The Egyptian team working in the West and East Valley of the Kings has found great discoveries of late, such as an ancient industrial area, workshops and a tomb containing construction tools. Work in the East Valley has also revealed many secrets near the tombs of Ramses III, Hatshepsut, Ramses II and Merenptah.
The excavation started in the East Valley, and my team consisted of Fathi Yassin, Abdel-Karim, and my assistant archaeologists, as well as Salah Al-Msekh, Essam Mahmoud, Hussein Ahmed and Omar Fathi.
While we were working in front of the tomb of Tutankhamun, we rediscovered the workmen’s huts that were first found by the British archaeologist Howard Carter as well as other huts that Carter did not discover. In one of them, we found a basket made of mats. We studied the strata of the valley to show the sequence from the 18th to the 21st dynasties, and we also tested a theory of Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves to the effect that Japanese TV had located the entrance to a tomb. He has designated this on his website as KV63.
When we excavated this area in front of the tomb of Tutankhamun, we found that what the radar had indicated as the entrance to a tomb was actually a crack in the rock. We also recorded many graffiti near the tomb of Merenptah that were known before and also various blocks. We found an area that could receive the flow of water such that floods can exit the valley. This area was also excavated by Carter, and we also found many artefacts there.
In 2011, we worked in the West Valley, also known as the Valley of the Monkeys because the people who first entered the tomb of Ay saw scenes of the 12 baboons that the ancient Egyptians associated with the underworld. We found four foundation holes near workmen’s huts in this valley and also some graffiti. These foundation holes contained pottery, the head of an ox, knives and various tools. All the pottery dated to the 18th Dynasty, especially blue pottery dating to the reign of Amenhotep III.
We then stopped the excavation work because of the situation in Egypt after 2011, only to pick up our work again some years later. We came back to the West Valley, this time with a team from the Polytechnic University of Turin. This team used ground-penetrating radar under the supervision of Francesco Porcelli to survey the area around the four foundation holes. The results indicated that there was the entrance to a tomb located to the immediate south of them about five metres underground.
When we announced what the team had found, there were many requests from various TV stations to cover the discovery. The Ministry of Antiquities chose the US Discovery Channel, which paid a fee for the exclusive rights to film any discoveries. The Discovery Channel then hired Blink TV, a company from England, to do the filming.
I arrived with my team assisted by Afifi Roheim, the head of the archaeological dig, along with Al-Tayeb Mohamed, Al-Sayed Mamdouh, Ahmed Sayed Ali, Sayed Ahmed, and Rayes Ali. We hired about 120 workmen to work in the valley, the first time that such a large excavation had taken place there.
The French Expedition that came to Egypt with Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799 had visited the valley. The Italian explorer Belzoni went there in 1816 and recorded the tomb of Ay who succeeded to Egypt’s throne following the death of the boy-king Tutankhamun. He also found tomb KV25, which was made for the Pharaoh Akhenaten. However, the latter did not use it as he moved the capital of ancient Egypt from Thebes to Amarna and was later buried there.
In 1829, the French Egyptologist Jean-François Champollion found the tomb of the Pharaoh Amenhotep III, and the German Egyptologist Karl Lepsius later recorded tomb KVA that was used as storage space for the tomb of Amenhotep III in 1905-1914. The Egyptologist Theodore Davis worked near the tomb of Amenhotep III, followed by Carter in 1915 who went on to discover the tomb of Tutankhamun.
Inside the tomb of Ay, another scholar, the US Egyptologist Otto Schaden, carried out important work. Sakuji Yoshimura worked there in 1993 on the restoration of the tomb of Amenhotep III. Richard Wilkinson worked inside KV24 and KV25 in 1989.
WORKING IN THE VALLEY: In order to carry out our work, we divided the valley into four squares, labelled A, B, C and D.
In squares C and D, we recorded graffiti that had earlier been noticed by Jaroslav Cerny. We also recorded other workmen’s huts and stairs that went up the mountainside. These would have been used by the ancient workmen when they went to work at Deir Al-Medina. We also found more workmen’s huts in the surrounding hills that were used for the guards of the valley.
To the west of square A and near the tomb of Ay, we found the thigh bone of a queen. This was part of the mummy of a royal queen, and we could not find any explanation as to why it was found in this area.
Area B was the most interesting because we found an industrial area. The excavation started with a big hole cut in the solid rock, which we called KVT, and included a kiln that was used to fire artefacts. Next to that, we found a water tank cut into the rock that was used to store water for the workmen. We gave it the number KVU. In between KVT and KVU, we found an area containing inlays used to decorate royal coffins, some of them called the wings of Horus.
The inlays were made of glass and faience, though some of them, still not cleaned, could be made of stone. Near them, we found a copper ring bearing the name of Amenhotep III and a silver ring belonging to a lady. All the pottery found in situ dated to the 18th Dynasty. This pottery can answer some of the questions surrounding the discoveries, since the site dates to the late New Kingdom and the Third Intermediate Period.
The second important discovery there was the workshops. We found 30 next to each other. In the last century, a French team had recorded three and registered them with the Theban Mapping Project. When we excavated the new ones, we found pottery dating to the 18th Dynasty. One item was similar to a pot found in tomb KV54. The pottery vessels were large and were originally used for storing food and water.
One house had been a gold workshop, and another had been used for firing pottery. Another was a carpenter’s shop. We found needles and a workshop for making wooden objects. There was a mill for grinding seeds, judging by a stone mill found in one of the houses.
We also found the entrance to a tomb. Afifi, my assistant, sent me a photograph of this when I was in Cairo, and to me it looked similar to the entrance of the tomb of Tutankhamun. Inside, we found organic remains including those of fruit and vegetables along with ropes and leather. We also found the remains of bird and animal bones and pots that contained mummification materials and writing tools.
There was a branch of an acacia tree that may have been connected with the goddess Isis. We also found an implement bearing the mr sign used on axes. There was a large wooden stick bearing the nb-tawy sign that signifies the Lord of the Two Lands. There were also knotted ropes and ostraca decorated with an image of a monkey closing his mouth.
In the East Valley, we found 24 tombs, including two of kings. We worked near tomb KV1, that of Ramses VII, in order to look for the tomb of Ramses VIII. We found 42 small workmen’s huts near each other that had been used to store tools and other things belonging to the artisans. Based on the pottery found at the site, the date of these is from the late 18th to the early 19th dynasties.
We found an ostracon of a workman known from Deir Al-Medina and graffiti of a person called Hay known as an advisor to the king. Another person mentioned was the daughter of the scribe Amen-Nakht. To the west of the storage area, we found three graffiti of individuals guarding the Valley of the Kings whose names included Amen Bahappy and Hay. The oldest piece of graffiti in this area belonged to Hay, who was the vizier of Ramses II and overseer of the construction of his tombs.
Near the tomb of queen Hatshepsut, we found the remains of mummies, a cartouche of Thutmose IV, the name of a man and his wife, and a scene of Horus wearing the double crown of ancient Egypt. The third site was near the tomb of Ramses III, and there we are still working today. We have found a ring with the name of Amenhotep III at this site.
In the area behind the tomb of Merenptah we found an ostracon bearing a hieroglyphic text and blocks from a tomb. There was a beautifully decorated pottery lid and other vessels. We believe that there is royal tomb in this area, though this was robbed in antiquity.
All in all, I believe that our excavations in the East Valley are the largest to have happened in the area since the days of Howard Carter.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 October, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.