King Tut’s Tomb and the Valley of the Kings
We travel to see the Pharaoh Tutankhamen himself. We travel across the river to the “dead side,” to see the Valley of the Kings, the Temple of Hatshepsut and the Statues of Memnon.Via Magic Carpet Journals. Story and Photos by M. Maxine George.
Today’s tour is very exciting, as we will be going across the river to the “dead side,” to see the Valley of the Kings, the Temple of Hatshepsut and the Statues of Memnon. I can hardly believe that I am really going again to see the site where King Tut’s tomb was discovered.
I vividly recall my first visit to the Valley of the Kings, 30 years ago. We left our floating hotel at six o’clock in the morning to get ahead of the heat of the day. We walked along to a small ferry, the Hagog. Then climbed up on the overhead deck for the journey across the river. The river was quite wide here. As we were crossing, we watched the sun rise in the east. Docking on the other side, we climbed up the steps only to be accosted by an assortment of local tradesmen, all eager to capture our attention with their wares. Chanting, “How much?” they followed us along our way. We had learned not to make eye contact with them, as that only encouraged them to continue and we had to hurry. We came upon a fleet of buses, waiting to take us on our journey. Loaded into a bus, we were soon travelling beyond the green valley, towards the rock mountains. The demarcation between the valley and the desert is dramatic. A paved road took us into the barren rocky hills and mountains. We seemed to be on a road to nowhere, when suddenly, we came to a halt in a valley, the sides of which were formed by the sun-baked Kormer Hills. We were in the famous Valley of the Kings or as it is known in Egypt, “Biban el Moluk.” In the beginning the valley was dedicated to the snake goddess, Meretseger, who loved silence. Originally this site was chosen because it was believed that the tombs would be well hidden here. The hiding place did not prove to be impervious, for all the tombs were robbed before this century, even King Tut’s, which is believed to actually have been entered one or more times prior to it’s discovery in this century.
All around us I saw a golden monotone of rocks and sand and more rocks and sand. The only building in sight was a very conservative looking building that housed a restaurant. It’s amber colour blended with the location. Nowadays there are several commercial buildings set back from the valley. Tickets must be purchased and we walked through a commercial section, where a series of vendors exhibited their wares. I would have enjoyed the opportunity to peruse the merchandise on the way back. But we had to move on. This time, we all climbed onto the cars on a little electric train which took us to within walking distance of our destination.
Looking around, we observed paths that lead to cement enclosures and stone steps. These, we discovered, were the entrances to the various tombs.
Our immediate destination was the world famous Tomb of Tutankhamen, the young King whose treasures amazed us in Cairo. On my previous visit, the area was busy. We sat on the steps leading down to the entrance to wait our turn. So many came each day to see this one particular tomb, that there was always a wait to get into it. We had to leave our cameras on a pile of rocks at the entrance, while we went into the tomb. Now, those of us who wanted to take our cameras into the tomb could purchase tickets to do so. Maybe because we were later in the day and it was hot, there was no crowd there. I was quite happy with both changes.
Howard Carter, financed by Lord Carnarvon, began his search for the elusive tomb of King Tut here in the Valley of the Kings in 1916, after spending many years prospecting and participating in earlier discoveries in Thebes and here in the Valley of the Kings. It had long been suspected that Tutankhamen’s tomb must be located here, as a blue faience cup bearing his name was discovered here in 1906. Subsequently other items bearing the seal of Tutankhamen and his wife, Ankhesenamun were found here in the sand. The tomb of Ramses VI covered much of the adjacent area, so many years went by without the searchers uncovering a trace of this tomb. Discouraged, Lord Carnarvon returned home to England. Carter and his crew of fellahs were digging under the remains of the huts lived in by the builders of the tombs of Ramses VI and Ramses IX. Early on the morning of November 4, 1922 Carter arrived on the site to discover his fellahs waiting with good news. One of them had uncovered a stone step in the sand. The step led to more steps and by the end of the day 16 steps had been uncovered, which led to a plastered stone door. Carter knew he had reached his long-sought goal. He contacted Lord Carnarvon, who immediately returned to Egypt. Together on the 25th of November, 1922 they broke the seal and opened the famous door.
