummy cache in Amenhotep
II's tomb (leaving Akhenaton behind, if that is
him). Furthermore, it does not seem to have been
proposed that the enlarged room in Seti I's tomb
was intended for a subsidiary burial.

Taking this all into account, I think we should say

that the noted chamber was intended for the canopic furniture. The other three
of the traditional four rooms off the burial chamber then present the difficulty.
Romer lists various names for them, "the Treasury of the End," "Resting place of
the gods," "Ushabiti Place," and others. Without an in situ burial, it may be
impossible to ever know which room was supposed to be which. However, some
ushabiti (or shabti) figures were found in the front left room (i.e. on the same side
as the canopic room) in the tomb of Thutmose IV, so perhaps that was the
"ushabiti place." Otherwise, it is hard to know, even from Tutankhamon's materials,
what would even go in the "resting place of the gods."

With the tomb of Ramesses II, a major change in the design of the burial chamber
takes place. Instead of six columns approaching the "crypt" from the entrance of
the burial chamber, eight columns now symmetrically flank the "crypt" along the
front and back on the room. Only one of the four side rooms now opens into the
"crypt" but, disturbing, it is actually smaller than the others, and in subsequent
tombs it joins the other three in small, inconspicuous, corner positions off the
burial chamber. Immediately after Ramesses II, however, in the tomb of
Merenptah, we find a continuation of the axis of the tomb into largish chambers
beyond the burial chamber. That there are four of them is suggestive (even as
there were four large rooms beyond the burial chamber of Ramesses II, though
not on axis). This provision is evident in all subsequent tombs that were sufficiently
completed to reach that stage, mainly those of Ramesses III, Twosret-Setnakht,
and Ramesses VI. Since the conventional orientation of the tombs, at least until
Ramesses III, was that the entrance to the tomb was a ritual "south" while the
interior was in a ritual "north," these spaces beyond the burial chamber would have
been the "northernmost" parts of the tomb. The appropriate place, we might think
for the canopic furniture and the "reconstitution of the body." Thus, the demotion
of the original (if the considerations above were correct) canopic room, after
Ramesses II, corresponds to the transfer of ritual canopic function to a new
chamber whose position and orientation were made possible by the new burial
Page 29 of 37

chamber design. The

existence of four rooms
beyond the burial
chamber in Ramesses II,
Merenptah, and Ramesses
III may indicate an
intention to reduplicate
the function of the
original four side rooms to the burial chamber.

This leaves the question of the "Annex" and its contents in Tutankhamon's tomb.
To approach that we should have a closer look at the structure of the rest of the
regular tombs first, having already looked in some detail at the burial chamber.
Overall, the tomb may be divided into three parts: The Inner Tomb, which means
the burial chamber and its side rooms, however elaborate; the Middle Tomb; and
the Outer Tomb. These three may be distinguished by reference to the turns that
the tomb takes in the XVIII and XIX Dynasties, i.e. it is at the boundaries of the
Outer Tomb and Middle Tomb, or Middle Tomb and Inner Tomb, that the turns
occur. That is evident from an overhead plan. From the side, an Upper Tomb and a
Lower Tomb may be distinguished, as we shall see. In the plans that are shown here
for the parts of the tombs, the articulation of the various tombs may be inferred
from the blue notes on entrances and exits. That mainly concerns the Middle
Tomb, though it has already been seen that there is one exception, in Amenhotep
III, to the regular entrance to the Inner Tomb.

In the Outer Tomb, six parts may be distinguished: four passages, the "Well," and
the optional "well room." The four passages originally consisted of two deep stairs
and two sloping corridors. The outer stair might not now be considered part of the
tomb proper, since it merely led up to the sealed entrance of the tomb; but the
Egyptians saw it as already part of the tomb and named it the "god's first
passage," or the "god's first passage of the sun's path." All the corridors, indeed,
were thought to represent the passage of the sun god R through the twelve
caverns of the underworld in the hours of the night, prior to his rebirth at dawn --
the precedent for the rebirth of the king. Consequently, when decorated, they at
first held excerpts from the Amduat, the book of "That Which is in the
Underworld," or the later "Book of Gates." (Note that these were not the same as
the familiar "Book of the Dead.") As the emphasis slowly shifted with time from
the association with the underworld to an association with R himself, another
work, the "Litany of R" made its appearance.
Page 30 of 37

The Egyptian technique of stone cutting was from the top down, whether in
quarries or tombs, and it was at the ceiling that the dimensions of rooms and
corridors were drawn. Also, a stair was not originally simply cut in the floor of a
descending corridor. Instead, a regular room was cut and then the stair was
dropped straight down out of the floor. At the entrance to the tomb, this meant
the stair was cut straight down from the surface of the ground, although it might
then press in under the cliff
somewhat, providing some
overhang for the sealed door to
the next passage. This technique,
according to Reeves and
Wilkinson, was meant to provide
some working space and leverage
for the project of lowering the
sarcophagus down the steep
stairs. (Visitors to the tombs will
also notice that the stone cutters
left surfaces that were not to be
decorated, like floors, many
ceilings, and some walls, very
roughly cut -- no need for
polished floors for the dead.)

