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The Two Brothers

Discovered by Flinders Petrie and the British School of Archaeology in 1907 at Rifeh in Middle Egypt.

The tomb of the two brothers, Khnum-Nakht and Nekht-Ankh, was discovered by a workman called Erfai, working under the supervision of British Egyptologist Ernest Mackay in the course of official excavations directed by Sir William Flinders Petrie (1852-1942), within the British School of Archaeology.

The contents of the burial site were passed to the Manchester Museum where they were studied by Margaret Murray (1908) and more recently by Prof. Rosalie David (1979). The two brothers came from Der Rifeh in Middle Egypt and originate from the 12th Dynasty (c.1985-1773 BC).

Their burial was the finest non-royal tomb found in that area.

Body coffin of Nekht Ankh Body coffin of Khnum Nakht

Left - Body coffin of Khnum-Nakht. Wooden coffin held the body of the Negroid brother. The eyes of limestone and obsidian are inserted in a bronze rim.

Right - body coffin of Nekht-Ankh. Coffin has a face which is painted black, although it held the remains of the non-Negroid brother.


Unwrapping the 'Two Brothers'
Margaret Murrey (third from left) and her colleagues in the Manchester MuseumBoth Professor Flinders Petrie and Dr. Margaret Murray, the first Egyptologist at the Manchester Museum, were convinced that only by continued study of the objects, which included the mummies themselves, would the efforts of archaeologists be enhanced. So in 1908, in a large lecture theatre in Manchester University before a capacity audience, Dr. Margaret Murray unwrapped the mummies of the 'Two Brothers'. This was an important development in scientific investigation, for it involved a multi-disciplinary team. These specialists - in the fields of anatomy, chemistry and textiles - subsequently carried out a full-scale investigation of the mummies.

There is comparatively little evidence of mummification from the Middle Kingdom (c.1900 BC) and the bodies that have been examined show that there was generally less painstaking preparation than in the Old Kingdom. The internal organs were removed, but less attention was given to the preservation of the body. Usually a thin cost of resin was applied to the skin surface, and this left the drying out of the body incomplete, so that decomposition soon set in. Although great care was often lavished on the outward appearance of the mummies, inside there is usually only a jumble of bones with little or no evidence of soft tissue.

The mummies of the 'Two Brothers' are particularly interesting because the difference in their condition is very striking. At the tine of unwrapping, the mummy of Khnum-Nakht was absolutely dry, whereas the remains of Nekht-Ankh were quite moist and most of the bandages were wet.

The mummy of Khnum-Nakht is a good example of the poor standard of preservation achieved in the Middle Kingdom. There was very little remaining skin tissue and most of the remnants resolved into a fine powder at the unwrapping. Also, no special care had been taken to preserve his nails.

manchester_museum_1048At the original investigation Khnum-Nakht was alleged to have a deformity of the left foot, with skin and tissue thickening indicating a clubfoot (talipes varus). Later radiological studies have not revealed any evidence of arthritis or secondary bone change in the foot which might have been anticipated in a long-standing congenital deformity. The present study supports the theory that the findings are due to excessively tight bandaging after death rather than to a clubfoot.

Khnum-Nakht's spine shows evidence of long-standing arthritis with abnormal curvature (scoliosis) in the thoracic region. Inspection of the teeth has revealed an extremely rare developmental abnormality - double gemination (fusion of the teeth); the two central teeth are abnormally large and the left one has two roots.

Skeleton of Khnum-Nakht shows he probably reached early middle-age and that the skull is negroid.  There is almost a complete lack of similarity between this skeleton and his bother's.  His teeth have a double gemination (fusion of the teeth), the two central teeth are abnormally large and the left one has two roots.

The mummy of Nekht-Ankh was better preserved, although the body had fallen to pieces before unwrapping, the bones were intact and in position. Even some hair remained, and the embalmers had wrapped the nails of the fingers and toes with thread to prevent their loss during the process of mummification. The appearance presented by this skeleton is suggestive of its being a eunuch, aged about sixty at time of death. Only Nekht-Ankh had a set of canopic jars and only two jars in the set had contents. These were identified as the liver with the gall bladder attached, and lung tissue to which adhered part of the wall of the heart. Examination revealed that Nekht-Ankh had suffered from pleurisy, and also from sand pneumoconiosis which may have been responsible for his death.

