a present-day village approximately 7 kilometers (4 miles) west of Qusiya, the site of ancient Cusae, capital of the fourteenth Upper Egyptian nome. The village (27°27′N, 30°45′E) gives its name to the important cemetery situated southwest of it. The necropolis of Meir (27°25′N, 30°43′E) extends about 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) north to south, along the high limestone ridge of the Western Desert. There are three main levels; the most renowned is the middle terrace, which encompasses the decorated tomb chapels of influential local officials, notably the nomarchs (provincial governors) of the late Old Kingdom and the Middle Kingdom.
The cemetery of Meir was excavated by members of the Egyptian Antiquities Service during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The site was already badly disturbed, since it had long been a source of clandestine digging for antiquities and easily quarried stone. From 1910 to 1915, Sayyid Khashaba held the official government concession for excavations in the area that included Meir and extended approximately 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Dairut to Deir el-Gandala on both banks of the Nile. During that time Ahmed Kamal conducted excavations for Khashaba, and he published preliminary reports in the Annales du Service des Antiquités de l'Égypte soon after each season. The reports document the discovery at Meir of numerous funerary objects—coffins, canopic chests, statuettes, and models—primarily of Middle Kingdom date. The objects from Khashaba's share of the finds are dispersed in numerous Egyptian and foreign museums, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Most current knowledge of the tombs of Meir derives from the well-documented activity of Aylward M. Blackman, who conducted the only thorough study of the architecture and decorative program of the tombs. This project took place under the aegis of the Archaeological Survey of the Egyptian Exploration Fund (EEF), later Society (EES). In five seasons, between January 1912 and spring 1950, Blackman made copies of the scenes on the walls of the decorated tomb chapels of the middle terrace; he published most of them in a series of six volumes.
In his 1912 survey, Blackman divided the necropolis into five groups of rock-cut tombs, each series separated by a ravine (wadi). The five groups, labeled A to E from north to south, comprise fifteen decorated chapels: A 1–4, B 1–4, C 1, D 1–2, and E 1–4. Nine of these decorated tombs date to the sixth dynasty (A 1–2, D 1–2, E 1–4), and six were cut in the twelfth dynasty (A 3, B 1–4, C 1). Two decorated tombs on the east bank at Qusair al-Amarna also belonged to Old Kingdom officials of Cusae, and these tombs were partially reused in the New Kingdom.
The earliest known Old Kingdom tomb, A 1, belonged to Niankhpepi, whose additional names included Sobekhotep, by which he is often referred, and Hepi-kem (“Hepi the black”). He was an “Overseer of Upper Egypt”—a title used almost exclusively by nomarchs at that time—and an overseer of the priests of Hathor of Cusae. In 1894, several wooden statues were found in a pit in his tomb (A 1)—a standing statue inscribed with his name and titles (CG 60), an unusual figure of a male porter carrying a chest and basket, and some two dozen wooden models depicting food-preparation activities (CG 236–254) and boats (CG 4880–4893)—all of which represents the only intact group of Old Kingdom models recorded from Meir.
As for Niankhpepi Sobekhotep's successors, there is some confusion because of the repetition of the name Pepiankh (including one of the tomb owners at Qusair al-Amarna) and the lack of full genealogy. These Old Kingdom officials buried at Meir and Qusair al-Amarna encompassed at least three generations from the reign of Pepy I to Pepy II.
The Middle Kingdom Group B tombs were further cleared in 1918 by Howard Carter. According to unpublished field notes in the Griffith Institute in Oxford, Carter documented eleven tomb-chapels in the middle terrace of Group B, thus augmenting Blackman's four decorated chapels with seven undecorated ones, as well as eleven undecorated rock-cut tombs that consisted of only single chambers with burial pits. The published record for Meir provides an incomplete picture of the site as a whole.
The first nomarch of the twelfth dynasty line at Cusae is Senbi I. His tomb-chapel, B 1, is decorated with finely painted reliefs, including scenes rendered in a naturalistic manner, particularly of the desert hunt. The owners of the other Middle Kingdom chapels were another Senbi (referred to as Senbi II) and four men named Ukhhotep (in most schemes I–III, since the Ukhhotep who owned A 3 is not considered to have been a nomarch). In the tomb-chapel of Ukhhotep II (B 4), there is an illustrated list of his predecessors, representing a total of fifty-nine local rulers with their wives, apparently going back to officials of the Old Kingdom. Because of its poor state of preservation—as well as lack of corroborative information—this list is not helpful in reconstructing the chronology of the nomarchs.
