TT181, the tomb of Nebamon and Ipuky .


Nebamon and Ipuky were both craftsmen, being sculptor/engravers by training. Nevertheless, they succeeded in reaching positions of responsibility which, although not allowing them the position of dignitaries, allowed them to excavate and decorate a common burial complex, that of TT181 (traditionally called "tomb of the two sculptors").

The tomb is close to Deir el-Bahari, on the south side of the hill of el Khokha, in the lower enclosure, therefore close to the plain, a zone which is hardly prestigious, where, besides, the limestone of the cliff being of poor quality, it is also particularly crumbly and unsuitable for relief sculpture (see and ).

In 1889, Father Jean Vincent Scheil produced (according to Maspéro) a "summary of sketches" of the decor, which was nevertheless sufficient for Georges Legrain to obtained from it the colour plates which were published by Virey, some of which used in this publication. They also incited Norman de Garies Davies (ndgd) to search the tomb all over again in 1910-1911. In his publication Davies was unable to stop criticising the way the previous excavation was led, because, according to him, much information had been lost.

Though very rare - but not unique - the tomb is shared by two people.
A deceased can include in the chambers of his complex members close or distant members of his family, or even people of his household, but these latter ones appear less often in the decoration of the monument. Here, it is different, as this is a dual system for two families, thus providing less wall space.

What is it that unites Nebamon and Ipuky? Could it be their social standing and their profession? They were chief sculptors in the service of the same institution. But would this be sufficient as a motive? It appears that the thing which they had in common was the lady Henutneferet, but who in fact was she?

Work in the tomb stopped abruptly, leaving an extensively incomplete monument. Certainly, this state was frequent in the Theban tombs, but here it is a special case, because it was created at the junction of the reigns of Amenhotep III and his son Amenhotep IV, otherwise known as Akhenaten. This could have resulted in a enforced cessation of the work, perhaps connected to the transfer of the craftsmen far from Thebes and elsewhere in Egypt, to Amarna.

Finally, the tomb has the sad privilege to be one of the more plundered by pillagers and as written by Arpag Mekhitarian, 'it is one of those which are "in a pitiful state" (see image opposite). Osirisnet has tried hard to find the fragments taken from the walls, which scattered in various museums, in order to produce virtual restorations, which remain incomplete to this day.


The two occupants of the tomb don't have a direct relationship tie, as shown by the presence of their respective parents on the walls. Their association in a common funerary monument is very exceptional, as already mentioned this is due on the one hand to their common professional relationship and to one woman, the lady Henutneferet

Two hypotheses arise with regard to the ties uniting the characters: the one of Davies, who makes Nebamon the second husband of Henutneferet after Ipuky, and the one of Polz (which is a lot more recent) who makes her the wife of Ipuky, but the sister of Nebamon. This second hypothesis (which Davies had considered, but only as being remote) is convincing and supported more seriously, and the description of the tomb will be made according to this view, because it seems that Davies has somewhat 'elaborated' certain texts and used of the diverse arguments to maintain his thesis of the two successive husbands.
The summary of the links between the characters is seen below, in the family tree.


He was born of the lady Tepu and a certain Neferhat who was also a "sculptor in Djeseret-Iset (the sacred place) ".

Nebamon held the following titles:
Xrd n [kAp] : Child of kep, "kep" means "the royal nursery", where the royal princes were raised. It is surprising to find a craftsman carrying this prestigious title, but that would be ignoring the recruiting fashion of this school. Undoubtedly it was this, indicating a certain proximity with the sovereign, which gave Nebamon a social precedence over Ipuky, because Ipuky didn't hold this title.
sAwtj n tA Jst : Supervisor of the 'place', which is not specified.
Hrj sStA m Hr.j-Hr-mrw : Supervisor of the secret (expert) department in Herihermeru. Therefore a priest's title, in a place which is still unknown.
Hrj TAjw mDAt m nb-tAwj : Chief sculptor (lit. 'porter of the engraver's chisel') of the Lord of the two Lands.
Hrj TAjw mDAt m Dsrt-Iset : Chief sculptor in the Sacred place.
sAwtj mHAt m Dsrt-Jst : Supervisor of the balances of the king in the Sacred Place.


