Journal entry for Tuesday 3 March 1998
Ancient Egypt existed as a duality. To everything there were two aspects, positive and negative, Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt, the river and the desert, day and night. All things were in balance and one could not exist without the other. Robin and I found this out for ourselves in 1998 after being saddened by the plight of the people in a Luxor without tourism. For us the positive side was that we had the ancient sites to ourselves, an event which we were very grateful for even though we knew (or sincerely hoped) it would never happen again.
After a leisurely breakfast on the hotel roof we took a taxi to the Valley of the Kings. We had decided to use our time in the royal tombs that we had previously only seen haphazardly and amongst hordes of tourists. The Valley was empty by mid-day and being early March this scorched waterless place was not as hot as it often is. We were soon approached by an antiquities inspector named Hamdi who offered to accompany us, probably under the misapprehension that we would ‘do’ the three obligatory tombs and be gone quickly. We had decided that we wanted to look at all the available tombs in order of building to be able get a true impression of the sequence of decoration, from the earliest to the latest, so we were delighted when Hamdi told us that KV34, the tomb of Tuthmose III had recently re-opened after restoration. There was a new wooden staircase leading up the water-worn cleft in the rock, much easier to negotiate than the old iron ladder I had climbed before, but the tomb was just as deep as I remembered. As well as my camera equipment we had piles of heavy textbooks with us too.
KV 34 is the earliest tomb in the King’s Valley which is open, though on the way we did have a look at the entrance to KV38, the 2nd tomb of Tuthmose I, which was just a staircase leading into a rubble-filled corridor. Descending into the tomb of Tuthmose III, there were three corridors and a well, the first of these structures to be seen in the King’s Valley. Beyond this we came to an antechamber with two pillars which was decorated in yellow, red and black and included lists of stick-figures, divinities of the ‘Amduat’ and a lovely kheker-frieze went right around the walls below the ceiling. People tend to lump together Egyptian funerary books under the collective title ‘The Book of the Dead’. but Robin and I were learning that this was not accurate and there were in fact many funerary books decorating the walls of the royal tombs. The ‘Amduat’ was first seen in the tomb of Tuthmose I and from then on was the funerary text of choice in royal tombs. It was depicted in full in the tombs of Tuthmose III and Amenhotep II and afterwards at least partially depicted in many other royal tombs as well as on coffins and papyri until the end of the Ptolemaic period.
The ‘Amduat’ or ‘Amydwat’, is also known as the ‘Book of that Which is in the Underworld’ or ‘The Book of the Secret Chamber’. This is the royal funerary text describing the dangerous journey the deceased king must make in order to be reborn. United with the sun god, he travels in the solar barque through the 12 hours of night, from dusk to dawn. Its text consists of 12 divisions of the underworld, describing the King’s journey in pictures and begins at Hour 1, in the centre of the left hand wall, when the sun slips below the horizon and the King is united with the Sun God, Re. The beetle-god, Khepri, represents the sun’s rebirth, the objective of this journey.
Robin and I, with Hamdi, who turned out to be very knowledgeable, continued around the walls studying and discussing the paintings, which were mostly cursive hieroglyphs and simple outline drawings in black on a pale yellow background. The burial chamber is rectangular with rounded corners, resembling a cartouche and the paintings scroll around them. The divisions of the hours are not sequential but are positioned in relationship to the movement of the sun, and run as follows:
Hours 2, 3 & 4 follow the curve around from Hour 1 towards the burial chamber entrance. Guided by Hathor, the Sun God accompanied by other deities, journeys by boat on the river flowing through the Underworld and through a fertile cultivated land of crops. Continuing the journey in Hour 3, other deities rejoice in the light the Sun God has brought them and we see the jackal-headed Anubis and the seated Osiris, preceded by a cluster of bird-headed protective demons. They are in ‘The Waters of Osiris’. In Hour 4 there are obstacles to the journey, and the boat must be towed across desert down into the Land of Sokar. To do this the barque magically becomes a slithering snake. Other deities are ready to protect the Sun God on this perilous journey.
Hour 7, on the other side of the entrance to the burial chamber, sees Re confronting his arch enemy, the serpent Apophis, who swallows the waters carrying the sun boat. The goddess Isis and others chant magical spells that bind Apophis, and destroy his power. The god Horus presides over twelve gods and twelve goddesses crowned with stars and symbolizing the twelve hours of the night.
Hour 5. The Barque of Re is towed around the cavern of Sokar, the falcon-headed god who clutches the wings of a serpent and they hold back the waters of chaos to allow Re’s passage. From the burial mound of Osiris, the beetle, Khepri, emerges to help pull the barque along. Hour 6 depicts the realm of Sobek the crocodile god. It is midnight and the soul of Re unites with his dead body, representing all those who have died, and brings light and eternal life. In front of this scene is a statue of a baboon, representing Thoth, the God of Wisdom.
Hour 8, on the opposite wall between two side-chambers, represents a turning point and the worst of the dangers have passed. Re provides the deceased King with white linen cloth to wear in the afterlifelife. Hour 9 sees the Sun God bringing provisions of grain, clothing and baskets of bread and beer to those in the afterlife. In Hour 10, the God Horus assures those drowned in the Nile that they will find refuge in the afterlife and the solar barque continues, protected by various deities.
Hour 11 can be seen behind the sarcophagus of Tuthmose III. It depicts the preparation for sunrise, with Re’s barque bearing a red sun disc on its bow, the colour red of the rising sun perhaps representing the slaying of the god’s enemies. The god Atum, with his winged serpent is about to devour the ten stars representing the hours of the night which have already passed. Hour 12 is the culmination of the journey, the hour of the sun’s rebirth. A figure of a snake is ready to encircle the world and Re is reborn in the form of the scarab beetle Khepri, god of the morning. Osiris, who has accompanied the solar barque, remains in the underworld, while other rows of deities raise their hands in thanks.
On seven sides of the pillars of the burial chamber is the ‘Litany of Re’ a two-part funerary text which describes the sun god under 75 different forms. It offers prayers for the King who has united with the sun god and other deities. On one of the pillars there is also a famous cameo scene, drawn as a rough sketch, in which Tuthmose III is being suckled by Isis (either the goddess or his mother Isis) in the form of a tree.
We had spent several hours in the tomb and the time had flown by, we were so engrossed in the texts. The guard had gone to sleep somewhere long ago and there had been no other visitors. During the recent restoration the painted walls had been protected by glass panels, so photography was more difficult. It really was time to leave, but we had to have a last quick look at the King’s beautiful cartouche-shaped yellow quartzite sarcophagus. We admired the remains of the plastered ceiling, once a deep blue sky covered in tiny yellow stars, before beginning our weary climb back out of the tomb and out into the glaring sun.