Tomb of Anen
Project Spotlight
Restoring the Tomb of Anen, an 18th-dynasty Priest with Royal Ties
Reduced to rubble by time and neglect, the tomb of ancient Egyptian priest, Anen, was painstakingly restored and opened for the first time ever in 2002.

Located atop the highest point of the West Bank’s royal necropolis hill in Luxor, the tomb of Anen belonged to an ancient Egyptian priest that served under the reign of Amenhotep III. Commonly believed to have served in the military prior to joining the priesthood, Anen was known by a number of honorable titles that included ‘Guardian of the Palanquin,’ ‘Second of the Four Prophets of Amun’ and ‘Greatest of Seers.’ Beyond his high spiritual standing, Anen also came from a notable regal line. The brother of Queen Tiye, Anen was not only the brother in-law of Amenhotep III, but a maternal uncle to Akhenaten and a maternal great uncle to Tutankhamun.

Because of these familial ties, Anen’s tomb carries substantial historical and scholarly value, and was selected for an intensive restoration project in 2002. Backed by the American Research Center in Egypt, with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development, and directed by archaeologist Lyla Pinch-Brock, the project sought to reverse much of the deterioration that had affected the tomb’s colorful wall paintings and overall structural integrity. Carried out on an intensive schedule in October and November 2002, the project not only restored several impressive wall reliefs – one of which was famously captured as a painting entitled “a jewel in the gebel” in 1929 by Norman de Garis Davies, on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art –  but also has made the tomb accessible to scholars and visitors alike.

Anen detail bowing figures

Composed of a main hall and an inner burial chamber, the ‘T’-shaped layout of Anen’s tomb is typical of the 18th dynasty. The surviving wall reliefs depict a series of powerful images, including that of rekhyt birds (lapwings) with their anthropomorphized wings raised in adoration – a symbolic image that was unique to the New Kingdom period and represents bound captives, or the captured enemies of Egypt. A second exquisitely detailed image depicts Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye, receiving tribute from foreign visitors. The bowing figures beneath the thrones represent the Nine Bows, or the leaders of the foreign dynasties dominated by Egypt at the time: Minoa, Babylonia, Libya, Beduin, Mittani (the Assyrians), Kush, Irem (Upper Nubia), Iuntiu-seti (Nubian nomads) and Mentu-nu-setet (coastal Levant). The relief has an incredible amount of movement and symbolism in it, including a cat holding a duck by the neck beneath the throne of Queen Tiye, a leaping monkey and foreign enemies on King Amenhotep III’s foot cushion, literally being crushed under the weight of the pharaoh’s feet.

The wall reliefs were in a state of advanced deterioration, due in part to the roof collapsing and filling the tomb with rubble. This allowed for exposure to external elements such as flooding from rain and extreme light and heat. The reliefs had also undergone targeted vandalization, particularly in the case of the depiction of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye, both of whom had their faces chiseled out. Additionally, sections of the reliefs had been cut from the walls and left discarded in fragments among the tomb’s remaining rubble, likely the result of failed attempts to steal them at some point in the 1930s when looting in the area was especially rife. This had predominantly affected the bottom half of the Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye wall relief, where looters had tried to remove the Nine Bows but ended up shattering seven of the figures.

Tomb of Anen

The project conservator, Ewa Parandowska, began work first on the rekhyt relief, and owing to the repetitive nature of the imagery, was able to repair the missing sections of the relief relatively quickly. Fragments belonging to the relief that had been found in the tomb were re-adhered to the wall with specially prepared mortar and the relief as a whole was further stabilized to the wall with a thin layer of mortar that was applied along the edges of the painting. The wall surrounding the relief was reinforced and finished with lime mortar, and followed by a mechanical cleaning of the relief with brushes and scalpels.

Conservation of the Tomb of Anen

The conservation of the relief of Amenhotep III and Queen Tiye was a more challenging task and also required some ingenuity on the part of Parandowska. Given the extent of the missing and damaged fragments, Parandowska obtained a high-resolution facsimile based on the Davies painting from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and used it as a guideline to restore the missing sections of the relief. These ‘fill-ins’ are differentiated from the rest of the relief by mimicking an ancient painting technique whereby craftsmen would sketch the relief images in red ink before filling them with color. The relief was also stabilized via injections of glue into the wall, the application of mortar around the edges of the image, and the filling in of any gaps or holes in the wall with a light-colored lime mortar.

As a final precaution, a protective display box was constructed over the two restored wall reliefs to protect them from human or environmental damage, and a series of low slanted walls were built up along the top edges of the tomb to divert rainwater. From a conservation perspective, these less invasive solutions were preferable over installing an entirely new roof in the tomb, which would have substantially altered the appearance and materials of its original walls and floor.

Speaking on the success of the restoration, project director Pinch-Brock explained that the tomb of Anen is a “good example of what can be done to restore a tomb apparently beyond help.” She further added, “ARCE conservation projects such as this one can open up otherwise inaccessible tombs to scholars, and further our knowledge of Egyptian history.”