TT71; Tomb of Senenmut

Theben Tomb TT71 is the first tomb of Senenmut, the steward and architect of Hatshepsut, the female ruler of the New Kingdom of ancient Egypt.

It is located in Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, on the west bank across the river from Thebes. He also had a tomb built under the courtyard of Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple (TT353) which was not completed, however, it is not confirmed that he was buried in this tomb either. The decorations in the tomb were copied during the 1820s to 1830s, and it was investigated by Winlock in 1930, but significant damage has accrued at the site over time and much detail was lost.

Floor plan of TT71 the tomb of Senenmut
  1. Outer terrace and forecourt
  2. Central hall with pillars
  3. Shaft to small chamber
  4. Niches
  5. False door and niche

TT71 is a T-shaped tomb cut directly into the living rock. There is a terrace and forecourt around forty meters across in front of the tomb and a ramp connects the two sides of the forecourt which makes it look a little like “Djeser djeseru” (the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut). Underneath this forecourt he constructed a single room tomb for his parents.

Above the entrance corridor (and level with the upper edge of the facade) a corridor was cut about seven meters into the rock. At the far end, a block statue was cut directly out of the rock.

Both the corridor and the block statue are incomplete and uninscribed, but the statue does resemble well attested representations of Senenmut with Neferura (the daughter of Hatshepsut) and so it is considered that the statue was intended to depict Senenmut with his young charge. Few monuments include this type of addition. One of the few others that does is the tomb of Senimen (TT252) who may have been Senenmut’s brother.

A central entrance leads back into a wide pillared chamber which is divided by eight columns set in a row down the middle of the room. Four windows cut from the rock on each side of the doorway allow light into this room. On the back wall of the pillared chamber several niches are cut into the rock. They are positioned so that the morning light illuminates them when it pours through the four windows on each side of the door.

It is often proposed that these niches were intended to house statues of Senenmut, but only one statue of the right dimensions has been connected with the site, and it is not certain that it was ever placed in one of these niches.

Decorations from TT71 the tomb of Senenmut; (copyright Keith Schengili-Roberts)

A narrow corridor runs twenty-three meters further into the rock from the back of the pillared chamber. At the end of this corridor there was a red quartzite false-door (now in the Berlin Museum) with a false-door stele above it. There was also a niche (of width one meter, height one and a half meters, and depth one and three quarter meters) set about two and a half meters above the floor which was lined with limestone to create a small shrine where it is thought there would have been a statue of Senenmut.

There is a shaft cut from the southeast corner of the pillared chamber which descends into a small chamber (around three and a half metres long and one meter wide) which is generally considered to have been the intended resting place of his sarcophagus. However, construction seems to have stopped just before completion and there is no evidence the burial took place.

“Concerning any man, who will cause damage to my statue, he may not follow the king of his time; he may not be buried in the western cemetery; he may not be given any lifetime on earth.”
Translation by Meyer

The walls and ceilings of the tomb were brightly decorated. We know that one of the transverse hallways was originally decorated with a frieze of Hathor heads and a depiction of Mediterranean men bearing tribute. However, although some traces of painting remain on the ceiling most of the original painting has now degraded. In addition to the coloured decorations, nine stele-like plaques were placed in the walls and inscribed with the titles of Senenmut. All of the inscriptions have clearly been damaged intentionally.

The inscriptions make frequent reference to his relation with Hatshepsut and his privileged position in her court. The only reference to Neferu-Ra is on the rock statue above the entrance to the tomb and on a few funeral cones. It is thought that Neferu-Ra was still alive when the tomb was constructed.

Some of the damage clearly dates to the Amarna period (when Akhenaten promoted the Aten and rejected the other gods) and it is also generally agreed that Thuthmosis was to blame for some of the vandalism (he also defaced images and text relating to his step-mother Hatshepsut in her Mortuary temple at Deir el Bahri). It is also suggested by some that Hatshepsut may have ordered that his tomb be defaced when he fell from her favour (although many scholars reject this supposition).

The False Door

The false door was found lying at the end of the corridor by the western wall. It is thought that it was originally placed immediately below the niche. It consists of a only one yellow quartzite block with a few small defects filled with mortar.

The block is designed to resemble the facade of a chapel with torus moulding and a cavetto cornice. In the centre of the block a number of jambs define a false-door sitting on a rectangular base. Above this there are two Wadjet eyes with a depiction of Senenmut and his parents at a funeral banquet beneath them. Senenmut’s father places his arm protectively around his son and his mother holds a lotus flower to his nose.

On the right of the false door Anubis appears with four mummiform “rudders of heaven”, on the left a bull (Ra) and seven cows (seven Hathors). The piece is also inscribed with portions of Chapter 148 of the Book of Dead to protect him from injury and ensure that he received sufficient provisions in the afterlife.

This false door is exceptional because quartzite was usually reserved for royalty. Private citizens generally had to make do with granite (or another stone imitating granite). However, flecks of paint on the quartzite indicate that it was painted a greenish blue. This too was unusual with yellow being more normal for quartzite and blue-green being standard for painting granite. Thus, the false door was built with costly quartzite but may have been decorated to resemble granite!

Rock cut Stelae

One of the most unusual aspects of this tomb is the nine rock cut Stelae carved into the long hallway. The stele were cut into the rock and then painted white before hieroglyphs were cut in raised relief and painted blue. The stelae differ in size and shape but all have the standard rounded top. The translations of the text appear below with the excised text in italics.

Stele 1 (southern wall)

“The steward of Amun, Senenmut.”

It seems that the name of Amun was excised during the reign of Akhenaten during the Atenist period and Senemut’s name was excised at an earlier date possibly by Thuthmosis or even Hatshepsut.

Stele 2 (southern wall)

“The great steward of Amun, Senenmut.”

The text stars at the top left corner reading to the lower right corner, then from the top right corner to the lower left corner. This is unique and unexplained departure from the normal method of writing hieroglyphic text.

Stele 3 (southern wall)

“The steward of Amun, Senenmut.”

Again, the name of Amun was probably excised during the reign of Akhenaten during the Atenist period and Senemut’s name was excised at an earlier date possibly by Thuthmosis or even Hatshepsut.

Stele 4 (southern wall)

“The overseer of the granaries of Amun, Senenmut, born of Ra-mose, of the body of Hat-nofer.”

Again, the name of Amun was probably excised during the reign of Akhenaten during the Atenist period and Senemut’s name was excised at an earlier date possibly by Thuthmosis or even Hatshepsut.

Stele 5 (southern wall)

The steward of the granaries of Amun, Senenmut, justified, born of Ra-mose, from the body of Hat-nofer.”

His title is unclear due to the damage inflicted upon it but the best fit is “steward of the granaries”

Stele 6 (southern wall)

“The steward, Senenmut.”

This stele is relatively undamaged.

Stele 7 (northern wall)

“The great steward Senenmut, justified

“born of Ra-mose, from the body of Hat-nofer.

Again the name of Senenmut has been destroyed

Stele 8 (northern wall)

“The overseer of all royal works, Senenmut

Again the name of Senenmut has been destroyed

Stele 9 (northern wall)

The steward, Senenmut.

The text was almost totally destroyed

  • Dorman, Peter F.(1988) The Monuments of Senenmut
  • Strudwick, Nigel and Helen (1999) Thebes in Egypt

Copyright J Hill 2016