Zone 3: The Craftsmen of Amun

(, , , ) The representation of the workmen in the chapel of Rekhmire is exceptional and is a major source of information about crafts in ancient Egypt. We recall that although high Egyptian society enjoyed undeniably beautiful things, it did not value the work of the craftsman as shown by the descriptions in the Satire of Trades and the absence, in almost all cases, of signatures on the works.

On the right we find a standing image of Rekhmire, facing left; and strange to us, it appears his left hand holds a sceptre sekhem that runs behind his body, which is impossible. The image we see is a skewed vision of reality and we must understand that the person advances with the right foot, holding his cane in his right hand and his scepter in his left hand… Behind the Vizier stand the forty of his assistants on four small sub-registers (, ).
Above the vizier is the text: "Inspecting all craftsmen of the temple of Amun […] and giving every man instructions for his task (to make) all types of products";Rekhmire is described as "one who sets the rules for priests and guides wab-priests in their functions".

First register (top)

Manufacturing beads and necklaces

A man, sitting on a stool, drills beads with a bow drill and bits. It seems incredible that the same person can thus operate several bits at a time, and yet it is possible, as shown by the exciting experiences of Denys Stocks; the same scene is also present in at least six Theban tombs.

Here in summary, is how Stocks described this operation:
Tools to perforate stone or wood have evolved over millennia. Initially, a flint was used to make very coarse holes. The creation of deep, fine holes required the use of drill bits made with a wooden handle in which is stuck a thin metal rod, copper or bronze. The craftsman holds his bit (s) in his left hand, having wrapped around each metal rod the string of a bow that he holds in his right hand. He then moves the bow back and forth to cause a rapid rotation of the rods. The speed of rotation can reach 1500 / minute ().
If the surface to be drilled is a mineral, he adds a fine abrasive powder made of quartz paste. Then to drill necklace beads, the beads for drilling are stuck in a mud brick block to immobilize them. Experience has shown that amethyst bead 10 mm diameter can be perforated by a drill tip of 1 mm in 5 hours. Multiplying the drills obviously increases the number of beads drilled through per unit of time: we have thus proof that at that time an organized structure of mass production had appeared.

Behind the person drilling, two men are busy stringing beads to make necklaces; a third seems to pass a sort of needle through a bead, perhaps to smooth the hole. One can only imagine the time it took to produce a single jeweled collar which, we must admit, we often do not throw even a quick look at in a museum display case…

Manufacturing stone vessels

This comes down to the image of an unkempt man who drills a vase with a drill bit made of two wooden parts topped by a hemispherical ballast stone on which is stuck a "crank"; the lower part ends with a fork between the jaws where a flint crescent is held by a wooden stick. Incidentally, the hieroglyph of the drill, Gardiner U24 or variant () had come to determine the most words related crafts - an example is in the text above Rekhmire.

Last scene

On the right, a man ‘smells the ground’ before the Vizier while he shows him the fruits of the labour of the artisans in stone: rows of green and red beads (large and small) and vessels ().

Second register

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It is dedicated to working with leather, essentially making sandals, shields and quivers, an activity represented at the time of Rekhmire that is often replaced by the production of objects intended for chariots with a heart of moulded wood-like leather. The skins are not tanned in the modern sense, they are shaved and scraped, stretched on a tripod or on a framework, steeped and soaked until wet in oil or fat - to soften and waterproof - and hammered, dried, then cut before being shaped. The specific tools for this leather work are represented besides the craftsmen, scrapers, polishers, combs, awls, punches…

The fruit of this labor is laid before the Vizier (, ) : two types of sandals; white or red leather rolls - we remember that 40 examples are mentioned in the Duties of the Vizier. Behind, a man brings shields and quivers.

A tanner, leaning on a tripod, rubs a skin back and forth, either to stretch or to soften it.. Next, a skin stretched taut by an assistant, is cut into strips using a hemispherical knife blade; four cut strips are already visible. In the small register above, another tanner vigorously scrapes a skin stone he holds with his feet. The next person immerses a skin in a jar of oil or grease to soften it (). To his left, a shoemaker cuts leather straps to be used for sandals () ; moreover we see his companion sitting legs crossed that pulls the tab of a toe strap through the eye of a sole () while another pierces the eyelet-holes which the tabs will be fixed through (, ). Further to the left, there is a tanner now rubbing a skin and a shoemaker who cuts a sole.

On the far left, a man cuts a stretched skin into thin strips so they can be then used to weave a naval rope. Behind an artisan finishes a round piece ().

Third register

It is divided into two half-registers and dedicated to woodworking, carpentry and cabinetmaking. The articles selected for presentation to the Vizier consist of an inlaid chest, the handle of a fan and a headrest; below, a workshop foreman displays a standing statue of a pharaoh in ebony or ebonized wood with gilding and holding in its hand a mace with a silver ball head - it looks surprisingly one of the examples found in the tomb of Tutankhamun (). Behind the statue, a draughtsman and engraver work together on a shrine for holding the statue ().
A man paints a mixture of glue and plaster on a board, while his comrade prepares glue (). A carpenter is planing a board; he has efficient tools: a wooden block with a rectangular slot, a wide adze blade, a base and a square ().

