The tombs of the nobles excavated in the rocks on the Nile west bank at Qubbet el-Hawa in Aswan testify the role of the city as the southern gate of Egypt. Aswan was the starting point of caravans travelling far south in uncovered territories and bringing back precious and exotic goods. Inscriptions on the tombs reflect the explorations and trades of that time and the cultural exchanges with southern territories. Nowadays the tombs, exposed to the environmental factors - wind, sun, rainfall - and to air polluttants originated from the town of Aswan are under a fast deterioration process.
The tomb of Herkhuf was carved at the end of the VIth dynasty, during the reigns of Merenre and Pepi II.
What is immediately noticeable about it is the vast body of texts, which decorate the external facade.
The interior comprises a single, fairly small room with four decorated pillars. A square-section tunnel leads to the crypt.
“May the king and Anubis - he who is on his mountain, who presides at the divine chapel, who resides in the place of embalming, the Lord of the Ta Djeser deign to grant an offering -: may the prince, governor of Upper Egypt, treasurer to the king of lower Egypt, the sole companion, lector- priest, chief of interpreters, the imakhu to Ptah-Sokaris, Herkhuf., having reached a great age and endowed with the quality of imakhu before the Great God, be entombed in the necropolis of the Western Desert.
May the king and Osiris, lord of Busiris, deign to grant an offering and may he, the prince, chamberlain, attaché at Nekhen, chief of Nekheb, the sole companion, lector -priest, the Imakhu to Osiris, Herkhuf, walk in peace on the sacred ways of the West where the Imakhu usually walk and may he raise himself towards the Lord God of the sky in his rank of Imakhu of ……
May the king deign to grant an offering: may bread and beer come forth for him when invoked in the necropolis, may he be “transfigured” by the lector-priest at each year's beginning, at each feast of Thoth, on each New Year's day, at each Wag festival, at the time of each feast of Sokaris, at the time of every great feast and every daily festival-… The treasurer of the king of Lower Egypt, Sole Companion, Lector-Priest, Chief of Interpreters, Herkhuf.
I came today from my town, I came from my Nome; I built a house, I dug a lake, planted sycamores. The king praises me; my father made a testament in my favour. I am an excellent man… loved by his father, praised by his mother, loved by all his brothers. I gave bread to the starving, a garment to he who was naked, I ferried him who had no boat.
O, you living who are upon the earth and who pass before this tomb, whether going upstream or downstream on the river, say “ may a thousand loaves and a thousand pots of beer belong to the owner of this tomb”, thanks to them I may pass (my “life”) in the necropolis. I am an excellent spirit, educated, a lector-priest whose mouth is learned.
As for any man who enters this tomb as if it were his own, I shall seize his neck like that of poultry and, for that, he shall be judged by the Great God. I am a man who speaks well and repeats willingly that which is liked. Never have I reported bad things to a powerful man so that, as a result, he acted against someone. So I hope that all will go well with me before the Great God. Nor have I ever judged two brothers such that one son be dispossessed of his father's goods.
May the king deign to grant an offering, may Anubis who is on his mountain and who presides at the divine chapel deign to grant an offering: may bread and beer come forth when invoked for him, for the Imakhu to Anubis who is on his mountain and who presides in the divine chapel… the prince, lector-priest… Sole Companion, lector -priest, chief of interpreters, the Imakhu Herkhuf.
The prince, Sole Companion, Lector-Priest, Chamberlain, attaché at Nekhen, chief of Nekheb, treasurer to the king of Lower Egypt, Sole Companion, Lector-Priest, Chief of Interpreters, secret advisor for all business concerning the South of Upper Egypt, he who is in the heart of his royal Lord, Herkhuf, treasurer of the king of Lower Egypt, Sole Companion, Lector-Priest, Chief of Interpreters- who has brought back the produce of all foreign lands for his royal Lord and who has brought gifts for the ornament of the king (the Queen), The Steward of the southern lands of Upper Egypt, who spreads the fear of Horus (= the king) in foreign lands, who accomplished that which is praised by his royal Lord, the treasurer of the king of Lower Egypt, the Sole Companion, the Lector-Priest, chief of interpreters, the imakhu to Ptah-Sokar, Herkhuf, saying:
His Majesty Merenre, my master, sent me, together with my father, Sole Companion and Lector-Priest, Iri, to the land of Yam (an area located in modern-day Sudan) to explore its ways. I carried out this mission in seven months, I brought back all sorts of tributes, beautiful and rare and I was praised for it very highly.
