Mastaba D64 : the decorated areas belonging to Akhethotep


Akhethotep appears to have belonged to a family of high officials of the Vth dynasty, beginning (at least) with his father Ptahhotep, whose mastaba (D62) is located next to that of his own. His son, also Ptahhotep, shares in a small way this mastaba. From the inscriptions it can be observed that Akhethotep held the titles :
- Supreme judge and vizier
- Superintendent of the great court
- First after the king
- Staff of the people
- Priest of Ma'at
- High priest of the beautiful pyramid of Djed-Ka-ra
- Superintendent of the two granaries
Superintendent of the scribes of the royal accounts
and many more…
There are actually 25 titles listed in the two locations dedicated to Akhethotep.
Some of his titles were honorific but some were actual practical functions.

He had under his control a great many estates, distributed widely in both Upper and Lower Egypt. The list on the east wall of the corridor differs slightly, in both order and content, from those on the east wall of the chapel. This could be attributed to them being re-named.


Although the portion of the mastaba attributable to Akhethotep is considerable (being everything, apart from the small area at the rear belonging to Ptahhotep), only the entrance corridor and the "T"-shaped chapel were actually decorated. The other rooms and corridors have already been described on the previous page.
The decorated portion of the wall of the entrance corridor covered approximately the top 50 percent of the wall height and the chapel covered to top 60-70 percent, the two annexes being slightly lower in height than the main part of the chamber. The lower area of the walls, being constructed in the poorer purplish stone, remained practically blank. There are minor exceptions to this, especially at the surrounds to doorways and the fact that the bottom delimiting red and yellow borders also extended on to this stone work, for example: the entrance to the northern chamber from the north annexe of the chapel ().


The first room, after entering the mastaba through a narrow passage, is approximately 7 metres long by 2 metres wide, with a height of about 3.5 metres. It is only decorated on the two long (east and west) sides.
The east side, left on entry, is missing part of the upper area and what remains of this is almost indiscernible, but the outlines and some of the details of the boats and their occupants can still be recognised. However, the lowest register survives intact. Broad red and yellow bands edged in black, underline the decorative area and encroach on to the courser stone used at the bottom of the wall ().
The sculpture and decoration of either wall, as already stated, was never completed, existing in every stage of completion.
The corridor has three exits, one on the eastern side, two on the west. All three doorways are narrow, well under a metre wide, but they are about 2 metres in height. Details of the rooms or passages beyond have already been described, on the previous page.

East wall

Although in a varied state of completion, the scenes which are still visible on the east wall (left-hand side on entry) are those commonly found on corridor walls. The main (upper) space was occupied by three ships, all progressing to the right. They are manned by eight or twelve rowers each. Because of the state of preservation, masts can now only be seen on the two right-hand boats. At the time of Davies' survey, the figure of Akhethotep could just be seen in the leading vessel. Any inscriptions which may have existed are now too damaged for translation.
Still remaining above the doorway to the eastern chamber is the end of a row of servants, who may have been approaching a seated figure of Akhethotep. At the side of the doorway is "the servant of the ka and keeper of the wardrobe, Kaemthenent.". This one figure is the only fully sculptured one on this wall; all the upper scenes have been left uncut, and remain merely as drawings, the figures in black, the ships in red and yellow inks. For the most part they are now almost erased.

Below the ships is a long procession of seventeen female figures, headed by a leader, a scribe and a servant. The former presents a tablet of accounts to Akhethotep's son, Ptahhotep (who shares this mastaba with his father, see ). The women carry produce in baskets on their heads, and bring birds and animals as the tribute of the estates. The scene is titled : "Review of the presentation by the superintendent of the estate attached to the 'Beautiful' pyramid of King Isesi, First after the King, Ptahhotep.". Because the son receives this tribute it can be inferred that it is presented after the death of Akhethotep.
The sign of an enclosure which follows (below) the name written in front of each woman makes it clear that she represents one of the many estates belonging to Akhethotep. These list are not uncommon, but here we have the added value from the mention of the district in which each estate was situated. It should be noted that this mastaba is particularly valuable by providing no less than three such lists of property.
The figures in the lower register are merely cut out roughly round the drawn outlines; the inside lines, where they still exist, are only in ink.

