Egypt: Recent Excavations in the Valley of the Kings by the Amarna Royal Tombs Project

Recent Excavations in the Valley of the Kings

by the Amarna Royal Tombs Project

Story by

Glen Parry

View of Valley Center from Entrance to KV. 42 (Thothmoses IV)

Those of us who have been fortunate enough to visit the Valley of the Kings recently will have noticed that it is once again a hive of activity. Perhaps the most immediately visible sign of this activity is the trench; & sandbag wall, that has appeared, in the central area of the Valley, between tombs KV. 9 (Ramesses V/VI) & KV. 57 (Horemheb). This trench is the site of excavations being conducted by The Amarna Royal Tombs Project, which in their aims managed to embrace several of the factors which make Egyptology such an attractive subject to many of our readers. (For a general view of the main, or eastern, Kings Valley, see map 1 )

1 Dyn. XX Ramesses VII
2 Dyn. XX Ramesses IV
3 Dyn. XX Temple of Ramesses III
4 Dyn. XX Ramesses XI
5 Dyn. XIX Sons of Ramesses II
6 Dyn. XX Ramesses IX
7 Dyn. XIX Ramesses II
8 Dyn. XIX Merenptah
9 Dyn. XX Ramesses V/VI
10 Dyn. XIX Amenmesse
11 Dyn. XX Ramesses III
12 Dyn. XIX ? Uninscribed
13 Dyn. XIX Bay
14 Dyn. XIX/XX Tausret/Setnakhte
15 Dyn. XX Seti II
16 Dyn. XIX Ramesses I
17 Dyn. XIX Seti I
18 Dyn. XX Ramesses X
19 Dyn. XIX Montuhirkhepeshef
20 Dyn. XVIII Thothmoses I/Hatshepsut
21 Dyn. XVIII Uninscribed
22 Dyn. XVIII
23 Dyn. XVIII
24 - 25 Dyn. XVIII Uninscribed *
26 - 33 Dyn. XVIII Uninscribed
34 Dyn. XVIII Thothmoses III
35 Dyn. XVIII Amunhetep III *
36 Dyn. XVIII Maihirpra
37 Dyn. XVIII Uninscribed
38 Dyn. XVIII Thothmoses I **
39 - 41 Dyn. XVIII Uninscribed
42 Dyn. XVIII MerytRe Hatshepsut
43 Dyn. XVIII Thothmoses IV
44 - 45 Dyn. XVIII Uninscribed
46 Dyn. XVIII Yuya & Tjuyu
47 Dyn. XIX Siptah
48 Dyn. XVIII Amenemopet
49 - 54 Dyn. XVIII Uninscribed
55 Dyn. XVIII Smenkhkara (?)
56 Dyn. XVIII The Gold Tomb ***
57 Dyn. XVIII Horemeheb
58 - 59 Dyn. XVIII Uninscribed
60 Dyn. XVIII Sitre-In
61 Dyn. XVIII Uninscribed
62 Dyn. XVIII Tutankhamun
* In Western Valley and not shown
** Re-burial by Thothmoses III
*** Re-used in Dyn. XIX

The team is directed by Dr. Nicholas Reeves (The Complete Valley of The Kings, The Complete Tutankhamun, Valley of the Kings The decline of a royal necropolis) & Professor Geoffrey T. Martin (The Hidden Tombs of Memphis) & has been working in the Valley since 1998. I recently had the privilege of attending a lecture by Professor Martin, at Manchester University; under the auspices of the Egypt Exploration Society (Northern Branch), & am therefore seeking to pass on some details of why these excavations are taking place, what discoveries the excavators have made so far & a brief insight into the implications of their activities for tourism I the Kings Valley.

Before going any further I should state here that I wont be using end notes, except where I feel it is absolutely necessary, but instead will provide a list of books as suggested further reading at the end of this article. In this manner, not only do I avoid the risk of readers getting confused, by having to constantly refer to the notes, but also provide them with the chance to indulge in some enjoyable & informative reading, whilst waiting for the next edition of the magazine.

Professor Martin began his lecture by giving an insight into the history & funerary provisions for the Amarna royalty; as shown by their tombs in the Royal Wadi, at Akhetaten. As will be well known to anyone who has even the slightest interest in the subject, Akhenaten had a tomb constructed for both himself & various other members of his immediate family; e.g. his mother Tiye, Nefertiti, in a valley which pierces the cliffs surrounding the site of his royal city. What may not be so well known is the fact that several other tombs have been discovered here; indicating that, in all probability, it was Akhenaten's intention to establish a royal cemetery along the lines of the Valley of the Kings, in Luxor. The fact that, virtually, no grave goods have been found in these tombs only serves to lead us to more of the evidence leading to the current excavations.

Theodore Davis was a rich, American, lawyer was allowed to conduct excavations, at his own expense, within the Valley of the Kings during the early years of the last century & discovered, amongst others, the tombs of Tothmoses IV (KV. 43), Horemheb (KV. 57) & Yuya & Tjuyu (KV. 46). It is sad, but true, to relate that the Davis excavations seem to have borne all the characteristics of the Indiana Jones school of treasure hunting, rather than the more scholarly approach that this site most richly deserved; being notable for the haste with which they were carried out & the extremely poor quality of the excavation reports he published; all of which manage to fill a large number of pages whilst reporting everything but the facts. It was during the course of the 1907 season that the excavations directed by Edward Ayrton came across what is, perhaps, the most enigmatic tomb thus far found within the Kings Valley.

The tomb, now numbered KV.55, was, when entered found to contain a collection of objects belonging to several of the main characters of the Amarna epoch. Amongst the objects found were a gilded shrine; made for Tiye by Akhenaten, canopic jars; now attributed to Akhenatens minor wife Kiya, magic bricks; bearing the name of Akhenaten himself & a coffin which was originally female but had been modified for use by a male member of the royal family. To add to the confusion of the objects within the tomb as found, all names & titles had been anciently erased from the canopic jars, the cartouches upon the coffin had been hacked out; together with the gilded face having been ripped off, & Davis persisted in believing that he had in fact found the tomb of Queen Tiye (this despite the fact that the body in the coffin was subsequently identified as that of a young man) & published it as such; having first succeeded in conducting such a hasty & poorly supervised clearance of the tomb that little idea of its layout can now be gained & only fragments of a single panel of the Tiye shrine now survive in the Egyptian Antiquities Museum, Cairo.

From the varied assemblage of objects within this tomb & the fact that, in light of its being a small, single chambered affair; more akin to those used for non-royal burials of Dynasty XVIII, it is fairly obvious that it had actually been a cache of burials removed from the Amarna Royal Valley Cemetery.

During the course of the 1908 season, Davis would uncover another small, single chamber, tomb; again in line with the design of non-royal Dynasty XVIII Kings Valley tombs, now numbered KV. 56. Although this tomb appears to have been reused for the burial of a Dynasty XIX Princess, at the time of Seti II & Tawosret, its location; almost diagonally opposite KV. 55, & architecture would seem to indicate its original construction took place late in Dynasty XVIII; more specifically, during the period immediately following the abandonment of Akhetaten.

The tomb of Tutankhamun (KV. 62) is also located within what is, after all, this quite small area of the Valley centre (Thankfully, Davis abandoned work in this area when he was little more than a metre from uncovering the entrance to this tomb). As Tutankhamun seems to have reigned for, approximately nine years; quite long enough to have constructed a tomb of the same grandiose proportions as that of Thothmoses IV (KV. 43), we are left to wonder why KV. 62 gives the appearance of being a non-royal tomb, hastily adapted for the purpose of the Kings burial.

It is the belief of the Amarna Royal Tombs Project expedition, in the light of the above evidence, that it is possible that Tutankhamun diverted the resources that would normally be devoted to the construction of his own tomb into the construction of a series of cache tombs for the re-interment of those members of his family who had originally been buried at Akhetaten & that it is within this small are at the centre of the Kings Valley that any further such tombs are most likely to lie.

It is a little known fact that Howard Carter did not excavate every part of the Kings Valley, down to bedrock in his search for Tutankhamun. Having identified the area, in the centre of the Valley, most likely to produce the sort of find his patron desired; & which would indeed do so, many years before he seems to have expended much of his efforts in the search for answers to much more academic questions; such as the hunt for foundation deposits in order to clarify which king was actually responsible for the construction of which tomb, & only went flat out in his search for Tutankhamuns tomb, when it became apparent that his source of funds might be about to dry up.

