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Valley of the Kings (Luxor, Egypt)

View over the East Valley

The Valley of the Kings, or Wadi el-Muluk (وادي الملوك) in Arabic, is a valley in Egypt where tombs were built for the Pharaohs and powerful nobles of the New Kingdom, the Eighteenth through Twentieth Dynasties of Ancient Egypt.

The valley is located at. It stands on the west bank of the Nile, across from Thebes (modern Luxor), under the peak of the pyramid-shaped mountain Al-Qurn. It is separated into the East and West Valleys, with most of the important tombs in the East Valley. The West Valley has only one tomb open to the public: the tomb of Ay, Tutankhamun's successor. There are a number of other important burials there, including that of Amenhotep III, but these are still being excavated and are not publicly accessible.

The official name for the site was The Great and Majestic Necropolis of the Millions of Years of the Pharaoh, Life, Strength, Health in The West of Thebes, or more usually, Ta-sekhet-ma'at (the Great Field)[1].

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The Valley was used for primary burials from approximately 1539 BC to 1075 BC, and contains some 64 tombs, starting with Thutmose I and ending with Ramesses X or XI.

The Valley of the Kings also had tombs for the favorite nobles and the wives and children of both the nobles and pharaohs. Around the time of Ramesses I (ca. 1301 BC) the Valley of the Queens was begun, although some wives were still buried with their husbands.

Geology

The quality of the rock in the Valley is very inconsistent. Tombs were built by cutting through various layers of limestone, each with its own quality. This poses problems for modern day conservators, as it must have to the original architects. Building plans were probably changed on account of this. The most serious problem are the shale layers. This fine material expands when it comes into contact with water. This has damaged many tombs, particularly during floods.

The investigation of the Amarna Royal Tombs Project (1998 – 2002) investigated the valley floor with ground-penetrating radar], and found that below the modern surface the Valley’s cliffs descend beneath the scree in a series of abrupt, natural "shelves", arranged one below the other, descending several metres down to the bedrock in the valley floor. [2]

Important tombs

The tombs are numbered in the order of 'discovery' from Ramesses VII (KV1) to the recently discovered KV63, although some of the tombs have been open since antiquity, and KV5 has only recently been rediscovered. The abbreviation "KV" stands for "Kings' Valley". A number of the tombs are unoccupied, the owners of others remain unknown, and some are merely pits used for storage. Only the principal tombs are noted here (these are the publicly accessible or best known tombs).

East Valley

Most of the open tombs in the Valley of the Kings are located in the East Valley, and this is where most tourists can be found.

KV2 – Tomb of Ramesses IV
Main article: KV2
KV4 – Tomb of Ramesses XI
KV5 – Tomb of Sons of Ramesses II
Main article: KV5

The recently rediscovered tomb of some of the sons of Ramesses II. With 120 known rooms and excavation work still underway, it is probably the largest tomb in the valley. It is not currently open to the public.

KV6 – Tomb of Ramesses IX
KV7 – Tomb of Ramesses II

The ruined tomb of Ramesses the Great is not open to the public, as it is currently undergoing excavation and conservation by a Franco-Egyptian team led by Christian Leblanc[3].


KV8 – Tomb of Merenptah

The tomb of Merenptah is one of the tombs that can be viewed by the public, although in 2005 it was not open.

KV9 – Tomb of Ramesses V and Ramesses VI
Main article: KV9

Also known as the Tomb of Memnon or La Tombe de la Métempsychose, this is the tomb of Ramesses V and Ramesses VI.

KV11 – Tomb of Ramesses III

The tomb of Ramesses III (or Bruce's Tomb, The Harper's Tomb) is one of the largest tombs in the valley, and is open to the public, it is located close to the central 'rest–area', and is usually one of the tombs visited by tourists.

KV14 – Tomb of Twosret, later reused by Setnakhte
Main article: KV14
KV15 – Tomb of Seti II
KV16 – Tomb of Ramesses I
KV17 – Tomb of Seti I
Main article: KV17

The tomb of Seti I and is also known as Belzoni's tomb, the tomb of Apis, or the tomb of Psammis, son of Necho.

