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Six New Tombs Enrich the Valley

By Nevine El-Aref, Al-Ahram

It has been a busy time on Luxor’s West Bank as the policy to open more tombs unfolds. Four Pharaoh’s tombs have been made ready for the public, taking the total number which are open for visits in the Valley of the Kings to 20. There are also an additional 35 (including the two recently prepared ones found in the nearby Dar Abul-Nagga area) which belonged to noblemen. The importance of these fascinating openings is indicated by those wanting to be associated with them. Not only was the Minister of Culture, Farouk Hosni, on hand to open the tombs to the public, but also the first ladies of both Egypt and the United States, Suzanne Mubarak and Hillary Clinton.

One of the newly reopened royal tombs is that of the famous Amenhotep II. It dates to around 1450-1425BC and is one of the most impressive in the Valley of the Kings. “Its unique wall paintings of delicate Pharaonic texts make the tomb walls appear to have large papyrus texts pinned to them,” said Mohamed El-Saghir, head of the Ancient Egyptian department in the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA). The tomb was used by 21st Dynasty priests as a storehouse for royal mummies to save them from being ravished by the then active grave robbers. From its entrance, a steep flight of steps and sloping corridor descends to a false burial chamber at the bottom of a shaft in the deepest part of the tomb. Another sloping passageway leads to an unfinished room. To the left are steps leading to a small corridor opening onto the burial chamber with six pillars which bear images of the king in front of various gods. The ceiling has been painted blue and dotted with yellow stars, while the walls are adorned with beautiful citations and scenes from the Imi-Duat, one of the underworld regions. The burial chamber contains a well preserved sandstone sarcophagus decorated with religious texts and protected by the goddesses Isis, Nephtys and Nut. “On each side of the burial chamber are two small chambers, in the first of which three unknown mummies were found, and the second originally contained nine royal mummies, belonging to Thutmosis IV, Amenhotep III, Siptah, Seti II, Rameses IV, V, and Rameses VII, II, which are now in the Cairo Museum,” said the SCA’s secretary-general, Gaballa Ali Gaballa.

Another of the four tombs — which belonged to both Tausert and Setnakht — is a massive 116 metres long. It dates to the end of the 19th Dynasty (around 1297BC). Tausert was a queen consort twice during her lifetime, marrying first Seti II and then Siptah. Tausert and her first husband were the first to use this tomb. You can see their reliefs on the entrance passages standing in front of goddesses. But after Tausert’s death, the tomb was taken over by Setnakht who, according to El-Saghir: “was not related to the queen but nevertheless usurped the tomb for himself, having failed to construct one of his own. He re-carved some of the reliefs and cartouches with his name. He also enlarged the tomb by adding new corridors and extended further  passages to the rear leading to his own burial chamber deep in the mountain. His burial chamber contains a large granite sarcophagus with a coloured lid carved in his own likeness.” The tomb has another burial chamber belonging to Tausert decorated with religious scenes and inscriptions and is, in El-Saghir’s words: “one of the most well preserved and largest in the Valley of the Kings”.

The tomb of Seti II, perhaps the largest and most lauded in the Valley of the Kings, had long been closed. It is 66 metres long and has both coloured and uncoloured reliefs of the king performing different ceremonies. The columns and walls of the inner chamber are rich in painted images of the king with the sky-goddess Nut and the gods Horus and Anubis. “The wall decorations in this tomb differ from others,” said El-Saghir. “They reflect a new trend in art which appeared during the 20th Dynasty, demonstrating very fine detailing of human features, clothing, and rich colours. Moreover, instead of the usual scenes of the king before deities in the inner corridors, there are representations of rich funerary objects including symbolic statuettes of gods and kings.”

The fourth reopened royal tomb belongs to Ramsis IV and dates to the 20th Dynasty around 1162BC. Champollion, the man who deciphered the hieroglyphics, lived in this tomb on his visit to Thebes in 1828. Graffiti can be seen on the walls, left behind by early Christians who used it as a church. A flight of steps with a ramp running down the centre descends 70 metres into the tomb. Inside can be found three corridors and an antechamber, a burial chamber and an inner passage with three side niches. The tomb is adorned throughout with coloured reliefs depicting the path of the sun-god through the various gates of the underworld. The gates are guarded by serpents and adorned with protective spells and texts from the mortuary literature. In the middle of the burial chamber is the pharaoh’s colossal granite sarcophagus. “It is the largest sarcophagus in the Valley of the Kings weighing 70 tons. Its lid is beautifully sculptured to represent a recumbent figure of Osiris,” Gaballa said. The pharaoh’s mummified remains were removed by priests and hidden in the tomb of Amenthotep II for safety. Ramsis IV’s inner coffin is now in Cairo Museum.

The two noblemen’s tombs at Dar Abul-Naga differ from the royal tombs in size, architecture and decoration. While the royal tombs largely embody the kings’ journey through the underworld to a life everlasting, the far smaller tombs of the nobles are adorned with scenes of daily life.

Shu-Roy was the head of incense burners of the god Amun and his tomb consists of two small but richly painted halls. On both sides of the entrance, the nobleman and his wife are shown worshipping the gods Re, Anubis, Atum, Hathour and Maat. Images of Shu-roy’s family attending a banquet, serving beer to their guests, watching dancers around a garden pool and presenting blue lotus plants are inside the tomb.

The tomb of the royal scribe, Roy, dates to the 18th Dynasty. He was also a steward in the estates of Haremhab. It is a small tomb consisting of an open court and a hall in which there is a shaft. There are remarkable scenes of bright colours decorating the walls, especially those on the southern wall which depicts harvest time. There is also a scene showing the weighing of the heart of the deceased, a funeral procession, friends and mourners and the mummy supported by Anubis. The niche in the tomb is particularly delightful. It contains a stela showing Roy and his wife reciting a hymn to Re. On the left he is shown worshipping Hathor in the form of a tree goddess with his Ba (representing his soul in the form of a bird) drinking from the tree of life.

All the burial places are New Kingdom tombs which underwent over 20 months of painstaking restoration conducted by the SCA. The highly-skilled team did much to maintain the Pharaonic treasures as well as make it easier and more comfortable for visitors to view them. On top of reinforcing tomb walls and consolidating the reliefs and colours, they added new wooden stairways, flooring, lighting and special ventilation. Special glass barriers now protect the decorations of the inner walls.

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