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The royal tombs are decorated with scenes from Egyptian mythology and give clues as to the beliefs and funerary rituals of the period. Almost all of the tombs seem to have been opened and robbed in antiquity, but they still give an idea of the opulence and power of the Pharaohs. This area has been a focus of archaeological and egyptological exploration since the end of the eighteenth century, and its tombs and burials continue to stimulate research and interest. In modern times the valley has become famous for the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun with its rumours of the curse of the pharaohs , [8] and is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world.

The Valley of the Kings is situated over 1, feet of limestone and other sedimentary rock, [10] which form the cliffs in the valley and the nearby Deir el-Bahri , interspersed with soft layers of marl. The sedimentary rock was originally deposited between 35—56 million years ago during a time when the Mediterranean Sea sometimes extended as far south as Aswan. The quality of the rock in the Valley is inconsistent, ranging from finely-grained to coarse stone, the latter with the potential to be structurally unsound.

The occasional layer of shale also caused construction and conservation difficulties, as this rock expands in the presence of water, forcing apart the stone surrounding it. It is thought that some tombs were altered in shape and size depending on the types of rock the builders encountered. Builders took advantage of available geological features when constructing the tombs.

Some tombs were quarried out of existing limestone clefts, others behind slopes of scree , or were at the edge of rock spurs created by ancient flood channels. Setnakhte started to excavate KV11 but broke into the tomb of Amenmesse , so construction was abandoned and he instead usurped the tomb of Twosret , KV When looking for a tomb, Ramesses III extended the partly-excavated tomb started by his father.

Between and the Amarna Royal Tombs Project investigated the valley floor using ground-penetrating radar and found that, below the modern surface, the Valley's cliffs descend beneath the scree in a series of abrupt, natural "shelves", arranged one below the other, descending several metres down to the bedrock in the valley floor. The area of the Theban hills is subject to infrequent violent thunderstorms, causing flash floods in the valley. Recent studies have shown that there are at least seven active flood stream beds leading down into the central area of the valley.

The tombs KV63, KV62, and KV55 are dug into the actual wadi bedrock rather than the debris, showing that the level of the valley was five meters below its present level. While the iconic pyramid complexes of the Giza plateau have come to symbolize ancient Egypt, the majority of tombs were cut into rock. Most pyramids and mastabas contain sections which are cut into ground level, and there are full rock-cut tombs in Egypt that date back to the Old Kingdom.

After the defeat of the Hyksos and the reunification of Egypt under Ahmose I , the Theban rulers began to construct elaborate tombs that reflected their newfound power. I saw to the excavation of the rock-tomb of his majesty, alone, no one seeing, no one hearing. It contains at least 63 tombs , beginning with Thutmose I or possibly earlier, during the reign of Amenhotep I and ending with Ramesses X or XI , although non-Royal burials continued in usurped tombs.

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Despite its name, the Valley of the Kings also contains the tombs of favorite nobles as well as the wives and children of both nobles and pharaohs. Therefore, only about 20 of the tombs actually contain the remains of kings.


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The remains of nobles and of the royal family, together with unmarked pits and embalming caches, make up the rest. At the start of the Eighteenth Dynasty , only kings were buried within the valley in large tombs. When a non-royal person was buried, it was in a small rock cut chamber, close to the tomb of their master.

In the Pyramid Age , the tomb of the king was associated with a mortuary temple located close to the pyramid. As the tomb of the king was hidden, this mortuary temple was located away from the burial, closer to the cultivation facing toward Thebes. Most notable is the Beautiful festival of the valley , where the sacred barques of Amun-Re , his consort, Mut , and son, Khonsu , left the temple at Karnak in order to visit the funerary temples of deceased kings on the West Bank and their shrines in the Theban Necropolis. The tombs were constructed and decorated by the workers of the village of Deir el-Medina , located in a small wadi between this valley and the Valley of the Queens , facing Thebes.

The workers journeyed to the tombs through various routes over the Theban hills.

The daily lives of these workers are quite well known and are recorded in tombs and official documents. The valley has been a major focus of modern Egyptological exploration for the last two centuries. Prior to this time, it was a site for tourism in antiquity especially during Roman times. Despite the exploration and investigation noted below, only eleven of the tombs have actually been completely recorded. Many of the tombs have graffiti written by those ancient tourists.

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Jules Baillet has located over 2, Greek and Latin instances of graffiti, along with a smaller number in Phoenician , Cypriot , Lycian , Coptic , and other languages. The earliest positively dated graffiti dates to B.

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European exploration continued in the area around Thebes during the nineteenth century, boosted by Champollion 's translation of hieroglyphs. At the end of his visits, Belzoni declared that all of the tombs had been located and nothing of note remained to be found. When Gaston Maspero was reappointed as head of the Egyptian Antiquities Service, the nature of the exploration of the valley changed again.

