The TOMB of RAMESSES II and REMAINS of HIS FUNERARY TREASURE
[KV.7 VALLEY of the KINGS].
Directeur de la Mission Archéologique Française du CNRS [INET-LOUVRE] à Thèbes-Ouest
The institute of Theban Egyptology of the Louvre Museum has been working since
1991 in the Valley of the Kings in the tomb where, after his long and brilliant reign,
Ramesses "the Great" was buried. Christian Leblanc describes the work of the joint
After a long period of neglect, the tomb of Ramesses II (KV.7), which has never
been systematically cleared, is witnessing revived interest and is now the focus of
multidisciplinary studies. Its position at the mouth of the Valley of the Kings explains
its slow degradation, due not only to its geological setting but also to the torrential
rains which have flooded in over the centuries. To this day several of its chambers
remain entirely filled with the sediments, which must be analysed and carefully
removed in order to recover the full plan and decoration of this vast hypogeum.
Progressive consolidation and restoration of the walls, doors and pillars is
necessary during the cleaning of the tomb, the state of which has, until now,
discouraged further archeological investigation.
In contrast to the plans of royal tombs from the reign of Amenophis IV/Akhenaten
onwards all of which have a single axis, the tomb of Ramesses II possesses two
axes reviving an arrangement attested before the Amarna period. The reason for
such a choice remains unknown, but there could perhaps exists a relationship
between this archectural programme and that, on a much more complex and vast
scale, of the tomb (KV.5) attributed to the deceased sons of the king. A
justaposition, perhaps even a connection, between the two tombs could provide a
satisfactory explanation for this peculiarity of plan, but only continued clearance
work will test this theory.
That construction of the tomb of Ramesses II was begun before the end of his
second year on the throne is suggested by the writing of his coronation name in the
cartouches of the first corridor : Ouser-Maat-Rê and not Ouser-Maat-Rê Setep-n-Rë, a writing that was attested during the co-regency with his father Seti I ans was
maintened up until the second year of Ramesses' sole rule. That the royal tomb
required several years of work is certain. However there are few texts which
mention activity in the necropolis in the early years of the reign, except for some
ostraca and especially one dated to year 10. Later documents, notably those dated
to years 20, 24, 35 and 40, found at the site or amongst the archives at Deir el-Medina, appear to refer to another project, in all probability the preparation of the
immense tomb or cenotaph for the royal sons. Archaeological indications, plus
recent calculations, suggest that the tomb of Ramsesses II took no more than ten or
twelve years to complete.
Whatever the case, one fact is sure: the decoration of the tomb was completed, as
proved during the careful examination of all walls with remaining fragments of relief
and painted decoration. The iconographic repertoire was essentially the same as
that in the tomb of Seti I. In addition to the traditional scenes of offering, the great
funerary compilations find place of honour: the Litany of the Sun in the first corridor;
the Book of Am-Duat and the Book of Gates divided over the walls of several
corridors and chambers; the Opening of the Mouse Ritual in the fourth and the fifth
corridors; the Book of the Cow Goddess of the Sky in the annex (N); select chapters
of the Book of the Dead, accompagnied by vignettes, on the walls of antechamber
(I), and the annex (Q2). As in many of the royal tombs a shaft was present, cut
between the corridor (D) and the "Chariot Room", but unlike other known shafts, its
walls were decorated from the mouse downwards; notable on the east wall are
scenes and texts relating to the twelth division of the Book of the Am-Duat.
Another detail is the mention of Nefertari, great wife of the king whose name,
contained in a cartouche, appears below the righ-hand recess of the doorway
dividing the third and fourth corridors.
As with other burials in the Valley of the Kings, the tomb of Ramesses II was
desacrated in antiquity. Thanks to the so-called Strike Papyrus of year 29 of
Ramesses III, we learn that it was the object of a tantativ burglary, as was also
KV.5. Following the pillaging which marqued the end of the 20th Dysnaty, the
mummy of Ramesses II was temporarely stored in the tomb of Seti I, before finding
a final resting place in the "Deir el-Bahari cachette", discovered in 1881.
