Al-Ahram Weekly Online   22 - 28 July 2010
Issue No. 1008
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Zahi Hawass

Dig Days: Seti, please tell us your secret II

By Zahi Hawass

For the first time we can now say that we have revealed the secrets of the tunnel in the tomb of Seti I. The tunnel was first excavated by Sheikh Ali Abdel-Rassoul and his workmen to a depth of about 130 metres. They did not continue past that point, however, because the tunnel did not continue straight and they did not turn to cut and excavate into the mountain. However, when we went through this section of the tunnel we were able to discover new artefacts that dated to the reign of Seti I, such as pottery, ushabti figurines and blocks inscribed with the name of Seti I. We also uncovered steps with graffiti in red writing.

The excitement of the excavation started when we began to clean out the tunnel and remove the debris left behind by Abdel-Rassoul's workmen. As we progressed through the tunnel, we had to support the ceiling with a series of iron beams and also construct a wooden walkway for us to use. I was very interested in a railway with cars which we used to bring out all the debris and stone rubble that was removed from the tunnel.

Upon reaching the end of the 130-metre section which had been partially excavated by Abdel-Rassoul, we were shocked to uncover a descending passage which measured 25.60 metres in length and 2.6 in width. The first surprise that we uncovered was five steps at the end of the descending passage. When I saw the steps, I said to myself that we had begun to reveal the secrets of the tunnel. Near the five steps we found a huge wooden beam which had been used to transport blocks of stone. I gave orders that we should continue the excavation after I came back to supervise it.

Soon the five steps became 54 steps, 35 of which were in relatively good condition. Upon reaching the end of the staircase I found that there was a hole hidden under the stone rubble. I was able to go through the hole with difficulty and had to use a thick rope to descend through the opening. With a flashlight in my hand I began to crawl on my chest across the stone rubble. I felt the rubble cutting my chest, but I did not feel the pain because I was so determined to find the end of the passage. This was in fact a ramp about seven metres long which led to a gate measuring about 1.05 metres wide that had been carved into the bedrock. I continued further and found that the ramp also led to a second gate that was beautifully cut into the rock with the same measurements as the previous one. Upon examination of the gate, I was surprised to find that graffiti was written on the right door jamb. The graffiti was translated as saying, "Move the door jamb up and make the passage wider." It became so exciting that I began to be sure that I was in front of a royal tomb inside a tomb.

I returned to Cairo, and the workmen began to clean the gate and the descending ramp. I came back from Cairo a week later, but I have to admit that I had not slept because of the excitement of the discovery. We found that the last gate opened onto another descending staircase about 15.7 metres long and consisting of 49 steps. The last step was unfinished and the passage was never completed. There is a distance of 3.7 metres between the last step and the end of the tunnel, but why did the workmen stop? It is likely that when Seti I died after 12 years of rule his son, Ramses II, had to stop the work and bury his father. This is why I believe that Ramses continued where his father had left off, and we are now looking for a tunnel in the tomb of Ramses II.

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