This is part of a group of eleven burials which are located immediately to the south of the causeway leading to the pyramid of Unas, discovered and searched in 1940 by Abd el-salam Mohammed Hussein. Its owner was an official of intermediate official rank - as was his neighbours. His main title was appropriately that of an employee of the butcher's shop, in the service of the king. It is the scenes of the butcher's shop which were worthy of the famous nickname given to the tomb, that of "tomb of the butchers".
Although listed under "mastabas", this is actually a tomb; mastabas were provided with a major structure above the ground surface. The area of Saqqara contains a great many mastabas.
The chapel of the tomb is small, but remarkable, on the one hand because it is dug entirely into the cliff, on the other hand because it includes a set of fourteen statues in variable degrees of finish, of which some - exceptional for the Old Kingdom - preserved their polychromic colour.
A large range of dates, extending from the 5th Dynasty to the First Intermediate Period, has been proposed for this tomb, but in her work dedicated to the monument, Ann McFarlane proposes the end of the 5th Dynasty, the reign of Menkauhor or Djedkare, before the reign of Unas and the edification of his causeway. It would thus be contemporary with the mastaba of Ty and slightly later than the mastaba of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep (which maybe served as a model for Irukaptah).
The 5th Dynasty lasted about 150 years (about 2500 to 2350 B.C.). This had the following nine sovereigns: Userkaf, Sahure, Neferirkare-Kakai, Shepseskare, Neferefre, Nyuserre Ini, Menkauhor, Djedkare Isesi and Unas. This was a period of deep changes, with notably the highest position opening to men not belonging to the royal family and the progressive transformation of the country in a bureaucratic state. Towards the middle of the period, this would tend to decentralise itself, with nomarches (provincial governors) who would reside in their nomes and not close to the royal Residence.
The kings of the beginning of the 5th Dynasty were buried at Abusir, the indirect consequence of the construction in this area, by Userkaf, of his solar temple. From Sahure to Nyuserre, they built their complex of pyramids, which lead to the construction close by of several cemeteries intended for the members of the royal family, for courtiers and high commissioners. A vivid example is provided by the discovery on the site, in 2012, of the royal princess's tomb, Sheretnebty (see ) associated with those of high commissioners. However, many dignitaries of the 5th Dynasty were buried, by choice or obligation, in Giza or Saqqara.
The burial of Menkauhor, successor of Nyuserre, has not yet been discovered, but is not in Abusir.
Djedkare then Unas abandoned Abusir and returned to being buried in Saqqara.
On the religious theme, the prominent idea of the time was the emergence of the cult of Osiris - at the latest from the reign of Nyuserre about 2430 B.C. - whose importance was going to increase. It changed, in a drastic way, not only the fate of the king, but also that of his subjects, who had to pass in front of the courthouse of the Great God. It was Osiris who was now the guarantor of survival after post-mortem and not the sovereign. According to Mathieu
"the sudden appearance of Osiris and the extraordinary distribution of his worship in the whole of the Egyptian territory supposes the existence of a decision emanating from a central and very powerful strength". At the same time, the control of Ma'at (the ruler of justice permitting the balance of the world), up to here in the king's hands, passed to Osiris.
At the same time as the emergence of Osiris is the exceptional development of the worship of Re, which is shown by the new structures which are the solar temples, the two gods being perceived as complementary: Re - diurnal - solar / Osiris - nocturnal - lunar. This idea would be resumed, much later, by the Ramesside theologians.
Irukaptah is the name when written correctly, as on the false door in the image to the left, but it is also found written as , which omits the
"a" by using only , giving his name as
He was also called Khenu on the false door.