To the left of the women and on a short register above, is a small varied collection of scenes. At the bottom there is the familiar group (on two sub-registers) in which calves are either tethered or are held fast by young herdsmen. In the upper register, men are emptying wine into large open-mouthed jars, probably for eventual storage in the two long-necked vessels which stand close by. The scene is titled : "Storing the wine which is for per-kheru offerings.". The per-kheru offerings are those which are requested by the deceased.
The latter half of these two scenes has only been executed in ink.

West wall

Like the east wall, the west wall is also unfinished, although in much better state of preservation. It is occupied by two scenes, each contained in five registers and witnessed by Akhethotep and his son. Over the head of the rightmost occurrence of Akhethotep are six columns of titles. The ink traces of a seventh column seem to show that there were other titles, of which it was afterwards decided not to include. Above the associated image of Ptahhotep, the text begins : "His eldest son, beloved by him, his trusty one……".
The movement is, in general, from the door inwards towards the presence of the deceased.

West wall, north :

This, the right-hand section of the wall, has a group of scenes titled : "Viewing the works of the field, that which is brought by the fishermen of the estates belonging to the tomb."
Of the two upper registers only enough of the design remains as to show that the second register began like those below and there would probably have been a fishing scene at the right-hand end. In the three remaining rows servants advance carrying birds and bunches of papyrus and lotus blossoms, the produce of the marsh-lands. The fowling scene above the doorway is a reminder of the labour by which the gifts were produced. The first two characters and their hieroglyphs of the lowest register have been fully sculpted while those following are only sculpted in outline (). On the register above, even though the first three characters have been fully sculpted, a single hieroglyph (drawn in black ink) has remained un-cut; compare it with one in a finished state in front of the following character ().

West wall, south :

The subject of the southern half of the wall is that of the harvest field. It is described as : "Viewing the works of the field, the reaping and carrying, a sight fair beyond all things.".
The execution of the work is curiously uneven. The two upper registers are sculptured in a somewhat coarse and careless manner; the third and the fifth remain at their first stage as mere designs. These latter are now so soiled and faint that they are, in places, difficult to read. Nevertheless, the draughtsman, who so easily traced these temporary outlines for the guidance of the sculptor, had unwittingly created a most secure monument to his skill. Where the stone was undamaged Davies found "that with a little careful cleaning the bold outlines, which they had received ages ago, appeared as if by magic; for Egyptian ink was almost a mordant, and nothing but the roughest usage can affect it".
Above the entrance doorway to the pillared hall is a single register containing five porters bearing items of furniture towards the rear of Akhethotep. There is no visible sign of any other register above it.


The chapel can be entered from the entrance corridor, either directly by crossing the centre of the great pillared hall, or via the northern passage and chambers. The chapel is a rotated "T" shape, the entry from the pillared hall being in the middle of the east wall, which forms the cross member of the "T".

The chapel dimensions are shown opposite. The height of the main part of the chamber is approximately 4 metres, the ceiling of the two annexes being about 0.3 metres lower. The decorated portion of the walls cover approximately the top 60-70 percent.

The arrangement of the scenes has a considerable resemblance to that in Ptahhotep's chapel, despite the difference in shape, the north and south walls (forming the stem of the "T") together with the west wall, equating to the west wall of the chapel of Ptahhotep.
The east wall is devoted to outdoor scenes of fishing and farming, although the bottom register displays the female figures representing the estates of Akhethotep, first found in the entry corridor.
The west wall consists solely of a false-door stela.
At first glance the content of the northern and southern halves of the chamber appear to be mirror images; but as described below, this is not the case. For example, the walls of the north and south annexes differ in that they contain, on their west walls, the presentation of wild animals and oxen respectively.

As with the corridor, broad red and yellow bands edged in black, underline the decorative area and encroach on to the courser stone used at the bottom of the wall.

East wall

This extends into both the northern and southern annexe areas, forming their east walls.

The arrangement of the subjects on this long wall is very artistically managed. The top of the doorway is positioned amongst a papyrus thicket, which thematically blends with the scenes on either side. These form two symmetrical designs representing the life and products of the marsh lands. No matter how overused this picture of the bird-abundant thicket may be, it never fails to be attractive. Unfortunately the scene has nearly vanished through weathering. Below, on either side of the doorway, two fishermen ply their craft in small boats, the one on the right using a dip-net, the other using a line with bait.

