Neferabu's tomb no. 5 at Deir el-Medina

Neferabu was a worker from Deir el-Medina, whose title was "The servant in the Place of Truth". He was active in the necropolis during the first half of the 19th dynasty. Thanks to the surviving textual evidence from the village the dates can be narrowed down to years 36 (O.Gardiner 133) and 40 (O.BM 5634) of Ramesses II. (Davis,1999,158)
The tomb of Neferabu (which is numbered TT5) is an excellent source from which his family tree can be constructed. Neferabu was the son of "The servant in the Place of Truth" Neferrenpet and his wife Mahy. In the tomb's inscriptions Amenmose is referred to as the "father" of Neferabu, but it has been proven that Amenmose was in fact the father of Neferabu's wife Ta-Isis (or Isis or Taiset). (Davis,1999,158)
The names of his numerous children are recorded on the tomb's walls. He had sons Nodjemger, Neferronpet, Ramose and Meriunu and the daughters Henuttu, Mahi, Tenthaynu, Hotepy, Mutemopet, Istnofret, Henut-iunet and Roruti.
The tomb of Neferabu is nestled against the Theban hills in the northern part of the western necropolis of Deir el-Medina.
Photography © 2007 Andy Peacock
A plan of the tomb of Neferabu, no. 5. Drawn by Lenka Peacock, after a drawing in Vandier, Jacques : Tombes de Deir el- Médineh, 1935.

History of the discovery

We know almost nothing about the discovery of the tomb of Neferabu. Most probably it goes back more than two centuries. Maspero suggested 1818 as the year of discovery on the basis of Neferabu's stele now in the British Museum (EA 589, more details below). The stele came from a collection of Count Belmore and is said to have been found in a tomb at Thebes in 1818. Although this votive stele may have come from his tomb, it is more likely that it originated in one of the shrines at Deir el-Medina, or possibly from the rock shrine between the village and the Valley of the Queens.
Further evidence disinclines us to accept Maspero's claims.

1. From a papyrus kept in the Louvre, we know that the tomb was violated during the Ptolemaic times when it served as the catacombs: "Appointed Horus leaves to each of his sons a quarter that belongs to him in Neferabu's catacombs, and a
quarter of the dead."
2. The tomb was most probably inhabited by Copts. In the first hall and in the two connecting rooms, there were numerous burn marks on the ceiling and walls. This does not prove with certainty that the tomb was inhabited by Copts (some markings are modern and were caused by the Arabs) but they can often be seen as a sign of the presence of Copts, and it is very likely that the tomb of Neferabu, after serving as the catacombs, was used as dwellings by Copts.
3. After his visit to Deir el-Medina in 1880s Alfred Wiedemann describes 19th dynasty tombs but does not mention the tomb of Neferabu in his article published in 1908.
4. In 1929 Bernard Bruyère discovered another stele in the shaft of pit No. 1195. That again proves the stele from Belmore's collection, found in a tomb in Thebes, does not have to come from the tomb of Neferabu.
However it is not impossible that the tomb of Neferabu was known already in 1818 and as forgotten rapidly thereafter. The fact is not without precedent in Deir el-Medina - wall scenes in tomb No. 3 were copied by Hay between 1825 and 1838 and then the tomb was again discovered by Howard Carter in 1910. This hypothesis might be likely. The tomb known in 1818 could have filled with sand shortly afterwards. There is another example of this happening at Deir el-Medina: the tomb of Inherkau was partly drawn by Lepsius in the middle of 19th century, consequently lost and rediscovered by Bruyère in

A conclusion cannot be drawn on whether the tomb was known in the early 19th century, and we cannot answer the question about who discovered the tomb of Neferabu and when. (Vandier,1935,1-4)

Drawn by Lenka Peacock, after a drawing in Vandier, Jacques : Tombes de Deir el-Médineh, 1935.



The tomb belongs to the category of chapel tombs. It had the following plan: at ground level a small open courtyard, the vaulted chapel of one room surmounted by a brick pyramid topped with a stone pyramidion and with a large funerary stele beyond. The vaulted chapel was very brightly decorated. The shaft near the courtyard leads into the underground passage and into two burial chambers.
This type of tomb was widely used during the 19th and 20th dynasties.
The tomb consists of two distinct parts: the underground part for the deceased, and the outer side visited by family and friends and functioning as a place for worshipping the dead. This part was almost completely destroyed, but the preserved remains and other data gathered from other tombs can help in reconstruction of its shape.

