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Egyption Tomb 5


Egyptologists had lost interest in the site of tomb 5,
which had been explored and looted decades ago. Therefore,
they wanted to give way to a parking lot. However, no one
would have ever known the treasure that lay only 200 ft.
from King Tut's resting place which was beyond a few rubble
strewn rooms that previous excavators had used to hold
their debris.
Dr. Kent Weeks, an Egyptologist with the American
University in Cairo, wanted to be sure the new parking
facility wouldn't destroy anything important. Thus, Dr.
weeks embarked in 1988 on one final exploration of the old
dumping ground. Eventually he was able to pry open a door
blocked for thousands of years, and announced the discovery
of a life time. "We found ourselves in a corridor," he
remembers. "On each side were 10 doors and at end there was
a statue of Osiris, the god of the afterlife."
The tomb is mostly unexcavated and the chambers are choked
with debris, Weeks is convinced that there are more rooms
on a lower level, bringing the total number to more than
100. That would make tomb 5 the biggest and most complex
tomb ever found in Egypt, and quite conceivable the resting
place of up to 50 sons of Ramesses II, perhaps the best
known of all the pharaohs, the ruler believed to have been
Moses'nemesis in the book of Exodus.
The Valley of the Kings, in which Tomb 5 is located, is
just across the Nile River from Luxor, Egypt. It is never
exactly been off the beaten track. Tourism has been brisk
in the valley for millenniums: graffiti scrawled on tomb
walls proves that Greek and Roman travelers stopped here to
gaze at the wall paintings and hieroglyphics that were
already old long before the birth of Christ. Archaeologists
have been coming for centuries too. Napoleon brought his
own team of excavators when he invaded in 1798, and a
series of expeditions in 19th and early 20th centuries
uncovered one tomb after another. A total of 61 burial
spots had been found by the time the British explorer
Howard Carter opened the treasure-laden tomb of King
Tutankhamun in 1922.
Britain's James Burton had burrowed into the site of Tomb 5
in 1820, and decided that there was nothing inside. A
dismissive Carter used its entryway as a place to dump the
debris he was hauling out of Tut's tomb.
In the late 1980s, came the proposed parking area and
Weeks' concern. His 1988 foray made it clear that the tomb
wasn't dull as Burton said. Elaborate carvings covered
walls and referred to Ramesses II, whose own tomb was just
100 ft. away. The wall inscriptions on the companion crypt
mentioned two of Ramesses'52 known sons, implying some of
the royal offspring might have been buried within. Then,
came last month's astonishing announcement.
For treasure, the tomb probably won't come to close to
Tut's because robbers apparently plundered the chamber long
time ago. No gold or fine jewelry has been found so far,
and Weeks does not expect to find any riches to speak of.
The carvings and inscriptions Weeks and his friends have
seen, along with thousands of artifacts such as beads,
fragments of jars that were used to store the organs of the
deceased, and mummified body parts which tell historians a
great amount about ancient Egypt during the reign of its
most important king. "Egyptians do not call him Ramesses
II," Sabry Abd El Aziz, director of antiquities for the
Qurna region said. " We call him Ramesses al-Akbar which
means Ramesses the Great."
During his 67 years on the throne stretching from 1279 B.C.
to 1212 B. C., Ramesses could have filled an ancient
edition of the Guinness Book of Records all by himself: he
built more temples, obelisks and monuments; took more
wives(eight, not counting concubines) and claimed to have
sired more children (as many as 162, by some accounts) than
any other pharaoh in history. He presided over an empire
that stretched from present-day Libya to Iraq in the east,
as far north as Turkey and southward into the Sudan.
Today, historians know a great deal about Ramesses and the
customs of his day. However, the newly explored tomb
suddenly presents scholars with all sort of puzzles to
ponder. For one thing, many of the tombs in the Valley of
the Kings are syringe-like, plunging straight as a needle
into the steep hillsides. For reasons nobody yet knows,
says Weeks, this one "is more like an octopus, with a body
surrounded by tentacles."
The body in this case is an enormous square room, at least
50 ft. on a side and divided by 16 massive columns. In
Ramesses 'day the room would have seemed positively
cavernous; now it is filled nearly to the top with rubble
washed in over the centuries by infrequent flash floods.
Anyone who wants to traverse the chamber has to crawl
through a tight passage, lighted by a string of dim
electric light bulbs where the dirt has been painstakingly
cleared away.
At the end of his claustrophobic journey lies the door
Weeks found, and the relatively spacious corridors beyond.
It is here, as well as in two outermost rooms that the
artifacts were discovered. Weeks says, "The tomb was pretty
well gone over in ancient times." The archaeologists have
tracked down a record of one of those robberies which in
about 1150 B.C. A 3,000 year old papyrus fragment housed in
a museum in Turin, Italy which recounts the trial of a
thief who was caught in the Valley of the Kings. He
confessed under torture that he had broken into Ramesses
II's tomb and then returned the next night to rob the tomb
of Ramesses'children, which across the path.
Additional artifacts could lie buried if, as Weeks
believes, the tomb had unusual split level design. The
ceilings of the corridors to the left and right of the
statue of Osiris slope downward and then drop abruptly
about 4 ft. Moreover, the doors that line the corridors all
lead to identical 10 ft. by 10 ft. chambers. The openings
are only about 2.5 ft. wide which is too narrow to
accommodate a prince's sarcophagus. That suggests to Weeks
that the rooms weren't burial chambers but rather chapels
for funeral offerings.
Hieroglyphics above each painting make it clear that the
pharaoh's firs, second, seventh, and 15th sons were buried
in Tomb 5. Many of the engravings show Ramesses presenting
one or another of the newly deceased young men to
Re-Harakhty, the god of the sun; Horus, the falcon headed
god of the sky; or Hathor, goddes of motherhood, who is
often depicted as a cow. These scenes reflect the belief
that pharaohs were demigods while alive and that life was
merely a short term way station on the road to full deity.
Anything that researchers learn in Tomb 5 about
Ramesses'oldest son, Amen-hir-khopshef, could be especially
significant to religion scholars. Cautions Weeks: " I'm not
saying that we will prove the validity of the Bible,but
scholars are hungry for any new information about this
crucial time in Judeo-Christian history."
The great buildings boom got under way as soon as Ramesses
took throne at age 25, right after he discovered that the
great temple his father Seti I had begun at Abydos was a
shambles. The new pharaoh summoned his coursties to hear
his plans for completing the work. Then, he went on to
built dozens of monuments, including a temple at Luxor and
Karnak and the cliff temples at Abu Simbel which were
rescued from waters rising behind the Aswan Dam in the
In an age when life expectancy could not have been much
more than 40, it must have seemed to his subjects that
Ramesses would never die. At 92, the pharaoh went to join
his ancestors and some of his sons in the Valley of the
Kings. His internal organs were removed and placed in
vessels known as canopic jars, and the body was embalmed
and gently wrapped in cloth. Archaeologists found that the
embalmers has even stuffed peppercorns into the monarch's
nostrils to keep his aquiline nose from being flattened by
the wrappings.
Ramesses was then placed in a sarcophagus and interred,
along with everything he would need to travel through the
afterlife: The Book of the Dead, containing spells that
would give the pharaoh access to the netherworld; tiny
statuettes known as Ushabti, which would come alive to help
the dead king perform labors for the gods; offering of food
and wine; jewelry and even furniture to make the afterlife
more comfortable. It's likely, say scholars that Ramesses
II's tomb was originally far richer and more elaborate than
King Tut's.
Unlike several other tombs in the valley, Ramesses'has
never been fully excavated. A French team is clearing it
now, and the entire tomb could be ready for visitors within
five years, but it is not expected to offer archaeologists
any surprises. Tomb 5 is a completly different story. Weeks
says " We have never found a multiple burial of a pharaoh's
children. We have no idea at all what happened to the most
of the pharaoh's children." Archaeologists either have to
assume that Ramesses II buried his children in a unique
way, or they have to consider the possibility that they've
overlooked a major type of royal tomb.
Archaelogists still haven't resolved many basic questions
about Tomb 5; when the tomb was built, over what priod of
time it was used. Some answers could pop up as the
excavations progress. Says Weeks " Let's hope the tomb
yields a whole lot of new bodies. Then, medicos can get to
work on them, and find out what therse princes were like,
whether they had toothaches, how long they lived."
Weeks'team plans to return to Tomb 5 for the month of July.
Their goal is to get enough inside to explore the
staircases and lower level. Weeks stimates that it will
take at least five years to study and map the entire tomb,
protect the decorations, install climate controls and
electricity and shore up the precarious sections. Says
Abdel Halim Nur el Din, secretary-general of egypt's
Supreme Council of Antiquites: " We're in no hurry to open
this tomb to the public. We already have 10 or 12 that they
can visit." It is more improtant to preserve the tombs that
have already been excavated, say the Egyptians, than make
new ones accessible.
The recent find gives scholars hope that more can be
discovered even in this most explored of Egypt's
archaeological sites. Notes the antiquities department's
Abd El Aziz: " We still haven't found the tombs of
Amenhotep I or Ramesses VIII," he says. " We have 62 tombs
in the Valley of the Kings, but in the Western Valley,
which runs perpendicular to it, we have discovered only two
The pharaohs would be pleased to know they have held on to
a few of their secrets. After all, they dug their tombs
deep into hillsides, where the crypts would be safe from
the rabble and robbers. However, they never counted on was
the need for parking lots. 


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