East wall, south :

The scenes of the right-hand side of this wall are divided into four registers, and are described as : "Viewing all the works of the fields in the marsh lands, whatever is good.". The seated Akhethotep watches over the scenes from the southern end of the wall, clothed in a loose tunic and wearing a long wig.
In the topmost register the men carry large bundles of papyrus. In the two registers below can be seen the returning boats laden with waterfowl and lotus flowers. The lowest of the four registers (i.e. in the foreground) are the cattle returning from the marshes, a calf is carried through the water on the back of a herdsman while the cattle follow him.

Below these scenes is a procession of female figures, representing the southern estates, received by Ptahhotep. The text reads : "The counting of the contributions of the estates belonging to the tomb, which the south brings for per-kheru offerings, by his beloved elder son, the sab-ad-mer (meaning: inspector of canals) , Ptahhotep.".

East wall, north :

At the bottom of this side of the wall, a similar scene and inscription represents the contributions from the north, again received by Ptahhotep. Together they comprise the seventeen family estates.

Like the south part of the wall, the area above is devoted to similar subjects, which depict the labour in the uncultivated lands of the northern estates. The descriptive text states : "Viewing the works of the fields, everything that is good, done in the marshes."
In the topmost register are cattle. A labourer assists at the birth of a calf. Below is shown the familiar process of making small papyrus boats by binding the reeds tightly together. Above the men are coils of rope, and the words "Building a boat in the marshes.".
Underneath, men carry bundles of papyrus and marsh fowl, titled : "Bringing all kinds of good things made in the papyrus marshes by the papyrus gatherers, and all kinds of fowl.".
Similarly in the scene below, "Going forth from the marsh land, and bringing the work of the fields from the papyrus marshes….

North annexe

Offerings chapel, North annexe (click on an area for enlargement)
(based on "Mastaba of Ptahhetep and Akhethetep at Saqqareh - Part II",
EEF, London, 1901, by N de G Davies)

North wall :

The two upper registers contain outdoor scenes. At the top, a herdsman watches over tethered animals, and a comrade puts captured birds into a cage. At the right another man sits in a herdsman's shelter, enjoying the plentiful food piled before him.
Below, on the left, a cow suckles her calf while an old man (perhaps an overseer), leaning on a staff and accompanied by a child, converses with the herdsman. The scene on the right is of a cow being milked. This is also attended by an old man, this time he bends over a stoppered jar.
Above and to the right of the doorway are pictured the gifts of food for the deceased, either piled up on tables or in the hands of approaching servants. The text states : "Bringing forward the per-kheru offerings as daily dues of every day.".
The remaining scenes, on the right of the doorway, remain at the drawing stage, which had been executed in red, blue, and green inks. The red ledger lines, which gave the proportions of the figures, are well preserved.
The doorway is framed in red paint all the way to the floor. Broad red and yellow stripes, which encroach on to the course stones at the bottom of the wall, mark the bottom of the display area.

West wall :

The subject of the west wall is well described by the inscription : "Seeing the presentation of animals of the desert.".
The standing figure of Akhethotep and "his beloved son, Ptahhotep" are followed by five officials and a second figure of his son. The officials consist of a steward, a chief physician who is named Unnefer, and three scribes.
Being brought towards Akhethotep, for his approval, are : in the two upper registers an oryx, a bubale, a gazelle, and an ibex; in the two lower registers a male ibex and an addax, and another oryx, gazelle and bubale. These are sometimes grouped in short lists of offerings as antelopes. In the middle registers, men present birds and flowers. The sculptor has left the last figure in both of the middle registers uncut.

South annexe

Offerings chapel, South annexe (click on an area for enlargement)
(based on "Mastaba of Ptahhetep and Akhethetep at Saqqareh - Part II",
EEF, London, 1901, by N de G Davies)

South wall :

The uppermost register contains a scene in which shrines, shaped like narrow pylons and crowned with four feathers, are dragged three at a time by as many men. The text reads : "Bringing up the sledges by the servants of the ka.".
In the two middle rows varied gifts are brought by servants, the title being : "Bringing forward the provisions belonging to the daily service.".
The second register is obviously the beginning of the fifth and sixth. Oxen are being caught and bound for slaughter. The scenes in which the slaughtered animals are cut up for consumption are repeated in almost every tomb. Here the accompanying texts are the conversations between the men : "Pull !" "Pull properly !" "Do it well, comrade !" "Take good hold, comrade!" with the responses "I am doing as you say." and the like.

