10 Larger Than Life Facts About the Valley of the Queens
10 Larger Than Life Facts About the Valley of the Queens

10 Larger Than Life Facts About the Valley of the Queens

Jennifer Conerly - May 3, 2018

10 Larger Than Life Facts About the Valley of the Queens
A scene from Nefertari’s Tomb, 13th century BCE. Photographed by The Yorck Project, 2002. Wikipedia.

Salt Almost Destroyed Queen Nefertari’s Tomb

The most famous burial chamber in the Valley of the Queens belongs to Nefertari, the queen consort of Ramses II. Nefertari and Ramses married before he became pharaoh in 1279 BCE, and she remained his primary Great Royal Wife until her death around 1255 BCE, about twenty-five years into Ramses’ sixty-six-year reign. Nefertari dominated the royal court and played a diplomatic role, writing letters and exchanging gifts with Queen Pudukhepa, the wife of Hattusili III, the king of the Hittites with whom Egypt was often at war.

Even though he had other wives, Ramses was devoted to Nefertari, and he honored her in life and death. He built her temple next to his own at Abu Simbel, making her statues the same size as his, a rarity in ancient Egypt. Ramses constructed a massive funerary chamber for her equivalent in size to those reserved for pharaohs in the Valley of the Queens, and he instructed the artists working on her final resting place to inscribe a love poem to her that he wrote himself on the walls. Nefertari’s tomb is considered one of the most beautiful funerary chambers of ancient Egypt.

The vibrant and detailed paintings of scenes that depict Nefertari’s descent into the afterlife had no previous model in Egyptian art. The limestone and the plaster used to reinforce the walls contained a high amount of salt; over the centuries, the salt crystallized, peeling the paintings off of the walls. When archaeologists unsealed her tomb in the early twentieth century, the extra exposure to moisture, as well as frequent rainstorms and flooding in the valley, further deteriorated its condition. The Egyptian authorities closed it to the public in the 1950s to begin conservation efforts.

The crystallized salt further damaged the tomb’s walls with every passing year. In the 1980s, preservationists with The Getty Conservation Institute led a six-year restoration effort to prevent extended deterioration. Beginning in 1986, scientists assessed the damage, cleaned the walls, and restored the paintings. When the project concluded in 1992, the tomb remained closed to monitor the effects of the repair before allowing public access; after several closures and re-openings, Nefertari’s tomb was recently reopened for viewing in late 2016.

10 Larger Than Life Facts About the Valley of the Queens
A map of Egypt under Hyksos rule. The Hyksos invaded and conquered Egypt, ending the Middle Kingdom and beginning the Second Intermediate Period. Egypt was divided into two centers of power, with the former royal family ruling Thebes and the surrounding areas and the Hyksos maintaining control over the rest of the country. Princess Ahmose’s father and brothers led the offensive against Hyksos rule; her brother Ahmose I drove the Hyksos out of Egypt and established the Eighteenth Dynasty, beginning the New Kingdom. Map by Iry Hor. Wikipedia. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34922151

The Princess Buried in QV 47 Witnessed a Turbulent Period of Egyptian History

Although Nefertari is one of the most famous queens of the New Kingdom, she is not the only famous royal woman buried in the Valley of the Queens. Initially, the site became the resting place for members of the royal family. Princess Ahmose, a virtually unknown Seventeenth Dynasty princess, was buried in QV 47, what is largely thought to be the first tomb constructed in the Valley of the Queens. She is the only royal woman from the Seventeenth Dynasty buried at the site.

Not much is known about Princess Ahmose, except that she was an eyewitness to a turbulent period in Egyptian history. After the fall of the Middle Kingdom, the Hyksos, a Semitic people from the eastern Mediterranean, invaded the country and took control of Lower Egypt, beginning the Second Intermediate Period. The Hyksos established the Fifteenth Dynasty, usurping the power of the pharaohs. The former royal family fled to Thebes, where they negotiated a peaceful coexistence with the Hyksos, ruling as the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Dynasties.

The Egyptians maintained control of the area surrounding Thebes while the Hyksos ruled the rest of the country. Princess Ahmose’s father Sequenenre Tao and brothers Wadjkheperre Kamose and Ahmose I led a lengthy campaign to remove the Hyksos from power. When the Hyksos ruler Apophis offended Sequenenre Tao, one of the last pharaohs of the Seventeenth Dynasty, they engaged in a series of diplomatic insults, and the two soon went to war. Sequence Tao was killed in battle, and his son Wadjkheperre Kamose continued the assault on the Hyksos until he died in battle himself.

