The Two Brothers
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
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 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'
Translation and Transliteration, coffins, canopic chest and jars
Excavation by W M Flinders Petrie at Der Rifeh
More images of the
- The Manchester Museum
- Who is Khnum
Unwrapping the 'Two Brothers'
Both 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
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.
At 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
Khnum-Nakht's spine shows evidence of long-standing arthritis with abnormal
curvature (scoliosis) in the thoracic region. Inspection of the
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
- 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,
- Burial Customs in Ancient Egypt,
- Giza and Rifeh, Flinders Petrie
- The Mummies Tale, Dr A R David and Dr E Tapp