West wall :

The design and decoration of this wall is the counterpart of the west wall of the north annexe, oxen being substituted for the various animals of the desert. Other officials are represented, three of whom are seated scribes of high rank. The whole is described as : "Viewing the cattle of the Thoth festival, brought from the properties of the ka and the estates belonging to the tomb, in the north and south of the country.".
The long-horned cattle, with elaborate green collars, are driven in six groups by their herdsmen, who carry wisps of green grass. The animals in the top register are unadorned. The lower part of the wall has retained most of its colouring, so that the smaller figure of Ptahhotep and his titles could be almost completely restored to the original painted brilliancy. In this figure, the waves or curls of the hair or wig are in different form to normal, the style usually being either horizontal or vertical, (see ).

North wall

In the extension of the room which forms the upright of the "T ", all the sculpture is concerned with the maintenance and well-being of the ka.
At the far west end of both the north and south walls the deceased is seated before a table of offerings.
The upper registers have suffered most from the ravages of time. The lost portion mainly contained the list of Akhethotep's titles (originally situated above his head), the list of offerings and finally four registers of food and gifts. Some major portions of the incomplete upper registers were located for both walls during the early excavations.
The list of offerings, over the table in front of Akhethotep, consisted of five rows of sixteen columns, thus containing eighty items, as against ninety-six in Ptahhotep's chapel. Beneath the table, in a form which varies only slightly from tomb to tomb, is a pile of massed offerings, and the words : "Funerary offerings : thousands (meaning many) of bread, beer, oxen, geese, yarn and cloth.". These are being brought by some fifty officials and unnamed servitors. Ptahhotep (at the front of the bottom register) and the many lector priests appointed to perform with him the necessary rites, are celebrating them at the head of the procession. Behind them follow the well-laden friends and servants (). At the top, the registers with varied offerings complete the decoration of the wall.

All the work is beautifully finished and is in excellent preservation, considering the damage to the chamber and original loss of a roof. A little colour remains here and there; the offerings beneath the table have retained the most.

South wall

The south wall is similar in decoration and about as equally destroyed as the north wall. Slightly different areas of the upper east end of the wall has survived. Also the lower portion of the list of offerings, which allowed its overall size (on both walls) to be assessed.
Akhethotep again sits at the west end of the wall, in front of his table of offerings, but nothing remains of his list of titles.
The total content of this wall mirrors that of the wall opposite, including the list of "thousands" under the table and Ptahhotep leading the procession of gift bearers.
On this wall the top two registers of offering bearers is almost complete, and at the right-hand end of the top row two can actually be seen kneeling, whilst all the others remain standing; another even turns to face the one following him.

West wall and false door

From the point of view of the ka, the false door which forms the west wall of the chamber was the entrance to this, the reception room of his eternal house. Originally, this must have been a magnificent monument, and a great deal of impious energy must have been expended on its mutilation, just to use it as a ready source of building material. The form of the false door is : a central inset section, originally painted to resemble planks of wood, with three door jambs on either side. On each side, these are set back from each other, the outermost being almost as deeply set as the central door. The outer jambs are edged by vertical half-rounded narrow columns.
At the base of the false door is a simple low offering table, for the placement of cult offerings, cut from the same stone used for the lower part of the wall.

The inscription on the jambs end with the name and a standing figure of the deceased and are identical on both sides. The inscriptions are of the usual formula :
"May the king and Anubis grant an invocation offerings of bread and beer to him in the necropolis as daily rations every day."
" (May Anubis, lord of the) sacred land grant his burial in the necropolis, and a very happy old age as to one who is deserving."
" (May Osiris, lord of) Busiris grant his burial in the necropolis city in the western desert."
Akhethotep is described here as "deserving before the great god (Osiris)."

The colours of the stela false door, which were without doubt numerous and often vivid, have deteriorated with exposure.