Skull of Nekht-AnkhThe report into the anatomical finding begins with the observation that there was a "remarkable racial difference in the features presented by each. These differences are so pronounced that it is almost impossible to convince oneself that they belong to the same race, far less to the same family. The appearance presented by the skeleton of Nekht-Ankh is suggestive of its being a eunuch. On first inspection of the bones at this skeleton the writer was much struck with their slimness, delicate moulding, and the faintness of the muscular impressions; indeed, their female character proved to be so pronounced that at first it was difficult to be sure that the skeleton was really that of a male. The pelvis was reunited and proved to have all the characteristics of a male".

When the two skulls were re-examined in the 1970s, with the help numerous radiological photographs it was found that there was almost a total anatomical difference between the features of the two.

The inscriptions on the coffins states that Khnum-Nakht was a 'Great Waab-priest' of the local god Khnum and both his father and grandfather bore the title of local mayor - although nether is named. The inscriptions referring to Nekht-Ankh are rather different. He is referred as the son of an unnamed local major but his paternal grandfather is not mentioned. However, the men were sons of the same woman. Aa-Khnumu, who was an heiress of landed property?

This slight variation in the inscriptions, taken in conjunction with the men's marked anatomical differences, may indicate that their mother had two husbands, and that the father of Khnum-Nakht possessed Nubian ancestry. During much of Egypt's history, there was a certain mingling of the peoples of Nubia with those of Egypt at all levels of society. However, it is accepted nowadays that a child may well inherit a marked similarity to one of his parents while having no resemblance at all to the other. This could well be the case with the two brothers, and one had the usual appearance of an Egyptian while the other had inherited the characteristic Nubian features.

Another possibility, and equally likely explanation of this difference in appearance, is that Nekht-Ankh was adopted into the family at a very early age, and having been a member of it for so many years, had become accepted as the son of Aa-Khnumu. Future DNA studies on samples of tissues or bone taken from these bodies may provide an answer to the question of their relationship. Professor Rosalie David (OBE, FRSA, Professor of Biomedical Egyptology at the University of Manchester) confirmed in Nov-2004 that work is being pursued on the Two Brothers but no DNA studies have yet been undertaken.

Nekht Ankht
Facial Reconstruction
The reconstruction of the heads of Nekht-Ankh and Khnum-Nakht was undertaken to enable the skeletal remains to be related more easily to the brothers as they may have appeared during their lives.

The skull is the matrix upon which the head and face we built. If the shape of the soft tissue can be rebuilt on a skull, the result will be a reconstruction  which the proportion and position of the main, features will be accurate. By utilising measurements of soft issue thickness, as established by Kollman end Buchly in 1898, the features of these two mummies were built up in clay on casts of the skull.

Nevertheless the details of certain areas - nose. mouth and ears - are open to speculation. Both Nekht-Ankh and Khnum-Nakht showed a marked similarity to the two small wooden statuettes, which were found in the tomb.

The objective was to produce pictures using the clay busts as models. A sketch of Khnum-Nakht (left) was made - he would seem to have been a man with strong features all somewhat Negroid in appearance. The other shows Nekht-Ankh (right) as an older man of about 60 years (it is known that he had short grey hair). His features are weaker than his bother with less well-defined features.

Translation and Transliteration
Body Coffins
Note 1 - Hieroglyph are presented vertically and centrally on the front of each coffin
Note 2 - Khnum was worshiped as the Ba of Osiris at Shas-Hetep (close to the modern day Asyut)
Canopic Chest, Nekht-Ankh

Canopic chest of Nekht-Ankh Canopic chest of Nekht-Ankh Canopic chest of Nekht-Ankh, lid

Canopic Jars, Nekht-Ankh

Canopic Jars of Nekht-Ankh


Canopic jars are protected by the four sons of Horus, said to be the children and also the 'souls' of Horus. They are also called the 'friends of the king' and assist the deceased monarch in ascending into the sky. Their afterlife mythology led to important roles in the funerary assemblage, particularly in association with canopic jars.
Each deity was guarded by one of the funerary goddesses, though there was some variation in this linkage. The group may have been based on the symbolic completeness of the number four alone, but they are often given geographic associations and hence became a kind of regional group.
The four gods were the:
1.     human-headed Imseti who guarded liver (guarded by Isis)
2.     baboon-headed Hapy who guarded lungs (protected by Nephthys)
3.    jackal-headed Duamutef who guarded stomach (often protected by Neith)
4.     falcon-headed Qebesenuef, guardian of intestines (often protected by Serket)
The four gods were sometimes depicted on the sides of the canopic chest and had specific symbolic orientations, with
1.    Imsety aligned with the south
2.    Hapy with the north
3.     Duamutef with the east
4.     Qebesenuef with the west
They were also depicted on the long sides of coffins and sarcophagi with:
1.     Hapy and Qebesenuef being placed on the west side
2.     Imsety and Duamutef were placed on the east
Before the 18th Dynasty canopic jars were given human headed stoppers and from the 18th Dynasty they were given characteristic representation.

