The tomb of Merefnebef was discovered in 1997 on the site of Saqqara, by a team from The Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology of the Warsaw University, controlled by Prof. Karol Myśliwiec. The discovery followed two years of location work on the terrain, notably geophysical, followed by surveys.

The monument is a rock-hewn structure with a mud brick superstructure, located in a cliff ledge which runs north-south approx. 120m west of surrounding wall of the step pyramid of king Netjerykhet-Djoser. It belongs to a character, until now unknown, a vizier from the beginning of the 6th Dynasty (2350-2160 B.C.), which carried the names of Merefnebef, Fefi and Unasankh. It will be seen that the history of the monument is complex, with the later changes due to family and political problems.

The mastaba, which is very fragile, is and will remain closed to the public. By the intervention of Mdm. Christiane Hachet, director of the collection "Champollion" the Editions du Rocher, I was able to come into contact in 2007 with the Prof. Karol Myśliwiec. With his agreement, this exceptional monument can now be admired by all on Osirisnet.
Both will find here the expression of my gratitude for the confidence which they show me. [T.Benderitter].


The monument is located in the western part of the vast necropolis of Saqqara, a zone which for a long time was ignored by archaeologists. And in fact, a vast practically virgin zone spreads on the map between the pyramid and the combined mastaba of .

Nevertheless, the zone between the surrounding wall of the pyramid of Djoser and the rocky ledge seems literally crammed with burials of a variable age ().

Just below the surface is, buried under the sand, a vast necropolis essentially dating from the Ptolemaic period, with elements which could go back on one hand to the Old Kingdom, and to extend on the other hand to the Roman period.
Thus, it is more than 500 burials which were brought to light by 2008. In most cases, these represent mummies beautifully enclosed in cartonnage, but also simply bones in the sand, or modest anthropoid coffins of wood or terracotta (). Many bodies were also directly placed in the sand, with or without matting.

The lower layers relate to structures of the Old Kingdom (and could also be from the First Intermediate Period).
Many monuments are found there, either in mud brick, or dug into the cliff. All have been plundered, probably soon after their construction, because objects of later periods are not found.
One special case (which will be the subject of a publication in 2009) is that of a mastaba discovered in 2003, to the north of that of Merefnebef, which belongs to a funerary priest by the name of Niankhnefertum (Temi), attached to the pyramids of Teti and Unas. He seems to have lived shortly after Merefnebef, and was inspired by Nefernebef's chapel for his own tomb.

Merefnebef's mud brick mastaba and the funerary well shaft of the tomb of Merefnebef are located on a rocky outcrop of the plateau, which overhangs the area where his decorated chapel and forecourts were created.
In its final stage of construction, the complex included two cult areas. The first, to the west (and lower than the other), is the chapel carved into the rock. The other, to the east (and on a higher level), is a smaller construction which was added later. The funerary complex was never finished, as will be discussed later.

Some stages of excavation of the complex


The archaeological activity is accompanied systematically by restoration work (). In the case of the tomb of Merefnebef, this takes place after various physical, chemical and petrographic analyses, which is done in laboratories in Poland. To protect the monument and its unique paintings, it is necessary to consolidate the climatic conditions in the tomb.
For this, a protective shelter was firstly erected, which entirely covered the tomb. The methods of conservation are chosen while taking into account various factors, particular annual observations, as well as results recorded by a device which stays permanently in position when the mission is not there.
In order to control the decay of the reliefs, the poor quality of the rock and the high degree of salinity make permanent care necessary. This is entrusted to a team of conservators who perform this task for a period of two months each year.


His names

Three are attested in the tomb. Each of these is in most cases specified with one of the epithets "great" (wr or aA) or "beautiful" (nfr).
  Merefnebef. This name is very rare, since it is mentioned only once in the archives of Neferirkare. Its translation is not obvious, but must probably be read "He loves (him, namely) his Lord", or "His Lord loves (him) ".
  Unas-ankh = " (the king) Unas lives", a name which is attested sporadically at the end of the Old Kingdom.
  Fefi, name of obscure significance, attested at the end of the Old Kingdom and during the First Intermediate Period.

His titles

He held a total of 34 :

  1. Gracious of arm. (The meaning of this title is not clear)
  2. Overseer of the scribes of the royal records. One of the most important administrative titles, during the 6th Dynasty it was held almost exclusively by viziers.
  3. Overseer of linen.
  4. Under-supervisor of the Great House.
  5. Under-supervisor of the god's servants of the Meret-Teti temple.
  6. Hereditary prince.
  7. Keeper of the linen of the Great House.
  8. Keeper of the headdress. The holders of this title were in charge of royal wigs.
  9. True keeper of the headdress. The addition of "true" is characteristic of the early 6th Dynasty.
  10. Administrator of the "Seba-Hor-Khenty-pet" estate.
  11. Count.
  12. God's servant.
  13. Privy to secrets. Merefnebef bore several titles composed with the element "privy to secrets" some of these seem to be variants of one title.
  14. Privy to secrets of command.
  15. Privy to secrets of every command.
  16. Privy to secrets of the command of the king.
  17. Privy to secrets of every command of the king.
  18. Privy to secrets of the House of the Morning. This was the most important and highest title of the "privy to secrets" group; the holders of this title probably assisted the king in preparations for divine rituals.
  19. Privy to secrets of the king in his cult-place. This and the following form of the title are not known from other sources, although it seems possible that both are variants (perhaps only graphic) of the title "privy to secrets of the king".
  20. Privy to secrets of the king in his every cult-place.
  21. Chief of Nekheb. (El-Kab)
  22. Guardian of the pyramid of Teti "The places-of-Teti-are-enduring". It has been proved that the original interpretation of the title "tenant of the land", is not adequate, considering the responsibilities of its holders in the earthly as well as religious service of the king.
  23. Director of the palace. The decreasing importance of this title can be observed after the 4th Dynasty, and it almost completely disappeared in the early 6th Dynasty, thus being another factor which contributes to the dating of the tomb of Merefnebef.
  24. Director of the two thrones in the House of Life.
  25. Lector priest.
  26. Chief lector priest.
  27. Scribe.
  28. Companion.
  29. Sole companion. This title, very important and exclusive in the previous period, during the 6th Dynasty was only a "ranking title"?
  30. True sole companion.
  31. Inspector of the artisans workshop of the Great House.
  32. Inspector of the Great House.
  33. Chief justice (literally: "He of the curtain" and of high status).
  34. Vizier.
    See for 33 and 34 .

His family

The members of the family of Merefnebef, with the exception of his sons, are named and their relationship to the family specified, but without any additional titles.

a)  - His mother was called Tjeset. She is represented twice in the tomb (scenes 25 and 26).

b)  - His wives or concubines: Iret, Metjut, Nebet, Sesheshet. The status of the lady Meresankh, represented only once (at the entrance), is not clear.

c)  - His three sons :
* Manefer, "the eldest" son. His representations, names and titles, have been chiselled out in most places in the tomb.
* Mem, "the elder" (?). has everything that relates him been chiselled out.
* Merefnebef / Fefi (II) : this son, having inherited his father's two names, is the only one whose representations have been preserved everywhere. He also carries the titles associated with these names, and there is every reason to believe that he was the one who erased the names of his brothers. The wife of this son (named Hemi) also appears with him on the east wall of the chapel (full details as to why will be revealed later).
Notice that no daughter is mentioned among the vizier's descendants.


The mastaba

This had been constructed in mud brick, on a layer of rubble 2.40m thick which had accumulated on the rocky terrace. In order to stabilise this foundation, a retaining wall was constructed at the edge of the rock shelf. When the retaining wall collapsed, at the end of the Old Kingdom, the bricks and remnants of the mastaba and foundations filled the court of the underlying chapel (N°1), and blocked its entry ().

The original mud brick mastaba, which sat at the higher level of the east chapel, had the form of a rectangle bordered with thick (approx. 1 metre) mud brick walls. The inner core consisted of stone chips mixed with gravel and sand. The external surfaces of the walls were covered with several thin layers of mud and mortar, then possibly painted white. The main mastaba structure was about 7.8m wide (N-S), but due to the destruction of its western part, it is impossible to ascertain its precise E-W dimension, but it seems that the original plan of the mastaba was close to square. It seems that the mastaba of Merefnebef resembled that of Meri, situated east of the mastaba of Ptahhotep in Saqqara. As the calculated height of the false door and lintel of the eastern chapel would suggest, the mastaba must have been at least 2.40m high.

The main funeral well shaft (N°1) is located against the north wall of the mastaba, thus within the body of the mastaba itself. Full details of the shaft and burial chamber are found on .

The east chapel

This small cult chapel, which is of a later date than the mastaba, was built into its eastern wall, near its north-eastern corner (), and is greatly destroyed today, preserved only to a height of approx. 0.30m.
The chapel measured 1.20m (E-W) and 3.50m (N-S) and was surrounded by mud brick walls. It adjoined a niche of 1.65m wide by 0.45m deep in the eastern wall of the mastaba. The mud floor had several layers of white material ().
The offering place of the chapel consisted of three limestone elements: an uninscribed offering table, a false door and a lintel, all of them decorated in relief. Representations of Merefnebef are on the false door in sunken relief.
The lintel () measures 3.20m in length; it is carved in poor quality local limestone. Its front face is engraved in sunken relief with eight representations of the deceased, symmetrical in relation to the central axis and facing toward it. All are identical: Merefnebef is represented walking with a staff and a xrp-sceptre. He wears a long wig, an usekh necklace, and a knee-length triangular kilt.
In front of every figure is a column of text: it represents 'htp di nesu' formulae, associated with the titles of the character.