Paintings from the tomb of Nebamun

Paintings from the tomb of Nebamun

This beautiful illustration is laid out in typical ancient Egyptian style. The strange but charming perspective is called ‘aspective’ and it is the opposite of our modern western view called ‘perspective’. The aim of the ancient Egyptian artist was to show all the essential details of a thing or person from a universal, not a personal viewpoint.

The image of the pond is a halcyon one, the animals, fishes and trees represent the peace and tranquillity of the ideal afterlife. The colours are cool and tranquil to illustrate the peace and comfort of life in the Hereafter. Heaven was not perceived as a garden but gardens were thought of as heavenly.

The painting is one of 11 paintings acquired by the British Museum from the tomb-chapel of a wealthy Egyptian official called Nebamun in the 1820s. Dating from about 1350t BC, they are some of the most famous works of art from Ancient Egypt.

The Tomb of Nebamun is from  Dynasty XVIII. It was located in the Theban Necropolis on the west bank of the Nile at Thebes (present-day Luxor), in Egypt. The tomb was the source of a number of famous decorated tomb scenes that are currently on display in the British MuseumLondon.

Nebamun (c 1350 BCE) was a middle-ranking official scribe and grain counter at the temple complex in Thebes. His tomb was discovered in 1820 by a young Greek adventurer called Giovanni (“Yanni”) d’Athanasi, who was acting as an agent for Henry Salt, the British Consul-General. The tomb he found had plastered walls  that were richly and skilfully decorated with fresco paintings, depicting idealised views of Nebamun’s life and activities.

D’Athanasi and his workmen literally hacked out the pieces he wanted with knives, saws and crowbars. Salt sold these works to the British Museum in 1821, though some of other fragments became located in Berlin and possibly Cairo. D’Athanasi later died in poverty without ever revealing the tomb’s exact location.

The best-known of the tomb’s paintings include Nebamun fowl hunting in the marshes, dancing girls at a banquet, and a pond in a garden. In 2009 the British Museum opened up a new gallery dedicated to the display of the restored eleven wall fragments from the tomb. They have been described as the greatest paintings from ancient Egypt to have survived, and as one of the Museum’s greatest treasures

The frescoes are now on display together for the first time at the British Museum. Following the restoration process they now give a true impression of the colour that would have been experienced by the ancient visitors to the tomb-chapel.

Objects dating from the same time period and a 3-D animation of the tomb-chapel help to set the tomb-chapel in context and allow visitors to experience how the finished tomb would have looked.

Julia Herdman is currently working on the first book to tackle the subject of Ancient Egyptian Sacred Numbers for over a hundred years. To support this work please visit

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Ancient Egypt – Cheapskate Coffin Makers

Forty years of documenting the Great Sphinx of Giza

Getting the Pharaoh to the Afterlife


Best Historical Fiction – Five London Based Family Sagas

Best Historical Fiction – Five London Based Family Sagas

Tales of Tooley Street

Sinclair_Cover Julia Herdman

This London based historical fiction is set in the London Borough of Southward, the Yorkshire town of Beverley and in Paris and Edinburgh in the late 1780s. Sinclair is the eponymous hero but there are strong female leads including the widow Charlotte Leadam and the farmer’s daughter Lucy Leadam. Sinclair is a story of love, loss and redemption. Prodigal son James Sinclair is transformed by his experience of being shipwrecked on the way to India to make his fortune. Obstacles to love and happiness include ambition, conflict with a God, temptation and betrayal. Remorse brings restitution and recovery. Sinclair is an extraordinary book. It will immerse you in the world of 18th century London where the rich and the poor are treated with kindness and compassion by this passionate Scottish doctor and his widowed landlady, the owner of the apothecary shop in Tooley Street.  Sinclair is filled with twists and tragedies, but it will leave you feeling good.


Circles of Time: A Novel (Greville Family Saga) by Phillip Rock

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A generation has been lost on the Western Front when this London based historical romance gets started. The dead have been buried. A harsh peace forged, and the howl of shells replaced by the wail of saxophones as the Jazz Age begins in London. Ghosts of the summer of 1914 linger tugging at the memory of Martin Rilke and his British cousins, the Grevilles.

