Tomb of the chief physician Shepseskafankh

Sep 28, 2018

Hieroglyphs spell out the physician's titles around a false door, a symbolic portal between this world and the next (photo by Martin Frouze, Archive of the Czech Institute of Egyptology)

Project description

The Czech Institute of Egyptology discovered the mastaba of the chief physician Shepseskafankh during the course of their 2013 season in Abusir South. The tomb is located in the northeastern part of the cemetery of officials dated to the Fifth Dynasty, spanning the reigns of Nyuserre through Djedkare (2402–2322 BC). 

Decorative program

“The only decorated part of the tomb was the false door in the chapel. The particular characteristic and importance of the unfinished state of the stela lies in the fact that major parts of the texts were executed only in black ink. The texts also feature some corrections carried out in red ink, whereas only small portions of the texts were carved. It is interesting that some individual signs on the outer jambs are significantly larger than those featured on the inner jambs. The finished signs were executed in sunken relief with a limited amount of inner detail. The upper lintel of the false door is missing. Most of the painted surface of the central panel had been washed away in the past, as also had some sections on the top parts of the individual jambs, lower lintel and drum.”

“The lower part of the false door features four standing figures of the tomb owner oriented towards the centre, two on each side of the stela. The two central figures facing each other are significantly larger in proportions. The figure on the left is dressed in a leopard skin with a pointed, partially crimped kilt. He wears a wide collar and a tight-fitting wig. Shepseskafankh is leaning on a long staff and holding a papyrus-like artefact in his right hand. The opposite figure is dressed in a simple pointed kilt, with a wide collar, tight-fitting wig, a papyrus-like artefact in his left hand and is leaning on a long staff. The two smaller figures, each on one extremity, are identical. They are both dressed in pointed kilts, wearing wide collars and shoulder-length wigs, leaning on long staffs with button top ends and holding cloth pieces. Concerning the cloth pieces, it is worth mentioning that in these two cases they take the typical form of a folded cloth piece; however, the central figures are holding completely different shapes of artefacts, which may indeed be hypothetically considered to represent papyrus rolls.”

Documentation method

Not specified by the author.

Visual example(s)

False door of Shepseskafankh (photo M. Bárta, drawing J. Malátková) 

What we like

  • Various line weights applied to indicate depth of carving, fitting with the generally accepted sun-shadow conventions.
  • Clean presentation of the decorative surface is achieved through eliminating most of the nondecorative elements while providing important additional data, such as basic architectural features and block lines.
  • More prominent painted features (some portions of the text, wigs, column dividers etc. were originally painted in black) are represented filled with solid black ink, providing a near-realistic appearance to the drawings.  
  • To avoid overcomplicating the visual representation, damage is only indicated at block lines, and multiple shades of solid gray areas are intended to show the various depth throughout the entire surface.

Additional reading

For the original context of the material appearing in this article see: Miroslav Bárta – Tomb of the chief physician Shepseskafankh in: Prague Egyptological Studies (PES) 15 (2015): 15-27

A short National Geographic report of the site providing a color photograph appears here.

To read more about the Czech Institute and their current projects, visit their home page.

Précis and commentary by Júlia Schmied

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