As KV. 62 was discovered almost immediately upon clearing part of a Ramesside workmens settlement, a large part of this central area has never been excavated & it is within this area that the current excavations are taking place (see map 2).

As can be seen, from reference to the Map 2 above, the team is excavating in the area between tombs KV. 9 (Ramesses V/VI) & KV. 57 (Horemheb), along the northern side of the spur leading from the Valley centre to KV. 35 (Amunhetep II). As tombs, KV. 56 (The Gold Tomb) & KV. 57 lie within this area it has been decided that clearance & recording of them should also be undertaken by the current excavations (See Fig. 5).

Although the area currently under investigation is quite small, being easily walked from end to end in less about 2 3 minutes, (See Fig.s 2 4 ), sifting of the debris has already produced a varied collection of finds. Amongst these have been fragments of gold & mummy cloth, stamped pottery shards (originating in the temple of Seti I) & statues modelled from naturally occurring flint nodules . Additionally a fragments of the sarcophagus & canopic chest of Horemheb, originating from Davis clearance of KV. 57 (& giving some indication of the poor manner in which this was conducted) were found; with the former having since been restored to its original position on this monument.

Excavation Trench, Looking East, Towards KV. 55.

Excavation Trench Looking West, Towards KV. 57

(Horemheb) & KV. 58


Excavation Trench with Entrance to KV. 56 (The Gold Tomb)
& Proximity to KV. ) (Ramesses V/VI) & KV. 62 (Tutankhamun)

Perhaps most interesting, from an historical point of view has been the discovery of the remains of further workmens huts (see figure5). These huts are similar to & from the same period as those which had covered the entrance to KV. 62 (Tutankhamun). Such huts would have been used as temporary accommodation by the workmen engaged in the cutting & decoration of KV. 9 (Ramesses V/IV) & within them have been found several of the ostraca , such as have allowed Egyptologists the opportunity to build an intimate portrait of life within the Tomb Builders Village of Deir el Medina. These are currently undergoing further analysis & will, no doubt, be published at a later date, but what can be said so far is that, not only has it been possible to identify the handwriting of several well known members of the Deir el Medina community. In addition several artists trial pieces have to been found amongst the objects from this location


View of Ramesside Workmen's Huts

uncovered by the Current Excavations. Additionally, & giving much hope to the current team, several hieratic graffiti , that were overlooked, or just dismissed as unimportant by previous excavators & therefore left unrecorded. Amongst these have been identified two by the necropolis scribe Wennefer. These appear to have been written as he conducted an inspection of the royal tombs, in late Dynasty XX; such graffiti are in evidence above the entrances to KV. 57 (Horemheb), KV. 58 & KV. 56 (The Gold Tomb) & would seem to indicate that there is the potential for the discovery of at least one & maybe even two tombs within the area currently under excavation.

Entrance to KV. 58 Showing Ramesside Graffiti.

Few visitors to the Kings Valley realise that the modern landscape is very different from that which would have been seen even 150 years ago & is far from being natural. In reality, it is largely the result of the habit of earlier expeditions disposing of their excavation spoil by the simple expedient of loading it into baskets, or Decauville, hand railway wagons, & tipping around the corner; a sort of Egyptological equivalent of sweeping the dust under the carpet. Additionally, periodic flash floods, combined with the fact that the above disposal method destroyed that natural drainage patterns of the Valley, has resulted in vast scree slopes being created; with the additional disadvantage that many previously discovered minor tombs have since become choked with debris & lost. One of the tasks that has been under taken by all of the teams currently working in the Kings Valley, has been to clear away this debris; with the full support of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, who have been seeking to undertake such work for many years, & remove it to dumping sites outside the Valley. (Figures 1 & 8 give a good impression of the scale of this problem, in that, virtually all the slopes that can be seen on them have the origins outlined above.)

When one also considers the fact that virtually no proper recording of, either, the tombs or the archaeology of the Valley uncovered by earlier excavations has taken place, such clearance work will also provide an opportunity to under take recording of the stratigraphy (i.e. the various layers of deposited material that has accumulated in the Valley over the millennia).

