As Petrie Museum curator Debbie Challis says in her excellent blog about LGBT History Month:
"Often an object or figure from the past is ‘queered’ by the perspective of people looking at it as much as by the, often fragmentary, evidence around it / them."This may indeed be the case, but, as John J. Johnson of the Petrie Museum presented in his talk for the Camden and Islington LGBT History Month event Defining Desire: labels and sex in ancient and modern worlds at the Institute of Archaeology that we attended on Thursday, there is quite a lot of evidence to suggest that a pair of Ancient Egyptian royal servants may well be the first recorded gay couple in history...
One of the largest and most beautiful tombs in the entire necropolis at Saqqara, popularly known as the "Tomb of the Hairdressers", was discovered by archaeologists in 1964 and initially presented a puzzle to scholars.
Were the two men whose tomb this was - depicted nose to nose in a close embrace - relatives or close friends? The scholarly literature often refers to them as twins or brothers, and the site has also become known as the "Tomb of the Brothers".
According to Egyptologist Greg Reeder there was more going on. He noted that images of the two men are strikingly similar to those of male-female married couples on other tombs of the era.Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum had the title of "Overseers of the Manicurists of the Palace of the King" during the Fifth Dynasty reign of Pharaoh Niuserre (c 2400BC), and are listed as "royal confidants" in their joint tomb.
Niankhkhnum had a wife, who is depicted sitting behind him in a banquet scene in the tomb, but her image was almost totally erased during ancient times for unknown reasons, he said. In other scenes, Khnumhotep occupies the place normally associated with wives.
And in some hieroglyphs, Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep's names are strung together in a word play that could mean "joined in life and joined in death" [Niankhkhnum means "joined to life" and Khnumhotep means "joined to the blessed state of the dead"].
Mr. Reeder's conclusion: "Same-sex desire existed just behind the ideal façade constructed by the ancients."
[Read the rest of the article from the Dallas Morning News.]
Read more about the most ancient gay beauticians of the lot at Egyptology.com
The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology
Camden and Islington LGBT History Month 2014