Valley of the Kings

from The New Book of Knowledge

The Valley of the Kings is the burial place for pharaohs from ancient Egypt's New Kingdom (1570-1070 B.C.). (The New Kingdom was a period of Egyptian history that included the 18th, 19th, and 20th dynasties.) It is located on the west bank of the Nile River opposite the modern town of Luxor (ancient Thebes). This dry and desolate place is one of the richest archaeological sites on Earth.

The Tombs

There are more than sixty tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Some were carved into the mountainsides, others into the valley floor. Each tomb is assigned a number, preceded by the letters "KV" (King's Valley). When a new tomb is discovered it is given the next number in sequence. This system was established in the 1800's by British Egyptologist John Gardner Wilkinson.

The tombs in the Valley were made in many different shapes and sizes. They usually consisted of a combination of corridors and chambers. The tomb of Queen Hatshepsut (KV 20), who ruled Egypt as king, contains a curving central corridor nearly a quarter mile long. The largest tomb yet discovered in the valley is called KV 5. It was not built for a pharaoh, however. It was built for the sons of the pharaoh Ramses II. For more information, see the feature accompanying this article.

Most of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings were decorated with religious texts. These texts were intended to guide the pharaoh into the afterlife. They included the Book of the Dead and the Book of Gates. Many tombs were also decorated with brightly painted relief carvings featuring the pharaoh and various gods. In the tomb of Seti I (KV 17) the ceiling of the burial chamber features a painting of the night sky with all the Egyptian constellations.

Buried with the pharaohs was everything they would need to exist comfortably in the afterlife. This included furniture, preserved food, games, jars of wine, cosmetics, and many kinds of jewelry made of precious metals and semiprecious stones. These last items in particular made the tombs tempting targets for robbers. Almost every tomb was robbed and emptied of its contents in ancient times. The most famous exception is the tomb of Tutankhamen (KV 62). His tomb was discovered essentially intact in 1922 by Egyptologist Howard Carter.

Not every tomb in the Valley of the Kings was constructed for a pharaoh or other royalty. In rare cases, a commoner who served the pharaoh well might be rewarded with a small tomb in the Valley. Maiherperi, a royal fan-bearer under Thutmose IV, was buried in tomb KV 36. The non-royal parents of Queen Tiy were buried in KV 46.


The first pharaoh to be buried in the Valley of the Kings was Thutmose I. He knew that all the pyramid tombs of the previous pharaohs had been robbed. (The pyramids were large, obvious targets for tomb robbers.) So Thutmose decided to be buried in a secret, isolated location: the Valley of the Kings. The architect of this tomb (possibly KV 38) was Ineni. Ineni wrote on the walls of his own tomb that he built Thutmose's tomb with "No one seeing, no one knowing." Some scholars have suggested that to keep the tomb[single_quotation_mark,_right]s location a secret, Ineni used captured foreigners as workers and had them killed when the tomb was completed.

The final tomb built in the Valley of the Kings was for Ramses XI (KV 4). He was the last ruler of the 20th dynasty. At the end of the 20th dynasty, Egypt began a steady decline. The government could no longer afford to guard the Valley of the Kings. The tombs were robbed and the Valley was abandoned as the burial place of Egypt's kings. Over the centuries many of the tombs became lost to history. Some were covered or filled by rocks and other debris washed in by the heavy rains that occasionally occur in the Valley. Tutankhamen's tomb remained hidden for so long because its entrance had been covered by debris left from the building of another tomb nearby.

The Valley Today

After thousands of years, the Valley of the Kings still holds secrets. In 2005, a short shaft was discovered not far from the tomb of Tutankhamen. At the bottom of the shaft was a single small chamber. The chamber (KV 63) was not the burial place of a king, however, and no mummy was found inside. Instead, it was what Egyptologists call an embalmers[single_quotation_mark,_right] cache. It contained an assortment of materials used in the mummification process. These included dozens of jars of natron (the salt used to dry a body for mummification), bandages, and coffins of various sizes.

Egyptologists will continue to work in the Valley of the Kings for many years to come, studying previously discovered tombs and searching for still-hidden tombs and other treasures.

—Bob Brier
Author, The Murder of Tutankhamen: A True Story

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