Tuesday, August 18, 2015


Archaeology + Egypt = King Tut's Tomb, right? It just wouldn't be right to go to Egypt without visiting King Tut's tomb!

It doesn't take long to travel from Luxor (anciently was known as Thebes) in the verdant Nile Valley to the parched western desert where lies the Valley of Kings, a burial ground for at least sixty-three of Egypt's Most Important People from the 16th to the 11th century BC.

As we drove down the highway, we saw a lot of what appeared to be archaeological activity:
Perhaps one of these is the next King Tut's tomb:
We could see stone stairways, stone walls, and mysterious square doorways that lead to who knows where:

Way up on top of a hill, overlooking this Archaeology Heaven, sits the home of Howard Carter, the British Egyptologist who discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamun in 1922. He had spent the years between 1907-1914 and 1917-1922 looking for it. It turned out to be the most intact and best-preserved Egyptian tomb ever found. (More about that later.)
Carter's home has recently been turned into a museum, complete with a replica of King Tut's tomb off to one side. Yet another place we'll have to see on our next trip. It's impossible to see everything on a single visit!
One of our biggest disappointments of our visit to Egypt was that no photography was allowed within the Valley of the Kings gates. We couldn't even take pictures of the rocks and tomb entrances. I can understand why cameras are forbidden in the tombs themselves, but I don't get why exterior photos can't be taken. Maybe once people start taking pictures, it's just too hard to control.
Some pictures are available on the internet, but not as many as one would expect. I'll share a few of the ones I found.
The Valley of the Kings is called a "nacropolis," or "city of the dead."  The diagram below shows the location of the many tombs, along with a number that indicates order of discovery. (For example, of the four we saw, Ramses III was #3, Ramses IX was #6, Queen Tawsert/Twosret was #14, and Tutankhamun was #62). Not all of the tombs are fully excavated.
Map from here
The Antiquities Department selects which tombs are open to visitors, and apparently it's a bit unpredictable.

The Valley of the Kings sits below Al-Qurn, a pyramid-shaped hill that may have been the reason this location was selected for burial grounds.
Photo from Wikipedia
An aerial shot gives a good view of where we walked:
Photo from Wikipedia
The tombs have various layouts depending on when they were built, but there is always a long approach, an ante-chamber, and then the main tomb at the end. (Diagrams from Wikipedia)

The corridors are generally fairly spacious, accessible even for the claustrophobic. They descend into the mountain, a symbol of burial, as in this tomb of Queen Twosret:
Photo from Wikipedia
The corridor of the tomb of Ramses IX is ostentatiously decorated, as they all are, and in pretty good condition:
Photo from TourEgypt
Horus, the falcon god, is in Ramses III's tomb, waiting to escort him to the afterlife:
Photo from Wikipedia
Inside Ramses IX's tomb:
Photo from Wikipedia
The entrance to King Tut's tomb is not that large vertical one on the left, but the inauspicious horizontal courtyard entry to the right of it:
Photo from LookLex.com
King Tut's tomb included a reproduction of the sarcophagus and mummy. The twelve baboons on the left wall below represent the twelve hours of the night that the king must pass through on his way to the afterlife. The wall on the right shows Tutankhamun in three different scenes as he progresses on his afterlife journey:
Photo from LookLex.com
Another wall in the chamber shows Tutankhamun with the gods Anubis and Hathor:
Photo from KingTutOne.com
I wish there were better pictures available of these spectacular tombs. It's hard to describe the impact of walking down those long, brilliantly decorated underground corridors and stepping into the magnificent tombs. It seems that a good tourism move for Egypt would be to send a good photographer in to take some high-quality pictures, and then to publish them in a nice, glossy book that is sold on site and could be referenced while touring the tombs, maybe even with places for note-taking. 

After several hours, we climbed back on the bus. There were more places to see. As usual, the drive through the towns and countryside was as fun as visiting some of the actual tourist sites.
The typical structure with the base floor finished
and the unfinished "dream floors" on top.
Egyptian agriculture is still very animal-based, which is hard for Americans to comprehend:

The main crop along the Nile, or at least the one we saw the most of, is sugar cane:

I love clothesline pictures:
Many apartment buildings have multi-strand clothes lines protruding from the balcony like the ones in the pictures above and below:
Egypt doesn't seem to have the same seatbelt laws that we have in the US:
I'm not sure what this is:
Perhaps it's some kind of a guard tower? Or maybe a ginormous bird house?
Everywhere we went, there were always Coca-Cola signs (left) and shisha pipe smokers (center):

When we saw women, they were rarely sitting around:
I couldn't get enough of these daily life street scenes:

Our next stop was the Badr Museum, which was really more of a store specializing in alabaster and firestone than a museum:
Compared to the real thing, these are not bad "hieroglyphics":
Before we went inside, this man gave us a short lecture about how alabaster is mined and then carved into beautiful, translucent panels, vases, lampshades, etc.

