For the ancient Egyptians it was very important that the deceased be buried with a funeral kit that would help the soul to be reborn to eternal life: they were in fact convinced that death put an end only to earthly life and that when the soul, always present, is it would be reunited with the body it would start a new afterlife. This is why the body had to remain uncorrupted pending rebirth; it was then embalmed and the most important internal organs (liver, lungs, intestines and stomach) were stored in special vessels (canopic vessels): only the brain was discarded as it was deemed useless because the Egyptians believed that reason resided in the heart. The deceased was buried with a set of objects considered essential for the new life: clothes, furniture, weapons, jewels, amulets, food and wine. The more the person was important, the richer the trousseau was: in the case of the sovereigns it constituted a real immense treasure, therefore an irresistible attraction for the tomb raiders who, regardless of attracting the wrath of the gods, looted practically all the tombs after the burial of their “tenants”; the mummies themselves were desecrated and often destroyed to remove their propitiatory amulets, almost all of them well-made jewels in gold and precious stones, contained between the bandages that wrapped them.
Not even the great pyramids, with their burial chambers hidden by secret conduits, served to protect the mummies, on the contrary: their grandeur was an irresistible magnet and any masking was useless; keeping the secret was practically impossible; often it was the builders and workers themselves who provided the indications to be able to penetrate even the most secret tombs.
Of course there was a surveillance service and very severe penalties, but the immense treasures contained in the most important tombs were too palatable and the officers in charge of surveillance were easily corrupted.
At the beginning of the 18th dynasty, around 1500 BC, there was no royal tomb that had not been violated, often a few years after the burial: the very grandeur of the funeral monuments attracted thieves.
Thutmose I (1506 – 1493), worried about escaping the fate of his predecessors, first decided to have his tomb built in a hidden and not very evident place: he chose the Valley of the Kings by hiring his architect Ineni to build his tomb in all secrecy, as documented by an inscription engraved in the chapel:
“I alone supervised the construction of the tomb. No one saw, no one heard. I watched carefully so that what was most perfect was built, and that the works were carried out in the best way; I had the walls of plaster. The work is such that the ancients have never seen anything like it. “
All the eighteenth dynasty tombs built in the Valley were carefully hidden and for a time things went well: the surveillance was more or less effective and the raids and violations reduced to a minimum. Unfortunately, with the advent of the twentieth dynasty, things changed radically: the power of the pharaohs had weakened, the vigilance of the Valley became less accurate, corruption spread and the looting became unstoppable. There are testimonies of many trials that attest to the robberies and of how the raiders were arrested and sentenced: they are the reports concerning the desecration of the tombs of Amenhetep III, Seti I and Ramses II. To preserve at least the royal mummies, an attempt was made to hide them by taking them away from their tombs: the mummy of Ramses III was moved at least 3 times.
It was Pinezem I, high priest of Amon (1070-1055) and then pharaoh (1054-1032), who saved numerous mummies (over 40, including those of Tuthmosi IV, Amenhotep III, Merenptah, Sethy II, Siptah, Sethnakht, Ramses IV, Ramses V and Ramses VI) by ordering them to be taken away from the Valley and to hide them in a tomb (now known as tomb DB320, photo on the right) carved into a well of a rock of Deir el-Bahri (on the right the entrance ) reachable only by descending from above. From the bottom of the well, 13 meters deep, a narrow corridor branched off, which, after a 90 degree bend, led to a second corridor; at the end of the second corridor you came to an unfinished underground chamber from which, via two flights of stairs, you reach a third long corridor at the end of the burial chamber. The Valley was then definitively abandoned as a burial place and for over 500 years the memory was lost.
However, the hiding place proved effective and the mummies rested quietly for centuries. In 1875 a family from the nearby village of Kurna, the Abd el-Rasuls, discovered it by chance, starting a trade in archaeological finds as a personal “bank”. The unusual quantity of finds placed in the clandestine market ended up attracting the attention of the Egyptian authorities who understood of an important find but only in 1881 it was possible to trace the source when the head of the family was arrested. Led in the presence of Daoud Pasha, mudir (governor) of Kenech, whose management of justice was unorthodox but particularly effective, he was released for lack of certain evidence. The experience had, however, shaken the family because not even a month later one of the members came to the mudir confessing everything: immediately informed the heads of the Cairo museum on 5 July 1881, they sent the archaeologist Émile Brugsch Bey to the place who in two days collect all the mummies, and load them on a barge to be transferred to the museum.