Around the start of the 20th century, American explorer Theodore M. Davis had the excavation permit in the valley. His team led mostly by Edward R. In they discovered the possible Amarna Period cache in KV After finding what they thought was all that remained of the burial of Tutankhamun items recovered from KV54 and KV58 , it was announced that the valley was completely explored and that no further burials were to be found. After Davis's death early in , Lord Carnarvon acquired the concession to excavate the valley, and he employed Howard Carter to explore it.

After a systematic search, they discovered the actual tomb of Tutankhamun KV62 in November Various expeditions have continued to explore the valley, adding greatly to the knowledge of the area. In the Theban Mapping Project designed new signs for the tombs, providing information and plans of the open tombs.

The earliest tombs were located in cliffs at the top of scree slopes, under storm-fed waterfalls KV34 and KV This explains the location of the tombs KV62 and KV63 buried in the valley floor. The usual tomb plan consisted of a long inclined rock-cut corridor, descending through one or more halls possibly mirroring the descending path of the sun god into the underworld [50] to the burial chamber.

In the earlier tombs, the corridors turn 90 degrees at least once such as KV43 , the tomb of Thutmose IV , and the earliest ones had cartouche -shaped burial chambers for example, KV43 , the tomb of Thutmose IV.

They almost disappeared in the late Twentieth Dynasty. It seems to have developed a 'magical' purpose later on as a symbolic shaft.

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The majority of the royal tombs were decorated with religious texts and images. The early tombs were decorated with scenes from Amduat 'That Which is in the Underworld' , which describes the journey of the sun god through the twelve hours of the night. From the time of Horemheb, tombs were decorated with the Book of Gates , which shows the sun god passing through the twelve gates that divide the nighttime and ensures the tomb owner's own safe passage through the night. Late in the Nineteenth Dynasty the Book of Caverns , which divided the underworld into massive caverns containing deities as well as the deceased waiting for the sun to pass through and restore them to life, was placed in the upper parts of tombs.

A complete version appears in the tomb of Ramesses VI. The ceilings of the burial chambers were decorated from the burial of Seti I onwards with what became formalised as the Book of the Heavens , which again describes the sun's journey through the twelve hours of night. Again from Seti I's time, the Litany of Re , a lengthy hymn to the sun god began to appear. Each burial was provided with equipment that would enable a comfortable existence in the afterlife.

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Valley of the Kings

Also present in the tombs were items used to perform magic rituals, such as Shabtis and divine figurines. Some equipment was what the king may have used during his lifetime Tutankhamun 's sandals for example , and some was specially constructed for the burial. Since the early 19th century AD, antiquarians and archaeologists have cleared and recorded tombs, with a total of 61 sepulchers being known by the start of the 20th century. Some of the tombs are unoccupied, others remain unidentifiable as regards to their owners, and still others are merely pits used for storage.

The Eighteenth Dynasty tombs within the valley vary quite a bit in decoration, style, and location. It seems that at first there was no fixed plan. At the same time, powerful and influential nobles began to be buried with the royal family; the most famous of these tombs is the joint tomb of Yuya and Tjuyu , KV They were possibly the parents of Queen Tiy.

Until the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun, this was the best-preserved of the tombs that had been discovered in the Valley. The return of royal burials to Thebes after the end of the Amarna period marks a change to the layout of royal burials, with the intermediate 'jogged axis' gradually giving way to the 'straight axis' of later dynasties.

In the Western Valley, there is a tomb commencement that is thought to have been started for Akhenaten , but it is no more than a gateway and a series of steps. The tomb of Ay , Tutankhamun 's successor is close by.

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It is likely that this tomb was started for Tutankhamun its decoration is of a similar style but later usurped for Ay's burial. This would mean that KV62 may have been Ay's original tomb, which would explain the smaller size and unusual layout for a royal tomb. The other Amarna period tombs are located in a smaller, central area in the centre of the East Valley, with a possible mummy cache KV55 that may contain the burials of several Amarna Period royals— Tiy and Smenkhkare or Akhenaten. In close proximity is the burial of Tutankhamun, perhaps the most famous discovery of modern Western archaeology.

It was discovered here by Howard Carter on November 4, , with clearance and conservation work continuing until This was the first royal tomb to be discovered that was still largely intact, although tomb robbers had entered. And until the excavation of KV63 on 10 March , [67] it was considered the last major discovery in the valley. The opulence of his grave goods notwithstanding, Tutankhamun was a relatively minor king, and other burials probably had more numerous treasures. It is not an official designation, and the actual existence of a tomb at all is dismissed by the Supreme Council of Antiquities.

The nearby tomb of Horemheb , KV57 is rarely open to visitors.