Inside the shop,another man put various vases over a lightbulb to highlight their luminous, semi-transparent qualities:
The shop had many beautiful things for sale, including these black onyx vases and goblets:
. . . and lots of Egyptian statues that look good in Egypt and not so good in your home:
Cold refreshment was provided as a courtesy. Note what the most popular drink was:
This would be a really awesome picture without that white-shirted photo-bomber reflected in the mirror:

We left with a small alabaster vase (my choice) and a firestone urn that looks like it is meant to hold a Dearly Departed's ashes (Bob's choice). 

I took the next two pictures through the bus window. I'm not sure, but I think they are part of the reconstruction of the Temple of Amenhotep III, a gigantic area built in 1390-1353 BC and currently mostly covered by cane fields. This is a good example of the massive amount of archaeological work there is to do in Egypt. Now I understand a little bit better why the dream of many archaeologists is to spend some time in Egypt.

According to a CNN article, these two 42-foot-tall statues of Amenhotep III were toppled in an earthquake 3,000 years ago. They were recently restored by a team of Egyptian and German archaeologists and unveiled in December 2014.
CNN reports that they are the tallest "standing effigies of an Egyptian king in striding attitude."

The standing figures join these seated versions of Amenhotep III known as the Colossi of Memnon. At 60 feet tall, they are much larger than the standing figures. If these dudes were on their feet, they might be 80 feet tall! According to Smithsonian, altogether there are 730 statues at the Amenhotep Temple, one for every day and night of the year, buried in the desert sands somewhere nearby just waiting to be found and restored.

Amenhotep ruled Egypt for 38 years during a period of peace and prosperity in the 14th century BC, and during his reign, his temple was the biggest and swankiest one in Egypt.
Chris and I told our husbands that we'd like a couple of statues of US guarding the entrances to OUR private palaces.
Just after they said "No way, girls," we ran across this ancient Egyptian inscription in one of the rocks: 
We thought it was a sign, but for some reason they couldn't make the connection.

Years ago my oldest sister introduced me to the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters. I recently re-listened to the first book in the series, Crocodile on the Sandbank. It introduces Amelia Peabody, a self-confident and very headstrong British spinster (at age 32) who has just inherited a fortune and is set on becoming an archaeologist in Egypt, even though that is not considered a proper place or profession for civilized women in the 1880s.                                                                                                                                                             Undaunted, Amelia picks up a younger female companion and heads to Cairo, where she soon meets her match in Emerson Radcliffe, a bona fide British archaeologist about to make a momentous discovery on a dig, and while sneering at each other, they manage to combine their skills in interesting ways.
I recommend listening to the delightful audible version read by Susan O'Malley, who captures perfectly Amelia's lack of tact and sense of moral superiority.

We are really enjoying the 2005 BBC mini-series Egypt, a dramatization of the great archaeological finds of Egypt, including the tomb of Tutankhamen, the Rosetta Stone, Abu Simbel, and others. Filmed on site in Egypt, the series intersperses the 19th and 20th century stories with flashbacks to ancient Egypt and the origins of the stories themselves. Each of the six episodes is about 50 minutes long. It's available to stream on Netflix.


  1. I'm impressed with the pictures you came up with from the Valley of the Kings. I'm really glad I did not have to dig any of those tombs. That would have been hot, nasty work. The BBC "Egypt" miniseries is very good. Fun to see it that it was filmed on location and to see Carter's home.

  2. You'd think someone would invent a camera that could take pictures in prohibited places without doing damage. So frustrating to go to a place like Valley of the Kings and not be able to snap away.

    I loved Crocodile on the Sandbar.

  3. Your abalaster "museum" reminds me of the one in Volterra, Italy. Same sales pitch, too. Sorry about no photos--don't they realize that this is one way of processing a trip? I tend to spend a longer and more intense time looking at things to photograph when I can snap away. I also agree with the idea of a glossy photo book. There have been several places on earth where I've wanted one (Prague Cathedral, for one). Again--so interesting.

  4. Apparently they are introducing photography permits from November 2017 when entrance fees will all be substantially increased, many even doubled