A very important project I did when I was the head of antiquities in Egypt was a master plan or site-management plan for the Valley of the Kings on the west bank of the Nile at Luxor.
I was assisting the Ministry of Tourism with a new site-management plan for the valley. We were working on the protection of the tombs and setting up a schedule so that the tombs opened in rotation, with cleaning and restoration work carried out in the closed tombs. I hope that the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities will be able to work on the implementation of this project now.
The ministry is working with the US Getty Conservation Institute on several projects supervised by my friend Tim Whalen, the head of the Conservation Institute at the Getty. One is in the tomb of Tutankhamun, where dark spots have marred the decoration on the walls of the burial chamber. These were present at the time of the excavation of the tomb in the 1930s by Howard Carter, but no one had studied the problem. Samples have been taken since, and the Getty Conservation Institute has discovered the real cause of the spots.
It seems that the curse of Tutankhamun is still working. Tutankhamun’s large quantize sarcophagus is still inside his tomb, and his mummy was enclosed in three coffins, the first and second from the bottom (one of solid gold) being moved to the Egyptian Museum and soon to the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM). But the third on the top, inside the quartzite sarcophagus, was in a bad condition.
This coffin is made of wood and covered in gold, and I asked Whalen to find an expert to restore the coffin. Brian Considine was chosen, but just before Brian planned to begin his work he suffered from a bad accident that required three months of treatment. Everyone connected this accident with the curse of Tutankhamun. Egyptian restorers eventually restored the coffin beautifully, and it was taken to the GEM a few months ago. I saw the coffin recently when I visited the GEM and saw the great work that had been done.
The Getty is also interested in working to protect the Valley of the Queens, namely the tomb of Nefertari, since this has not been restored for a long time, and the Getty did great work in the conservation of the tomb.
In 2010, the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) finished the site management at Deir Al-Bahari, and visitors can now see the Mortuary Temple of queen Hatshepsut in an even more beautiful way. They can enter from the visitor’s centre and see a film about Hatshepsut and a model of the temple. Then they can walk or take an electric vehicle up to the temple and return to walk in a small bazaar where they can buy souvenirs at the end of the trip to the site.
We received a loan from the Spanish government to protect the West Bank, and now the Ministry of Antiquities is preparing for the protection of the rest of the mortuary temples of the New Kingdom.
When I was in charge of antiquities, the SCA finished properly lighting all the monuments on the West Bank, allowing tourists to visit them at night. I recently went to the Temple of Hatshepsut at Deir Al-Bahari to see the new lighting system there. It was absolutely amazing to see the temple lit up so beautifully.
I do hope that Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany will be able to convince the security authorities to let tourists visit the Valley of the Kings at night, because for the protection of the tombs it is not good for all tourists to visit them in the morning. It would be better for them to do the visit three times a day, in the morning, at noon, and then at night.
Carter’s rest house
The Carter House, the house in which Howard Carter lived during the excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb, has been converted into a museum. The rooms have been restored so they appear as they did in Carter’s day, and visitors can watch a 20-minute lecture given by a holographic version of the famous archaeologist.
Do not miss the chance to relax in Carter’s House and see the objects that he touched every day during the years when he explored the golden tomb.
EXCAVATIONS ON THE EAST BANK: There was also a major salvage excavation project underway in the modern town of Luxor, focusing on the avenue of the sphinxes that once connected the Temple of Karnak with the smaller Luxor Temple.
Over time, this avenue was destroyed, and in modern times people began to build their houses, roads, mosques, and churches above it. Thanks to Samir Farag, the previous governor of Luxor, the people living in this area were relocated and paid compensation. This campaign was even carefully followed by former president Hosni Mubarak and his cabinet, and it received special attention from Ahmed Nazef, the former prime minister.
We know from previous archaeological work that the avenue of the sphinxes was 2,700m long, and it consists of 1,050 statues of human-headed sphinxes from the reign of king Nectanebo I of the 30th Dynasty (380-362 BCE). The avenue began with six chapels with ram-headed statues representing the god Amun built by queen Hatshepsut. It was then followed up by Amenhotep III and Tutankhamun, but Akhenaton (Tutankhamun’s father) destroyed the heads, which were restored by other kings until Nectanebo built the human-headed sphinx avenue.
For many years, visitors to the Luxor Temple could see the beginning of the avenue of about 200m long, which originally held 64 statues just north of the first pylon. Work to restore it began there and continued another 150m to the north, uncovering an additional 29 statues. In this area, we found a Roman city and houses belonging to the Middle Ages.
The most exciting discovery was a relief bearing the cartouche of queen Cleopatra VII — perhaps she brought Julius Cesar or Mark Anthony to walk in the avenue of the sphinxes. In the next section we excavated, between Al-Adra (meaning the Virgin) Church and Al-Mathan Street, we cleared 150m and found evidence for a few statues. The ones on the west side are in good condition, but only the bases remain on the east.
Also in this area there was a Late Period chapel and a Ptolemaic chapel. The final and largest site was behind the library where we cleared 620m and found 104 sphinxes. The archaeologists loved working there because the area was so rich: one day they discovered the head of a sphinx, and the next the body came to light. In the past, there was a viewing platform in this area, so that one could go and watch the archaeologists, architects and restorers working together to tell the story of the avenue of the sphinxes.
We were planning to open the avenue in 2012, but the events of 2011 halted our plans. I sincerely hope that the project will pick up again so that the avenue can be completed.
The archaeological story of Luxor has also added several new chapters in recent years. The discovery of foundation deposits in the Valley of the Monkeys may lead to a new tomb, perhaps belonging to Ankhsenamun. I am undertaking two excavations on the East Bank right now, and we hope to find a royal tomb soon.
We have made a major discovery in the Valley of the Monkeys, where we found an industrial area containing a storage shaft, KV T, and near it, a water tank KV (U). Between these, we found inlays that were used to cover royal coffins, as well as a ring with the name of Amenhotep III and a silver ring of a queen. We also found an ancient workshop area with 30 houses for making gold, pottery, and furniture, with pottery dating to the 18th Dynasty. Additionally, we discovered KV65, which contained tools that the ancient Egyptians used in the construction of the tomb.
Lastly, we found a mummification workshop that contained tools used to mummify kings. An Egyptian expedition under Mustafa Waziri has recently found the Asasif cache containing 30 decorated coffins on two levels for men and women as well as children in this area, all decorated with scenes from the Book of the Dead. Inside the coffins were mummies.
An Egyptian mission also worked on the façade of the Luxor Temple last year, which had two seated statues, with one standing to the west. Today, all the other statues have been restored, and we can see the other two standing on the east of the seated statue and the one on the west. The façade is now complete.
It is important to have work clearly organised for sites to be preserved. For example, the creation of the Carter House Museum allows visitors to see where Carter lived during his famous excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb, and they can see the tools he used in his excavation.
Moreover, salvage archaeology is very important in the work done near the Luxor Temple and in the avenue of the sphinxes. With more and more important sites being uncovered in the country, the need to preserve and manage them increases, not just for us today, but for upcoming generations and the future of Egyptology.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 30 January, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.