You are here

Mathematical Treasure: Tombs of Menna and Wepemnefret

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University)

Wall painting of mathematical activities in Tomb of Menna.

This is an Egyptian wall painting from the tomb of Menna built in the period 1420–1411 BCE in the Valley of the Kings.

Menna was a chief scribe of the 18th dynasty who was in charge of measuring fields, determining harvests, and computing the appropriate taxes. His tomb tableau depicts the mathematical activities involved in this process of assessing agricultural activities: the measuring of fields by “rope-stretchers,” determining the sizes of harvests, and computing taxes (Swetz 2012, p. 46).

The image above was photographed by Jon Bodsworth between 2001 and 2011 for his (now offline) Egypt Archive website. His photographs are from his own originals, are copyright free, and may be reproduced in any medium. See the permission statement here.

Limestone stela from the tomb of Wepemnefret.

A limestone stele from the 4th Dynasty (2613–2494 BCE) shows the prince Wepemnefret with offerings portrayed as Egyptian numerals, including 1000 pieces of linen, 1000 alabaster vessles, 1000 pieces of bread, 1000 jars of beer, 1000 antelopes, and 1000 oxen.

This item is owned by the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology. The image has been reproduced in Peter Der Manuellan, Slab Stelae of the Giza Necropolis (New Haven & Philadelphia: Peabody Museum of Natural History of Yale University and University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 2003), and the Math & the Art of MC Escher website by Anneke Bart and Bryan Clair of Saint Louis University (2013).

Egyptian numerals depicted on slab stele of Old Kingdom princess Neferetiabet (2590–2565 BC).

A similar funereal stele from Giza showing Princess Nefertiabet eating (ca 2590–2565 BCE) also depicts Egyptian numerals from the Old Kingdom period. Nefertiabet is shown with offerings such as linen, ointment, bread, beer, and a bull. A table of values for hieroglyphic numerals is available in Cynthia J. Huffman’s Convergence article, “An Ancient Egyptian Mathematical Photo Album.”

The item is owned by the Louvre (object E 15591) and can be found in room 635, display case 5. The image is available via Wikimedia Commons. See also further scholarship listed in Harvard University’s Digital Giza Project.

Index to Mathematical Treasures


Frank Swetz, Mathematical Expeditions: Exploring Word Problems Across the Ages. Johns Hopkins Press, 2012.

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University), "Mathematical Treasure: Tombs of Menna and Wepemnefret," Convergence (April 2016)