The tomb belongs to the provincial governor (nomarch - being the leader of a nome) and military leader Ankhtifi who exercised the power in the south of the Upper Egypt under the IXth Herakleopolitan Dynasty (around 2100 B.C.).
The tomb had been discovered by chance by quarrymen in 1928. It had suffered a lot, but the great autobiography engraved on the pillars is preserved well enough and illuminates some of the complicated political events which occurred during the obscure First Intermediate Period. It also brings valuable clues on the status and the power of a nomarch at this time. The painted scenes, often mutilated, present some original characters. If they testify to a knowledge of the iconographic program of the tombs of the Old Kingdom at Giza and Saqqara, their style is provincial, with frequent clumsiness and sometimes grotesque aspects.
The description below is mainly based on: VANDIER Jacques: "Mo'alla. La tombe d'Ankhtifi et la tombe de Sebekhotep", IFAO, Bibliotheque d'etudes, Tome XVIII, 1950.
The current modest village of Mo'alla is located on the east bank of the Nile, 44km south of Luxor. It is here that was discovered a necropolis containing several burials belonging to the provincial governors and officials of the Old Kingdon and of the First Intermediate Period. Only two tombs are decorated, that of Ankhtifi (by far the biggest) and that of Sobekhotep, perhaps one of his sons. This village of Mo'alla has been identified as the ancient Hefat, an important city where a local divinity, Hemen was revered.
At the end of VIth Dynasty, the Old Kingdom wavered and we witness a progressive degradation of Egyptian unity to the advantage of the major local administrative officers, the nomarchs. The reasons advanced to explain this collapse still remain hypothetical. In fact, the nomarchs, whose function becomes hereditary, act as leaders in their nomes and ignore the weak sovereign of the moment; they are the real masters of the country and accumulate civil and priestly titles. Egypt then divides itself into several zones of influence according to a feudal model, each provincial dynasty trying to extend its power at the expense of royal power and of the neighbouring provinces.
Another reason for the disappearance of the Old Kingdom could have been a climatic change, with a diminution of the Nile floods. The decrease in agricultural output would have resulted in a period of endemic famine, generating social unrest. It is possible that it was the combination of these factors and their interaction, which explains the collapse of the Old Kingdom and the advent of an obscure and complex period, named First Intermediate Period, a troubled period which lasted for more than a century and a half, until the re-establishment of control and reunification of the country by a Theban dynasty.
The nome was the basic administrative unit in ancient Egypt. After the fall of the VIIIth memphite dynasty and the emergence of the herakleopolitain kings, several nomarchs in Upper Egypt govern their nomes in quasi-independence. The best known of them is Ankhtifi.
Nomarch of the third nome of Upper Egypt, "The Rural" (or "of the fortress" or "the Two Feathers" or the nome of Hierakonopolis, the former Nekhen) Ankhtifi spreads his influence southwards, first to the second nome of Upper Egypt, "the throne of Horus" (Edfu), of which he also becomes nomarch, and then to the first nome, that of Elephantine. His authority then extends over all the south of Egypt, from the Nubian border in the south up to the Theban nome in the north.
One can consider the decision of Ankhtifi to abandon Nekhen, the ancient capital of his nome, to the benefit of Hefat (Mo'alla) as a deliberate attempt to mark the beginning of a new era and to inaugurate a new tradition (Morenz).
The events described in the tomb would date from the IXth, Herakleopolitain, Dynasty who reign then south of the Fayoum with for headquarters Herakleopolis Magna, capital of the twentieth nome of Upper Egypt and probably of its third King, Neferkare VII (approximately 2100 B.C.).
The loyalist Ankhtifi took the side of the sovereigns of Herakleopolis in their fight against the Theban nome. Neferkare would have led a campaign against the Thebans with the help of Ankhtifi, allied to the prince of Elephantine. Ankhtifi would also have undertaken several military expeditions against an coalition formed by the nomes of Thebes and Coptos, fourth and fifth nomes of Upper Egypt.