When the discoverers entered this room they found fungi on the walls. This showed that the tomb was sealed while the walls were still wet. Because of the plants discovered in the tomb, they were able to ascertain that Tutankhamen probably died in March or April. Three of the types of plants that were identified were the mandrake, the date palm and berries from the night shade plant. The walls of this antechamber, surprisingly enough, are white washed and totally without decoration. As the Pharaoh died at a very early age, he had not had time to prepare his tomb, therefore the lack of decoration here supports the theory that his death occurred unexpectedly.
Carter and Lord Carnarvon found the wall, to the right of the room as they entered, contained the sealed door to the burial chamber. Guarding the entrance to the burial chamber, Carter saw the two black statues, the Ka of the King, that we saw in the Cairo Museum a few days before. Inside the burial chamber, when it was opened up, stood the large gilded shrine, which in turn contained, successively three more gilded shrines, and the immense yellow quartzite sarcophagus which stands here today. Sculptured at the end of the sarcophagus are the outstretched hand and wing of a goddess to ward off intruders. A huge slab lid, weighing over a ton and a quarter, was lifted to reveal the first gilded anthropoid-shaped coffin. The second golden coffin, again a recumbent figure of the boy-king, was exposed when the lid of the first was lifted. A third and most magnificent coffin, the solid gold coffin lay ensconced within the second. This was the vessel that contained the last remains of the Pharaoh, Tutankhamen. His mummy, amid layers of wrappings, wore the gold death mask, so familiar to us all.
Today, we also found sixteen steps leading us down to a new door. Following the entrance corridor, we were guided into a room, the antechamber, about 8 metres by 3.6 metres. Like the top of a “T”, the room is situated perpendicular to the corridor.
On my first visit, I saw only the stone sarcophagus which contained the last remains of the boy king who died so many centuries ago. His mummy was placed in the gilded wood coffin, and was inside this sarcophagus. We were told that the mummy was in quite poor condition and we could not see it. Now, to prevent further deterioration, the mummy has been placed in a hermetically sealed glass case on display in the antechamber. His head and feet are visible for all to see. Some studies led to the claim that his sudden death may have occurred when he was as young as sixteen and a half. Egyptologists now seem to believe that he was at least 18 or 19. Early examination led to the belief that he had a fractured skull, so he could have been murdered. More recent studies, including scans, X-rays and DNA have shown that he had a broken leg at the time of his death. The DNA studies showed that he had been infected with malaria by several types of mosquitoes and he had an ankle deformity which may have been congenital. He is now believed to have died from an infection relating to the broken leg, compounded by malaria. The fractured skull may have occurred during mummification. It is also believed that the walking canes, previously thought to have been ornamental, were probably necessary for him to use to walk.
The walls of the burial chamber were painted with scenes still remarkably vivid. One of the scenes shows the priest Aye, one of the High Priests during the reign of King Tut. He was once believed to have been one of the people who were thought to have killed the King. Aye later married the widow of Tut. He was performing a part of the mummification ceremony. He is holding the sign with which he can touch all parts of the body, in order to give it life once more. Another scene shows the King with the god Osiris. The Ka of the King is depicted on these walls also. The Ka was the double of the person and was believed to come again and give the person life.
Twelve monkeys, on these walls, represent the twelve hours of the night. In passing into the afterlife, the King must remember the names of the twelve monkeys. To help him remember, the names are written in hieroglyphics, on the wall of the burial chamber.
Another symbol that we saw here is the beetle, which is the symbol of resurrection – life out of death. The beetle lays it’s eggs in dead bodies, therefore, life comes out of death. Since the beetle was one of the first animals to wake in the morning, they were thought to get their energy out of the first rays of the sun. Thus they were the symbol of eternity.
The treasury room, to the right, held the most precious things. Also there is a small storage room off of the antechamber. These rooms are closed off now, so we were unable to go into them. There is also a new theory that this tomb might have been originally prepared for Queen Nefertiti, his stepmother and possibly his mother-in-law. It is suspected that there may be another room, as yet undiscovered, that lies beyond this one. And who knows, maybe that is where the remains of Nefertiti might be interred. Time and a persistent urge to uncover more of the secrets of the ages, may lead to more interesting discoveries about this tomb in the near future.
Article and pictures by M. Maxine George
Last Updated January 20, 2021 by Matthew George – Webmaster