KV34 – Tomb of Thutmose III
KV35 – Tomb of Amenhotep II
Main article: KV35

This tomb was originally the tomb of Amenhotep II. Over a dozen mummies, many of them royal, were later relocated here (see list).

KV39 – Tomb of Amenhotep I
KV46 – Tomb of Yuya and Tjuyu

The tomb of the nobles Yuya and Tjuyu, who were possibly the parents of Queen Tiy. Until the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun, this was the best preserved tomb to be found in the Valley.

KV55 – Possible Amarna Period Mummy cache

The tomb maybe another mummy cache, and has the possible burials of several Amarna Period royals – Tiy and Smenkhkare/Akhenaten.

KV57 – Tomb of Horemheb
Egypt.KV62.01

KV62

KV62 – Tomb of Tutankhamun
Main article: KV62

Perhaps the most famous discovery of modern Western archaeology was made here by Howard Carter on November 4, 1922, with clearance and conservation work continuing until 1932. King Tutankhamun's tomb was the first royal tomb to be discovered that was still largely intact (although tomb robbers had entered it), and was, until the excavation of KV63 in 2006, considered the last major discovery in the valley. The opulence of his grave goods notwithstanding, Tutankhamun was a rather minor king and other burials probably had more numerous treasures. Some members of the archaeological teams led by Carter and later archaeologists contracted local lethal viruses through food or animals (particularly insects), resulting in the infamous "Curse of the Pharaohs" modern legend.

KV63 – Unknown tomb discovered on 10 March 2005[4].
Main article: KV63
KV64 – Radar anomaly believed to be a tomb or chamber announced on 28 July 2006

West Valley

The numbering the West Valley follows in sequence to that of the East Valley, and there are only four known tombs and several pits in this branch of the valley.

WV22 – Tomb of Amenhotep III

This is the tomb of one the greatest rulers of the Egyptian New Kingdom, Amenhotep III. It has recently been re–investigated, but is not open to the public.

WV23 – Tomb of Ay

The reconstructed tomb of Ay is the only tomb that is open to the public in the West Valley.

WV25 – Possible Theban tomb of Akhenaten

This tomb may have been started as the Theban burial of Akhenaten, but it was never finished.

While this tomb is not strictly in the Valley of the Kings, it contained an astounding mummy cache. It is located in the cliffs overlooking Hatshepsut's famous temple at Deir el-Bahri, was found to contain many of Egypt's most famous pharaohs. They were found in a great state of disorder, many placed in other people's coffins, and several are still unidentified.

Decline of the Royal Necropolis

By the end of the New Kingdom, Egypt had entered a long period of political and economic decline. The priests at Thebes grew in power and effectively administered Upper Egypt, while kings ruling from Tanis controlled Lower Egypt. The Valley began to be heavily plundered, so during the 21st Dynasty the priests of Amen opened most of the tombs and moved the mummies into three tombs in order to better protect them, even removing most of their treasure in order to further protect the bodies from robbers. Later most of these were moved to a single cache near Deir el-Bari (see below). During the later Third Intermediate Period and later periods, intrusive burials were introduced into many of the open tombs.

Grave robbers

Almost all of the tombs have been ransacked, including Tutankhamun's, though in its case, it seems that the robbers were interrupted, so very little was removed.

The valley was surrounded by steep cliffs and heavily guarded. In 1090 BCE, or the year of the Hyena, there was a collapse in Egypt's economy leading to the emergence of tomb robbers. Because of this, it was also the last year that the valley was used for burial.

The valley also seems to have suffered an official plundering during the virtual civil war which started in the reign of Ramesses XI. The tombs were opened, all the valuables removed, and the mummies collected into two large caches. One, the so-called Deir el-Bahri cache, contained no less than forty royal mummies and their coffins; the other, in the tomb of Amenhotep II, contained a further sixteen.

