Valley of the Kings
The west bank of Luxor had been the site of royal burials since around 2100 BC, but it was the pharaohs of the New Kingdom period (1550–1069 BC) who chose this isolated valley dominated by the pyramid-shaped mountain peak of Al Qurn (The Horn). Once called the Great Necropolis of Millions of Years of Pharaoh, or the Place of Truth, the Valley of the Kings has 63 magnificent royal tombs.
Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979, it remains a popular tourist destination spot for both foreigners and locals. Although its primary importance comes from being among the most well-known, integral hub for a majority of today’s archaeological and Egyptological endeavours
Where is the Valley of the Kings ?
The Valley of the Kings is located on the Western bank of the Nile River, opposite modern-day Luxor, and was previously known as Thebes,The Valley of the Kings is a necropolis within a necropolis, being situated at the heart of the Theban Necropolis itself, and consists of two valleys – the Eastern and Western Valleys, the whole of which is dominated by the peak of al-Qurn.
Geological and Topographical Layout of the Valley of the Kings
The Valley of the Kings is located in an area that consists of mixed-soil conditions. The necropolis is actually in a place called a wadi, which is composed of various concentrations of hard, nearly impregnable limestone and softer layers of marl.
The Valley is known not only for the enduring quality of its limestone but for its network of natural caves and tunnels, as well as the natural ‘shelves’ which descend below a screen that leads to a bedrock floor.
These networks of natural caves existed prior the development of Egyptian architecture, although the discovery of the shelving came about recently, thanks to the effort of the Amarna Royal Tombs Project, which helped to shed some light on the complexity of the Valley’s natural structures sometime between 1998 and 2002.
History of the Valley of the Kings
The earliest tombs located in the Valley of the Kings were opportunistically placed in naturally formed clefts, well-hidden in the crags of limestone bluffs or cliffs.
In these clefts, the softer marl and worn or eroded limestone could easily be chipped off to create entryways for the bodies of the departed. Later, deeper chambers were built, or natural tunnels and caverns were used as de facto crypts for royalty and the nobility.
After 1500 B.C., the Egyptian kings no longer undertook great projects like building pyramids, while The Valley of the Kings become the main designated burial location.
For a period of over five hundred years (1539 to 1075 BC), the Valley of the Kings was a place used for the entombment of Egyptian royalty, although the very name of the valley itself is somewhat misleading. In fact, there was in no true sense an ‘exclusivity’ in the burials allowed within the necropolis.
It is now known that many of the tombs were not used for kings. Instead, some belonged to influential people such as members of the royal household, wives, trusted advisers, nobles, and even some commoners.
It was not until the Eighteenth Dynasty that some measure of exclusivity was implemented for interment in the Valley, so much so that a ‘Royal Necropolis’ was specially created chiefly for the purpose. This gave rise to the highly complex and ornate tombs that have become a trademark of pharaonic crypts, although the occasional common burial for court servants and their ilk were relegated to mere rock-cut tombs or niches.
Discovery and Exploration
The discovery of ancient tombs in the Valley of the Kings is nothing new. In fact, prior to the discovery of King Tut Ankhamon Tomb
tomb, an already staggering number of 62 prominent tombs had already been explored. Many of these were small tombs, which were basically single holes in the ground, while the very large ones revealed over 100 other underground chambers.
Unfortunately for modern archaeological explorers, most of these chambers and tombs were found to be looted by ancient grave robbers. Thankfully, the real treasure found there was the artwork of ancient Egyptians; these wall paintings allowed experts a glimpse into the lives of the Pharaohs and other significant people buried there.
There is still excavation activity today, within the Amarna Royal Tombs Project (ARTP), which is an archaeological expedition that was established in the late 1990s. Some of the first tomb discoveries were many decades ago, using rudimentary tools, and these sites were not thoroughly excavated.
The on-going excavation works are making use of state-of-the-art technologies to in search for new information at older tomb sites, as well as at locations within The Valley of The Kings that have not yet been explored.
Architecture and Layout
Without a doubt, the ancient Egyptian architects were far more advanced than anyone could have imagined. Using the natural caverns within the valley, ancient architects carved walls, chambers and intricate pathways without any modern tools with surprising precision. Egyptians tools such as picks, hammers, shovels and chisels were made of wood, stone, ivory, bone and copper.
Although impressive, the architecture and layout of the Valley’s earliest burial tombs are inconsistent.
There are no unified patterns of the tombs’ layouts. Because of the unpredictability of limestone formations in the area, pharaohs invariably tried to choose what they perceived to be the more ‘superior’ spot, compared to their predecessors.
Later, the construction of large tombs became more ‘standardized’, with three corridors being followed by an antechamber and a ‘secure’, sometimes hidden, sunken sarcophagus chamber nestled in a very deep part of the tomb.
his was not ‘the’ standard design or layout of the axis of burial tombs for the Pharaohs. However, since some builders deviated from this unwritten rule, usually at the behest of the pharaoh who commissioned the tomb, sometimes more ‘fail-safes’ against robbery were added into tomb layouts.
Tombs in the Valley of the Kings
Which ones of the pharaohs were interred first in the Valley of the Kings remains debated to this day, it is assumed by many scholars that it was either Amenhotep I, or Thutmose I. While the veracity of the former is still uncertain, extant historical records dating back to the period prove that it was Thutmose I, who was one of the first pharaohs interred in the Valley.
The East Valley holds a significantly larger number of tombs than the West, which has only four known tombs. The tombs are known by the order of discovery: the first tomb found was Ramses VII and was given the label of KV1, where KV stands for "Kings' Valley". Not all of the tombs were used to house bodies, some only held supplies, while others were completely empty.
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