Wednesday, 1 February 2012
Niankh-khnum & Khnum-hotep
In 1964 in the ancient necropolis of Saqqara, Egyptian archaeologist Mounir Basta discovered a series of rock-cut passages into the escarpment facing the causeway to the pyramid of Unas. Crawling on his hands and knees through the passages, Basta came upon an Old Kingdom offering chamber. He was impressed with its unique scenes of two men in an intimate embrace.
Archaeologists working on the restoration of the causeway discovered that some of the stone blocks that had been used to build the causeway had been appropriated in ancient times from a dismantled mastaba (a type of ancient Egyptian tomb) that had originally served as the entrance to the tomb. The archaeologists reconstructed the mastaba using the blocks found in the substructure of the causeway. It was revealed that this tomb had been built for two men to cohabit and that both shared identical titles under the Pharaoh Niuserre of the Fifth Dynasty: "Overseer of the Manicurists in the Palace of the King."
In April 1997 Greg Reeder presented a paper before the annual meeting of The American Research Center In Egypt held that year in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The paper was entitled "The Tomb of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep: New Perspectives." In it he compared how husband and wife were portrayed in tombs of the 4th, 5th and 6th Dynasties to how Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep were paired in their tomb. The iconographic evidence indicating that the two manicurists had a very intimate and special relationship with each other that compared most favourably with that of mixed gendered couples. Reeder's presentation was well received.
This interpretation has proved controversial. Some critics argue that, as both men appear to have been married and had children, they were probably brothers rather than loves. However, it is not unknown in some cultures (though, I confess I am unsure if this applies to Ancient Egyptian culture) for men (most history tells us about men rather than women) to marry to continue the family line, while at the same time having loving relationships with other men.