Entwined lives: more evidence that Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep were twins

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


The mid-Fifth Dynasty tomb of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep at Saqqara has been the subject of considerable debate regarding the relationship between its owners. Most studies to date have focused on specific wall scenes where the two men touch one another in a deeply affectionate manner - both holding hands and embracing. The intimacy implied by such gestures has led to much speculation about their relationship. The behaviour represented has been interpreted in different ways: some scholars have suggested that the two were simply brothers and show filial affection, others have instead proposed that they were twins, ranging from identical to conjoined siblings; while a third hypothesis is that the scenes reveal a homosexual relationship between the pair. This paper will present the results of our re-examination of the wall decoration in the tomb in which we have noted a significant number of paired images where one scene or motif 'mirrors' another, e.g. two Tilapia niloticus speared by Khnumhotep in the portico and chapel; double lions and black kites in room 2; pairs of donkeys that carry the men into room 4, etc. Many of these details are either the first known example in an elite tomb context or are images that are exclusive to this tomb. We propose that the frequency and placement of these dualities may be interpreted as visual puns that allude to the tomb owners' relationship. Such information adds further support to the hypothesis that Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep were identical twins, who celebrated this aspect of their lives visually through repeated references in doubled and mirrored images.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2014
EventThe Australasian Egyptology Conference (3rd : 2014) - Sydney
Duration: 16 Jul 201418 Jul 2014


ConferenceThe Australasian Egyptology Conference (3rd : 2014)


  • Ancient Egyptian Art
  • Egyptology
  • ancient egyptian iconography


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