Journal: Thursday 5 March 1998
Today, just for a change, Robin and I went to the King’s Valley in the morning instead of the afternoon. There were a few people around, but you could easily miss them among the cliffs and little hidden wadis. Hamdi the inspector met us again at the gate and knew that we wanted to see the next chronological tombs – those of 19th Dynasty pharaohs, Merenptah and Siptah. The tombs of Horemheb, Seti I and Rameses II were not open.
We found the tomb of Merenptah (KV8), a son of Rameses II, at the head of a branch of the King’s Valley which opens out behind his father’s burial place. It is a large but simply constructed tomb with a staircase and three descending corridors leading down from the entrance as far as the well room. In the entrance on the outer lintel a sun disc flanked by the goddesses Isis and Nephthys contain a ram-headed god and the Khepri beetle, and on the architrave the god Heh is seen kneeling with Isis and Hathor. The walls of the corridors show scenes from the ‘Litany of Re’, the Amduat, the ‘Book of Gates’ and the ‘Book of the Dead’ and the ceilings depict astronomical scenes. The painted reliefs in the first corridor are beautiful, but sadly they have been damaged by flooding. The well room contains pictures of the king before various deities. A pillared hall which surrounds the second staircase is decorated with scenes from the ‘Book of Gates’ with a winged Ma’at on the lintel above and an annex leads off to one side with some lovely well-preserved paintings. The tomb has been open since antiquity and on a pillar here there are Greek and Roman graffito left by early visitors. After another two corridors and a vestibule we came to the burial chamber, with its huge red granite sarcophagus lid. This is the second of four sarcophagi and another huge sarcophagus lid lies in the vestibule. The lid of the sarcophagus in the burial chamber is beautiful, showing the king lying with his crook and flail, a similar pose to knights tombs in English churches. As we progressed down the corridors we listed the funerary books, first the ‘Litany of Re’ then the ‘Amduat’. As we went deeper the ‘Amduat’ was replaced by the ‘Book of Gates’ and the ‘Book of the Dead’, while in the burial chamber itself were more scenes from the ‘Book of Gates’. This title refers to the twelve gates which divide the hours of the night. It was interesting to note the progression of the texts, with the solar texts nearer to the tomb entrance, then the king’s transformation and journey on the solar barque and in the deeper recesses of the tomb, Osiris, god of the Underworld was more in evidence. The ‘Opening of the Mouth’ ceremony was depicted in the lower corridors leading to the burial chamber. We also noticed that while the wall decoration near the tomb entrance was very well carved and painted, it seemed to get less sophisticated the deeper we went into the tomb. Perhaps this was because the King, who was quite elderly when he came to the throne, was in a hurry to complete his tomb before his death.
The tomb of Siptah (KV47) is in the south-west branch of the Valley. It is a long straight tomb with wide corridors like the later Ramesside tombs and like the previous tomb of Merenptah, it has a lovely relief of a youthful king with Re-Horakhty near the entrance, along with the sun-disc and scarab between Isis and Nephthys which was becoming a familiar motif. We saw again the ‘Litany of Re’ in the first corridor and a ceiling decorated with flying vultures and serpents. In another corridor there was a lovely scene of Isis and Nephthys with Anubis leaning over the bier of Osiris. The rest of the tomb was badly damaged by flooding both in antiquity and recently and most of the decoration is now gone, although fragments of paint still appear here and there, as well as masons guide-lines in red paint presumably for work which was never completed. At the end of the tomb is a transverse burial chamber, rough and undecorated, but still containing the red granite cartouche-shaped outer sarcophagus of the king. Vertical masons’ marks on the north wall reflect the row of four pillars along the south wall as though it was intended that more pillars were to be cut. It has been interesting to follow the chronological progression of decoration in the tombs, but we were a little disappointed that this one was undecorated in the lower parts.
After five hours spent in only two tombs, we were ready for a drink in the resthouse while we waited for Tayib, our taxi driver, to arrive. We went back to the el-Gezira Hotel for a late lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon writing up notes and discussing what we had learned. Robin and I agreed that this intensive study of the kings’ tombs in situ was much more fun than studying from books back home in England.
In the evening we met up with our English friend David and the three of us went for a meal at a new West Bank restaurant we had not tried before. On the way back the wind was very strong with dust blowing high into the air and into our eyes. After a very warm day it is surprising how cold the nights can be here in early spring and even in the relatively warm wind we were all bundled up in jackets and scarves as we walked down the deserted road. This was the season of the Khamseen, the ‘fifty day wind’ which always comes at this time of year. It is a wind that blows intermittently straight off the Sahara Desert in little puffs and gusts to begin with, then sometimes turns into full-blown sandstorms. The sand gets everywhere and dries and cracks everything it reaches. Tonight was not too bad, but we were glad to get back into the shelter of the hotel. There was no point in sitting up on the roof in this wind as the sky was veiled with grey dust, instead of the deep black star-studded heavens we were used to seeing.