Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Feature: Servants in the Place of Truth

Heritage Key (Malcolm Jack)

For almost 500 years – from the 16th to 11th century BC – tombs, many of the elaborate and ornate, were constructed in the Valley of the Kings for the rulers and powerful nobles of the Egyptian New Kingdom. Needless to say, the civilization’s top dogs didn’t roll up their sleeves and do the work themselves. So who did?

Like the pyramids, the tombs of the Valley of the Kings were built by skilled labourers and artisans, who came to the site in the Theban Mountains every day from Deir el-Medina, a specially-built village that lay just south of the valley within easy walking distance. Founded at the earliest during the reign of Thutmosis I (c. 1506-1493 BC) Deir el-Medina’s ancient name was Set Maat which translates as “The Place of Truth”. The workmen themselves were known as “Servants in the Place of Truth”.

They were a mixture of Egyptians, Nubians and Asiatics from across the kingdom, each free citizens. The artisans were middle-class and among the most skilled stone-cutters, plasterers, architects and alike in Egypt. Supporting them was a team of manual workers – water-carriers and cooks – as well as their wives and families, and those involved in the administration and decoration of the tombs and temples. The artisans would be organised into two groups: gangs on left and right, who worked almost like a ship’s crew simultaneously on opposite sides of the tomb, while being overseen by a foreman.

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