Sequenenre Tao’s younger son, the child-pharaoh Ahmose I, renewed the resistance as an adult, driving the Hyksos out of Egypt, reuniting the country as the first ruler of the Eighteenth Dynasty. While no written record exists of her experiences during this struggle for power, Princess Ahmose remained a valued member of the royal family throughout the reigns of her brother, Ahmose I, and her nephew Amenhotep I. She appears to have died during the reign of Amenhotep’s successor, Thutmose I, outliving most of her immediate family.

10 Larger Than Life Facts About the Valley of the Queens
A statue of Ramses II in Luxor, Egypt. Slide colored by Joseph Hawkes. Wikipedia. Brooklyn Museum Archives. http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/archives/image/4517/image

Ramses II Used the Valley of the Queens to Bury His Royal Wives

Ancient Egyptian politics severely restricted the lives of royal women. Pharaohs restricted the marriages of their daughters. Royal princesses were not allowed to marry below their rank, and they were only allowed to marry princes and kings. Egyptian pharaohs were also reluctant to allow their daughters to marry foreign kings to eliminate the possibility of an outsider usurping the throne of Egypt in the name of his wife. Many royal princesses never married, and if they did, they married either their father or their brother.

Ramses II ruled Egypt from 1279 to 1213 BCE as the third pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty. Unusual in Egyptian history, Ramses reigned for sixty-six years, outliving many of his wives and royal heirs. He used the Valley of the Queens almost exclusively as the resting place for his royal consorts. Following Egyptian tradition, Ramses married no less than four of his daughters throughout his lengthy reign, installing them as Chief Royal Consort when the wife holding the position died.

When Queen Nefertari died, her daughter Meritamen married her father and replaced her mother as Chief Royal Consort. Meritamen shared this ceremonial role with her half-sister Bintanath, Ramses’ eldest-born daughter by his highest-ranking wife during Nefertari’s lifetime, Isetnofret. He later married two other daughters, Nebettawy and Henuttawy. According to the respect recorded to their elevated position as the King’s Daughter, and later the King’s Wife, Ramses venerated his daughter-wives in many building projects throughout his reign and arranged their burials in the Valley of the Queens.

Both Meritamen and Henuttawy’s tombs, in QV 68 and QV 73 respectively, bear a resemblance to their mother Nefertari’s tomb. Nebettawy, buried in QV 60, may also have been Nefertari’s daughter, but this isn’t confirmed. Ramses II died in his 90s, leaving behind a wealthy country from his military conquests and a legacy that would lead many of his successors to use his name when they ascended the throne of Egypt. Although Bintanath was Ramses’ eldest daughter, she outlived her father. She died after her brother Merenptah, Ramses II’s thirteenth son who was the oldest of his sons to outlive him, became pharaoh. Merenptah buried Bintanath in QV 71.

10 Larger Than Life Facts About the Valley of the Queens
Ramses III and his son Prince Amun-her-khepeshef. http://www.ancientpages.com/2016/10/23/ancient-tombs-nobles-valley-queens/

Two of Ramses III’s sons are buried in the Valley of the Queens

While not as famous as his namesake, Ramses II, the Twentieth Dynasty pharaoh Ramses III reigned from 1186 to 1155 BCE during the beginning of the decline of the New Kingdom. He was the last pharaoh to have complete ultimate power over the country, and Egypt’s authority in the ancient world began to decline during Ramses’ reign. External threats of invasion led to economic decline, and his successors struggled to maintain their hold over the country for almost seventy-five years after his assassination.

Constant warfare plagued Egypt, and the royal treasury declined from the cost of the wars. Despite the economic turmoil, the royal family still commissioned tombs in the Valley of the Queens for burials. Ramses III’s sons Amun-her-khepeshef and Khaemwaset are both buried in the Valley of the Queens. These opulent royal burials further strained the economy, leading to tensions in the population, especially among the workers who constructed the tombs. By the end of his reign, Ramses III had weakened royal power and set the stage for the fall of the New Kingdom.

Although both the royal princes Amun-her-khepeshef and Khaemwaset were given lavish burials when they died, not much is known about their lives. Amun-her-khepeshef’s burial tomb, QV 55, was discovered in the early twentieth century, but it was robbed in antiquity. The prince was Ramses III’s oldest son and heir before he died of unknown causes when he was fifteen, probably from illness. Amun-her-khepeshef makes an appearance as Ramses III’s heir in relief at one of his father’s temples, Medinet Habu.

Khaemwaset’s tomb in QV 44 was also uncovered nearly intact. The grave goods were missing, but archaeologists recovered a canopic jar from the tomb, which is now located in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. His sarcophagus was also recovered and brought to the Turin Museum of Natural History in Italy. Not much is known about Khaemwaset, other than he was a priest of the god Ptah in Memphis and he outlived his father Ramses III. Khaemwaset died in the reign of his older brother, Ramesses IV, who interred him in the Valley of the Queens.