The courtyard was a square measuring 6.5 meters on each side, surmounted by walls of stone and mud brick. The entrance, which was on the southern side, undoubtedly consisted of two brick pillars, and was approached via a ramp or stairs. At the end of the courtyard a pyramid shaped building was located.


A small chapel, the layout of which, as noticed by Bruyère, is the same as the hieroglyphic sign for the house, was built of mud brick and stone, and measured 2 x 3.10 meters. The door, located on the longer side opened towards the south. At the end of the chapel - opposite the front door - was a niche where the floor was elevated to the height of one step. The niche measured 2 meters by 1.5 meters. This was where the funerary stele and a table of offerings were usually placed. In his report of 1926 (p. 86) Bruyère says of the chapel that "the fact the slope collapsed, the remains were all but demolished. We can just about assume a room that had to be arched, constructed of brick, with a west-east axis parallel to the front." Multicoloured figures were painted on the chapel walls against a yellow background.

Pyramid. The walls of the chapel were the basis on which stood a brick pyramid, topped by a pyramidion. The pyramidion was made of painted limestone and had inscriptions honoring the sun engraved on it. Each of the four sides represented one stage the sun went through during the day. On the south side of the pyramid, a niche containing the round topped stele, found by Bruyère 1929 in a neighboring pit No. 1195, was placed.
The inside of the pyramid was hollow to avoid putting too much weight onto the walls of the chapel. The
outer walls of the pyramids were lime washed. (Vandier,1935,5-6)

Drawn by Lenka Peacock, after a drawing in Vandier, Jacques : Tombes de Deir el-Médineh, 1935.

Shaft. In the courtyard, two meters in front of the chapel, there was a tomb shaft. It was dug into the ground vertically. It measures 0.75 x 1.40 meters and is 4 meters deep. Its walls were clad in mud brick covered with white paint. There are slots in the walls of the shaft at intervals of about 0.60 metres so that descent is possible. Four steps leading into the first chamber are modern, the 5th one is original. The door within the east wall opened towards the west.

The first hall. It is a long hall oriented north to south, measuring 2 meters by 5.08 meters. The ceiling is vaulted and consists of mud bricks placed in oblique lines. The walls are completely covered with paint applied onto plaster. A large part of the vault and the north wall are blackened and burned, so it is very hard to read the text of inscriptions and to study the wall paintings.
Around the middle of the hall the vaulted ceiling is cracked. Traces of old brick structure, no doubt the old shaft, can be seen. This suggests that Neferabu reused an earlier tomb as his resting place. It is likely that the earlier tomb dates from the 18th dynasty.
The original shaft is located about 2 feet from the later shaft. In the chapel courtyard remains of the southern wall of the old shaft can be traced. It was also built from mud brick, as was the later shaft of Neferabu's.

A small longitudinal room leads from the first hall towards the west side and two other small interconnected rooms are placed on the east side. It is hard to say whether the little rooms belonged to the original tomb, or whether they were added by Neferabu. These areas may have served as storerooms and were filled with funerary goods. The walls of these rooms are blackened by smoke either from the Ptolemaic or the Coptic times. The first room of the eastern group displays a cavity in
the ground along its eastern wall, representing a kind of oblong tank, in which the sarcophagus could have been placed at some stage.

At the end of the northern side of the tomb's first hall we observe a kind of a stage or mastaba, elevated by 47cms and 2m wide. O this altar, which occupies the entire far end of the hall, the family of the deceased probably placed their offerings during the funeral ceremony. This mastaba is an element occurring in the tombs of this area quite often, but is usually located at the bottom of the burial chamber. The Mastaba in this tomb masks the shaft, which leads into the burial room. The shaft was filled with hard-packed soil, which also formed the mastaba itself. The entrance to the second room was no doubt closed by a large vertical stone, that slid into two vertical grooves. The grooves are still visible at the entrance to the tomb, although they are covered with white plaster.

The entrance to the burial chamber has 4 steps, which are modern. Farina's photographs from the time when the tomb was excavated by Bruyère shows us the original state: there was a shaft with three of it's walls being whitewashed with lime. The fourth wall formed by the sealing plug. At the bottom of the southern wall the last three layers of mud bricks were left unplastered. Either there could have been a step, or - and it is more likely - that it is simply a sign of damage.

Burial chamber. The second room, which is the burial chamber, is larger than the first hall. It measures 6.25 by 3 meters. Its hight reaches 2.6 metres but is also reduced by its arched ceiling. Its floor is about 1.5 meters below the level of the first hall. Quite a large crack in the ceiling, which damaged the front wall scenes and areas in the southeast and southwest corners, allows a glimpse of remains of the original brickwork, as in the first hall.
The eastern wall is damaged by a large rift, about a meter wide, probably caused during probing at the time of the discovery. It leads to a small lower cavity with dimensions 2.0 by 1.4 meters. The texts and scenes on the walls are intact here.

