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“The Theban Tomb 250: Helping out Women’s Studies” Cédric Gobeil (EEG Study Day, April 2018)

In his second talk of the Essex Egyptology Group study day Cédric Gobeil told us about his own personal work (as opposed to the work he oversaw as director). The original publications of the tombs at Deir el-Medina were some time ago, and the photographs were all in black & white and were supplemented by drawings that aren’t to modern standards. And so the tombs need to be re-examined and republished – Gobeil has been working on tomb TT250. This tomb was originally identified as belonging to someone called Ramose from the reign of Ramesses II, but Gobeil’s work now shows that it was the tomb of 9 women.

TT250 is in the mid-level of the western necropolis and is of small to average size. It has four chambers in the tomb chapel – one large one with 3 chapels off the back wall. Only the middle chapel at the back is decorated. The tomb itself is down a shaft in the courtyard in front of the chapel, there is a corridor leading from the shaft to a chamber with another chamber on the left of the corridor. Bernard Bruyère found little in the tomb, and Gobeil hasn’t re-examined it.

The decoration of the chapel is in a style called “monochrome decoration” which is typical of Deir el-Medina tombs but unknown elsewhere in Egypt. Of the 22 tombs that use this decoration style TT250 is unique – all the rest are decorated in the burial chamber but here the decoration is in the chapel. The decoration uses four colours only – white, red, yellow and black. The name monochrome is thus a misnomer, but the overall impression is of yellow figures on a white background in contrast to the more colourful polychrome decoration used elsewhere.

Gobeil spent the majority of this talk walking us round the decoration in order & discussing it – which is always difficult to write up in any detail when I have none of the pictures so I shall instead try to summarise. Outside the chapel Bruyère had said there was no decoration, but Gobeil found that in certain lights there were traces of very faint decoration near the bottom. Once he’d seen that he found in their store room a door jamb that looks like a match both in terms of the decorative style & scene details and in terms of the names mentioned in the texts.

One of the surprising things about the internal decoration of the tomb chapel is that some of the offering bearers look like they are leaving the tomb. This is absolutely counter to usual practice, and seems to make no sense. Gobeil’s theory is that the central axis of the decorative scheme doesn’t match the central axis of the physical room. So instead of running through the centre of the door the axis runs through the middle of the “south” wall. I think the idea was that this axis lines up with north and the room itself doesn’t quite do so. And once he’d identified that as the “real” axis all of the offering bearers & mourners were moving into the tomb.

There are 20 different women named in the tomb. 9 of these are represented as mummies, in two different groups, and these are the 9 women that Gobeil thinks are the actual tomb occupants. There are another 6 women who are receiving offerings, as well as women who are represented as part of couples receiving offerings. The offering bearers and mourners are all labelled as “son of” or “daughter of” one of the women. The 9 women buried here are titled as “servant”, which is a unique case – no other tombs are for servants. And this provides us with some evidence for the social structure of the village – the households had servants, and these servants could (& did) have children.

The back (west-ish) wall is laid out like a giant stela. In the top register are Ramose and his wife, in the position of honour despite not being the tomb occupants. Other notable members of the community that we know from other tombs or documents are also depicted on the walls, some as adults and some as children. Gobeil thinks that this tomb was a shrine or memorial for the community as a whole, and the people depicted in it are a snapshot of who was in the community at the time the decoration was painted. He believes that this use was in addition to its use as a burial place for the 9 women, rather than that they were buried there because it was a shrine (or vice versa).