The stair of the "god's third

passage" was thus originally a
room with the stair in its floor. As the stairs later became ramps, and as the
descent of the passages leveled out by the XX Dynasty, the "god's third passage"
was revealed as having a ritual as well as a practical meaning; for the flat spaces of
the original room were preserved, even when they had been reduced to no more
than long niches in part of the walls of the third passage. These were called the
"sanctuaries in which the gods of East and West repose," and we must suppose
that statues, which ultimately must have been rather small (the niches were not
large in the XX Dynasty), or other symbolic items were deposited, first in the room
and later in the niches. "East and West" refer to the ritual orientation of the
passage, East on the Left when facing out of the tomb (as the Egyptians saw it),
West on the Right. Tutankhamon's tomb doesn't offer much help about what these
"gods" might have been, since there is no analogous structure and no identifiable
group of protective "gods of East and West" in his tomb.
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A noteworthy elaboration of the

"sanctuaries" even after they had
become niches is in the tomb of
Ramesses III: Eight small side
chambers were cut off of the "third
passage." These contained unusual
secular scenes, including a famous
pair of harpists in one. Since this
tomb stood open in Roman times and
subsequently, travelers in many
centuries marveled at the figures.
How this all fitted together with
the "gods of East and West" is
anybody's guess.

The fourth passage eventually acquired two niches at the end, called the
"doorkeepers'" niches. It is tempting to associate these with the two magnificent
black statues of Tutankhamon that conspicuously stood guard outside his burial
chamber, though those statues would not have fit into any of the niches and it is
hard to imagine them simply standing on the edge of the Well in earlier tombs. So
other "doorkeepers" may have been involved, though we may never know.

The "Well" itself is a feature that has excited considerable interest and comment.
Of great importance, as is now realized, is its practical value to catch water in the
rare but devastating flash floods that can occur in the area. A number of tombs
have suffered tragically from inattention to this function today: The discoverer of
the tomb of Seti I, Belzoni, filled up the well with rubble, which meant that the
next flood went straight down to the burial chamber. Since the floor of the burial
chamber was excavated out of the shale that underlines the limestone of most of
the Valley, it soaked up the water, expanded, and began cracking the walls and
columns of the burial chamber. This damage has come close to ruining the tomb,
and has rendered it unstable enough that, as I understand, it is now closed to
tourists. In the XX Dynasty, when tombs were excavated higher up the ridges and
involved shallower descents, rendering them relatively safe from water damage,
the wells were eliminated. The tombs of that sort, which historically stood open
from ancient times to modern, like that of Ramesses III and Ramesses VI,
suffered nothing like the damage that the tomb of Seti I has just in the course of
a century. This would seem to indicate that the principal function of the Well was
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The Egyptians called the

Well the hall of "waiting"
or "hindering." Since the
far door was sealed and
plastered over at the top
of a rather high wall, the
Well interposes an obstacle that
would certainly "hinder" tomb
robbers, whatever their knowledge
of the tomb. Since it is hard to
imagine the tomb robbers "waiting"
for anything, that term may refer
to another, ritual meaning, for the
Well. After all, the basic form of
many Egyptian tombs, of whatever
period, was a simple shaft with a
burial chamber cut off the bottom of it. In three XVIII Dynasty tombs
(Amenhotep II, Thutmose IV, and Amenhotep III), such a chamber is even
provided. It is difficult to imagine that anything would actually have been put in
the room, exposed and vulnerable as it would be both to water damage and to
robbers. The disappearance of a room with a merely pro forma ritual function, as,
later, of the shaft of the Well itself, is reasonable; but the function of such a
room, as symbolic of the whole tomb, provides a ritual locus for rebirth. The "Ba"
soul in earlier representations flies up the shaft of the tomb and out into the
world. All that is added in the royal tomb is the king's trip through the underworld,
the four entering or, as the Egyptians also saw them, exiting passages. The "Hall of
Waiting," with or without the well itself or the lower well room, typically shows
scenes of the king meeting the gods -- one of the motifs of the burial chamber in
Tutankhamon's tomb -- and this is often shown when decoration has not been
completed elsewhere in the tomb, as in that of Thutmose IV. This would indicate
some importance to the function of such a part of the tomb. Such a function can
continue, even when the well shaft doesn't get cut and the well room long

