Valley of the Kings

Luxor Governorate, Egypt

Photo Credit: Sofia Pomoni

From the sixteenth to the eleventh century BCE, ancient Egyptians excavated and embellished rock- cut tombs for the pharaohs and nobles of their New Kingdom (Eighteenth to Twentieth Dynasties). These hallowed resting places comprise Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, which stretches along the west bank of the Nile, near Luxor.

The valley is among the most important archaeological sites in the world. Exploration efforts are still active: discoveries made in 2008 raised the count to 63 tombs, ranging in size from a simple pit to a complex system of 120 underground chambers.

Within many tombs (none of which are permitted to be photographed) remain murals of mythological scenes, hieroglyphics, and ancient graffiti from Greek, Latin, Phoenician, and Roman cultures— all revealing puzzle pieces of shared history.

In the eighteenth century, Napoleon Bonaparte commissioned detailed maps of the Valley of the Kings. New burial places continued to be found throughout the nineteenth century, until 1912 when an American explorer determined that the site had been fully excavated. A mere decade later, British archaeologist Howard Carter proved him wrong, by leading the expedition that uncovered the tomb of King Tutankhamun. In addition to King Tut’s mummy, the intact tomb was packed with priceless artifacts—including a golden death mask, a solid gold inner coffin, and a funerary chariot. Although King Tut was a minor pharaoh, the riches discovered made it one of the most famous archaeological discoveries of all time.

Tut’s tomb also reminds us that these chambers held more than inanimate objects that belong in a museum. Rather, they were spaces filled with real human beings who loved and were loved, and they contained eerie yet touching tokens of their inhabitants’ humanity—one of those discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamun was a lock of his grandmother’s hair.

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