The technique for sawing boards has not changed since the Old Kingdom: it allows the carpenter, although the copper saw not very effective, to saw correctly, without vibration and without jamming the blade. The board is attached tightly to a vertical stake firmly driven into the ground - this first phase is found at the end of the register - () ; in the already cut slit, a wooden wedge is introduced between the two halves, whose one end passes under the knot, while the other is weighted with a stone. Thus the knot is tight, vibrations are prevented and the spacing remains constant. By removing the stone, the knot expands and the board can be moved up to continue sawing.

For small parts, the carpenter merely holds them with one hand, as with this ebony log. Next, three men are astride a column papyrus they polish () ; it is intended to stand on a stone pedestal represented by a white disk. Below, we find two carpenters leaning over a bed They bore holes through for receiving the rope netting with a bronze-tipped drill (yellow) driven by a smaller bow than that used for the beads (, ). Besides them, a man is sawing off a small piece of wood while his companion is working on a Djed pillar ().

A yellow wooden shrine is being shaped; its two completed doors are shown above it. A carpenter works on wood with an adze, while a cabinet-maker finishes attaching ebony Tet and Djed amulets. These amulets are sculpted by the two seated figures below.
Two men carve mortises in large pieces of wood, one with an adze, the other with a chisel and mallet (), while next them a carpenter trims a wood block with hefty adze blows (, ). Meanwhile, two carpenters work upon a chair; one pierces holes with a drill for caning (), the other finishes off a chair leg with lion's paw whose tenon is visible. On the far left, two men polish a small shrine which sits on a sled ().

Fourth register: metal work


This shows an important preliminary and final step: the weight of the metal delivered to the metal workers and (the weight of) finished objects must, of course, be consistent…
It is illustrated appropriately before Rekhmire (, ) : a man regulates the weighing of a balance that holds on one of its trays five gold rings and on the other two weights: one green dome-shaped, the other pink representing a bull's head; we find the same weight and a third weight in the form of a hippo in a basket at the foot of the balance (). A scribe notes the result of the weighing. Before him are gold and silver rings in a basket. The accompanying text says: "Providing for the needs of the goldsmiths of Amun and the supervisors of the artisans of Amun to accomplish all the work of the residence, in accordance with their daily tasks, their numbers are in millions and hundreds of millions, in the presence of the Mayor, the Vizier, the director of the Six Great Houses, Rekhmire".

The final step is represented by the men who approach: one holding a large silver vase, while above another ‘smells the earth’ before the vases and other objects in gold and silver ().

The goldsmith

The main steps in the creation of silver and gold vessels are represented (but not in the correct order) : casting metal, forming, soldering, polishing and decorating.
A kneeling man strikes a gold plate on a stone anvil, embedded in a block of wood, with a stone hammer to obtain a thin, even flat sheet, (as shown above) or convex (). In order to continue to shape the work piece and for the polishing, the artisan uses a kind of tripod formed by a forked branch coupled to a rod, wood or metal, which passes through the loop of the branch and continues into the neck of the container to allow hammering () ; an additional piece could be added at its end to serve as a core according to the shape desired for hammering.
Tests that have been made show that the polishing, only one step of which is shown in Rekhmire’s tomb, is the longest phase and the most tiring of the entire manufacturing process.

The final phase is decoration either by engraving with a chisel and hammer, or embossed. Soldering is a necessary step, but remains poorly understood; it explains the presence of a small furnace with the necessary tools, green wood rods and tongs (). A man stirs up the fire using a reed pipe terminated with a metal tip; he is busy making a small item that will be added to the censer and two cups behind him. The text says: "Making different containers for the personal use of the God and a large number of gold and silver vessels, each of these fabrications will endure".

Foundry and casting

The scenes occupy the left half of the register. Two groups are represented in pairs accomplishing two tasks, maintaining hearth heat and melting the metal (, ). This is probably to show the work of several teams when they make a large item. The furnaces are holes dug in the ground and lined with stones; the fuel is charcoal. To stoke the fire, an ingenious bellows system has been developed: a red leather bag is attached to a white bracket (, , ). The worker standing on the bags can thus work without fatigue changing his weight from one foot to the other while he pulls on their strings; pressurized air is delivered directly into the furnace by reed pipes with a clay cap. Adjacent to the furnace is a pile of charcoal and a large vase (perhaps containing water to cool the tools) (). The crucible containing the metal is placed in, and removed from, the furnace by means of branches of wood ().

Casting a large bronze item for a monumental door (both leaves shown) is done in a mould drilled with17 openings for filling (, ). This requires the team to have perfect coordination, which is confirmed by the almost military manoeuvre of the three metallurgists hurrying with hand-held tools almost like weapons (). In front of them, we read: "They say: Greetings to Menkheperre, beautiful monuments for the sovereign, to whom life is given for eternity He exists, as they exist, for all eternity. He (Amun) likewise gives them life and joy. For ever and ever he has dedicated gifts in the house of his divine father".

On the right, porters bring in baskets of charcoal and ore to the blacksmiths () ; the first one pours his basket onto a pile of charcoal (). Above them one reads: "Bringing copper of Asia, that His Majesty has brought from his victory in the country of Retenu to cast the two doors of the temple of Amun in Karnak, its surfaces coated with gold shining like the horizon of the sky. It is the Mayor, the Vizier Rekhmire who directed all this".