Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Valley of the Kings - Egypt

The Valley of the Kings is a valley in Egypt where for a period of nearly 500 years from the 16th to 11th century BC, tombs were constructed for the kings and powerful nobles of the New Kingdom (the Eighteenth through Twentieth Dynasties of Ancient Egypt). The valley stands on the west bank of the Nile, across from Thebes (modern Luxor), within the heart of the Theban Necropolis. The wadi consists of two valleys, East Valley (where the majority of the royal tombs situated) and West Valley.

The area has been a focus of concentrated 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), and is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. In 1979, it became a World Heritage Site, along with the rest of the Theban Necropolis

The types of soil where the Valley of Kings is located are an alternating sandwich of dense limestone and other sedimentary rock (which form the cliffs in the valley and the nearby Deir el-Bahri) and soft layers of marl. The sedimentary rock was originally deposited between 35 - 56 million years ago during a time when the precursor to the Mediterranean Sea covered an area that extended much further inland than today. During the Pleistocene the valley was carved out the plateau by steady rains. There is currently little year-round rain in this part of Egypt, but there are occasional flash floods which hit the valley, dumping tons of debris into the open tombs.

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 the layers 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.

The problems of tomb construction can be seen with tombs of Ramesses III and his father Setnakhte. Setnakhte started to excavate KV11, but broke into the tomb of Amenmesse, so construction was abandoned and he instead usurped the tomb of Twosret, KV14. When looking for a tomb, Ramesses III extended the part-excavated tomb started by his father. The tomb of Ramesses II returned to an early style, probably due to the quality of the rock being excavated.

Between 1998-2002 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 Valley of the Kings has been a major area of modern Egyptological exploration for the last two centuries. Before this the area was a site for tourism in antiquity (especially during Roman times). This areas illustrates the changes in the study of ancient Egypt, starting as antiquity hunting, and ending as scientific excavation of the whole Theban Necropolis. Despite the exploration and investigation noted below, only eleven of the tombs have actually been completely recorded.

Most of the tombs are not open to the public (16 of the tombs can be opened, but they are rarely open at the same time), and officials occasionally close those that are open for restoration work. The number of visitors to KV62 has led to a separate charge for entry into the tomb. The West Valley has only one open tomb – that of Ay – and a separate ticket is needed to visit this tomb. The tour guides are no longer allowed to lecture inside the tombs and visitors are expected to proceed quietly and in single file through the tombs. This is to minimize time in the tombs, and prevent the crowds from damaging the surfaces of the decoration. Photography is no longer allowed in the tombs.

In 1997, 58 tourists and 4 Egyptians were massacred at nearby Deir el-Bahri by Islamist militants from Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya. This led to an overall drop in tourism in the area.

As of 2005, on most days of the week an average of four to five thousand tourists visit the main valley. On the days on which the Nile Cruises arrive the number can rise to nearly ten thousand. These levels are expected to rise to 25,000 by 2015. The West Valley is much less visited, as there is only one tomb that is open to the public.

credited to wikipedia and flickr users: hjmf21, juanj, tianzhou, anecia, shelbyroot, kambizkamrani, shelbyroot, microkitten, tonayo, kerken

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