Slab stele of Meretites

Egyptian
Old Kingdom, Dynasty 4, reign of Khufu (Cheops)
2575–2465 B.C.


Findspot: Egypt, Giza, Tomb G 4140

Dimensions

Overall: 51 x 82.5 x 8.3cm (20 1/16 x 32 1/2 x 3 1/4in.) Block (aluminum wall frame/ four wall securement clips): 53 x 82.6 x 5.1 cm (20 7/8 x 32 1/2 x 2 in.)

Accession Number

12.1510

Medium or Technique

Limestone

On View

Egypt: Old Kingdom Funerary Arts Gallery (Gallery 105B)

Collections

The Ancient World

Classifications

Stele

A commemorative tablet, or stela, featuring the deceased tomb owner seated beside a table laden with food was frequently installed in a chapel outside the tomb. Relatives and friends could leave offerings in front of it in order to sustain the tomb’s occupant in the afterlife. This example depicts a woman named Meretites, who, the hieroglyphs tell us, was the king’s daughter. Women enjoyed considerable prominence in all periods in Egypt, so it is not surprising that Meretites had her own stela. While women were certainly responsible for household maintenance and childrearing, they also held administrative positions and served as priestesses during the Old Kingdom. At the end of the period, a female ruled the country.

Items either depicted or mentioned on the stela provide a glimpse into what the ancient Egyptians considered necessary for the afterlife. Certainly Meretites had a large appetite for gourmet food, as her stela lists one thousand of each of the following delicacies: bulls, oryxes, calves, oxen, cranes, geese, pigeons, loaves of bread, and jugs of beer. She also required a container of cold water, three natron pellets (a naturally occurring salt used in mummification), and an assortment of cakes, fruit, and wine.

Appearance in the afterlife was important too, as one thousand items of clothing, one thousand alabaster containers (for cosmetic unguents?), and both black and green eye-paint are mentioned. Fully four different types of linen, graded on the basis of fineness of weave, are also listed. Because Meretites’s burial was plundered, we cannot be sure whether the tomb actually contained these items.

The relief is wafer-thin and reveals exquisitely carved details. Its style, together with the horizontal format and the enumeration of different types of linens in chart form at the far right, identify it as a slab stela. The similarity between the relief style and that found in Khufu’s mortuary complex suggests that Meretites’s piece was made by a royal workshop. To date, just 15 slab stelae are known, all of which come from the great Western Cemetery at Giza. All appear to date to the reign of Khufu, and all served as the only decorative element in the tomb chapels in which they were found. (Of the thirteen slab stelae where sex may be determined, five belonged to women.)


A commemorative tablet, or stela, featuring the deceased tomb owner seated beside a table laden with food, was frequently installed in a chapel outside the tomb. Relatives and friends could leave offerings in front of it in order to sustain the tomb’s occupant in the afterlife. This example depicts a woman named Meretites, who, the hieroglyphs tell us, was the king’s daughter. Women enjoyed considerable prominence in all periods in Egypt, so it is not surprising that Meretites had her own stela. While women were certainly responsible for household maintenance and childrearing, they also held administrative positions and served as priestesses during the Old Kingdom. At the end of the period, a female ruled the country.

Items either depicted or mentioned on the stela provide a glimpse into what the ancient Egyptians considered necessary for the afterlife. Certainly Meretites had a large appetite for gourmet food, as her stela lists one thousand of each of the following delicacies: bulls, oryxes, calves, oxen, cranes, geese, pigeons, loaves of bread, and jugs of beer. She also required a container of cold water, three natron pellets (a naturally occurring salt used in mummification), and an assortment of cakes, fruit, and wine.

Appearance in the afterlife was important too, as one thousand items of clothing, one thousand alabaster containers (for cosmetic unguents?), and both black and green eye-paint are mentioned. Fully four different types of linen, graded on the basis of fineness of weave, are also listed. Because Meretites’s burial was plundered, we cannot be sure whether the tomb actually contained these items.

The relief is wafer-thin and reveals exquisitely carved details. Its style, together with the horizontal format and the enumeration of different types of linens in chart form at the far right, identify it as a slab stela. The similarity between the relief style and that found in Khufu’s mortuary complex suggests that Meretites’s piece was made by a royal workshop. To date, just 15 slab stelae are known, all of which come from the great Western Cemetery at Giza. All appear to date to the reign of Khufu, and all served as the only decorative element in the tomb chapels in which they were found. (Of the thirteen slab stelae where sex may be determined, five belonged to women.)

Provenance

From Giza, tomb G 4140. 1912: excavated by the Harvard University-Museum of Fine Arts Expedition; 1912: assigned to the MFA by the Egyptian government.
(Accession Date: December 5, 1912)

Credit Line

Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition