The Lost Tomb by Kent R. Weeks (1998)
Usually, I speed through a book, but this one was full of so much interesting data that I found myself simply trying to absorb it all, and flipping back and forth between the written words and the sketches or pictures they described.
This book is the finely detailed account of Kent R. Weeks’ excavation of the tomb called KV5, which was originally believed (by the late Elizabeth Thomas, also an American Egyptologist), and finally proven by Mr. Weeks, to be the burial place of Ramesses II’s sons. This tomb, and several others, received its number/name in 1827 when John Gardner Wilkinson used a bucket of paint and a brush and numbered every tomb in the Valley of the Kings he could find, in geographical order. His system of numbering is still used today.
Due to the odd positioning of its entrance, and also because of the fact that said entrance was already almost completely covered during John Wilkinson’s visit, KV5 became lost and virtually forgotten.
In order to give proper understanding to the importance of the re-discovery of this tomb, Mr. Weeks gives so much more than just the facts of KV5′s excavation. Actually, he starts out telling about himself, his interest in archaeology, and how he came to be where he is today. He writes of how his time in the area of Thebes began, not as a search for a specific tomb, but as a mapping project. Due to vandalism, theft, damage and the increasingly large number of tourists, Mr. Weeks felt that a detailed map of each and every tomb and monument was necessary to aid in prevention of these problems and restoration.
As he speaks of his survey work, he tells us what he knows of the people who were buried in each tomb or built each monument. He relates not only his personal knowledge, but he often makes reference to or quotes Egyptologists from previous years and centuries. He writes of Merenptah and Khaemwese, both sons of Ramesses II who are known to be buried in places other than KV5.
He spends a lot of time on Amunhotep III, a Pharoah from the Eighteenth Dynasty. This Pharoah is considered extremely important for more than just his own reign. When trying to gather information about the life and reign of Ramesses II, Egyptologists are often referred back to Amunhotep III because Ramesses II patterned much of his life after this predecessor.
I find it amazing what is known about life so many centuries ago based on artifacts found. Ostracon is a piece of limestone used as a writing tablet. These were found bearing orders for payment to workers who dug or did artwork in the tombs. Others were requests for lamps or statues. So many items were found in the village where the tomb diggers had lived, it could be deduced what those people ate, the names of all family members and when they lived, died and where they were buried. There is also knowledge of which houses each family lived in, when they were sick or took a holiday….amazing.
Mr. Weeks and his crew faced many hardships. It is astonishing that he had the perseverance required to continue. From the Egyptian government basically confiscating aerial photos (an extreme necessity to proper surveying) before they were developed and never returning them, to lack of funds and proper equipment…it seems everything was against them. Still, they knew something was going to come out of this, and they were right.
The re-discovery of KV5 is one of the most important finds in the entire valley. It also poses many questions. This tomb is so very different from any other. Most had a couple of corridors and chambers plus the chamber holding the sarcophagus (the, usually alabaster, casing for the mummy weighing sometimes a couple of tons). Surrounding the burial chamber were 4 others used for funerary offerings and equipment. KV5, however, boasts a total of more than 100 chambers (it is still unknown exactly how many) and corridors combined. Because of the size, it is possible that most of Ramesses II’s thirty-some sons are buried there, but, so far, there is only proof of four.
Mr. Weeks writes of the excavation process with such passion that I found myself sharing in the excitement at the prospect of a major discovery and the disappointment when it turned out to be nothing. I also felt disgust toward the ancient thieves who were so greedy they would not only steal anything they could find from each chamber, but they also dragged the mummies from their resting places to tear them apart in search of amulets and other jewels found within the wrappings.
Work clearing the chambers is time consuming, sometimes requiring dental picks and artist brushes. Each chamber is filled nearly to the ceiling with debris from many floods. This has to be slowly and carefully dug layer by layer and the process is recorded. The plaster that is left on the walls must be injected with a particular resin which will strengthen it, and hopefully prevent further damage. The walls all tell stories from the lives of those buried within, not to mention actually naming the occupants. If Mr. Weeks is to discover just who exactly is buried within this tomb, these plaster works of art must be preserved.
The last find mentioned in this book is one of the most meaningful yet. Inside a pit in the floor of Chamber 2 were 3 skulls and a full skeleton. As Mr. Weeks ends his last chapter, he speaks of the tests to be done on these remains in an attempt to find out who they were. I was so excited for the workers and so disappointed that there wasn’t more to be told at this point.
Kent Weeks has piqued my interest and I will now be searching for more writing by him which, I hope, will give information on what was found in the two years since this book was finished.
I have always thought that visiting the Valley of the Kings would be an incomparable experience. I am now even more convinced of this.
The words found on the pages of Kent R. Weeks “The Lost Tomb” provide both education and a feeling of awe. This is a book I won’t soon forget and will definitely re-read.