The Valley was first revisited by the Greek troops of Alexander the Great; later it was the Romans who were fascinated by that place full of mystery: Diodorus Siculus, who visited Egypt between 60 BC. and 56 BC and Strabo who visited it in 25-24 BC. they wrote real guides very useful to the “tourists” of the time. Graffiti traced on the walls, there have been over 2000 counted in both Greek and Latin, but also in Phoenician, Cypriot and other minor languages testify to the fame achieved by the site. With the fall of the Roman Empire, the valley fell back into oblivion again for over a thousand years until Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798 organized a military expedition with the aim of tracing a safe route for France to be able to reach India by crossing Egypt. The Napoleonic army followed 139 experts who had the task of studying and accurately mapping the Egyptian region: Napoleon entered Cairo victorious but the defeat of Abukir by Orazio Nelson and the consequent naval blockade forced the French army to remain in Egypt for 3 years while only Napoleon managed, with a few men, to evade the English ships and return to France: the military disaster allowed the French scholars forced to stay in Egypt to deepen their research by studying Thebes, the Valley of the Kings, tracing plans of the tombs copying drawings and hieroglyphs.
The numbering of the tombs is due to the English Egyptologist John Gardner Wilkinson who classified with the initials KV (initials of King’s Valley) followed by a progressive number: the tombs from KV1 to KV22 were cataloged following the geographical order from north to south. From KV23 onwards, a chronological order was followed as they were discovered.
KV1 Ramses VII (20th dynasty)
KV2 Ramses IV (XX Dynasty);
KV3 (perhaps for a son of Ramses III);
KV4 perhaps for Ramses XI (XX Dynasty);
KV5 sons of Ramesses II (XIX dynasty);
KV6 Ramses IX (XX dynasty);
KV7 Ramses II (19th dynasty);
KV8 Merenptah (19th dynasty);
KV9 Ramses VI (20th dynasty);
KV10 Amenmose? Then of Queen Takhat (20th dynasty);
KV11 Ramses III (XX Dynasty);
KV13 Chancellor Bay (19th dynasty), later princesses Mentuherkhepeshef and Amenherkhepeshef (20th dynasty);
KV14 Sethnakht and Tausert (19th dynasty);
KV15 Seti II (19th dynasty);
KV16 Ramses I (19th dynasty);
KV17 Seti I (19th dynasty);
KV18 unfinished (Ramses X?);
KV19 originally Ramses VIII
KV20 Thutmosi I, then Hatshepsut (XVIII dynasty);
KV21 contained two female mummies;
KV22 under Thutmose IV and finished under Amenhotep III
KV23 Ay (XVIII dynasty);
KV25 perhaps Amenhotep IV / Akhenaton (XVIII Dynasty);
KV28 perhaps Thutmose IV;
KV29 still full of debris;
KV32 Tia’a wife of Amenhotep II (?);
KV33 perhaps Thutmose III, then of the Vizier Rakhmira
KV34 Thutmose III (XVIII dynasty);
KV35 Amenhotep II (XVIII Dynasty); it was used to hide other king mummies
KV36 Mahierpi (child of the royal harem of Thutmose IV) (?);
KV38 Thutmose I (XVIII dynasty) (?);
KV39 Amenhotep I (18th dynasty) (?);
KV41 Queen Tetisheri wife of Sequenenra Ta’o (17th dynasty);
KV42 destined to Hatshepsut-Meryet-Ra (wife of Thutmosi III), then Sennefer Mayor of Thebes (XVIII dynasty);
KV43 Thutmose IV (XVIII dynasty);
KV44 inside the remains of seven different bodies;
KV45 Userhat (?) Supervisor of the fields of Amun (XVIII dynasty);
KV46 Yuya and Thuya, parents of Queen Tye, wife of Amenhotep III (XVIII dynasty);
KV47 Siptah (19th dynasty);
KV48 Amenemipet, Vizier and Governor during the reign of Amenhotep II (XVIII dynasty);
KV50 contained the mummies of a dog and a monkey;
KV51 contained the mummies of three monkeys, a baboon, an ibis, and three geese;
KV52 contained the mummy of a monkey;
KV54 empty, it contained objects abandoned by the thieves of Tutankhamun’s KV62;
KV55 Amenhotep IV / Akhenaton (XVIII dynasty);
KV56 a son of Seti II (?);
KV57 Haremhab (XVIII dynasty);
KV58 1deposit of funeral equipment (?);
KV60 Sit-Ra, nurse of Hatshepsut (XVIII dynasty); Hatshepsut’s mummy hideout
KV62 Tutankhamun (18th dynasty)