The niches were drawn by Lenka Peacock, after a drawing in Vandier, Jacques : Tombes de Deir el-Médineh, 1935.
At the end of the burial chamber there is a special and interesting detail: there are small oblong vertical niches, located on the east and west walls about half a meter from the northern corner. Bruyère thought they were intended to hold a wooden beam that would take the weight of the sarcophagus while lowering it into a room underneath. In 1929 he made a probe into the floor at the foot of the north wall, but found nothing apart from a small empty cavity at 1.5
meters. The purpose of these niches thus remains enigmatic.
When the tomb was being decorated, the niches were bricked up and lime washed, but the artist left them blank without decoration. It is difficult to explain these elements as nothing similar has been discovered in other tombs. (Vandier,1935,6-9)
Objects connected to Neferabu housed in the British Museum
Fragment of a stela of Neferabu
19th dynasty
From Deir el-Medina
British Museum EA 1754
Location: Gallery 63/11
Height: 17.5 centimetres
Length: 52 centimetres
Acquired in Luxor
The stela above may have come from his tomb TT5 or perhaps from one of the shrines at Deir el-Medina.
The relief shows the sons and relations of the deceased and the draftsman Pabaki, the draftsman Pashedu and the scribe Ipu(y), carrying assorted funerary goods to place in his tomb. These include various boxes and stools. Merysekhmet is referred to as a sn (brother) of Neferabu on the stele, but Jac Janssen identifies Merysekhmet as Neferabu's nephew. He argues that Merysekhmet is not his true brother, but a member of the same generation, which, according to Janssen sn refers to. (Gleanings,1982,128). The argument is supported by identification of at least 11 so-called brothers (sn) from several monuments attributed to Neferabu. The filiations recorded in Egyptian funerary reliefs do not always reliably reflect a particular blood relationship and closer investigation in certain cases enables Egyptologists to ascertain the true relationship with the persons involved (Davies,1999,158).

It is in good but incomplete condition. In literature it is always cited together with stela 150 (as BM 150+1754). It has been published by Kitchen in his Rammesside Inscriptions, Vol 3, p. 774, Part of 154. It has also been published in The British Museum hieroglyphic texts from Egyptian stelae etc., edited by T. G. H. James, Part 9: Plate XXX Registration number: 1931,0613.11
Ostrakon bearing an attendance record of  workmen
EA 5634
Neferabu's name appears on line 3 of the ostrakon:
Neferabu: month 4 of Spring, day 15 (his daugher was bleeding), day 17 (burying the god), month 2 of Summer, day 7 (embalming his brother), day 8 (libating for him), month 4 of  Summer, day 26 (his wife was bleeding).
To view and browse the digitised version of The Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Statues, Reliefs and Paintings, (also known as Porter & Moss or TopBib) for this tomb, go to
Material for the Bibliography is gathered from an ever-expanding range of multi-lingual sources, encompassing both specialist and semi-popular Egyptological and Near Eastern publications, periodicals, museum guides, exhibition and auction catalogues, together with the growing wealth of web resources. The Bibliography also analyses a range of unpublished manuscripts, including those housed in the Griffith Institute Archive. Published in May 2014 by the Griffith Institute, University of Oxford, the volumes are constantly revised and augmented.
The text on this page was written by Lenka & Andy Peacock
Photography © Lenka Peacock, The Trustees of the British Museum
With many thanks and gratitude to Ing. Jaroslav Bican, my brother, for the translations of the French text into the Czech language.
1. Vandier, Jacques : Tombes de Deir el-Médineh : la tombe de Nefer-Abou
Le Caire : Impr. de l'Institut français d'archéologie orientale, 1935.
2. Davies, Benedict G.: Who's who at Deir el-Medina : a prosopographic study of the royal workmen's community
Leiden : Nederlands Instituut voor Her Nabije Oosten, 1999
3. Davis, Benedict G.: Genealogies and personality characteristics of the workmen in the Deir el-Medina community during the Ramesside period. Thesis submitted in accordance with the requirements of the University of Liverpool for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Liverpool : University of Liverpool, February 1996.
4. Gleanings from Deir el-Medina / editors, R. J. Demarée and Jac. J. Janssen.
Leiden : Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten te Leiden, 1982.
5. Journey through the Afterlife : Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead / edited by John H. Taylor
London : The British Museum Press, 2010. 320 p.
6. The British Museum web site