He was born of the lady Netjermes , with no known title, and of Senennuter , who was "Supervisor of the craftsmen of Herihermeru", which, as already stated, remains mysterious even today.

The titles of Ipuky are:
sAwtj : Supervisor with no added information as to where or of what.
sAwtj Dsert-Jst : Supervisor of the Sacred Place.
sAwtj mHAt n nb-tAwy : Supervisor of the balance of the Lord of the Two Lands.
TAj mDAt n nb-tAwy : Sculptor of the Lord of the Two Lands.
Hrj TAjw mDAt m Dsrt-Jset : Chief sculptor in the Sacred Place. .

It can be seen that the two men only have one actual title in common, the one of "chief sculptor in the Sacred Place". They most probably carried out their responsibilities in different workshops (but close by) without seeing each other. As pointed out by Davies, Nebamon followed Ipuky in his position. Even though Nebamon followed Ipuky, everyone now refers to this tomb as belonging to Nebamon and Ipuky. During their apprenticeship, which doubtless included training in various crafts, including working with wood, stone, or metal, the two men specialised in the engraving of metal and wood carving, as testified in the decor of the tomb. They achieved, by the mastery of their craftsmanship, the function of chief sculptor. Without ever reaching the status of dignitaries, they could nevertheless rise sufficiently in the hierarchy to have the right to produce and decorate a tomb. But the necessary means were very important, and they possibly produced their joint tomb complex after due consideration. But why?


It is in this that the lady Henutneferet was no doubt an intermediary. She was a powerful enough link to bring Nebamon and Ipuky to share their destinies of eternity.
She was indisputably the wife of Ipuky, but her ties with Nebamon are less clear. Was she his sister, his beautiful sister-in-law, or his second wife? This confusion is caused by her designation as "senet". The word "hemet" (which indicated without possible doubt the word wife) was used up to the XVIIIth dynasty. It then dissapeared and was replaced by the confusing "senet", which can, besides meaning wife, also means sister or beautiful sister.
Davies used it as wife for Ipuky, then, in a second marriage, for Nebamon, but he had considered the possibility that the two men were brothers-in-law. Whilst analysing the present list, Daniel Polz holds firmly to this last scenario, and this opinion is the one held in these pages.

Thus, the two men worked closely together, and doubtless by relations of friendship. However, it is not absolutely sufficient to make them desire a common tomb.
As remarked by Peter Dorman, a Theban tomb commemorates the life of only one individual, which plays the central role around of which are going to gather other members of the lineage. It is necessary to understand that permission to dig a tomb, at any cost, even of the most modest form, a family could really consider itself lucky if only one of its members had the good fortune to possess one. It explains the reason why the maintenance of the tombs and the cult worship for the deceased were so important: it was necessary that the monument can, if the case arises, receive the younger generations.
Otherwise, it is possible that it was Henutneferet who supervised part of work in the tomb, this is at least the hypothesis of Davies, supported by Mekhitarian.

Superiority or equality ?

The distribution of the scenes between the two characters doesn't follow any order: there is not, for example, half of a wall for one and the other half for the other. They are represented side by side, carrying out complementary gestures, whether it is in the scenes of banquet, the homage to parents or the funeral rituals, etc. So each of them benefits equally from the images and formulas. It appears that certain of the drawn characters are not named, allowing the families and friends to consider then as theirs, and the tomb is "his home in the west, his place of rest for the eternity".
On the uprights of the entrance doorway, Ipuky is certainly the incoming character, and probably also the one who leaves, because he is accompanied by Henutneferet, whereas Nebamon is always accompanied by his mother.
Other indications (leading role in the common scenes, greater size, etc.) as will be seen progressively, suggest a certain precedence to Nebamon, who supervised the completion - at least - of the monument.

There exists at least another example, dating from the same time, of common tomb to two non-related characters, this is the tomb of Nu and Nakhtmin, TT291 (which should soon appear on OsirisNet, here is a foretaste of it : see ). It is conceived in a different way since it is divided in two: Nu occupies one half of it, Nakhtmin the other; there is no intimate mixture as found in the tomb of Nebamon and Ipuky.