The northern group of rock tombs are situated on the north-east side of the desert plain, where the cliff reaches a height of about 85 metres (280 feet). They lie at the base of the abrupt part of the cliff face, but at the top of a steep slope of looser rock. The cliff is cut by a ravine which divides the tombs into two groups. The more important group (nos. 3 to 6) lies to the south, and most visitors confine their visit to it. A path (fitted with modern steps and benches at intervals) takes one straight up to nos. 3 to 5, a compact group, but no. 6 has to be reached either by a separate path up, or by a narrow track along the cliff face. The six numbered tombs are protected by iron doors. Several more rock tombs were begun, to the north of tomb 3. These do not have separate numbers and are open.
The tombs that are numbered and decorated belonged to some of the principal men at Akhenaten’s court,who included the two most senior priests (Meryra and Panehsy). It is possible that the Desert Altars site on the desert below was a ceremonial centre linked to the cult at their tombs. This group of tombs might not have been reserved only for very senior figures, however. We do not know who were the owners of the unfinished tombs, which were intended to be smaller.
The numbered tombs belonged to the following persons (for detailed descriptions, with plans, see Downloadable Resources/Guidebook).
Tomb no. 1. HUYA, "Overseer of the Royal Harim and of the Treasuries, and Steward of the Great Royal Wife, Tiye."
Tomb no. 2. MERYRA (II), "Royal scribe, Steward, Overseer of the Two Treasuries, Overseer of the Royal Harim of Nefertiti."
Tomb no. 3. AHMES, "True Scribe of the King, Fan-bearer on the King's Right Hand, Steward of the Estate of Akhenaten."
Tomb no. 4. MERYRA, "High priest of the Aten in Akhetaten, Fanbearer on the Right Hand of the King."
Tomb no. 5. PENTHU, "Royal scribe, First under the King, Chief servitor of the Aten in the Estate of the Aten in Akhetaten, chief of physicians."
Tomb no. 6. PANEHSY, "Chief servitor of the Aten in the temple of Aten in Akhetaten."
In Coptic Christian times a religious community settled in and around these tombs. Groups of little stone huts on the hillside below the tombs belong to these people. Many of the huts are located in front of the unnumbered and unfinished tombs north of tomb no. 3. The spiritual centre for this community was a church, created by modifying tomb no. 6 (Panehsy), by enlarging it on the north-west side, and adding an apse at the end. Debris outside the tomb dates to the same period.
The North Tombs, together with the South Tombs, are published, in line drawings supplemented with photographs, in N. de G. Davies, The Rock Tombs of El Amarna, 6 vols. (London, Egypt Exploration Fund 1903–8); reprinted in 3 parts (London, Egypt Exploration Society 2004).