In his autobiography, Ankhtifi makes no reference to the execution of a royal order and therefore seems to have led his military actions on his own initiative.
The use of the name "Ankhtifi",
"the one who will live" is evidenced in the Old and Middle Kingdom (Hermann Ranke, Die Personennamen ägyptischen, volumes 1 & 2,1935 & 1952). In the inscriptions in the tomb, the name of Ankhtifi is often followed by an adjective, either "Nakht" (= the Brave), or, less usually, "Iqer" (= the Excellent), but these adjectives should not be considered as part of the name.
Ankhtifi is known only by his burial, he is not found mentioned elsewhere.
The titles carried by Ankhtifi are very high in the hierarchy; the first of these is that of
"great chief of the nome of…", indicating his dignity of nomarch, to which is attached
"the count" and the priestly title of
"leader of the prophets", an essential title at this time to confirm his status. He also carries the titles of
"hereditary prince", "chancellor of king of Lower Egypt", "general", "leader of the mountainous regions", "leader of the interpreters", and "sole companion".
There is not any clear reference to his parents In the tomb. The mother of Ankhtifi may have died whilst giving birth to him, as suggested in the inscription n°14 of his autobiography. We don't know his father, who would not be the Hotep of the inscription N°5 as Vandier believed.
Not mentioned in the autobiography, his wife, designated as
"his beloved wife, Nebi" and his children, however are depicted in various parietal scenes.
It seems possible to identify four sons.
Ideni (or Idy) is designated as
"his beloved son, the first of the prefecture of the Rural in its entirety". The third son of Ankhtifi, Sobekhotep bears the title of
"first of the prefecture of the Rural". He must however have had a lower status than Ideni because there is not a specified nome
"in its entirety". The eldest son is probably the character who carries an oar on his shoulder during the ritual of the navigation of Hemen. The man touching the staff of Ankhtifi is another son (see ).
These iconographic considerations correspond with the archaeological elements. On the same level as the tomb of Ankhtifi are found, further north, four other tombs which would be those of his sons (there is however no consensus on this point) (see ). These burials, very visible from the valley (see ) gave a status to the entire family. One may think that Ankhtifi had the desire to establish a real dynasty, a vain attempt since there is no knowledge of a successor being, like him, virtually independent.
His two daughters are represented without being named in the scene of harpoon fishing. In the scene of the funeral meal, the name, today in a lacuna, of one of them is
"his beloved daughter Ahka (u) or Abih (u) ". The other girl is called Nebi, like his mother.
The tomb of Ankhtifi was dug in the mid-slope of a rock peak which would have been chosen because of its pyramidal shape, in spite of the bad quality of the rock (see ), giving to the nomarch a semi-royal status and a pre-eminent place in the necropolis.
Of the funeral monument of Ankhtifi, today there is only a single large rectangular chamber which must have been formerly preceded by a court (yard), perhaps also by an antechamber and a corridor (current state: see , and ). Part of the corridor remains for 1.50 metres and today acts as an entry door, which was not its original purpose.
The plan of the chamber is irregular: its walls are neither equal nor parallel, and thirty pillars which have been preserved in the rock mass are divided, without any clear order, in three rows. Some of these pillars are levelled off or even missing as a result of the collapse of the rocky ceiling (replaced by a wooden ceiling) and have been restored in concrete.
In the axis of the entrance is the shaft (see ) which leads to the vault, a rectangular chamber, which extends to the east, beyond the wall of the tomb (see ).
The walls are covered with a coating of mouna, a mixture of straw, Nile clay and then a white distemper covering. This chamber must have been fully decorated.. The scenes painted on the walls and on the pillars are today partly degraded or lost. In contrast, the biographical inscription, engraved in the rock, has survived better.
First we will describe the scenes painted on the walls and then those carved and painted on the pillars, by following their position in the tomb.