Abandoned, the royal tomb was nevertheless later visited, as attested by the
abundant quantities of Third Intermediate Period and Roman potsherds found
during the excavation of the antechamber (I) and the burial chamber (J). The tomb
was still visited during the Graeco-Roman period. The names of travellers, such as
Herakleos, Echeboulos of Rhodes, Deilos, and a certain Se(l)aminion of Cyprus, are
carved on the walls of the first corridor. Thereafter filled with earth depositited by
torrential rains, the tomb was partially cleared by the British Consul, Henry Salt, in a
operation repeated by Champollion en 1829.
It was still only by crawling that Richard Lepsius was able to reach the end of the
tomb in 1844-5, exploring the accessible rooms and planing the underground
complex, the walls of which, he noted, had been badly damaged by silt and gravel.
Lepsius not only provided the first precise plan of the tomb but also guessed the
existence, to the east of the corridor (F), of two rooms which are still inaccessible.
Only much later was Lepsius' plan revised by the team of the Theban Mapping
Project of the University of Berkeley.
When Theodore Davis obtained the concession for the Valley of the Kings, he and
Harry Burton undertook excavations of the tomb (1913-14), work renewed by
Howard Carter (1917-21), not only inside but also outside the tomb. It was during
this undertakings that first remains of the royal funerary furniture were revealed,
notably those piece now in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New
York and the British Museum.
After several decades with no work, the tomb of Ramesses II has, since 1991, been
the focus of a combined CNRS/CEDAE research programme which complements
the Ramesseum rescue project already in progress. Since the tomb is in dangerous
condition, new excavations could be implemented only slowly, simultaneously with
geological studies and, in collaboration with the Laboratoire Central des Ponts et
Chaussées, detailed analysis of the structure of the tomb. A rescue project prepared
by theses experts was appoved by the SCA and works started in autumn 1996,
concentrating on the burial chamber. Parallel to these investigations, the Centre
Régional d'Etude et de Traitement des Oeuvres d'Art (CRETOA, Avignon) has
established a systematic record of all the walls, with the aim of applying specific
conservation treatments for the different states of preserved decoration.
Five excavation seasons, between 1993 and 1998, have already be undertaken in
the tomb. The antechamber (I) as well as the burial chamber (J) have been cleared,
producing important results, including the discovery of elements of the sarcophagus
and canopic chest of Ramesses II. Although shattered during the robbing of the
tomb, the many fragments of these receptacles provide important information
concerning their original shape and decoration. The sarcophagus was mummiform
in outline and decorated inside and out with carved scenes and texts from the Book
of Gates. The recumbent figure of the king stood out, in hight relief, on the lid. Like
that of his father Seti I (in the Soane Museum, London), the sarcophagus of
Ramesses II was once entirely encrusted with coloured pigments, trace of which are
visible on a number of fragments. The canopic chest was cut from a single block of
calcite: it comprise four cylindrical cavities in which the small gold coffins containing
the royal viscera would have been placed. Its general form may be compared with
those of Amenophis II and Tutankhamon, now in Egyptian Museum. The four
canopic lids, presumably in the image of Ramesses II, have yet to be found, but
there is still hope that they will be recovered. Excavation of the burial chamber
revealed that the canopic chest hab been placed close to the sarcophagus, in a
small square pit cut into the floor, a feature known from only two others tombs, that
of Thoutmose first and that
of Amenophis III in the Western Valley. An original aspect of the Ramesses II pit is
that it was closed, at mid-depth, by a limestone trap-door, the edges of which rested
in a small ledge. If the upper half contained the canopic chest, protected at surface
level by a chapel, it is probable that other objects occupied the lower section,
hidden by the trap-door. The available space is sufficient to accommodate, for
example, the four magnificient blue situla-shaped vessels, in the Louvre
Museumsince the beginning of the century, which contained remains of the
materials used for the mummification of the king; the lower section of the pit may
well be their original place in the tomb.
Several shabtis of Ramesses II are known from Egyptological collections around the
world, some of wood, others in copper. They were found during the earlier work in
the necropolis described above, but none equals the specimen discovered during
our recent excavation. This figurine, unfortunately fragmentary, was found in the
burial chamber; it was certainly the work of one of the most gifted of the court
artists. Carved from bluish anhydrite, it represents Ramesses II, mummiform, wearing
the nemes-headdress with the facial characteristics and contours of the wig
highlighted in black. The inlaid legs, found separately, were attached to the rest of
the statuette by a system of tenons and mortises. Such discovery greatly encourage
the continuation of research in the "house of eternity" of the king describe, by his
own contemporaries, as "the great sun of Egypt".