The final resting place for the pharaohs of the New Kingdom in Ancient Egypt, The Valley of the Kings is located in western Thebes. Literally it was known as "the place of truth" to the ancient Egyptians. The valley itself is split into two parts, the East Valley and the West Valley. Most tombs that are open to the public are in the East Valley while the tomb of Ay, Tutankhamun's successor, is the only one open in the West Valley.
The valley contains about 60 tombs in all. They were cut deep into the valley floor and were filled with the riches of the pharaohs, nearly all of which have been stolen throughout the years.
"To speak the name of the dead is to make him live again."
Beginning in the 18th Dynasty, the kings of Egypt stopped building their tombs in Memphis and began constructing them in Thebes. This practice lasted until the 20th Dynasty. With this shift of location came a shift in building style; the pyramid design was changed to tombs buried deep underground within the limestone bed. They were also built using a similar pattern; each tomb usually had three corridors, an antechamber and a sunken sarcophagus chamber. These catacombs were thought to make it harder on the looters.
Here are two sample plans from The Valley of the Kings:
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Partial tomb layout of Horenheb
*** placement of the sarcophagus.
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Partial tomb layout of Ramses I.
*** placement of the sarcophagus.
Probably the two most famous tombs discovered at the site are those of Tutankhamun and Ramses II. Tut, however, was a lesser pharaoh; his popularity has stemmed from the riches found in his perfectly preserved tomb untouched by looters throughout the millenia. Scholars often project what the tombs of such great rulers as Ramses II and Seti I must have contained before they were broken into.
Tombs of the Valley
Following is an overview of the contents and layout of some of the more central tombs in the valley in order to offer examples of the structuring and artwork found in them :
Tomb of Seti I
The tomb of Seti I, one of the greatest Egyptian pharaohs, is the longest one in the valley at about 100 meters. It is known for its elaborate and well preserved reliefs. Also, it is one of the most finished in the valley. Discovered in 1817 by Giovanni Battista Belzoni, it is one of the more elaborate of the tombs structurally.
Pictures cover every chamber. The figurework is much more detailed as well; central to the artwork is a series showing the king paying homage to various gods including Isis, Hathor and Osiris. Scenes from The Book of Gates are on the pillared room after the ritual shaft. Also included is the shrine to Osiris, a development that continues through the tombs of the Ramses line. Depictions of the Amduat are also within the annexes of the tomb. In the antechamber, Seti I is shown giving sacrifices and praying before Anubis, Isis, Horus, Hathor and Osiris; on a different wall, he is shown before Ptah and Nefertum.
The burial room itself contained decorations centering around Osiris; these have all been taken to the Berlin Museum. The ceiling has astronomical pictures on it, which is more typical of the decorations in burial chambers. There is a crypt behind the sarcophagus chamber. The sarcophagus itself was alabaster with very thin walls making it beautifully translucent. Engravings from The Book of Gates and The Book of the Dead adorn it.
Other objects found in the tomb include:
- An embalmed bull
- shabtis figures of wood and faience
- painting utensils
- fragment of the canopic chest
Tomb of Ramses IV
Descending through three white corridors before reaching the burial chamber, the ceilings over the sarcophagus depict the goddess Nut, more specifically both the swallowing and rebirth of the sun disc. The large stone sarcophagus itself lies in broken remains; the lid of it has decorations of Isis and Nephthys who were to watch over the body.
Overall, the tomb is quite different in construction from the others. Ramses IV took the throne after the assassination of his father, Ramses III, during a period of economic upheaval; the period of Civil War and Decline in Ancient Egypt had begun. This period led to a shift in the style of the tomb contruction; Ramses IV's was very simplistic. Oddly enough, explorers in the early 19th century began using it as a place of lodging of sorts. Also it functioned as a Coptic Christian dwelling as well as being used by the Greeks in antiquity; this is known because of the graffiti written in Greek on the walls of the tomb.
One characteristic in particular that differentiates this tomb from others is the lack of decline in elevation from the front of the tomb to the back; another unusual feature is the large size of the corridors (some approximately three meters wide and four meters high). These corridors are decorated with scenes and excerpts from the Litany of Ra, as well as pictures of the sun god Ra-Horakhthy. The ceiling is covered with depictions of falcons, vultures and winged scarabs. In deeper corridors are the first and second parts of The Book of Caverns. The antechamber, the room before the burial chamber itself, contains scenes from The Book of the Dead. The chamber is quite small and still contains the sarcophagus; it has depictions of the second, third and fourth hours from The Book of Gates. The annexes contain text from The Book of Caverns as well as paintings of canopic jars and other offerings.
Funerary objects are not very plentiful in this tomb. However, there were several examples found, by Howard Carter and Edward Ayrton that had been thrown out of it. These include:
Tomb of Tutankhamun
Finding an untouched marvel such as this tomb has expanded egyptology forever; says its discoverer, Howard Carter, in 1922:
"At first I could see nothing, the hot air escaping from the chamber causing the candle flames to flicker, but presently, as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues and gold - everywhere the glint of gold. For the moment - an eternity it must have seemed to the others standing by - I was dumb with amazement, and when Lord Carnarvon, unable to stand the suspense any longer, inquired anxiously, 'Can you see anything?' it was all I could do to get out the words, 'Yes, wonderful things.'"
Upon reaching the portal to the tomb, it was found to have the royal seal still on it. The fourth chamber of the tomb held the funerary objects. The sarcophagus was made of four wooden outer shrines, within all of these was the stone sarcophagus, followed by three mummiform coffins (the innermost one was solid gold), and then finally the mummy. Tut died at age 19 after a brief and uneventful reign, and not much care was taken with his burial nor his mummification.
As I mentioned before, there are many tombs in the valley. Here is a full list in the order they were discovered; the number at the end of each listing is the dynasty during which the king ruled:
Kent R. Weeks. Valley of the Kings. © 2001.
*Quotations are from http://www.touregypt.net/kingtomb.htm
Aerial photograph of the site: