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Internal wall of Ranefer's house, showing one of the false doors built into the south wall of the front reception room.

House of Ranefer: Background


The house of Ranefer (N49.18) is one of the many houses of ‘officials’ at Tell el-Amarna. The house lies some 300 metres north of the EES field station. It had stood on the corner of two streets and been one of the more substantially built houses in the area, and is still a prominent ruin, despite the effects of weathering and local collapse of some of the walls. First excavated by T. E. Peet for the Egypt Exploration Society in 1921, it was again the focus of field work in 1996 and again from 2002–2004.

The House of Ranefer, as exposed in the 1921 season
The House of Ranefer, as exposed in the 1921 season


In 1996 one of the rooms, the 'West Loggia', had been recleared as part of the researches on the ancient textile industry at Amarna, on account of the possibility that a loom had been set up there (see the images below). The evidence for this was the discovery in 1921 of a carved limestone block of a type which might have been used to support the lower beam of a vertical loom. This exercise had revealed that much of the brick floor had been dug over in the decades since 1921. In contemplating a more extensive re-examination, one could therefore not know beforehand whether any of Peet's lower levels had survived or had been entirely turned over in searches for buried treasure by local people. Despite this, it was decided in 2002 to begin a fresh study of Ranefer’s house. Initially this arose from discussions with environmental archaeologists Prof. Paul Buckland, Dr. Christopher Stevens and Dr. Eva Panagiotakopulu as to what strategies could be followed to increase the range of samples of ancient plant and insect remains. Excavations in earlier years at the Workmen's Village had produced deposits rich in such remains, and so had the Late Roman levels at Kom el-Nana. By contrast little had so far been recovered from the main city, creating a significant gap in the basis for comparisons. What was attractive about Ranefer's house was the demonstration by Peet (and his assistant Hayter) that the floors of two of the rooms covered a depth of at least a metre of earlier floors and rubble layers. These had been examined by means of pits dug through the floors. Peet's own interest was in the possibility that the earlier floors might belong to a period prior to the Amarna Period. In the end, after having examined sherds from all of the levels, he concluded that this was very unlikely and that there was nothing inconsistent with an Amarna Period date for the whole sequence. The 1921 descriptions and photographs of the layers, however, also pointed to them as potentially valuable for organic content which, having been sealed beneath an 18th Dynasty floor, had been less open to later or even quite recent contamination.

A second reason for taking a renewed interest in Ranefer's house is that it is one of the few cases where an ancient well has been dug out for a good part of its depth. Peet had been unable to reach the bottom, which presumably had lain beneath the water table when originally dug. If the base of the well has remained beneath the water table, it is possible that organic debris has been preserved there in anaerobic conditions, and might be reachable with the aid of coring equipment.

A third reason concerns the way that a large part of Ranefer’s house had been erected over the foundations of an earlier and smaller house. This provides an unusually clear example of a change in the utilization of space in the city. We will never know what the exact circumstances were. It is possible that Ranefer experienced an improvement in his fortunes, perhaps through a promotion in his job or through an inheritance, and found himself able to rebuild his house on a grander scale (though the new house itself was not huge). Or it is possible that he arrived in the city after it had been largely built and, wishing to establish a house for himself in one of the central neighbourhoods, he acquired a plot with a smaller house and rebuilt it on a larger scale. The question of what happened is tied up with obvious changes in the layout of the granaries in the adjacent court. Did that change happen at the same time as the rebuilding of the house?

Excavation of the house is now complete, and work is underway on the final excavation report.

Who was Ranefer?

The house is one of the few at Amarna which retained evidence for the name and status of its owner. It was probably normal for the more affluent citizens to mark their ownership of their house and to advertise who they were by means of inscribed limestone frames around one or more of the principal external and internal doorways, and also by means of painted panels on some of the walls in the interior. Most of the architectural stonework was removed or broken up in ancient times. As a result we do not know to whom most of the houses belong.

In 1921 numerous fragments were found of two limestone door jambs or door-posts which preserved the identity of the house’s owner. His name and titles were also preserved on two vertical painted strips on either side of a niche in the brick wall of the main transverse hall. They record for Ranefer two related titles. One is ‘Master of horse of the entire stables’; the other (using a very rare word) is ‘First charioteer (?) of His Majesty’. Ranefer was thus an officer in the Egyptian chariotry, a rank which carried considerable social prestige. Nothing more is known of him. For example, it is not possible to identify his tomb amongst the rock-cut tombs at Amarna. His house and (modest) grounds, with their granaries, are indistinguishable from those of other men with official positions, showing that he farmed lands and maintained at Amarna an essentially domestic establishment.

Images from the 1996 clearance

House of Ranefer before cleaning (March 1996). Facing east. EES slide 96-1/13
House of Ranefer before cleaning (March 1996). Facing east. EES slide 96-1/13

House of Ranefer: the ‘west loggia’ before cleaning (March 1996). Facing east. EES slide 96-1/2
House of Ranefer: the ‘west loggia’ before cleaning (March 1996). Facing east. EES slide 96-1/2

House of Ranefer: ‘west loggia’ after removal of drift sand. The original floor survives only at the far end of the room. Facing north-west. EES slide 96-1/12
House of Ranefer: ‘west loggia’ after removal of drift sand. The original floor survives only at the far end of the room. Facing north-west. EES slide 96-1/12

House of Ranefer: ‘west loggia’ after cleaning. A column base lay originally beside the left end of the scale. Compare the 1921 photograph 21/91. Facing south-west. EES slide 96-1/6
House of Ranefer: ‘west loggia’ after cleaning. A column base lay originally beside the left end of the scale. Compare the 1921 photograph 21/91. Facing south-west. EES slide 96-1/6

House of Ranefer: ‘west loggia’ after cleaning. Detail of the mud surface of the brick paving, showing the impression of two circular objects made when the mud was wet. Facing south-west. EES slide 96-1/7
House of Ranefer: ‘west loggia’ after cleaning. Detail of the mud surface of the brick paving, showing the impression of two circular objects made when the mud was wet. Facing south-west. EES slide 96-1/7

House of Ranefer: ‘west loggia’ after cleaning. Detail of the mud surface of the brick paving, showing the impression of two circular objects made when the mud was wet. Facing north-west. EES slide 96-1/9
House of Ranefer: ‘west loggia’ after cleaning. Detail of the mud surface of the brick paving, showing the impression of two circular objects made when the mud was wet. Facing north-west. EES slide 96-1/9


Further reading

  • Hari, R. 1976. Repertoire onomastique amarnien. Aegyptiaca Helvetica 4. Geneva, no. 223.
  • Schulman, A. R. 1964. Military rank, title and organization in the Egyptian New Kingdom. Munchner Agyptologische Studien 6. Berlin, 46-7, 145, no. 375.
  • Murnane, W. J. 1995. Texts from the Amarna Period in Egypt. SBL Writings from the Ancient World Series 5. Atlanta, 184, no. 85.
 
 

Website first posted September 2000; last updated November 2010 | enquiries concerning website: email bjk2@cam.ac.uk