He carried the following titles:
• "Royal wab-priest"
• "Royal acquaintance"
• "Imakhu" (honoured or revered one)
• "the honoured one before Ptah, south of his wall"
• "the honoured one before the great god"
His essential functions are appropriate to the creation of libations and activity in the butcher's shop, whose understanding is not obvious, and which are given by the title
"the libationer and butcher of the king's meal", and also
"the libationer and butcher of the palace". These titles are unusual. They appear at the same time as the major administrative titles already mentioned, which open the bureaucracy to new sectors of the society; they must also be linked to the number of important tombs of the cemetery of Unas belonging to royal butchers.
As with all the characters having their burial at the south of the causeway of Unas, Irukaptah was not a senior official of the state, but belonged to a group of men who held functions appropriate to the sovereign's personal service.
The two women who accompany Irukaptah in his chapel are presumably his wives, but their names are not mentioned.
Two children are represented, both bearing the name of Ptahshepses , but one is designated merely as
"his son" and the other as
"his eldest son". It is probable that it is about two sons having the same name, rather than only one character.
The causeway of Unas measures about 750m in length. It joins this king's pyramid to his mortuary temple, situated in the valley, very close to the Nile (see ). Nowadays the river flows more to the east and this mortuary temple is surrounded (and covered in part) with sand. Within about 200m of the pyramid, about twenty tombs or mastabas - most being anonymous - had been constructed in the previous decades along the course of the causeway, nearly all according to a model which is found in the 5th and 6th Dynasty, with a chapel forming a corridor oriented north-south, whose entry is at the north. All were more or less destroyed, or covered at the time of the construction of the causeway. They are now located to the south of the causeway and can be divided into a west group and two groups to the east. They are situated on two different levels. In the upper group, is the tomb of Neferherenptah (so-called "tomb of the birds") which will be added to Osirisnet shortly (see ).
One of the smallest tombs and maybe the oldest one (it dates from the beginning of the reign of Niuserre), is the mastaba of Nefer and Kahai, the largest is the one of (so-called "tomb of the two brothers").
The tomb of Irukaptah is located in the west group, 9.5m under the level of the Unas causeway and 10.5m from its south side (see and ). It can be reached by the modern staircase which runs alongside the causeway (see ). The tomb was dug at the base of a small cliff in stratified limestone which overhangs it by 17m and the tomb also includes a courtyard. It is one of the largest of the group (13.45m from north to south) and it differs from all others by its exceptional interior statues, carved directly into the rock. On the other hand, the themes of the decoration are limited and banal for the era on the site of Saqqara (similar ones can be found, for example, in the famous ).
Five funerary shafts open up in the floor of the chapel, destined for Irukaptah and members of his family.
The entry wall, which is at the north, was constructed entirely from well-dressed limestone blocks. It is unknown what its exact width was originally, or its height. In the area on either side of the entrance, the width of the wall is 0.80m in the west (right side) and of at least 1.15m on the left side.
The opening in the facade measures 0.55m in width, 1.40m in height, with a depth of 0.85m and also includes a small recess of 20cm deep.
The actual courtyard is nearly oblong, measuring 3.90m in length, with a width of 1.75m on the north side and 1.60m on the south side. It seems that it was never decorated.
The east and west walls of the courtyard are broken in the northern part and presently have a height of 1.20m. but the southern parts, cut entirely in the rock, are fully preserved to the original height of 2.35m. On the other side of the east wall, the tombs were deliberately buried again by the Service of Antiquities.
The west wall, which is common with the courtyard of the tomb of a person named Akhethetep, itself joined with that of Niankhre (see and ).
The south wall, where the entry into the chapel is located, is carved entirely in the face of the cliff. The entry opens up in its middle. The width is 0.70m, the depth 0.75m, with a height which narrows from 2m on the outside to 1.96m at the interior. Above the entry, all the facade is blocked by a lintel of 0.35m in height. In the passageway of the entrance, a structural scroll, probably with the owner's name, had been placed at the ceiling, but it has now disappeared.
The chamber is currently entered by descending two steps, but this was not the original system. It can be clearly seen in view , that the opening widens (to 1.05m) at the level of the first step.