Egypt: The Tomb of Ramesses II's Sons, Part I

The Tomb of Ramesses II's Sons, Part I

by Jimmy Dunn writing as Mark Andrews

Kent Weeks

The living legends of Egyptology, the modern day superstars of the profession, at least in the eyes of the general public make up a very exclusive club. Its members could probably be counted on one hand, and would include people such as Mark Lehner at Giza, Dr. Hawass who seems to work both at Giza and in the Valley of the Golden Mummies, but who has recently been named to head Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA). They work the most prestigious sites in Egypt and therefore are known to many people interested in Ancient Egypt. Another member of this club would be Kent Weeks, and likewise, he heads an important project. What are you doing for the rest of your life? Kent Weeks may be working on KV 5, the Tomb of Ramesses II's sons.

While the ownership of Tomb KV 5 in the Valley of the Kings at Luxor (ancient Thebes) was unknown, the tomb itself has been known for many years. Its front section was tunneled into and partially investigated by James Buron in 1935. One of the all time great legends of Egyptology, Howard Carter, cleared around and perhaps inside the entrance to the tomb for Theodore Davis in 1902, though he had little success at finding anything. Later the debris from other archaeology work in the Valley hid the tomb, and it was forgotten about for some time.

Around 1989, Kent Weeks rediscovered the tomb using sonar and ground penetrating radar. The following season, he began excavation of the tomb in earnest, though he appears at that time not to have know the significance of his find. Nine years later he had cleared ten of the 150 (100 of which are known to be decorated) or more chambers within the tomb. No other tombs in the valley have over 30 chambers, and most only have six to eight.

Kent Weeks claims he has no intention excavating the entire tomb, leaving some work for future excavators. In reality, he will have little choice in the matter because at the current pace, the tomb will probably not be fully excavated for at least another 90 years. Ok, that isn't exactly fair. The flood debris in the front portion of this tomb is far worse than further in, so perhaps they may be excavated faster. So far, at least several tons of potsherds have been carted out of the tomb. And yet, only fairly recently did this dig reveal its builder. On May 18th, 1995, Kent Weeks made the following announcement:

Last February, excavating through the flood-borne debris that fill the tomb, my staff and I found a passageway leading past twenty chambers to a statue of the god Osiris. Two transverse corridors, each with another twenty chambers, extend beyond that. At the end of the corridors there are stairs and sloping corridors apparently leading to even more rooms on a lower level. The tomb could be the largest ever found in Egypt...

So far, that statement has not completely worked out. Currently, it appears that the corridor with a stairway that was thought to lead to lower levels ended abruptly. However, other corridors do lead to lower levels, and the excavators apparently have still not found the end of these passages.

We now know that this tomb was built for at least some of Ramesses II's children (sons). In fact, in the first eight chambers excavated, there were two dozen representations depicting sons. Unfortunately, most of the names that were inscribed with those images were destroyed by flooding or salt leakage. The tomb is popularly called the Tomb for the Sons of Ramesses II, for only sons have been discovered here, but Kent Weeks has apparently not ruled out the possibility of finding Ramesses II's daughters. Kenneth Kitchen says of the tomb:

This is the most exciting find in the Valley of the Kings since the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922. Careful archaeological work should now reveal much previously unknown information about Ramesses's enormous family"

Ramesses the Great indeed had an enormous family. We are told that Egyptologists know the names of 52 of his sons, and there were perhaps almost as many daughters. Though work continues on this tomb, and there remains much to be discovered.

So far we know names of only a few of his sons buried in the tomb. We have been told of four sons, but the excavation team appears to believe they have found the names of possibly five of the sons buried in the tomb. We believe that Meryatum (Mery-Atum) is here because of an ostracon found by Howard Carter. Kent Weeks work has added the names of Amenkherkhepshef (Amon-her-khepeshef), Ramesses II's oldest son, and a son named Ramesses (Ramessu), and Sethy who's name was found on a canoptic jar. Two sons we are fairly sure are not associated with this tomb are Khaemwese and Merenptah, because they have their own private tombs elsewhere.

While this tomb is utterly unique, it does share many aspects of other late 18th Dynasty burials. The tomb was probably not begun by Ramesses II, but was taken over by him for his family. Though not proven, there is a lot of circumstantial evidence for this theory that probably rooms, numbered by Ken Weeks one and two, as well as part of chamber 3, were dug 50 to 100 years prior to the rule of Ramesses II. Kent Weeks has labeled the history of the tomb with five phases, of which the period prior to the reign of Ramesses comprises Phase I. He believes that there were no burials made in the tomb at that time, and that chamber 3, the 16 pillared hall, might have been much smaller with only 8 pillars prior to the time of Ramesses II..

