This limestone stela is a unique record of some very interesting people who lived during the Ramesside Period. It was discovered near the Ramesseum in 1896 by Flinders Petrie, working on behalf of the Egyptian Research Account. Many of the individuals who are represented on the stela are known from Deir el-Medina, the New Kingdom community of workers on Theban royal tombs.
The top register in the round part of the stela (the ‘lunette’) shows Neferhotep, the foreman of the gang of workmen who lived at Deir el-Medina. He stands on the prow of the boat used to carry the statue of the goddess Mut. The middle register shows another man, called Hesysunebef, and his family, who are all kneeling in adoration before the foreman Neferhotep. The lower register shows five more people including the parents-in-law of Hesysunebef.
The inscription on the top register says that the stela was ‘Made by the Chief of the Gang in the Place of Truth (Deir el-Medina), Neferhotep, justified’. Above the shrine of Mut, the hieroglyphs identify the goddess as ‘Mut the Great, Lady of Isheru’ (her temple at Karnak).
The hieroglyphs in the middle register caption the figures beneath: ‘[Made/done/praise] by the workman of the Lord of the Two Lands Hesysunebef, justified; his son Neferhotep (ii), his wife, the lady of the house, Huenro, justified; his daughter Webkhet, justified; his daughter, Nubemiry, justified’.
The hieroglyphs in the lower register list ‘The workman in the Place of Truth, Amenemope, justified; his wife, the lady of the house, Iset, justified; the temple-singer of Amun, Webkhet, justified; the workman in the Place of Truth, Mery-Re, justified; the lady of the house, Weretanu, [justified]’.
It appears that Neferhotep was the benefactor and adoptive father of Hesysunebef, whose name means ‘He who is praised by his lord’. It is unusual that Neferhotep is depicted standing in the sacred boat (or ‘barque’) of the goddess Mut. Ordinary people were not usually permitted this honour – not even the Pharaoh. At Deir el-Medina the carrying of such a barque in procession would have happened on a fairly regular basis; such priestly duties would have been shared by several workmen.
We know from other sources that Hesysunebef appears to have risen to the high rank of Deputy – the second-in-command at the village – although he started life as a slave before his adoption by Neferhotep.
Huenro was the wife of Hesysunebef. It is known that Huenro lived with the workman Pendua before she married Hesysunebef, and that she was unfaithful to both men with the infamous chief workman of the gang called Paneb. When he found out, Hesysunebef divorced Huenro in the second year of King Sethnakhte (c. 1190-1187 BC). After her divorce, Huenro was left penniless. She was given charity by one individual in the village who gave her a monthly ration of grain.
The stela has been subject of pioneering work with interactive technology by Loughborough University. This allows us to tell the stories of these colourful characters in a more comprehensive way than was previously possible.