Burying the Pharaoh in the Valley of the Kings
by Jimmy Dunn
The death of the pharaoh was accompanied by a formal announcement, "The falcon is flown to heaven and (his successor) is arisen in his place". It is interesting to note the similarity with the more modern phrase, "The King is dead, long live the king". It normally took about three months to bury the newly deceased pharaoh in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings on the West Bank across from modern Luxor. This was because the embalming process was complex, and included a period of 70 days when the dead pharaoh's body was immersed in natron, a type of salt and a primary ingredient to the mummification process. After the immersion in natron, the body was wrapped in first one layer of bandages, on which protective amulets were laid in specific places, and then a second layer of broader bandages. The second layer of bandages were first soaked in resin and aromatic essential oils.
In many cases, this time was also used by the craftsman from the Deir el-Medina village to quickly add the finishing touches to the king's tomb. For these workers, the King's death was, at least in the background, a rather joyous occasion because with the coronation of a new king came a new tomb and hence new jobs.
Documentation of the royal funerary ritual is uncommon, though there is more evidence from the private tombs. Some of our information also comes from the tomb of Tutankhamun. After the mummification process of the pharaoh's body was completed, the funeral procession began at the royal palace and moved on to the West Bank.. The king's body was carried on a sledge pulled by oxen, followed by a second sledge that held the canopic chest. On the west bank, the procession would reach the "Road where Re Sets" and would head for the "Great and Majestic Necropolis of the Pharaoh's Millions of Years Life Strength Health in the West of Thebes".
In a funeral tradition that remains today, crying and screaming women would follow the royal mummy in its wooden sarcophagus. The bald headed priests solemnly walked along with the procession burning incense and shaking their sistrums. Often the procession was led by the new pharaoh, and and included the viziers of Upper and Lower Egypt, as well as other dignitaries and family.
Once the funeral procession reached the tomb, the coffin was stood upright. Now the high priest, and at times even the new pharaoh, would perform the Opening of the Mouth ceremony. This procedure was believed to restore the dead pharaoh's senses, as well as his use of speech and ability to eat and drink.
After the Opening of the Mouth ceremony, the dead king was finally carried to the monumental stone sarcophagus deep in the tomb's burial chamber. After he was placed in this sarcophagus and the heavy cover carved in high relief was affixed, family, friends and other dignitaries would attend a funeral banquet, while workmen sealed the the tomb.
During the 18th dynasty, the entrance was sometimes hidden, but beginning with the 19th dynasty, the tomb entrance was always in plan view. The door was sealed using one of two methods. Either the wax seals were placed on the plaster of the doors themselves, or affixed on a small clay block around the fine cord used to tie the doors of the burial chamber. The seals usually included the figure of Anubis as a crouched jackal.
No one was permitted to enter the royal tomb once it was sealed. At least, theoretically. Later, we of course know that tombs were entered for a variety of reasons. They were entered both by tomb robbers and by priests who sought to protect the tombs and mummies from the tomb robbers. There were even occasional second burials in the tombs.
But during normal times, the entire necropolis was guarded and only the priests, guards and craftsmen working on new tombs were allowed into the necropolis. Guards also made rounds to the tombs, checking the royal seals.
In describing any process in ancient Egypt, one must remember the thousands of years of Egyptian history, processes did not remain constant over that time, and new aspects of beliefs and rituals were constantly assimilated with older beliefs and rituals. This must be kelp in mind at all times, but we believe that the funeral of the 18th and 19th dynasty kings buried in the Valley of the Kings remained somewhat constant during that span of time.
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