Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1359, (7 - 13 September 2017)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1359, (7 - 13 September 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Ramses VI and Amenhotep I

The magic and mystery of ancient Egypt are well expressed in the tomb of Ramses VI at Luxor and the still-missing tomb of Amenhotep I, writes Zahi Hawass


In March 2004, I travelled to the Valley of the Kings in Luxor to witness a historic event: the reopening of the tomb of the Pharaoh Ramses VI. The tomb was reopened after the restoration of the king’s magnificent inner sarcophagus. As I stood in the valley and the warm wind hit my face, I reflected on this great pharaoh.

Ramses VI was the fifth king of the 20th Dynasty (1156–1145 BCE). He came to the throne after the death of his predecessor, Ramses V, who had ruled Egypt for only one year. Ramses VI ruled for six years and usurped the tomb of Ramses V as his own final resting place. He enlarged this rock-cut tomb into one of the largest in the Valley of the Kings, with a series of halls and descending corridors stretching in a straight line for about 100 metres, culminating in a burial chamber 45 metres deep.

The walls of the chamber are decorated with painted scenes and inscriptions from ancient religious texts. The scenes are taken from the Book of Gates, a description of what is in the underworld, and the Book of Caves, a book that helped the king travel safely to the afterlife.

The king’s mummy was buried inside the stone sarcophagi that had been fitted one within the other and placed within a pit cut in the sunken floor of the burial chamber. The massive outer sarcophagus is of red granite; the inner one is an anthropoid sarcophagus carved out of a rare hard greenish stone. Both sarcophagi had been broken into pieces centuries ago; the inner sarcophagus had been shattered into hundreds of small pieces.

Between June 2001 and 2003, a major conservation project for the inner sarcophagus of Ramses VI and its lid was carried out by the American Research Centre in Egypt (ARCE), in collaboration with the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA). All of the fragments of the inner sarcophagus were collected, cleaned and re-assembled. Although many pieces were missing, enough had been preserved for the stone box to be partly reconstructed up to its original height, and to give a clear idea of its size and decoration.

It is carved with scenes designed to assure the perpetual rebirth of the king through his identification with the Sun God Re and with Osiris. It bears traces of paint and now rests on a large limestone base shaped to represent in size and outline the original red granite outer sarcophagus. This newly restored sarcophagus gives the visitor the opportunity to see the last surviving remains of the many splendid artefacts that once accompanied the king into his afterlife.

The face of the sarcophagus was taken by English explorers in 1823. The original is now in the British Museum in London, and a mask was made for the reconstruction of the sarcophagus in Egypt. I hope that the British Museum will soon return the original to us, because it should be in the tomb and not in the museum.

The tomb of Ramses VI is a magical place, and I hope that everyone will travel to the Valley of the Kings in Luxor to see the beautiful restored sarcophagus and experience the magic and mystery of ancient Egypt.


THE TOMB OF AMENHOTEP I: Amenhotep I (1525–1504 BCE) was one of the pharaohs of the 18th Dynasty, but his tomb has not been found in the Valley of the Kings.

German archaeologist Daniel Polz, who once represented the German Institute in Cairo, believes that the king is buried in the cemetery of Draa Abul-Naga, where he has been excavating for a long time. Amenhotep I’s tomb is one of the few royal tombs that have never been found, and all the evidence suggests that he was not buried in the Valley of the Kings.

When I became secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), Andrzej Niwiński, a Polish scholar, came to see me and asked me 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 he would like me to accompany him. He was convinced that the tomb of Amenhotep I was in the cliffs of Deir Al-Bahari near the Valley of the Kings.

Two years later, I was visiting the area and entered the tomb that housed the cache of mummies discovered by the Abdel-Rasoul family in 1871. The mummies were transferred to the Cairo Museum in 1881. While I was there, I noticed workmen removing huge blocks of stones from the cliff. I was worried because this is dangerous work that could threaten the Temple of Hatshepsut directly underneath the workers. I learned that the excavation was under the direction of Niwiński.

The SCA immediately stopped the work at this site to ensure the protection of the temple. I told Niwiński that the work above was dangerous and could ruin the first level of the temple. He said that he had been about to find the tomb when we stopped him.

Niwiński found about 250 graffiti in the area, some representing fish, dogs and human figures that can be dated to the Pre-Dynastic Period. Five graffiti were found belonging to a scribe named Butehamun from the 21st Dynasty. Earthquakes in the area had shifted the rocks and revealed eight passages behind the temple made by thieves searching for tombs and treasures.

It is known that thieves entered the area and reached the bedrock and also investigated the area horizontally. Inside one of the tunnels, more graffiti were discovered. Niwiński found that some of the tunnels were still sealed, showing evidence that this had been done by officials of the cemetery. He thought that the fallen blocks above the Temple of Hatshepsut were not dislodged by earthquakes, but by ancient Egyptian workers who had moved them to hide a cache or a tomb that could belong to Amenhotep I.

He also thought that the Abbott Papyrus, an account of tomb robberies now in the British Museum in London, contained evidence that the tomb of Amenhotep I was located in this area because the names Mentuhotep and Amenhotep are mentioned. These things had convinced him that here was something important buried there.

Niwiński was convinced that he would find the tomb. When we stopped the work above the temple, we felt we had no other choice because it seemed the search was useless, and there were concerns about the damage being done to the cliff. However, the SCA decided to give him one last chance. This time he would have specialists working with him trained in excavation techniques.

This was Niwiński’s last chance, and we hoped he would discover something that would always be remembered. Niwiński never found the tomb, but he still hopes to find it. Although I am not optimistic, we never know what secrets the sands of Egypt may hide.

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