10 Larger Than Life Facts About the Valley of the Queens
Inscriptions on a church in Old Cairo, Egypt, with both Arabic and Coptic script. Photographed in April 2005. Wikipedia.

Rulers of Egypt still used the Valley of the Queens after the fall of the New Kingdom

For over two-thirds of his thirty-year reign, Ramses III fought invasions by the Sea Peoples and the Libyans, which drained the royal treasury. Crop failure increased grain prices, weakening the country’s ability to feed its people. The tomb workers at the Valley of the Queens went on strike, refusing to continue construction over non-payment and supply delays, in what was the first recorded worker’s strike in history. After the death of Ramses III, political instability worsened the crippled economy as Ramses’ heirs fought each other for influence, and his heirs struggled to maintain control of the country for most of the next century.

Ramses’ heirs used the Valley of the Queens for royal burials until the reign of Ramses VI from the mid-to-late twelfth century BCE. Tensions between workers and the state continued for more than fifty years, with documented disputes in the reigns of Ramses IX and X in the late twelfth century BCE. Tomb robberies increased throughout the economic decline of the Twentieth Dynasty with the help of corrupt royal officials who enriched themselves and the declining royal treasury until all of the tombs in the Valley of the Queens were emptied out.

The last New Kingdom pharaoh, Ramses XI, completely lost control over the country, with the elite priests the High Priests of Amun conquering Upper Egypt, ending the New Kingdom period. The rulers of the Third Intermediate Period no longer reserved the Valley of the Queens for royalty or the elite, enlarging the tombs to make room for the extra bodies by opening them up and digging new burial shafts. There was a resurgence of burials at the site during the Roman period until the fourth century.

After the Roman period, the Christian Copts used the Valley of the Queens as a religious settlement until the seventh century. They inhabited some of the tombs, including those of two of Ramses II’s daughter-wives, Nebettawy and Henuttawy; the Christians ruined some of the tombs by burning them down and plastering over many of the wall paintings, replacing them with Christian symbols and art. The Copts occupied the Valley of the Queens until the seventh century until the Arab conquest of Egypt.

10 Larger Than Life Facts About the Valley of the Queens
Ernesto Schiaparelli, one of the initial excavators of the Valley of the Queens. Unknown photographer, before 1928. Wikipedia.

The site has fascinated archaeologists since the early 19th century

Robert Hay, one of the earliest Egyptologists, first visited Egypt in 1818 when he was serving in the Royal Navy. Six years later, Hay hired an artist, Joseph Bonomi, to return to Egypt with him on an exploration project. On two separate trips, the two men spent the majority of the next ten years traveling the country, recording Egypt’s great monuments and collecting artifacts. Their notes, drawings, and artifacts are now located in the British Library and the British Museum in London and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

In 1826, Hay and his associate first recorded the location of the Valley of the Queens west of the former capital city of Thebes. Despite the early discovery, the site remained unexplored until the early twentieth century. In 1903, Ernesto Schiaparelli and his assistant, Francesco Ballerini, led two separate excavation campaigns, uncovering some of the most famous tombs at the site, including those of Ramses III’s sons Amun-her-khepeshef and Khaemwaset. Schiaparelli himself is credited with the discovery of Queen Nefertari’s tomb.

Over one hundred tombs have been uncovered in the Valley of the Queens since Schiaparelli and Ballerini’s initial excavations in the early twentieth century. Artifacts recovered from the site can be found in museums all over the world. As further explorations followed, the unsophisticated nature of early to mid-twentieth-century archaeology permanently damaged the site. After the middle of the twentieth century, as methods began to improve, more attention was paid to the rapidly deteriorating tombs which had been exposed to the elements for decades.

Beginning in 1970, the Louvre Museum, the Centre d’Etudes et Documentation sur l’Ancienne Egypte (CEDAE) of the Egyptian Antiquities Organization, and the Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) of Paris began annual excavations of the site. Archaeologists and Egyptologists cleaned the debris that had been collected from earlier excavations and gathered information from all of the discovered tombs. Their efforts have helped preserve the Valley of the Queens for further study, and these yearly studies were responsible for gathering much of the information now available on New Kingdom society burial practices as well as the royals and elite who were buried there.

 

Continue Reading:

The Washington Post – Mystery of Ancient Egyptian Legs Likely Solved: They’re Queen Nefertari’s Knees

SCI News – Mummified Remains Identified as Queen Nefertari, Pharaoh Ramesses II’s Royal Spouse

Smithsonian Magazine – CT Scan Shows Pharoah Ramesses III Was Murdered by Multiple Assassins

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