The Ancient Egypt Site - The Valley of the Kings

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The Valley of the Kings is situated in Luxor (Thebes) on the West Bank of the Nile. The people believed that as the sun rose in the East this is where life began and where it set in the West where life ended so all tombs where always on the West Bank of the Nile.

The tombs are about 2 miles in from the edge of the valley and prior to the road being built was a remote area chosen by the Kings of the 18th through 20th Dynasties for their burial ground.

Over sixty tombs have been discovered in the Valley and there are possibly more still to be found. The Kings of the New Kingdom wanted to separate their tombs from their mortuary temples to avoid theft, and burrowed through solid rock to ensure privacy.

The design of the tombs are very much the same, different only in the length and number of chambers in each. There are for the most part 3 corridors, one after the other leading to the inner chambers and finally the tomb chamber. In some of the tombs usually high in the wall of the second or third corridors were recesses for storing furniture and other personal possessions of the dead King.

The third corridor leads to an ante-chamber, then the main hall and the tomb chamber. In several of the tomb chambers the roof is supported by pillars and small chambers lead off from the chamber. The crypt with the sarcophagus was usually placed in the center or to the rear of the tomb chamber. Most of the sarcophagi were made of red sandstone.

In some tombs there is a shaft sometimes as much a 6 meters deep. It is not sure what the shafts were for. Some believe they were for drainage of rain water, although rain is rare in Egypt. Others believe they were meant as deterrents to grave robbers. This is supported by the fact that there is very little decoration on the upper walls of the shaft while beyond the shaft the walls were fully decorated.

The Kings believed strongly in the after life and prepared their tombs so they could continue life in the same way they had lived on earth. To this end they took all their worldly possessions to the tomb with them, including the necessities of life like food and drink. Their bodies were mummified to prevent decay and religious ceremonies were performed to ensure a smooth transition into the after life.

During the Middle Kingdom religious formulas were recorded both inside and outside of the sarcophagus. Later the texts were expanded and papyrus scrolls were placed inside the coffin. Over the years the texts became uniform and were recorded and known today as the Book of the Dead.

The corridors and chambers represent the stages in the journey to the underworld, which were divided into 12 hours or caverns. The King supposedly sailed through the corridors and chambers at night in the boat of the Sun God - this is shown in representations on the walls of the corridors often showing the ram-headed Sun God and his entourage standing in boat bringing light to the King as he traverses through the corridors and massive gates, each guarded by huge serpents. These representations are known as the Book of the Gates.

Representations on the walls of the forward corridors were generally devoted to the Praises of Ra (the Sun God) showing hymns and pictures of the ceremonies to be performed before the statue of the King to give it eternal life. At the end of the representations the dead King would face the judgment seat of Osiris, King of the Underworld.

The myth goes that Osiris was the creator of law and agriculture and ruled on earth with his wife and sister Isis at his side. He was known as a just and loved ruler who was slain by his jealous brother Set. The myth goes that Set tricked his brother into entering a chest which he then sealed and threw into the river Nile which carried it down to the sea.

His broken-hearted wife Isis searched far and wide assisted by the Goddess Nephthys until she found the body entangled in a tamarisk bush in the Delta marshes. She hid the body, but Set found it and cut it into fourteen pieces, scattering them in many directions. Isis collected all the pieces and a monument was placed at each spot. She asked the jackal-god Anubis, the god of embalment, to prepare the body for the after life. According to the myth as she was mourning, during the preparation of the body, she received the seed of Osiris and bore a son named Horus.

When Horus was strong enough he killed Set to avenge his fathers death. He then set about finding Osiris and raising him from the dead. Osiris once risen could not rule on earth and became King of the underworld where he ruled with Isis at his side with the same justice he had ruled with on earth. His son Horus took over the throne of his father on earth. And so the myth goes.

On the walls of the tomb chambers or rear corridors are dramatic representations of the dangers the King needed to be protected against: enemies drawing his breath, water turning into flame as he drank; enemies stealing his throne, his organs and his very name, which would deprive him of his identity forever.

The representations in the tombs gives us insight into the hopes, expectations and fears of the King. Once crowned the King would order construction of his tomb. Artists would outline sketches on the walls. Artisans would prepare the 403 Shawabti (statues of his laborers and servants to serve him in the after life) these were placed in large wooden boxes alongside funerary furniture. Secrecy was vital and only the local workers from Deir El Medina working on the tombs and the King and the high priests knew the actual site.

Despite the remote site, the secrecy and complex systems used to deter theft the tombs were robbed probably soon after they were sealed, and probably by the workers who built them and knew how to enter them. The treasures were not the only reason for violating the tombs. The enemies of the King would enter the tomb to destroy the mummy to prevent it from continuing its rule in the after life. In an effort to safeguard royal mummies priests would sometimes move them to new locations to hide them, often failing to take the necessary precautions to keep them intact and safe.

Of all the tombs discovered to date only that of King Tutankhamun has been found intact and even then there are indications it was opened and resealed. This tomb shows the lavish splendor and craftsmanship of the 18th Dynasty. He was the youngest King and it leaves to the imagination what treasures would have been found in the tombs of the long reigning Kings.