By Jeffrey Levin

In life, the royalty of ancient Egypt's New Kingdom was surrounded by the nobles of the realm. So it was in death. The great necropolis at Thebes included not only the royal burial grounds, but the countless final resting places of court officials who had served their pharaohs.

The tombs of Egyptian nobility were cut into the barren hills and valleys between the royal burial grounds and the green fields of the Nile floodplain. Like their royal counterparts, the interiors of noble tombs were covered with paintings and hieroglyphic text. And, like the royal tombs, they were subject to the destructive forces of nature.

In conjunction with the Nefertari Conservation Project, the Egyptian Antiquities Organization (EAO) and the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) recently completed the conservation of a noble's tomb in the valley of Deir El-Bahari. The conservation project was part of an EAO-GCI course on pharaonic wall paintings conservation given to EAO staff.

Conservation image

The tomb, discovered in 1959, is contemporary with that of Nefertari. Constructed by Kiki—Rameses II's official keeper of accounts for cattle—it consists of a small entrance hall connected by a short, narrow passage to the sepulchral chamber. Kiki is depicted in several places in the tomb, including one painting in which he and his wife present themselves to Osiris, the god of the afterlife. Noteworthy in the tomb is a passage of text in the entrance chamber in which the deceased bequeaths his estate to the Temple of the goddess Mut.

As with the tomb of Nefertari, the wall paintings of the tomb of Kiki had deteriorated as the result of salt crystallization that damaged both the pictorial layer and the bedrock beneath it. In addition, a restoration attempt in the mid-1960s had employed inappropriate materials and techniques, which only worsened the tomb's condition.

In October 1990, the EAO-GCI conservation campaign at Kiki began. Five EAO conservators carried out the program, supervised by instructors Eudald Guillamet, a conservator with the Patrimoni Artistic Nacional of the Principality of Andorra, and Eduardo Porta, a conservator from the Museo Arqueológico in Barcelona. Additional instruction was provided by members of the Nefertari Conservation team.

While the conservation of the Kiki tomb was part of a course to train Egyptian conservators in wall paintings conservation techniques, a primary objective of the effort was to maintain the tomb's aesthetic and historic integrity. The course was structured to follow the standard steps of a conservation program, providing instruction in analysis, documentation, and treatment selection.

The first step in the tomb's conservation was emergency intervention. In places where the pictorial layer was detaching, strips of Japanese mulberry bark paper were applied. When this procedure was completed, dust from the chambers was carefully removed. The conservators then readhered the pictorial layer with a mortar preparation and cleaned the surface with solvents. A good deal of effort was devoted to removing poorly applied mortar from the restoration carried out in the 1960s. Once cleaned, the lacunae were filled with different mortar mixtures that can be readily distinguished from the original.

Cleaning of the pictorial layer permitted the reappearance of several previously obscured scenes. These included a depiction in the entrance chamber of woodcutters felling trees—an unusual image in Egyptian wall painting. Conservation of the tomb was completed in April of this year, concluding an important training opportunity for wall paintings conservators in Egypt.

Team Members

Eduardo Porta

Eudald Guillamet

Mohamed Mahrouz Moselmi
Magdi Mansour Bedavi
Samy Girgis Aseed
Hanan Nairuz Fehmi
Odette Samuel Habib
Amal Rido Kramal