The ancient Egyptians constructed enormous monuments that honored the pharaohs. Similarly, they built pyramids in which they buried their royalty. During the New Kingdom dynasty from 1550 to 1070 B.C., they started to build hidden underground mausoleums and elaborate tombs. The most famous collection of tombs is called the Valley of the Kings and it is located near Luxor, on the west bank of the Nile river. The Valley of the Kings history is fascinating and the area attracts masses of tourists every year.
The Royal Necropolis
For nearly five hundred years, starting in the sixteenth century, many tombs were built not only for the new pharaohs, but also for powerful noblemen and high priests. The very first royal tombs built in the Valley of the Kings were for Amenhotep I and Thutmose I, who died in 1493 B.C. The last known tomb was constructed for either Ramesses X or XI.
In the beginning of the Eighteenth Dynasty, kings were the only ones that were allowed burial within the large tombs. Non-royals were buried in a chamber that was close to their master’s tomb. During the last part of the Eighteenth Dynasty, when religious orthodoxy returned, Tutankhamun, Ay and Horemheb were buried in the royal necropolis.
Burials increased in the Valley of the Kings during the Nineteenth and Twentieth Dynasties. Both Ramesses II and Ramesses III built massive tombs. There are some rulers from this time period that were not buried there. For instance, the tombs for Ramesses VIII, Thutmose II, and Smenkhkare have never been found.
Egypt entered an extended period of economic and political decline during the last part of the New Kingdom. The priests began to have more power over Upper Egypt, while the kings continued to rule over Lower Egypt. During the start of the Twenty-first Dynasty, High Priest Pinedjem I, added his cartouche, a symbol indicating a royal name, to one of the tombs.
During this time period, many of the tombs were greatly plundered. The priests moved most of the mummies to three tombs to protect them. Later on, many of them were relocated to another area close to Deir el-Bari. This mass reburial included numerous royal mummies. When they were finally discovered years later, the mummies were in very poor condition and many had been put into the wrong sarcophaguses.
Most of the open tombs at the end of the Third Intermediate Period were used for new burials. In the Coptic time period, a number of the tombs were converted into stables, houses and churches. Many of the walls of these tombs were heavily damaged.
The Valley of the Kings remained virtually deserted for many centuries until the Greeks showed an interest in the third century B.C. During the Greco-Roman time period, the Valley of the Kings became a frequently visited site. An abundance of Roman and Greek graffiti can still be seen in ten of the royal tombs. These tourist activities lasted well into the sixth century A.D.
The next active period for the Valley of the Kings occurred during the growth of Christianity in Egypt. Starting in the fifth century A.D., several tombs were used by monks as refuges, and one tomb was used as a chapel. These tombs have a variety of Christian graffiti, such as Christian names, crosses, prayers and hymns.
Most Recent Tomb Discoveries
In 1922, the tomb of the boy king, called Tutankhamun, was discovered by Howard Carter. This royal tomb was mostly intact, although, it had been previously disturbed by tomb robbers. It was found beneath the remnants of workmen’s huts. In 2005, archaeologist Otto Schaden discovered a new tomb in the Valley of the Kings. This was the first one discovered since Tutankhamun’s tomb was located. This tomb’s site was found approximately fifty feet from Tutankhamun’s final resting place.
Most of the tombs have been broken into, looted and ransacked over the years. But, there still is beautiful artwork on many of the tomb’s walls that visitors can see today. Archaeologists are still learning about the lives of these interesting Egyptian rulers, while they continue to excavate many of the sixty-three known tombs. It is possible there are still some tombs that have not been found because they are so well hidden.