One discovery which has arisen, as a result of this new policy, during the course of the current excavations, is that previous excavators have never actually cleared this area of the Valley down to bedrock; despite their claims to have done so. In fact what they seem to have done is dig along the Valley sides until they either found a tomb or hit what has turned out to be just the first of a series of limestone ledges. The fact that this hasnt been recognised before is all the more amazing as the tomb of Tutankhamun (KV. 62) is actually carved into the second of these ledges; in a sequence from the modern Valley surface downwards, a fact which may have significantly contributed to the various Davis expeditions having failed to discover it. Again, as these lower terraces have never been exposed, this would seem to add hope for the chances of the current team locating undiscovered tombs in this area.

As a result of the teams desire to excavate the lower strata of the Valley centre it will be necessary for them to extend their current trench into the area currently covered by the modern tourist path, leading past the entrance to KV. 11 (Amenmesse) towards the tombs of Horemheb (KV. 57) & Amunhetep II (KV. 34). This will have the effect of requiring them not only to remove the vast amounts of accumulated debris within the area around & in front of the former, but to relocate the modern path so that access for tourists is maintained to the latter two tombs. The Supreme Council for Antiquities have, as ever, proved to be most supportive of such an expansion of the current workings; not only does this have the potential to lead to the discovery of new & informative information about the Valley in ancient times, but it will also fit in well with their own program of conserving the tombs & improving, both access to & facilities within the Valley itself.

Therefore, although visitors to the Kings Valley over the next few years may experience minor inconveniences, as a result of this work, they can look forward having the opportunity to see any new discoveries by this team, quite literally, as & when they are made.

I would like to conclude by thanking Professor Martin for a lecture that was as entertaining & informative as ever, as well as wishing the members of this expedition the best of luck in achieving the results that they are hoping for.

View from Valley Entrance with the Theban Peak (el Qurn)
in the Back and KV. 2 (Ramesses IV) to the Right.

Further Reading: 1. The Complete Valley of the Kings - Nicolas Reeves & Richard H. Wilkinson, Thames & Hudson, London, 1996. ISBN 0-500-05080-5: A good account of previous excavations in the Valley, together with listings of all known tombs & 3 dimensional drawings of the main tombs. Very useful for those who wish to have a better understanding of the Valley before visiting it.

2. Valley of the Kings The decline of a royal necropolis, C. N. Reeves, Kegan Paul International, London, 1990, ISBN 0-7103-0368-8: Although this is based on a doctoral thesis, it is both enjoyable & well worth seeking out for those who wish to gain a more in depth insight into the history of the Valley than is offered by the same authors offering listed at 1 above.

3. Valley of the Kings John Romer, Michael OMara, London, 1981 (ISBN unavailable at present): A good, popular account of the excavation of the tombs in the Valley, with copious quantities of early excavation photographs.

4. Ancient Lives John Romer, Michael OMara, London, 1984, ISBN 1-85479-927-4: A popular account of life within the workmens village of Deir el Medina. For those who would like to know more about why their ostraca writings are so valuable to us today.

5. Akhenaten King of Egypt Cyril Aldred, Thames & Hudson, London, 1988, ISBN 0-500-27621-8: Possibly the ultimate popular volume for those with an interest in the Amarna age.

6. Further information can be found at the following website:

Budget and Independent Travel to Egypt - Part II By Jimmy Dunn

Historical Hotels in Egypt - Part II By Jimmy Dunn

Recent Excavations in the Valley of the Kings by the Amarna Royal Tombs Project By Glen Parry

Editor's Commentary By Jimmy Dunn

Ancient Beauty Secrets By Judith Illes

Book Reviews Various Editors

Kid's Corner By Margo Wayman

Cooking with Tour Egypt By Mary K Radnich

Hotel Reviews By Juergen Stryjak

Egyptian Exhibitions By deTraci Regula

Nightlife Various Editors

Restaurant Reviews Various Editors

Shopping Around By Juergen Stryjak

Egyptian View-Point By Adel Murad

Medical Advice in Egypt By Omar Ragab.

July 1st, 2000
June 1st, 2000