In the age of the pyramids, only high-ranking dignitaries were privileged enough to rest inside a monumental tomb, known as a “mastaba”. Akhethotep, an important figure in the Old Kingdom and close to the pharaoh, was one such person. Transported to the Louvre in 1903, his 4,000-year-old tomb chapel is one of the highlights of the Department of Egyptian Antiquities.
One century later, beneath the sand, the Louvre discovered the original site of the chapel and the remarkable architectural complex to which it belonged. Based on new information unearthed by the archaeological discovery, the Louvre plans to restore and reassemble the chapel of Akhethotep to more accurately represent how it would have originally looked in the Egyptian mastaba.
In order to bring this project to fruition, the Musée du Louvre is calling upon the generosity of the public to raise €500,000 before January 31, 2017. Your donation is crucial to this campaign’s success. Donations of all sizes are welcome!
The Louvre Museum has launched a crowdfunding campaign so that individuals may contribute toward the study, restoration, and reassembly of this ancient Egyptian treasure. American Friends of the Louvre is delighted to join this effort. You may make an online donation now via PayPal by scrolling to “Mastaba" on our Make a Gift page. You may also call the AFL office at 917 717 5033 to make a gift by phone. Donations made to American Friends of the Louvre are fully tax deductible within the limits prescribed by the law.
Akhethotep is still a somewhat enigmatic figure. He was a dignitary who lived during the Old Kingdom of Egypt, around 2400 BC. The inscriptions in his tomb list his titles and the honors he was granted. He is thus described as a “unique friend,” a court title which meant that he was part of the royal entourage and that his king knew him personally. Within the palace, his role as “chief of secrets of the House of Morning” confirms this close relationship, since he was in charge of the rituals associated with the awakening and dressing of the pharaoh. In turn, his title “priest of Heka” (god of magic) reminds us that taking care of the pharaoh when he awoke each morning, and thus being responsible for the crowns, scepters, and jewelry was a magical—hence medicinal—function, since they were all endowed with divine powers that protected the physical body of the sovereign, the sole intermediary between the world of the gods, and the world of the living.
The sovereign granted Akhethotep the privilege of being allowed to build a monumental tomb, a mastaba, in one of the royal necropolises near the capital on the Saqqara plateau. The funerary cult performed by professionals was yet another prerogative. With walls covered in decorative carvings, the chapel now on view at the Louvre was reserved for this purpose: to ensure the daily supply of offerings guaranteed by the good management—regarded as eternal—of Akhethotep’s estate.
Inside the walls of the mastaba chapel, visitors find themselves whisked, as if by magic, into a lively world, bustling with rural life close to nature and animals, not a far cry from the Egyptian countryside today. The wealth depicted in the chapel was intended to carry great power and fortune to Akhethotep in the after-life.
The country scene filled with abundance in the chapel was not merely a depiction of the estate over which Akhethotep ruled and which ensured his prosperity. It was also the opulent home environment of a lord. The scene includes many animals including 256 cattle, which represents a fabulous fortune. Game such as a gazelle, an antelope, an ibex, and a splendid white oryx are being led by wardens who are mustering their strength to keep hold of these powerful animals.
Grain harvest was a crucial moment in rural life. In the chapel scene, donkeys are walking around the threshing floor; one raises its head and appears to bray. In the next scene, women wearing headscarves are winnowing the grain, tossing it up into the air.
The vivacity of the estate was brought to life through the work of the ancient Egyptian sculptors, whose expressive carvings skillfully captured and rendered the gestures of the peasants and the attitudes of the animals, colorfully depicting life along the banks of the Nile.
An Old Kingdom tomb was composed of a colossal parallelepipedal superstructure with sloping walls and a hollow section, housing the underground burial chamber and its access shaft, which was sealed off after the funeral. To enable the funerary rites to be performed, both a false-door stela, which named the deceased and allowed his spirit to pass in and out, and a small door leading into the chapel were placed in the façade of the building (the actual mastaba). Also included was the serdab, a sealed chamber containing a statue of the deceased.
In 1991, the Louvre began excavations in Saqqara in search of the mastaba to which Akhethotep’s chapel belonged in order to confirm its original location. The expedition was a success and the exact archaeological conditions of this remarkable funerary complex is now known. Based on new findings learned from the mastaba site about where and how Akhethotep’s chapel was originally placed, the Louvre will restore and rebuild the chapel according to these new findings. In spring 2017, the original mastaba archaeological site will be buried, so this magnificent funerary complex will once again lay beneath the earth as intended.
The new presentation of the chapel of Akhethotep at the Louvre will allow visitors to experience what a monumental Old Kingdom tomb once looked like.