The first reason given for this theory is the location of the tomb in the middle of tombs KV 62 (Tutankhamun), 46 (Yuya/Tjuyu), and 55 (Akhenaten?), mostly dating from Egypt's 18th Dynasty. Second, architectural components, consisting of the first two chambers and the dimensions of the doors, all suggesting earlier style. The doorways of 18th Dynasty tombs had never exceeded 200 centimeters, and royal tomb entrances averaged of 150 centimeters. On the other hand, 19th Dynasty tomb doors always exceeded 200 centimeters and royal tombs averaged 211 centimeters. The entrance door to KV 5 was only 110 centimeters, even after apparently being widened in the time of Ramesses II by 15 centimeters, as were all the other doors. The two front chambers and 18 pillared hall and the very entrance, deep within the floor of the valley against the base of a moderately slopped hill, are also reminiscent of older tombs, as opposed to the straight lateral series of corridors of 19th Dynasty tombs. The 18 pillared hall has doorways that seemingly lead everywhere. Actually nothing else like it exists on the West Bank, or most likely anywhere else in Egypt.

The other phases that Weeks assigns to the history of the tomb, are

Phase 2: The Time of Ramesses II's life: The tomb was being prepared for his children, including its enlargement.

Phase 3: From the death of Ramesses II until Phase 4: While the tomb was accessible, few visited it with the exception of several sets of tomb robbers.

Now, Usihe and Patwere have stripped stones from above the tomb of Osiris King (Ramesses II), the great god... The chief artisan Peneb, my father, caused men to take off stones therefrom. (He has done) exactly the same. And Kenena the son of Ruta did it in this wame manner above the tomb of the royal children of Osiris King (Ramesses II), the great god. Let me see what you w9ill do to them, or I will make complaint to pharaoh my lord and likewise to the vizier my superior.

Turin Papyrus

The above describes the robbery of the tomb in antiquity by Kenena. He was caught, and probably dealt with severely. He may also have been the last person to enter the tomb prior to modern times, but the robbers did substantial damage.

Phase 4: From the Late Christian Period to the early 19th century (Phase 5): The tomb appears to have been closed off and unknown.

Phase 5: From near the beginning of the 19th century until Phase 6: The tomb entrance was almost always choked off by debris, but a few early travelers breached the doorway and reported their entry.

Phase 6: From the late 19th century until the beginning of Phase 7. The tomb was partially investigated by Howard Carter.

Phase 7: From the end of World War I through the present time. Tomb has suffered heavy damage largely due to a leaking sewer line and the constant vibration of tourist busses that pass near the tomb.

The Tomb is huge. So far that we know, it consists of several entrance halls, including one with sixteen pillars, followed by a series of corridors in the shape of a T. Each of these corridors leads to groupings of sixteen single chambers. Along the first long corridor, there are also suits of rooms.

Unexpectedly, and uniquely in the Valley of the Kings, two further corridors sprout out from the sixteen pillared hall towards the front of the tomb. While one side has not been very well investigated, so far these wings appear to mirror each other. The wing that has been most excavated reveals a sharply descending corridor with more single chambers to either side, finally leading to a three pillared hall. From this pillared hall, other single chambers open up, as well as at least one further corridor with even more side chambers.

KV 5 was decorated in raised reliefs cut into a lime plaster that had been applied to prepared rock surfaces. Some plaster remains, while in other locations it has disappeared, but marks remain where the artists cut through the plaster into the rock. It appears that every wall, at least so far, was decorated.

Notation: Part II of this series discuss the specific tomb layout and provide descriptions of its elements.


Title Author Date Publisher Reference Number
KV 5: A Preliminary Report on the Excavations of the Tomb of the Sons of Ramesses II in the Valley of the Kings Weeks, Kent R. 2000 American University in Cairo Press, The ISBN 977 424 574 1
Atlas of the Valley of the Kings Weeks, Kent R. 2000 American University of Cairo Press, The ISBN 9774245490
Complete Valley of the Kings, The (Tombs and Treasures of Egypt's Greatest Pharaohs) Reeves, Nicholas; Wilkinson, Richard H. 1966 Thames and Hudson Ltd IBSN 0-500-05080-5
Lost Tomb, The Weeks, Kent R. 1998 Quill/William Morrow ISBN 0-688-15087-X
Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, The Shaw, Ian 2000 Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-815034-2
Ramesses II: Greatest of the Pharaohs Menu, Bernadette 1999 Harry N. Abrams, Inc. ISBN 0-8109-2870-1 (pbk.)
Thebes in Egypt: A Guide to the Tombs and Temples of Ancient Luxor Strudwick, Nigel & Helen 1999 Cornell University Press ISBN 0 8014 8616 5
Valley of the Kings Weeks, Kent R. 2001 Friedman/Fairfax ISBN 1-5866-3295-7