The houses at Deir el-Medina

Although the houses in the village varied in size they followed a fairly standard plan. The first room very often contained a rectangular mud brick structure partially or fully enclosed except for an opening on the long side, which was approached by three steps. Bruyère found remains of these structures in twenty eight of the sixty eight houses known to him at the site.

The function of the bed-like constructions is still being discussed by Egyptologists today. It has been suggested that they could have functioned as a birthing or nursing bed, or a bed-altar to an ancestor cult. Fragments from several paintings from the  exterior panels of some of these structures specifically involve themes in female life: labour, childbirth and daily grooming.

It is assumed that the villagers might have worshipped figures of deities or supplicated a recently deceased relative within

these bed-altars.

Recently it has been suggested (Brooker, 2009, p. 44-53) that the front rooms at Deir el-Medina were used as gardens. The suggestion is supported by existence of several clay models of houses from other sites in Egypt displaying enclosed courtyards within the frontal space. Archaeological evidence indicates that gardens were created on lower levels than the houses. The majority of floors in the front rooms at Deir el-Medina's houses were at lower levels - some 40 to 50 cm lower than the street level. Textual evidence relating to the front room and its purpose is limited, but Instructions and love poetry  both suggest the importance of a private garden for an ancient Egyptian.

The second room was the  main living room and it stood higher than the first one. The flat roof of the room was supported by one or two wooden pillars that rested on stone bases. By archaeological evidence it is widely acknowledged that the second room had a sacred significance. Offering stelae were found near shallow rectangular and arched wall niches, which occur in several houses in the first and second rooms. Limestone offering tables were found in their vicinity. In the second rooms of most houses false door dedications were discovered. All this evidence seems to indicate that the second room, among other multiple settings, was used to connect with and gain protection of those outside the bounds of ordinary moral existence.

Some houses had a small chamber off the second room, which seems to have been used both as a general storeroom and as a place where someone might sleep. Beyond this room there was a kitchen and a staircase leading up to the roof, which was partially open to the air to allow smoke to escape. Two cellars complete the dwellings.

Plan of a typical Deir el-Medina house. Drawn by Lenka Peacock,

after a drawing of Mary Winkes, in Pharaoh's workers.

View of the east side of the settlement as seen towards west
Take a stroll along the eastern (lower) side of the settlement of Deir el-Medina, viewing each house from east towards west.  The main cemetery can be seen at the top of the photographs in the distance.

Photography © Andy Peacock 2007

The origins of this breathtakingly beautiful panorama were rooted in the walk across the Theban hills taken by Warwick Barnard from Sydney, Australia, in January 2007. The magnificent panorama was rendered by him from his six contiguous images and then processed into a reduced size image. The original was over 25 MB.

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Photography © Warwick Barnard 2007

The four panoramas below were created in December 2009 using photographic material obtained at Deir el-Medina at the beginning of that month. The author is Alan Vowles, UK

North-south view of the settlement

East-west view of the settlement and the Western tombs

Photography © Alan Vowles 2009

The text on this page was written by Lenka Peacock

Photography © Lenka and Andy Peacock, Warwick Barnard, Alan Vowles

1. James, T.G.H.: Pharaoh's people : scenes from life in Imperial Egypt
New York : Tauris Parke, 2003.
2. David, A. Rosalie: The pyramid builders of ancient Egypt : a modern investigation of Pharaoh's workforce.
London : Routledge, 1986.
3. Pharaoh's workers : the villagers of Deir el-Medina / edited by Leonard H. Lesko
Ithaca : Cornell University Press, 1994.
4. Brooker, M. L.: A new approach of identifying the function of the elevated beds at Deir el-Medina. A thesis: The University of Birmingham, Master of
Birmingham : University of Birmingham, June 2009. 196 p.

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