Exploration of the Valley of the Kings

The Valley of the Kings has been a major area of modern Egyptological exploration for the last two centuries. Before this the area was a site for tourism in antiquity (especially during Roman times). This areas illustrates the changes in the study of ancient Egypt, starting as antiquity hunting, and ending as scientific excavation of the whole Theban Necropolis. Despite the exploration and investigation noted below, only eleven of the tombs have actually been completely recorded.

Antiquity

The Greek writers Strabo and Diodorus Siculus were able to report that the total number of Theban royal tombs was 47, of which at the time only 17 were believed to be undestroyed. Pausanias and others wrote of the pipe-like corridors of the Valley – i.e. the tombs.

Clearly others also visited the valley in these times, as many of the tombs have graffiti written by these ancient tourists. Jules Baillet located over 2000 Greek and Latin graffiti, along with a smaller number in Phoenician, Cypriot, Lycian, Coptic, and other languages.

Eighteenth Century

Before the nineteenth century, travel from Europe to Thebes (and indeed anywhere in Egypt) was difficult, time-consuming and expensive, and only the hardiest of European travelers visited – before the travels of Father Claude Sicard[5] in 1726, it was unclear just where Thebes really was. It was known to be on the Nile, but it was often confused with Memphis and several other sites. One of the first travelers to record what he saw at Thebes was Frederic Louis Norden, a Danish adventurer and artist. He was followed by Richard Pococke, who published the first modern map of the valley itself, in 1743.

French Expedition

In 1799, Napoleon's expedition drew maps and plans of the known tombs, and for the first time noted the Western Valley (where Prosper Jollois and Édouard de Villiers du Terrage located the tomb of Amenhotep III, WV22). The Description de l'Égypte contains two volumes (out a total of 19) on the area around Thebes. mgjiewngieng is the Arabic word for Egypt.

Nineteenth Century

European exploration continued in the area around Thebes during the Nineteenth Century, boosted by Champollion's translation of hieroglyphs early in the century. Early in the century, the area was visited by Belzoni, working for Henry Salt, who discovered several tombs, including those of Ay in the West Valley (WV23) in 1816 and Seti I (KV17) the next year. At the end of his visits, Belzoni declared that all of the tombs had been found and nothing of note remained to be found.

In 1827 John Gardiner Wilkinson was assigned to paint the entry of every tomb, giving them each a designation that is still in use today – they were numbered from KV1 to KV21 (although the maps show 28 entrances, some of which were unexplored). These paintings and maps were later published in The Topography of Thebes and General Survey of Egypt, in 1830. At the same time James Burton explored the valley. His works included making KV17 safer from flooding, but he is more well known for entering KV5.

In 1829, Champollion himself visited the valley, along with Ippolito Rosellini. The expedition spent two months studying the open tombs, visiting about 16 of them. They copied the inscriptions and identfied the original tomb owners. In tomb KV17, they removed some wall decorations, which are now on display in the Louvre in Paris.

In 1845 – 1846 the valley was explored by Karl Richard Lepsius's expedition, they explored and documented 25 in the main valley and four in the west.

The later half of the century saw a more concerted effort to preserve rather than simply gathering antiquities. Auguste Mariette's Egyptian Antiquities Service started to explore the valley, first with Eugéne Lefébre in 1883, then Jules Baillet and Georges Bénédite in early 1888 and finally Victor Loret in 1898 to 1899. During this time Georges Daressy explored KV9 and KV6.

Loret added a further 16 tombs to the list of tombs, and explored several tombs that had already been discovered.

When Gaston Maspero was reappointed to head the Egyptian Antiquities Service, the nature of the exploration of the valley changed again, Maspero appointed Howard Carter as the Chief Inspector of Upper Egypt, and the young man discovered several new tombs and explored several others, clearing KV42 and KV20. They just found a new tomb!

Twentieth century

Around the turn of the Twentieth Century, the American Theodore M. Davis had the excavation permit in the valley, and his team (led mostly by Edward R. Ayrton) discovered several royal and non-royal tombs (KV43, KV46 & KV57 being the most important). In 1907 they discovered the possible Amarna Period cache in KV55. After finding what they thought was the burial of Tutankhamun (KV61), it was announced that the valley was completely explored and no further burials were to be found.

