last update: 01.01.2010

The dating of tomb TT353

In all recent discussion of Hatshepsut's reign her regnal year 16 has been a central point - "a watershed date" as said by Dorman (1988). However, this chronological landmark rests on only two "documents" which are dated into the same time:

1. a long-known inscription at Karnak, on the basis of the northern obelisk  between Pylons 4 and 5. According to this inscription the 2nd pair of obelisks erected by Hatshepsut had been finished in year 16 - most likely in time for her to celebrate the "heb sed"-festival in that year; and

2. on an ostracon discovered by Winlock at Deir el-Bahari in 1926. This ostracon which is dated into regnal year 16 was found in the "Quarry of Senenmut".

Based on this ostracon Winlock has drawn three important historical conclusions:

A - Senenmut had started the construction of tomb Grab TT353 in year 16;

B - princess Neferu-Ra died in year 16 (or earlier), since - in contrast to TT71 - she was not mentioned TT353 - and obviously never again on other monuments;

C - the decoration of the lower pillared hall (Halls of Obelisks and Hunting) at Djeser djeseru had begun in year 16 (since the decoration in the Hall of Obelisks describes work, transportation and erection  of these two obelisks at Karnak). 

Ostracon of Year 16

The entrance to TT353 is located in the western end of the "Quarry of Senenmut", that provided the material for the causeway which spans the entire length from the Valley Temple to Djeser djeseru. The quarry itself extends for about 300 m along the causeway to Djeser djeseru (see also map on the page "TT71 and TT353"). TT353 was marked by 5 foundation deposits, 3 of them were found on the high western edge of the quarry, the other two on the floor of the quarry.  The foundation deposits contained among other things five model bivalve shells and two of them were inscribed, one with "The good god, Maat-ka-Ra, given live, beloved by Montu, lord of Iuni (Armant)" and the other one with "The Good God, Maat-ka-Ra, given life, beloved by Montu, Lord of Thebes, the bull who resides in Iuni (Armant)". Deposit No.4 contained a model dish made of Alabaster inscribed with "Overseer of the cultivators of Amun, Senenmut, justified with Osiris".

In the fall 1926 the center of the quarry was buried by a very large dump hill created by Naville during his long excavations at the Temple of Hatshepsut between 1893 - 1899. Later, the travel company Thomas Cook and Son had erected a rest house for tourists on the top of the dump ("Cook's rest house"). Winlock decided in 1926 to examine the dump hill for several reasons. First of all, he looked for a place to drop the dump from his own excavations, 2nd he wanted to make sure not to cover important places with dump.  
Winlock started with two groups one group cleared the area outside the temple forecourt of Djeser djeseru moving eastward towards the quarry, and another gang started in the quarry itself near Cook's rest house moving their way westward into the direction of the entrance of TT353.
As reported by Winlock one week after the beginning of the work the 2nd group was clearing an ancient quarry filled with masses of bricks in which they found two pay sheets from Senenmut with three of four men struck off the lists.
The enormous pile of bricks was the result of the demolition of a temple of Amenhotep I, which was taken down by Senenmut to make room for the lower pillared hall and the ramp leading to the 2nd court at Djeser djeseru. The temple of Amenhotep I was not completely destroyed, some of the bricks stamped with the names of Amenhotep I and Ah-mose-Nefertari were reused in the ramp.
Again one week later the first group discovered a foundation deposit at the foot of the hill most likely belonging to a nearby tomb from the 18. Dynasty. It was in this report that Winlock mentioned for the first time the ostracon of year 16 which was found "intimately mixed with the bricks"!

The season-reports about the excavations in 1926 were written in 1928, a year after the excavations!

The ostracon dated "year 16, 1st month of akhet ("inundation"), day 8" lists several workmen apparently hired for manual labor in regnal year 16. The workmen had been divided into tow groups both headed be a foreman. As soon as the workmen appeared to work, their names were crossed out. The text on the ostracon was completed one day later when additional workmen arrived. However, whether these workers were busy at TT353, is not specified by the inscription, because the tomb is not mentioned!

It was Hayes (quoted according to Dorman,1988) who assigned these workmen to TT353 only due to the proximity of the discovery site of the ostracon to the tomb. Based on the information given by the ostracon that new working groups were formed and also still fresh workers arrived, Hayes has also concluded that the text refers to the beginning of the work on TT353.
Dorman (1988) is right when he pointed out that the two foundation deposits discovered on the quarry floor contradict this assumption. These two foundation deposits discovered underneath the bricks stored there indicate that the work on tomb TT353 had begun somewhat earlier.

As Dorman mentioned this is further supported by a comparison of the dated correspondence from Winlock with undated photos of the excavated area made by Burton. The photos taken by Burton show that the ostracon had been found in a layer located above the foundation deposits. Furthermore, the foundation deposits were covered first with debris from tomb TT353, then with material from Djeser djeseru, and on top with the bricks of the temple of the Amenhotep I.

The investigations of the Polish-Egyptian group at the temple of Hatshepsut (Djeser djeseru) corroborated that the 1st ramp had been built in the last development phase from Djeser djeseru and therefore, that also the temple of Amenhotep I was taken down in that phase. Due to the stratification sequence of foundation deposits and ostracon of the year 16 it cannot be concluded with certainty that the construction of TT353 was started at the same time when the temple of Amenhotep I was taken down. Dorman assumes that the construction of TT353 had started some years earlier.

Thus, based on the finds in and around tomb TT353 it is not possible to conclude with certainty that princess Neferu-Ra died between year 11 (during which she was still alive as testified on a stela) and year 16 (while she was not mentioned anymore in tomb TT353). Dorman (loc. cit.) even believes that it is possible that princess Neferu-Ra outlived her mother Hatshepsut and became the first "Great Royal Wife" of Thutmosis III. and the mother of his apparent heir.

If one follows the argumentation of Dorman, then any chronological dating that is derived from the ostracon of year 16, like the commencement of construction of TT353 and all subsequent historical "dating", is "unsoundly based".


Copyright: Dr. Karl H. Leser (Iufaa)