Have you ever found a grave unexpectedly?
Ramses II - The dead house of the sons
The sensational excavation in the Valley of the Kings (The Lost Tomb)
by Kent R. Weeks
Droemer-Verlag & GEO
372 pages, hardcover, 1999
Translated by Michael Schmidt
The Theban Valley of the Kings (Kings Valley, KV) on the west bank of the Nile is one of the most intensely ravaged landscapes on earth. In hardly any other part of the world of archaeological interest have scientists for a little more than two centuries (and grave robbers for several millennia) so persistently turned one stone after another and dug one hill after another as here.
The reward of this excavation was the discovery of 61 royal tombs or the approaches to them, all of which were looted and more or less deranged. Only one dogged British man still had the ambition not to trust appearances - Howard Carter. He eventually found the 62nd tomb, the only one that had never been robbed, and in that way became an archeology hero. The legacy of the child pharaoh Tutankhamun, which came to light in 1922, is by far the most legendary treasure that the Valley of the Kings revealed to this day.
Til today? Well, let's say until 1995.
Although the graves had been so well researched and documented for around 200 years, the young American Egyptologist Kent Weeks found in the 1970s that there was no map of the necropolises on the western bank of the Nile. And he correctly stated that you can only save what you know from looting, decay and destruction.
The consequence was the creation of the largely privately financed "Theban Mapping Project", which had set itself the task of creating such an accurate map of all grave and temple complexes around Luxor and Thebes. After a while of general research, it seemed appropriate to do detailed work where a lot had already been done - in the Valley of the Kings.
Over the course of decades and centuries, graves and entrances to tunnels, which earlier travelers had mentioned, had simply "disappeared" and been buried under the heaps of excavations made by other archaeologists. On old maps one could vaguely guess where some must have been. And the most threatened seemed indisputably KV 5.
Since the tourism authority wanted to widen the road into the valley and KV 5 was supposed to be somewhere directly at the valley entrance, it was imperative to find this grave again and map it before it disappeared under a blanket of tar. The problem was: the last traveler to step into this tomb was a British man named James Burton in 1825. Nobody had seen this tomb since.
The search for KV 5 began in 1989. Weeks was particularly irritated by Burton's description of the grave - after that, KV 5 consisted of two relatively small chambers and one directly behind them Portico with 16 pillars, from which further rooms branched off in all directions. But the British could not advance any further in the early 19th century - the grave was filled with rubble to about 50 centimeters below the ceiling. Kent Weeks was well versed in tombs by now, and none he knew had a structure like this. Most of them essentially consisted of an elongated, multi-segmented corridor. So this one seemed like something very To be strange.
When the grave finally came to light, it turned out to be even more covered than it was before. And even the partial exposure of the entrance revealed a king's cartouche - namely that of Ramses II. But now the grave of this ruler had already been found - KV 7, diagonally across from KV 5. So what did that mean?
Speculation surfaced for the first time that it could be the grave of one of Ramses' numerous sons (legend has it that he fathered at least 50 legitimate sons and more than twenty daughters during his sixty-year term in office). The graves of several others had been discovered earlier.
All of these considerations faded into the background when Weeks and his workers reached the pillar hall. It turned out to be worryingly unstable. The constant tremors from the tourist buses had shattered the pillars, and all that kept this room from collapsing was the partially concrete-hard rubble that reached up to the ceiling.
For lack of money, Weeks had no choice but to dig shallow pits in the rubble to get to the doors on the side walls. The most interesting seemed to be room 7, which was directly at the other end of the pillar hall.
Just was there is no room.
When the archaeologist Catharine was the first to get through the narrow gap into the cavity behind, where there was not quite as much rubble, she made a most astonishing discovery: this was not a room, but a long one corridoralong the sides of which 18 chambers were arranged. And at the end there was a badly damaged statue of Osiris.
But as soon as Weeks and his colleagues reached the statue, they recognized it next Mistake: the two rooms to the left and right of the statue were also not rooms, but further corridors with chambers on their sides. Instead of having stumbled upon a stealthy grave, they had a veritable, ever-growing underground one labyrinth discovered!
In total, completely stunned, they came to 61 rooms, presumably even more. In view of the fact that the tomb complex was absolutely unique and that most of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings consisted of six to eight rooms at best (the maximum number was thirty chambers), Weeks and his colleagues suddenly and completely unexpectedly found the largest pharaoh's tomb ever discovered. And all of this was just the beginning ...
Kent Weeks, who suddenly became world famous in 1995 because of this discovery and has meanwhile been relieved of a large part of his financial worries, precisely because he can take care of this one mysterious grave complex so intensively, has now found over 150 rooms, and more are expected, including one or several burial chambers. Millions of fragments of various kinds, countless animal bones from consecration offerings and the remains of at least four mummies have been discovered so far, and there is no end in sight.
The archaeologist, who in this book crosses his biography with the pharaonic story in a very exciting and entertaining way, assumes that after around 10 years of work (until 1999) around seven percent of the tomb has been uncovered. As a result, most of the rooms are still largely filled with rubble and still hold countless secrets, possibly additional stairs and crypts. You can also follow the work progress on the Internet at www.kv5.com.
KV 5, the unpredictable grave that began with a filled hole in the ground, is without question the most spectacular and enigmatic find in the Valley of the Kings since Howard Carter's discovery in 1922. Perhaps even more mysterious. And Kent Weeks, who, according to his own account, dreamed of becoming an Egyptologist at the age of eight - and thus took the reviewer on a longing journey into his own past! - knows how brilliantly to bring the hard, nerve-wracking and time-consuming detailed work of the archaeologist closer to the reader and to make him understand why a team of archaeologists can stay in a single tomb for ten years and are always able to make new discoveries.
The structure of the book itself suffers a certain noticeable "stretch" towards the end. Weeks is moving a bit away from the grave and the discoveries made there and sometimes gets lost page by page in the biography of Ramses II, his ancestors, the connections to biblical mythology (for example with regard to the biblical plagues and the exodus from Egypt, that of Egyptologists cannot be proven, quite contrary to the blurb - but that is only mentioned in passing), so that the reader begins to feel how difficult it was for him to adequately fill the last few dozen pages. you are not boring, but the break in content is clearly recognizable.
Most of the book, however, is devoted to the extremely gripping history of the grave KV 5 and its enigmatic contents. In my opinion, this non-fiction book is not inferior to a thriller - at least not if you are passionately interested in Egyptology and would like to read a little more than the excerpt from Ramses II and this story of discovery published in the GEO in 1999.
At the end of the day, biting your nails, you ask yourself when and how things will go on, and you regret every day that the revelations are a long time coming. That is the quality of a good book.
Braunschweig, 10./11. June 2004
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