Howard Carter then acquired the right to explore the valley and after a systematic search discovered the actual tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62) in November 1922.

At the end of the century, the Theban Mapping Project re-discovered and explored tomb KV5, which has since been discovered to be probably the largest in the valley, and was either a cenotaph or real burial for the sons of Ramesses II. Elsewhere in the eastern and western branches of the valley several other expeditions cleared and studied other tombs. Recently (up until 2002) the Amarna Royal Tombs Project has been exploring the area around KV55 and KV62, the Amarna Period tombs in the main valley.

Twenty-first century

Various expeditions have continued to explore the valley, adding greatly to the knowledge of the area. In 2001 the Theban Mapping Project designed new signs for the tombs, providing information and plans of the open tombs. A new visitors' centre is currently being planned.

On February 8, 2006, an American team led by the University of Memphis uncovered a pharaonic-era tomb (KV63), the first uncovered there since King Tutankhamun's in 1922. The 18th Dynasty tomb included five mummies in intact sarcophagi with coloured funerary masks along with more than 20 large storage jars, sealed with pharaonic seals.

On 31st July 2006, Nicholas Reeves announced that analysis of ground penetrating radar for the autumn of 2000 showed a sub-surface anomaly in the area of KV62 and KV63 [6][7].


Tourism

Most of the tombs are not open to the public (16 of the tombs can be open, but they are rarely open at the same time), and officials occasionally close those that are open for restoration work. The number of visitors to KV62 has led to a separate charge for entry into the tomb. The West Valley has only one open tomb, that of Ay, and a separate ticket is needed to visit this tomb as well. The tour guides are no longer allowed to lecture inside the tombs and visitors are expected to proceed quietly and in single file through the tombs. This is to minimise time in the tombs, and prevent the crowds from damaging the surfaces of the decoration. Photography is no longer allowed in the tombs.

In 1997, 58 tourists and 4 Egyptians were massacred at Deir el-Bahri by Islamist militants from Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, leading to a drop in tourism.

As of 2005, on most days of the week an average of four to five thousand tourists visit the main valley. On the days on which the Nile Cruises arrive the number can rise to nearly ten thousand [8]. These levels are expected to rise to 25,000 by 2015. The West Valley is much less visited, as there is only one tomb that is open to the public.

In January 2006 it was announced that a new visitors centre is to be constructed [9]. Its planned opening date is March 2007. They found a new tomb in Febuary.

Recent Events/Discoveries

Since the mid-1990s, considerable attention has been given to KV5, the extensive tomb of the sons of Ramesses II, located in the East Valley. The work of Kent Weeks and his team has uncovered about 120 rooms in the sprawling complex. The tomb is not open to the public. The full story of the discovery of KV5 is related in Week's book The Lost Tomb.

In early February 2006, the Supreme Council of Antiquities announced the discovery of a new tomb by an American team from the University of Memphis. It is located close to that of Tutankhamun's. This is the 63rd known tomb in the Valley of the Kings and the first discovered there since Howard Carter's team found Tutankhamun's resting place in November 1922. KV63, as it is known, appears to be a single chamber with five or six sarcophagi and about 20 large funerary jars. The chamber is from the 18th dynasty and it appears to have been a deposit of funerary preparation materials, rather than a tomb. However, one sarcophagus remains to be opened and speculation is that it may contain a mummy.

References

  1. Siliotti, A. Guide to the Valley of the Kings and to the Theban Necropolises and Temples 1996, A.A. Gaddis, Cairo
  2. [1] Amarna Royal Tombs Project
  3. [2]Christian Leblanc, "The Tomb of Ramesses II and Remains of His Funerary Treasure,"; [3]"Recherches et travaux dans la tombe de Ramses II: Aujourďhui."
  4. [4] First look - MSNBC article
  5. [5] Discovers of Ancient Egypt
  6. [6] Another new tomb in the Valley of the Kings: ‘KV64’
  7. [7] Nicholas Reeves interview
  8. [8] Projected visitors
  9. [9] New visitors centre

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