Today we visited the Valley of the Kings where no fewer than 63 tombs have been uncovered. One of the most spectacular archeological sites on Earth, it has been designated a UNESCO world heritage site. The list of royalty buried there is impressive.
We began by descending into the depths where a lovingly restored tomb was displayed in its original colours: sunny yellow, royal blue and blood red.
The Valley’s most famous inhabitant is one I am finally getting around to mentioning. Famous more for his recent history than for his ancient royal past, King Tut Ankh Amun’s tomb, and his mummy remain interred here.
Until recently, Tut’s royal lineage was uncertain. In February 2010, the results of DNA tests confirmed that he was the son of Akhenaten, the heretical king who moved his capital to Amarna. Although it was thought that Nefertiti was his mother (and there is even speculation that Tut’s famed death mask was hers), the DNA testing proved that his mother was Akhenaten’s sister and wife. Her name is unknown but her remains are positively identified as “The Younger Lady” mummy found in KV35.
It’s no wonder the young king had little influence since, in 1344 BCE, he began his reign at age 9 and he was beset, unsurprisingly, with congenital defects.
In his third reignal year, under the influence of his advisors, he did reverse several changes made during his father’s reign. He ended the worship of the god Aten and restored the god Amun to supremacy. The ban on the cult of Amun was lifted and traditional privileges were restored to its priesthood.
The capital was moved back to Thebes and Tut Ankh Amun swept back into Karnak Temple where he would reign for just seven more years.
In 2014, scans showed that he had a partially clubbed foot; this was supported by the presence of many walking sticks among the contents of his tomb. It is now believed that genetic defects arising from his parents being siblings, complications from a broken leg and his suffering from malaria, together caused his death at age 19.
The source of Tut Ankh Amun’s fame doesn’t relate to his rule of Egypt. Rather, it is due to the tantalizing story of his rediscovery. Tomb raiders began robbing royal tombs in ancient times. Gold was melted down, alabaster used for new construction, jewels sold. Egyptian tombs were legendary even in ancient times, and various foreign occupiers sent in armies to Egyptian tombs on instructions to leave nothing behind. Western archeologists in modern times believed there had to be tombs that earlier expeditions had missed. One of the most tenacious of these was the irascible British archeologist, Howard Carter.
Another Brit is central to the story. Lord Carnarvon, inspiration for the character Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham on Downton Abbey, had a lifelong passion for Egypt and the money to pursue his passions.
In 1907, after three hard years for Carter, Lord Carnarvon employed him to supervise Carnarvon’s Egyptian excavations in the Valley of the Kings. Gaston Maspero, Director of the Antiquities Department, introduced the two to ensure that Howard Carter imposed modern archaeological methods and systems of recording. Carnarvon financed Carter’s work in the Valley of the Kings to 1914, but excavations and study were interrupted until 1917 by the First World War. The Carnarvons, meanwhile, opened their home, Highclere Castle, to wounded soldiers.
Carter enthusiastically resumed his work following the end of the First World War.
After several years of finding little, Lord Carnarvon became dissatisfied with the lack of results, and informed Carter in 1922 that he was giving up. Carter felt he was closer than ever to discovering an undiscovered tomb, and implored Carnarvon for just one more season of funding to search the Valley of the Kings. Carnarvon relented.
Now that the war was over, and the 5th Earl could travel to Egypt, he longed for the day he’d hear some positive news from Howard Carter. Finally … on the 6th of November, 1922 … he received this telegram:
“At last have made wonderful discovery in the Valley. A magnificent tomb with seals intact. Re-covered same for your arrival. Congratulations.”
Carnarvon and his daughter rushed to the Valley of the Kings.
Carter opened the tomb. “At first I could see nothing,’ he would later write, ‘the hot air escaping from the chamber causing the candle flame 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.”
Inside the amazing tomb pictured above, the most important things they found:
An outer shrine:
Inside the shrine, they uncovered a gilded wooden coffin.
Inside this was a coffin of solid gold encrusted with precious gems.
Inside, they found over the face of the mummified king, the death mask which has come to represent the height of Egypt’s, even humanity’s, artistic expression, wealth, power and religious expression:
It took Carter eight years to catalogue over 5,000 items buried with the young king. Some of them, along with all of the above, occupy the entire 2nd floor of Cairo’s Egyptian Museum.
Here is a video in which you can here Carter’s own voice describing the discovery:
I think back to the above list of rulers buried at The Valley of the Kings – and we didn’t even visit The Valley of the Queens – and imagine the art and riches that must have been originally buried with much more powerful Pharaohs than the Boy King. What a loss of our cultural heritage.
However, there remains the promise of more unsealed tombs. Waleed told us that he believes there is another tomb right behind that baboon wall of Tut’s tomb. Today’s technology suggests this to be true and plans are under way for more investigation:
The other good news? Construction is well under way for the Grand Museum which will be the largest archeological museum in the world and will hold many more of the estimated 1 million artifacts Egypt currently doesn’t have space to display. Within view of the pyramids at Giza, it will eventually include a monorail between the pyramids and the museum. The first phase is tentatively scheduled to open in 2018.