Everyone at Abingdon Pryory wants to forget the past.  The old values, social codes, and sexual mores have been swept away. Martin Rilke throws himself into journalism. Fenton Wood-Lacy is exiled in faraway army outposts. Back at Abingdon, Charles Greville recovers from shell shock. Alexandra is caught up in an unlikely romance.

Circles of Time captures the age in the midst of one of England’s most gracious manor houses, in the steamy nightclubs of London’s Soho, and the despair of Germany caught in the nightmare of anarchy and inflation. Lives are renewed, new loves found, and a future of peace and happiness is glimpsed—but only for a moment.


The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy

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The Forsyte Saga is John Galsworthy’s monumental chronicle of the lives of the moneyed Forsytes. As London based historical fiction goes you really could do no better.

The Forsytes are a family at war with each other. The story of Soames Forsyte’s marriage to the beautiful and rebellious Irene and its effects upon the whole Forsyte clan run through the series.

The Forsyte Saga is a brilliant social satire of the acquisitive sensibilities of a comfort-bound class in its final glory. Galsworthy spares none of his characters, revealing their weaknesses and shortcomings as clearly as he does the tenacity and perseverance that define the most influential members of the Forsyte family.



The Palliser Novels: Anthony Trollope

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In his autobiography, Anthony Trollope called the Palliser Novels “the best work of my life,” adding “I think Plantagenet Palliser stands more firmly on the ground than any other personage I have created.”

These London based historical novels centre around the stately politician Plantagenet Palliser, but the interest is less in politics than in the lively social scene Trollope creates against a Parliamentary backdrop.

Trollops’ keen eye for the subtleties of character and “great apprehension of the real” impressed contemporary writers from Nathaniel Hawthorne to Henry James, and in the Palliser Novels we find him at his very best.

This is a masterful portrait of Victorian society and politics with a profoundly human touch.,




Belgravia by Julian Fellowes

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Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia is the story of a secret. A secret that unravels behind the porticoed doors of London’s grandest postcode.

Set in the 1840s, this London based historical romance starts when the upper echelons of society began to rub shoulders with the emerging industrial nouveau riche, Belgravia is peopled by a rich cast of characters and begins on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 at the Duchess of Richmond’s new legendary ball, one family’s life will change forever, but you’ll have to read the book to find out whose it is.









The Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard

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The Light Years, Marking Time, Confusion, Casting Off and All Change

Howard offers a classic English country-house saga, in this impressive London based historical saga covering the late 30s to late 50s. As the various members of the upper-middle-class Cazalet family circle are hatched, matched and dispatched against a background of the changing times Howard keeps the family and the story together. Her characters are forensically interrogated to reveal their strengths and their weaknesses. This historical fiction is based on her own experience, giving Howard’s characters a ring of authenticity that is rare. The war looms large and alters lives. It is the social history of this class of people who would disappear with the modernity and taxes of the 1960s.


Julia Herdman writes historical fiction.

Her novel Sinclair is available of Amazon. Click here to get your copy.

Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle  Also available on:

Amazon Australia

Amazon Canada

Amazon New Zealand

Amazon South Africa

Amazon USA


See Also:

Writers of influence – Hilary Mantel




Getting the Pharaoh to the Afterlife

Getting the Pharaoh to the Afterlife

How did the royal priests convince the king he had the golden ticket that would take him to the afterlife?

Ancient Egypt
Getting The Pharaoh to the Afterlife

Every ancient Egyptian king required a ticket to the afterlife. To understand how these tickets were made we need to understand the king’s sacred monuments, their design, materials, and decoration, but more importantly we need to understand the religious ideas that inspired them.

The ancient Egyptian priesthood were the architects of each pharaoh’s greatest projects; their temples and their tombs; they supplied the spiritual structure, the technically outstanding design work, and the organisational framework that underpinned and made possible all the monumental creations ever built in ancient Egypt.

A succession of high-ranking priests were inolved in getting the Pharaoh to the afterlife. They listened to and understood each ruler’s requirements; then facilitated projects that provided their monarch with their personal edifices of glory and their individual road-map to the afterlife. But what was it the king needed to be sure he arrived there safely?

Using a common language of shared intellectual and spiritual beliefs the priests and their kings created that route in some of the greatest religious monuments on earth. These were pyramids and tombs with special sarcophaguses, decorated coffins, books of spells and sacred amulets. This special combination of design, decoration, furniture, spells and rituals created the pharaoh’s pathway to the afterlife.

The Royal cult sat at the centre of religious and cultural innovation for 3000 years. Its ideas and practices were taken up by the wealthy and privileged in ancient Egyptian society, and some of its practices trickled down to those at the bottom of the social pile. What the king did first was sure to be followed by others.

Neither the pharaoh nor their priests had a word for religion; that concept came from the Roman world where religio, according to Cicero meant the repeated reading of the sacred rites; the Egyptian word for what we call religion was heka, and it meant magic; making manifest the providential ordering of the cosmos.

The Power of Heka

The ancient Egyptians believed heka operated in this world and the next; it was neither good nor bad; it was simply the invisible energy or force that powered everything in the world. The royal priests believed they knew how it worked, how to connect with it, and, how to control it. It was their special knowledge, and it helped to maintain their position at the top of ancient Egyptian society for over three thousand years, and it was this sacred knowledge, the knowledge of the god Thoth that convinced the king his priests could get him to the afterlife.

A lot has been written about heka or hike; it was the tool of the gods; the Heliopolitian creator god Atum used it with Sai (perception) and Hu (speech) to make the world. Today we might call heka something like gestalt because it was the thing that provided the structure that made the world manifest in all its beauty and all its horror. Heka was also how the deceased passed from this transitory world to the life eternal beyond the grave. Beliefs surrounding heka were the fountainhead and the origin of every sacred building constructed in ancient Egypt. Egyptologists believe words contained the power of heka but not numbers, although they never speak of this omission.

Thoth and Isis were the two great magicians of the cosmos and were said to be great in heka. Like Sai and Hu, Heka was depicted as a god in his own right from the Old Kingdom and sometimes appeared in illustrations of the funeral boat on tomb walls. The gods Sai, Hu and Heka, were the physical manifestations of the invisible powers that created the universe, understanding heka was the key to comprehending the world.

The priests could invoke the gods’ power through speech, by saying the right spells or prayers but understanding heka was problematic; where was it and how could it be manipulated? We believe it was by using sacred materials, sacred images and by using both words and numbers. The priest’s special knowledge all of these things ensured the king’s transformation from man to god.

Forty years of documenting the Great Sphinx of Giza

Forty years of documenting the Great Sphinx of Giza

Forty years of documenting the Great Sphinx of Giza

In 1979, Mark Lehner and James Allen started work on the first comprehensive mapping of the Sphinx.

  • They studied its structure and geology
  • They documented every detail
  • Their goal was to determine how and when this iconic monument was built
  • Recorded its current state of preservation
  • Their data is now available thanks to a grant from ARCE’s Antiquities Endowment Fund
  • If you’d like to search the data yourself, good starting points are the project homepage or try browsing some of the over 5500 photographs and 364 maps and drawings and see what you find!

Julia Herdman

The Great Sphinx

Ancient Egypt – Cheapskate Coffin Makers

Ancient Egypt – Cheapskate Coffin Makers

About 3,000 years ago, a man named Nespawershefyt, a priest at the temple of Amun at Karnak (in modern Luxor), commissioned a set of coffins for himself.

He wanted an outer coffin and an inner coffin – the smaller of the two to be placed in the larger, much like Russian dolls – and a mummy board that would be placed on top of his embalmed and wrapped body.

Unbeknown to Nespawershefyt, the artisans he had chosen to make his coffins were cheapskates.

  • The wood they chose for the inner coffin was poor and needed lots of patching.
  • They were good at painting though. All the patches were expertly covered with bright yellow paint and text.
  • The coffins were delivered but not needed for years.

Sometime before his death Nespawershefyt decided to update his funerary inscriptions: he had received a promotion at the temple and wanted to mention his new higher-level position on his coffins.

You cannot leave your CV out-of-date for eternity, so the artisans set to work once again.

The coffins can be seen at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

depth, 49, cm, width, 60, cm, length, 206, cm, length, 190, cm, length, mummy board, 179, cm

given; 1822; Hanbury, Barnard, Waddington, George
Accession: Object Number: E.1.1822