Dig Days: Seti, please tell us your secret III
By Zahi Hawass
No one believes that we have uncovered the secret of the tomb of Pharaoh Seti I. Egyptologists will now be happy to know that the mystery of the tunnel discovered by Giovanni Belzoni is solved. Howard Carter attempted to excavate and restore the tunnel, but did not continue because he was afraid that the tomb could be damaged. Kent Weeks also mapped the tunnel as part of the Theban Mapping Project. The only non-scientific work on it was carried out by the Abdel-Rassoul family in 1960. Sheikh Ali Abdel-Rassoul explained his work to me and told me that he had reached a depth of 130 metres, but he was sure that the secret burial place of Seti I could be located there.
My own visit to the tomb in 2002 was the most exciting one, and really allowed me to experience the adventure of this tunnel. I was able to penetrate 252 feet into it. I will never forget the excitement I felt as for more than three hours I crawled through the stone rubble of the tunnel. When I reached the end I noticed an impressive relief on the wall. It was the scene of a descending ramp, and at the end of the ramp were three snakes with their heads turned upward.
The ancient Egyptians drew this scene on the tomb wall because it was part of their religious concept of the quest for immortality. This particular scene is part of the Amduat, which is also part of the Book of the Dead. The netherworld was depicted as a series of passages which were guarded by snakes. The last passage ended with a guardian snake with three heads and was known as the Cave of Sokar.
After 130 metres the tunnel began to reveal its purpose when we uncovered 54 steps. The pounding inside my chest was amazing as I descended the ramp for seven metres. This second ramp was cut in the rock and had the same dimensions as the first ramp. At the end of this second ramp was another staircase containing 49 steps, which is where the tunnel ended.
The tomb is 98 metres long and the tunnel is 174 metres long. I spent hours inside this long tunnel and I still cannot walk well because my knee was injured by the stone rubble. I still dream of receiving a message from my assistant, Tarek, on my mobile phone. "Great things are happening, 'ya Ganeb Al-Modier' (Mr Director)," he said. "I believe we are in front of a great discovery: a royal tomb inside a royal tomb!" The next day at 5am I flew to Luxor and began my adventure. We knew that the tunnel indeed ended completely and that there was nothing further. I wish that Sheikh Ali were alive today to see our great work and how we excavated the whole tunnel for the first time.
We knew that the great Pharaoh Seti I, father of Ramses II, planned to make the most unique tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Seti planned to make a dummy tomb to deceive everyone and decorated the entire 98 metres of it. But he made another tomb, which he could not finish because he only ruled for 12 years. It seems that his architect concentrated on the construction of the tomb and the tunnel at the same time. If we look at the tomb of Ramses II we will see how he tried to do the same as Seti had done. He made a tunnel with a chamber and a small tunnel for about 20 metres. Did Ramses II do what his father could not do? This is what I am now trying to understand. However, it is great news that we were able to reveal all there is to know about the tunnel of Seti I, and Sheikh Ali should be resting in his grave.