Excavation by Flinders Petrie
Petrie, with the British School of Archaeology, was excavating in Egypt in the Giza and Asyut to Sohag region. At the very end of 1906 they surveyed the area around the village of Rifeh and finally completed their activities on 02-April-1907.
The rock-tombs of Rifeh extend for a few hundred yards at about a third of the whole height of the cliffs. Those furthest north were occupied by Coptic burials. The cemetery of Rifeh is not absolutely dated by kings' names, except in the 18th and 19th dynasties. But by the style of its contents it largely belongs to the 12th dynasty and earlier.
Map of the area from Asyut southward, including Der Rifeh
Left - map of middle Egypt
Right - map of the area from Asyut to the south
Map of the Der Rifeh, inclufding location of excavated tombsDetailed Map of the Der Rifeh with the location of tombsLeft - map of the excavation area

Right - map of the tombs showing the location of Tomb II (the Brothers)


Tomb No.1, of Khnum-Nofer

Engraved inscription are on the north wall; on the west are the colossal figures of the man and his son, also a false door painted and traces of a scene of the deceased seated with inscription above it. On the south are traces of ships, and short phrases. The west side of the chamber is 389" by 458". The south-east corner is entirely cut away, owing to Roman quarrying. Also the whole floor has been lowered from about three to ten feet by quarrying.


Unfinished Tomb
Further south is a larger and unfinished tomb. It consists of a single hall, supported by six pillars, and with a pit in the middle. The original design was the pit central and four pillars around it - but it was enlarged by cutting further into the north side. Two additional pillars are unfinished, with large masses of flinty limestone left projecting un-worked. It's form shows that it was a tomb, and not merely a quarry.
The hall of this tomb would have required the excavation of some thousands of tonnes of rock been removed. The dimensions are, west of pillars 320", pillar 50", between pillars 300", pillar 65", in front of pillars 293", total E-W is 1028". Across, north of pillars 66" pillar 60", between 114", pillar 51", between 78", pillar 67", south of pillars 130", total N-S 586".


Tomb No.2, of Khnum-Aa containing the burials of Khnum-Nakht and Nekht-Ankh

The most important tomb is a large un-sculptured tomb of three chambers, with three burial pits. It's style indicates the 12th dynasty, but the only written information is an ink-written inscription of a re-use during Rameses III's reign (20th Dynasty).

The courtyard is 215" by 400"; the passage 101" by 171"; the hall 292" x 283" x 474" x 470".  The back chamber 204" x 203" x 208" x 210", the recess 46" x 62"; the side chamber 130" x 103" x 102", the recess 39" wide.

In this area a number of small tombs were found, plundered in antiquity. The tomb of Nekht-Ankh, son of Aa-Khnumu, was the found un-plundered. A descending slope led to a small chamber barely large enough to hold the funeral furniture, 80"  by 70" at the south-east back and only 50" in front. The heads of the coffins were toward the opening of the tomb. The finest coffin, Nekht-Ankh, was that next to the canopic box. It contained, lying on its side, the finely decorated body coffin of ha-prince Nekht-Ankh. The second coffin and body coffin are inferior, and are for Khnum-Nakht.

The canopic box was in the corner of the tomb; each side is similarly decorated. Inside it is divided to half-way up by cross boards of wood. Each compartment has a soft packing of fibre placed in it; and on that is a pottery canopic jar, painted yellow and inscribed. Each jar has a carved wooden head, all human, stuccoed and painted.
Upon the box stood a pan containing stalks and leaves. In front of it was a jar with similar stalks and leaves. Before that stood the two boats; the one for sailing up the Nile, with the men gathered to pull the rope raising the yard; the other with the mast laid down and the sweeps out for rowing down the Nile. With these stood the two female figures of servants carrying offerings. The whole of the funeral furniture and coffins are of the highest quality of this period.

12th Dynasty tomb equipment
At the beginning of the 12th Dynasty the elite/royal cemetery moved from Thebes to Lisht, which has a different kind of topography. The area didn't have adjacent cliffs and mastaba type tombs replaced rock tombs. However, in the area that the brothers were buried, the local tradition of rock cut tombs continued in the Middle Kingdom and it into the New Kingdom (Petrie excavated tombs dating until the 18th Dynasty at Rifeh). Rock-cut tombs are generally well preserved but are not typical of the period.

