Mysterious Column of TT 390

By Steven Feurer
Introduction by Elena Pischikova

TT 390 is one of the three monumental decorated tombs of the South Asasif necropolis. It is not often featured on our blog. The work of Steven Feurer is going to make TT 390 the blog’s prominent feature.

Steven Feurer has been working on the “TT 390 Column Project” since 2019. Although it is still a work in progress, his observations and research have yielded numerous exciting results. Steven presented some of them to the team of the South Asasif Conservation Project on the 9th of August 2022.

This blog post is a teaser that opens a series of Steven’s posts, which will combine excerpts from his reports and footage from his live presentation.

The open court of TT 390 is one of the most notable architectural features of the South Asasif necropolis. It was covered in debris up to the top of the cavetto cornice and obstructed by modern mud brick structures. Its excavation was completed in 2019 and 2020  by Marion Brew and Hassan Mohamed Ali.

Excavation of the court revealed beautifully constructed portico columns that supported the suggestion that TT390 was a Kushite tomb redecorated for the Great Follower of the God’s Wife Irtieru under the reign of Psamtik I of the 26th Dynasty.

For the first post we selected the “mystery” of one of the columns of the court to introduce the Column Project and give a glimpse into its multi-layered structure.

The following text and graphics were provided by Steven Feurer for this blog post.  Photographs were taken by Steven Feurer, Elena Pischikova, and Katherine Blakeney.

My name is Steven Feurer, a member of the South Asasif team since 2015. I am currently preparing to become an Egyptology PhD candidate (reception of Ancient Egypt in video games and digital art) at the LMU. With an academic and professional background in Egyptology, Classical Studies and Computer Science, I always strive to embody the concept of interdisciplinary approach as well as life-long learning. After spending almost three decades in several roles from software engineer to CTO and founder in the IT and internet sector, I am now focusing on the intersection of technology and Egyptology, combining both of my major passions in order to gain a better understanding of ancient Egypt.

The Column Project focuses on the open court (Lichthof“) of TT390 (tomb of Irtieru) and the reconstruction of the columns therein. In the following, I will share my methodology and work hypotheses, the status and preliminary outcome of the project, and many new questions that arose during the research.

The size of the court is roughly 15 meters by 10 meters. The eight columns (only half of the original height is remaining from all columns), are situated along the south and the north side with four columns each.

For the purpose of the project, the columns have been numbered from 01 (Southeast corner) clockwise to 08 (Northeast corner). The map below also shows the archaeological loci C1-C3 (south portico) and N1-N3 (north portico) that correspond to the excavation reports from 2019/2020; these loci are important for the distribution of the column fragments, as we shall see later.

The Columns of the TT390 “Lichthof” and the 2019/2020 Loci (Steven Feurer)

The columns are built layer by layer from bottom to top. With very few exceptions, the column drums are put together in multiple fragments (3-4 on average).

The eight columns are only partly preserved; all eight are broken at about half of their original height. 

All the columns are built of limestone with one exception. Column 05 (in the northwest corner of the court) is built out of sandstone and its top column drum of  is a sandstone monolith.

This is one of the major anomalies. The sandstone column has been erected on top of a convex limestone core:

The limestone core is not aligned towards the three other column bases of the north side, neither is it aligned to the sandstone column drums on top of it, which leads to the following assumptions:

The column itself had been erected after the limestone core was cased in sandstone (therefore it has been placed centered on the finished base).

It is possible that column 05 had been erected as the first column of the court. If the other column bases on the north wall had already been erected, the limestone core would have easily been moved in order to align with the bases.

Why is Column 05 built out of sandstone? Some working hypotheses include:

Practical reasons, e. g. sandstone was easily available from the surrounding temples and the work forces were waiting for limestone of proper quality, for tools or for craftsmen with specialized experience (sandstone is easier to work with).

Symbolic reasons: We always have to keep in mind that the “Lichthof” structures were open to the public, and they served as gateways to the burials of the tomb owners, therefore offerings would have been brought into the court. As Column 05 is closest to the burial chamber, we might consider this column as the most important one and as the place where offerings are brought. Would this be the first area of the court that needed to be finished?

Layered columns are not unusual for Kushite architecture in Egypt and Nubia. For example, similar construction methods can be seen in the Treasury of Shabaka at the precinct of Amun-Ra at Karnak. The columns in TT 390 might therefore be considered as Kushite in both form and building technique. Further research on the building techniques will be conducted.

The discussion of the mysterious sandstone column continues in Steven’s video:

More on the methodology and results of the Column Project will follow in the next blog posts.

One thought on “Mysterious Column of TT 390

  1. Dear South Asasif Conservation Team,

    Thank you for this article and information. I am a masters student of Hellenistic Egyptology in Cairo working to bring the ancient Hellenistic world of pre and post Nectanebo II Egypt to life through film and you approach really interested me. Are there any available internship spots in your research team for projects in the near future available

    Many Thanks,
    Warren Brouwer

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