His Majesty sent me a second time, alone. I went by way of the Elephantine road and returned via the land of Irtet, Makher and Teres of Irtet at the end of a voyage of eight months. I returned carrying tributes of this land in very great numbers, of a kind which nobody had ever brought to Egypt before. I returned, coming from the camp of the chief of Setu and Irtet after having explored this land. You will find no other Sole Companion, Chief of interpreters who has reached (so far) into the land of Yam before.
His Majesty sent me for a third time to the land of Yam. I went there from the Nome of Thinis by the oasis road and I observed that the chief of the land of Yam had left for the land of the Timhiu to chastise them, as far as the western corner of the sky. I followed his trail to the land of the Timhiu and I pacified him until he adored all the gods for the sake of the royal Sovereign
Harkhuf’s description of three separate trips he led into Nubia suggests that by the third trip, his dealings with the leader of the Lower Nubian communities had become more insecure.
(I shall make haste… with a man from the land of Yam)… so thet His Majesty Merenre, my royal Lord, shall know (that I went to the land of Timhu) following the chief of the land of Yam. After having given satisfaction to this celebrated chief, (I returned via …) the south of the land of Irtet, the north of Setu and I met the chief of Irtet-Setu-WaWat… I returned with three hundred donkeys burdened with incense, ebony, hekenu perfume, grain, panther skins, elephant tusks, many boomerangs, all kinds of beautiful and good presents. When the chief of Irtet-Setu-WaWat saw how strong and numerous were the troops of the land of Yam returning with me towards the residence (marching) in the company of the army which had been sent with me, he handed over, to be given to me, bulls and goats and guided me through the ways of the hills of Irtet- because of the skill and the vigilance which I had shown, more than any other Companion, Chief of interpreters, former envoy to the land of Yam. Then, this servant followed the course of the river as far as the Residence; and it was arranged that the prince, Sole Companion, Steward of the two halls of libation (?) came to meet me with ships loaded with date wine, cakes, bread and beer.
The prince, treasurer to the king of Lower Egypt, Sole Companion, Lector-Priest, treasurer of the God, secret counsellor for the decrees, the Imaku, Herkhuf.
A fourth, unnarrated, campaign to the land of Yam must have taken place, during which Herkhuf sent a letter to the young king Pepi II to inform him, particularly, that he was bringing back a Pygmy, which resulted in the rest of the inscription. In fact, Pepi II wrote a letter in reply to that of Herkhuf, who was so proud of it that he had the text inscribed on the façade of his tomb in Aswan. Since little space remained, he had to prepare a space for it at the extreme right of the façade. Thus, the only complete royal letter dating from the old Kingdom has reached us.:
“ Seal of the king Himself. Second year of His reign, third month of the season akhet, fifteenth day. Royal decree (to) the Sole Companion, Lector-Priest, chief of interpreters, Herkhuf.
I have acquainted myself with the words of your letter, which you addressed to the king in the palace to inform him that you travelled in peace to the land of Yam, with the army, which accompanied you. You said in your letter that you were bringing back all sorts of presents, important and beautiful, which Hathor, lady of Imaou, gave for the ka of the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Neferkare- may he live eternally and forever! You also say in your letter that you will bring back a Pygmy (for) the dances of the God and coming from the land of the inhabitants of the horizon and similar to the Pygmy which the treasurer of the God, Bawerded brought back from Punt in the time of the king Isesi.
You also say to My Majesty: never before has such a (Pygmy) been brought back by any of those who have visited the land of Yam. It is said that, each year, you accomplish that which your royal Lord wishes and praises. You pass your days and your nights thinking of doing that which your Lord wishes, praises and commands. So My Majesty will act such that the numerous and excellent honours which are yours shall also please the sons of your son for eternity and that men will say, when they hear what my Majesty has done for you “ is there any parallel to that which was done for the Sole Companion Herkhuf when he came back from the land of Yam, because of the diligence with which he carried out that which his Lord wished, praised and commanded.?”
Come back, then, to the north, to the Residence. Leave (everything) and bring with you the Pygmy which you have brought from the land of the inhabitants of the horizon, alive, in good health and strong so that he may dance for the God and make cheerful and rejoicing the heart of the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, Neferkare- may he live eternally!
If you come with him in the ship, set well-advised men about him on both sides of the boat and take care that he does not fall in the water. If he lies down to sleep during the night, have wise men to sleep beside him in his tent; go and check, ten times in the night. Because My Majesty wishes to see this Pygmy more than all the tributes of Sinai or Punt.
If you reach the Residence and the Pygmy is with you, alive, in good health and strong, My Majesty will do great things for you, more important than those which were done for the treasurer of the God, Bawerded, in the time of the king Isesi, according to the desire which My Majesty has to see this famous Pygmy. Orders have been sent to the chief of the new town, Sole Companion and steward of the priests to command that victuals be taken by his care in every warehouse town and in every temple, without exception.