This brings us, through the sealed door, to the Middle Tomb. The first room is
almost always the second largest in the tomb, after the burial chamber, if not the
burial chamber itself in unfinished tombs (e.g Aye). As the "Chariot Hall" or "Hall
of Repelling Rebels," it contains the equipment needed for the king to live an
Page 33 of 37

ordinary life and perform his kingly duties once reborn, i.e. actual chariots, beds,
clothing, etc. Romer says, "One tomb has a frieze of beheaded enemies on the walls
of this room" [Valley of the Kings, p. 280], but he doesn't say which tomb. Hence
Desroches-Noblecourt's idea of it as the "chamber of eternal royalty." One might
call it the "living room" of the tomb, the opposite of the burial chamber with its
uniquely funereal equipment. It then may be significant that the rest of the tomb
is accessed through the stair or ramp dropped from the floor. If the spirit of the
king comes up from the crypt, entering the Chariot Hall is like rising into the upper
world. It is at that point that we might divide the whole tomb into the Upper Tomb
and the Lower Tomb. The Lower Tomb is about death and rebirth; the Upper Tomb
is about the new life and access to the world (the Chariot Hall and the Outer
Tomb, both the shaft of the Well and the outer passages). Significantly, the wall
of the Chariot Hall above the passage down (the "another god's first passage"),
often displays an "Osiris shrine," which Reeves and Wilkinson take to signal an
emphasis on Osiris below as the emphasis had been on R above (with a dramatic
example of the Osiris shrine from the tomb of Ramesses III, p. 159). Although no
such "living rooms" exist in Old and Middle Kingdom pyramids, the Chariot Hall has
taken on a ritual function far different from and much at odds with it being merely
a "false" burial chamber: There is nothing about the Chariot Hall to deceive tomb
robbers that they had already found the burial chamber.
Page 34 of 37

The Middle Tomb exhibits the greatest changes in the course of the development
of XVIII, XIX, and XX Dynasty tombs. Most significantly is the fact that in the
proto-typical tomb of the whole New Kingdom style, the tomb of Thutmose III
(according to Romer), only the Chariot Hall and the stair from its floor even exist:
The stair falls directly to the burial chamber. What comes next is to Romer the
most interesting thing about the development of the tombs: the tomb of
Amenhotep II adds a short corridor to the stair, "another god's second passage,"
and then the tomb of Thutmose IV adds another stair, "another god's third
passage," and an extra room, the "Hall of Truth," which duplicates the motif of the
Well Room in showing the king meeting the gods. Indeed, only the Well Room and
the Hall of Truth are decorated in the tomb of Thutmose IV itself. This
development emphasizes the isomorphism between the Chariot Hall and the outer
world: The way into the Lower Tomb is elaborated into a duplication of the way into
the tomb itself. After the progression from Thutmose III to Amenhotep II to
Thutmose IV, it is almost surprising not to find "another god's fourth passage"
added before the Hall of Truth in the tomb of Amenhotep III.

Apart from this dramatic development, the Middle Tomb witnesses the long term
rethinking about the orientation of the tomb. The Chariot Hall consistently has a
lateral entrance until Haremhab, and then an axial entrance with him and
thereafter. The stair of the "another god's first passage," although axial, is at
first always offset from the center of the room. When the center of the room is
itself opened up by the duplication of the traditional two pillars in the tomb of Seti
I, we then immediately find, in the tomb Ramesses II, that the stair is moved to
the center, making the axis of the tomb a straight, symmetrical shot all the way
from the entrance to the Hall of Truth. This has always been assumed to have
occurred under the influence of solar theology, whether that of Akhenaton or
otherwise; but this only achieved consistency with Merenptah, since the burial
Page 35 of 37

chamber of Ramesses II is off axis,

indeed most unusually via a right
turn, from the Hall of Truth. The
Hall of Truth is the locus of the
most complete rotations of axis:
The burial chamber of Thutmose IV
is from a turn off to the left, that
of Ramesses II from a turn off to
the right, and that of Amenhotep
III, and all others, straight ahead.