Tomb-chapel B 4 also included the cartouche of Amenemhet II, which is the only occurrence of a king's name in the tombs. The correlation of the genealogy of the rulers of Cusae with the kings of the twelfth dynasty hangs on this date, but the royal associations are not consistently accepted. A general sequence based largely on Blackman's attributions would place Senbi I (tomb B 1) in the reign of Amenemhet I, the first ruler of the twelfth dynasty; Senbi II, the owner of B 3 and grandson of Senbi I, within the reigns of Senwosret I and Amenemhet II; and Ukhhotep III, the owner of C 1 (the last of the series of decorated tombs), in the reigns of Senwosret II and Senwosret III.
Two statue groups of Ukhhotep III that were originally carved for his tomb (Meir C 1) are now in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo (CG 459) and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (accession number 1973.87). Both granite statues depict Ukhhotep standing between two of his wives, Nebkau and Khnumhotep, and accompanied by his daughter Nebhethenutsen. These women and many others are depicted in the scenes and inscriptions on his tomb walls, where five wives and seven concubines are mentioned (see Blackman, Meir, vol. 6). Ukhhotep III's tomb, C 1, is of interest for many reasons. The painting style has been called mannerist and includes unusual color hues, such as the light green between white and darker green on Ukhhotep's striped (or pleated) cloak. Women play prominent roles in the scenes, and many take part in traditionally male activities, which may reflect their ties to the local cult of the goddess Hathor. The mention of multiple wives raises the strong possibility of polygamy, usually practiced only on the royal level. It has often been noted that Ukhhotep usurped other royal prerogatives in the iconography of his funerary material, such as the unification symbol (smʒ tʒwy) and the heraldic plants of the North and the South. Also uncommon is his bold pose, holding the ankh sign of life.
Many of the high officials buried at Meir held the title “Overseer of the Priests of Hathor,” whose cult was central to the town; however, neither the temple of Hathor nor the actual town of Cusae have been uncovered. Several Greek literary papyri attributed to Meir were purchased by Wallis Budge in 1888–1889 for the British Museum, and among them is Aristotle's Constitution of Athens. Numerous Roman mummy masks uncovered at Meir attest to the reuse of some of the older tombs at that time.
- Allam, Schafik. Beiträge zum Hathorkult (bis zum Ende des Mittleren Reiches). Münchner Ägyptologische Studien, 4. Berlin, 1963. Detailed discussion of the cult of Hathor of Cusae from the Old Kingdom to Greco-Roman times (see pp. 23–41).
- Blackman, Aylward M. The Rock Cut Tombs of Meir. 6 vols., the last two with Michael Apted. London, 1914–1953. These volumes of the Archaeological Survey of Egypt (ASE 22–25, 28–29) remain the basic source for the decorated tombs at Meir.
- Freed, Rita. “Group Statue of Ukh-hotep II and His Family.” In Mummies and Magic: The Funerary Arts of Ancient Egypt, edited by Sue D'Auria, Peter Lacovara, and Catharine H. Roehrig, pp. 121–122. Boston, 1988. Useful synopsis of information and earlier bibliography for the statues of Ukhhotep, owner of Meir C 1.
- Hayes, William C. The Scepter of Egypt, vol. 1. New York, 1953. The large number of Middle Kingdom objects from Khashaba's Meir excavations are included in the relevant sections (see geographic index, under “Mir”).
- James, T. G. H., ed. Excavating in Egypt: The Egypt Exploration Society 1882–1982. Chicago and London, 1982. Includes background to Blackman's work at Meir as well as reference to the British Museum acquisition of papyri from Meir. See discussion of the Greco-Roman Branch.
- Kessler, Dietrich. “Meir.” In Lexikon der Ägyptologie, 4: 14–19. Clearly presented analysis of historical and archaeological background to site, with extensive bibliography, also incorporated within the footnotes.
- O'Connor, David. “Sexuality, Statuary and the Afterlife; Scenes in the Tomb-chapel of Pepyankh (Heny the Black): An Interpretive Essay.” In Studies in Honor of William Kelly Simpson, edited by Peter Der Manuelian, vol. 2, pp. 621–633. Boston, 1996. Detailed analysis of one wall in Meir A 2 with scenes of manufacturing wooden statues and objects.
- Porter, Bertha, and Rosalind L. B. Moss. Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Reliefs, and Paintings, vol. 4: Lower and Middle Egypt. Oxford, 1934. The entry on Meir (pp. 247–259) outlines the basic scenes in the decorated tombs relying heavily on Blackman—but without benefit of Meir V-VI, published in 1953. Numerous objects in various museum collections are cited.
- Simpson, William Kelly. “The Middle Kingdom in Egypt: Some Recent Acquisitions.” Boston Museum Bulletin 72 (1974), 100–116. Well-illustrated discussion of the two group statues of Ukhhotep in Boston and Cairo.
Barbara A. Porter