Al-Ahram Weekly Online   22 - 28 December 2005
Issue No. 774
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Dig days:

Zahi Hawass

Quest for the tomb of Amenhotep I

By Zahi Hawass

The tomb of the great 18th Dynasty Pharaoh Amenhotep I, which could be supposed to lie in the Valley of the Kings, has never been found. Amenhotep I was a very important member of this dynasty, and his tomb is one of the few undiscovered so far. Up to know all the evidence suggests that he is not buried with other royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings, and Daniel Polz, who represents the German Institute in Cairo, believes that he is buried in the cemetery of Draa Abu Al-Naga. Polz has been excavating in this area for a long time.

Three years ago, when I became secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), the Polish scholar Niwinski came to see me and asked what my plans were for the following week. When I asked him why, he replied that he was going to find an intact tomb and would like me to accompany him. He was convinced that the tomb of Amenhotep I was in the cliff of Deir Al-Bahri.

A year ago, I was visiting the Deir Al-Bahri area and entered the cache where the mummies were discovered by the Abdel-Rasoul family in 1871. These mummies were transferred to the Cairo Museum in 1881. While I was there, I noticed workmen removing huge stones from the cliff. I was worried because this was very dangerous work that could threaten the temple of Hatshepsut, which was directly underneath them. I learnt that this excavation was under the Polish scholar, Niwinski. The SCA permanent committee immediately stopped the work at this site to ensure the protection of the temple of Hatshepsut. Niwinski came to see me and I told him that the work above was dangerous and could ruin the first level of the temple. He said he was about to find the tomb, and we had just stopped him.

In the area Niwinski found about 250 graffiti, some representing fish, dogs and human figures that could be dated to the pre-dynastic period. Five graffiti were found from the 21st Dynasty belonging to a scribe named, Botig Amun. Earthquakes in the area had shifted the rocks and revealed eight passages behind the temple. These passages had been made by thieves searching for tombs and treasure, and we know from the Abbott papyri that thieves entered the area and reached the bedrock. They also investigated the area horizontally. Inside one of the tunnels more graffiti was discovered. Niwinski found that some of the tunnels were still sealed and showed evidence that they were sealed by the officials of the cemetery. He thinks that the fallen blocks above the temple of Hatshepsut were not dislodged by earthquakes but by ancient Egyptian workmen, and he believes that the ancient Egyptians moved these blocks to conceal the hiding place of a tomb that might belong to Amenhotep I. He also thinks that the Abbott papyri provides evidence that the tomb of Amenhotep I is located in this area, because in the inscriptions are the names Mentuhotep and Amenhotep. All these discoveries convinced him that there was something important buried there.

Every day Niwinski is convinced that on that day he will find the tomb. When we stopped the work, we felt we had no other choice because it seemed likely his search was useless and we were afraid of the damage that was being done to the cliff. However, the permanent committee met him last month and decided to give him one last chance. This time he will have specialists working with him who are trained in excavation techniques. Since this is his last chance, we hope that he will discover something that will always be remembered. Although I am not optimistic, we never know what secrets the sands of Egypt may hide.

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