The rotations of axis in the Chariot

Hall may, of course, be interpreted
differently. If we see the Chariot
Hall as a unit in the Upper Tomb
with the Outer Tomb, then it is the
exit that is at first lateral, then becoming axial, although
displaced, in Haremhab, and then finally fully axial in Ramesses
II. How the Egyptians may have thought about this is unclear. If the two pillars
mark the axis of the room, then it is the exit, not the entrance, that moves in
Haremhab. On the other hand, if the offset stair of the exit is distinctive and
defines the axis, we may see the pillars as themselves rearranged in Haremhab.
Since the result there is rather crowded and awkward, the development to four
pillars in Seti I seems natural, which then suggests the complete scheme of
greater symmetry by relocating the stair. That same process, however, seems to
render the room less significant: The floor space is now in the same situation as it
was in the "gods's third passage" before being reduced to mere niches. Since that
never happened, even to the end of the XX Dynasty, the space of the Chariot Hall
must of been of a ritual importance that could not be dispensed with. It does not
seem at that stage, however, that the ramp ever would have been filled in, as the
stair may have been at first, to produce a uniform floor for the room as a whole.

This finally brings us back to the problem of the "Annex" of Tutankhamon's tomb.
An off axis, blind chamber by the Chariot Hall, which is what Tutankhamon's Annex
is, does not strongly suggest anything we have seen so far. If the Annex is really
just one of the four subsidiary rooms to the burial chamber, unusually placed, that
solves the problem. Why it was not then actually cut off of the burial chamber in
Tutankhamon's tomb is then mysterious. Geometrically, a room that fills the bill is
Page 36 of 37

the well room, which was cut in the successive tombs from Amenhotep II to
Amenhotep III, the only complete tombs immediately before Tutankhamon. What
would have served this purpose in Thutmose III's tomb is then a question; and, as
previously considered, it seems incredible that the well room, with all its
shortcomings, could have been used for the kinds of materials that are found in
Tutankhamon's Annex.

A better possibility occurs soon after Tutankhamon. In the tomb of Seti I, a large
room suddenly appears off the Chariot Hall, with no further connections, just like
Tutankhamon's Annex. This has appeared out of nowhere, but it seems to be
important, is durable, and is hardly the kind of thing, again, to have been intended
as a "false" burial chamber. In Seti I's tomb, this room continues beyond the main
axis of the Chariot Hall. When the main axis of the tomb is made symmetrical in
Ramesses II's tomb, this new chamber is moved off to the side of the Chariot
Hall, where it remains through Merenptah, Amenmesses, and Ramesses III. Since
all the other later tombs are incomplete (and the room is only partially cut in
Amenmesses' incomplete tomb), the absence of the room later may just be an
artifact of their incompleteness.
Page 37 of 37

If Seti I's extra room is ritually identical with Tutankhamon's Annex, we must
then ask why it wasn't there earlier and, if it has some important ritual function,
like Desroches-Noblecourt's idea of the "chamber of rebirth," which room fulfilled
that function earlier. One candiate could be the "Hall of Truth," which, as a
duplicate of the Well, might have taken on the ritual function of the well room.
Calling this room the "Hall of Truth" is heavy with significance, since "Truth"
(mu39a) is determined for the dead at the time of Judgment. Since few events are
of greater importance in the hereafter than the Judgment, this makes comparison
even more difficult when neither the Hall of Truth nor the well room exist in
Thutmose III's tomb; and as essentially an enlarged corridor, it is hard to imagine
the Hall of Truth stuffed with the paraphernalia of Tutankhamon's Annex. That
puts us back to the side rooms of the burial chamber once again. And there we may
be stuck, having run out of evidence and possibilities.

So, in the end, the purpose of not all the traditional rooms in a complete royal tomb
can be inferred, and the distribution of Tutankhamon's tomb furnishing in a
complete tomb cannot be entirely inferred either. As so often in history, the
silence of the past leaves us hopeless and frustrated.

One thing can be said about the royal tombs, however. They are not merely homes
in the hereafter for the kings, as are the private tombs of commoners and nobility.
Scenes of family life or secular activities are almost entirely missing. Instead the
tombs are cosmological vehicles of rebirth and deification as much as "houses of
eternity." As the king is supposed to become Osiris in a far more intimate way than
commoners, he is equipped with his very own Underworld. And as the king is
supposed to become R in a way entirely unavailable to commoners, he is equipped
with his very own passage of the sun, whether this is thought of as the way
through the underworld or through the heavens: with the latter portrayed
especially on the ceilings of the tombs of Seti I and Ramesses VI.

Little could the Egyptians have known that three thousand years later barbarians,
from foreign lands they didn't even know about, would be puzzling over their
practices, beliefs, and ritual architecture. They might have been so mortified that
they wouldn't have wanted to explain it all anyway.