Written text has always been an important part of Egyptian burials. Canopic jars underwent changes in their form during the Middle Kingdom. At the beginning of the period jars with human heads are found. The jar stoppers are made of wood and the body of the jar is often made of clay; high quality examples may be made from limestone or calcite. A set of canopic jars (within a chest) is normal within an elite burial, but less common in the provinces.

Many refinements found in the elite cemeteries were later introduced in the provincial cemeteries. For example, coffins with a palace facade were found at a Lisht early in the period and only appeared later in the Middle Kingdom in provincial cemeteries - the same can be said of wooden models of solar boats.

The reign of Senusret III (ruled 1870-1831 BC) introduced change into many areas of court life in Ancient Egypt. It seems that major reorganisation of the administration happened during this time, new titles appeared in the administration and some provincial cemeteries cease to exist, and other cemeteries continued but on a much smaller scale. The body of the dead person was now no longer placed on its left side, but laid on its back with its hands by its side. The disappearance of Coffin Texts and Wooden models is noticeable. Only a limited set of objects were specifically manufactured for burial, for example heart scarabs and mummiform figures. During the 13th Dynasty the palace facade disappeared from coffins. In Upper Egypt the number of columns was increased, some coffins at eight or nine columns on each long sight. In lower Egypt coffins with four columns of text on the alongside and religious texts in the space between are found.

It is clear that significant change to burial customs did not happen between Dynasties which makes it very difficult to date a burial, for example, the 12th or 13th Dynasty. It is even more difficult to determine where, within a Dynasty, where a burial can be placed.

From the quality of Nekht-Ankh's burial, the canopic jars, model boats, style of coffin and columns of text and the similar style of Khnum-Nakht's coffin, we could propose that they lived within the early part of the 12th Dynasty, possible before Senusret III's reign.

Khnum is the ram-god creator of life on the potter's wheel, he was called 'high of plumes, sharp of horns', had primarily an association with the Nile cataract. He controls the annual inundation of the river from the caverns of Hapy, the god personifying the flood itself.
His importance at Elephantine can be traced back to the early dynastic period although the archaeological evidence is predominantly from the New Kingdom and Graeco-Roman period. Rams sacred to Khnum have been discovered on Elephantine Island, mummified, adorned with gilded head-pieces and buried in stone sarcophagi. A stela was carved on a dominant rock on Seheil Island overlooking the first cataract which emphasises the antiquity of Khnum's cult at Elephantine. The inscription itself is a Ptolemaic copy (or forgery) of an original document dating to the reign of King Djoser (3rd Dynasty). There has been a seven year famine which Djoser is trying to halt. Khnum relents from preventing the Nile flood, on being assured of his temple's renovation and regular income of Nubian wealth, and Egypt prospers again.

In his supervision over the cataract region he is assisted by the goddesses Satis and Anket. He was also regarded in this aspect as lord of the cataract as the 'Ba' (soul) of the sun-god, hence his name becomes Khnum-Re. This strong connection with the river lies behind one of his titles 'lord of the crocodiles', intensified by the presence of the goddess Neith, mother of the crocodile-god Sobek, as the most important guest deity in his temple at Esna.

His other major role is probably derived from the procreative powers of the ram and the life supporting river which make him eminently suitable as a creator-god. The iconography represents Khnum seated before a potter's wheel on which stands the being which he has moulded into existence. The god normally performs this task at the behest of another deity, e.g. in the theogamies on Theban temple walls or in the story of the Two Brothers where Khnum is instructed to fashion a wife for Bata. It seems that Khnum breathes in the life force to the created being, as mentioned in the Westcar Papyrus where after the divine birth of the first three kings of the 5th dynasty Khnum is said to put 'health' into each of their bodies.

It is the aspect of Khnum as 'potter' that is especially venerated in his main cult centre north of the first cataract at Esna. This temple which survives only in the form of one hypostyle hall surrounded by the modem conurbation is also sacred to Khnum in a manifestation strongly allied to the air-god Shu as war-champion of the sun-god. Important hymns provide a manifesto of the priests' belief in the supremacy of their god of the potter's wheel responsible for fashioning gods, mankind, cattle, birds and fish. The different speeches of the human race are also his gift. His consort at Esna (Neith having a totally independent role in this temple) is a minor lioness-goddess called Menhyt.

Plaque in the Manchester Museum
Raman spectroscopy of skin samples from the 'Tomb of the Two Brothers', Journal of Raman Spectroscopy
The Experience of Ancient Egypt, Rosalie David
Burial Customs in Ancient Egypt, Wolfram Grajetzki
Giza and Rifeh, Flinders Petrie
The Mummies Tale, Dr A R David and Dr E Tapp

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