KV5 - Tomb of the Sons of Ramesses II in the Valley of the Kings
KV5 - Unique Tomb in the Valley of the Kings
Did you know that Pharaoh Ramesses II carved a vast tomb for his sons in the Valley of the Kings? Ancient Egypt in the 19th Dynasty was at the height of its power and riches, with a mighty empire that stretched from Nubia in the south and across a large swathe of the Middle East to the north. And it was during this period of Egypt’s New Kingdom, that perhaps the greatest Pharaoh that Egypt had ever known ruled – the mighty Ramses the Great.
Everything that he did was on a large, grand scale, from building temples, carving tombs, going into battle and fathering children. He fathered over one hundred children on his wives and concubines, and still he managed to live to the incredibly old age of 93, which was double the average life expectancy of the average Ancient Egyptian. During the New Kingdom, the pharaohs of Egypt had their tombs cut into the hillsides of a remote, dry wadi on the west bank of the Nile at Luxor to try to protect their lavish burials, which we now know as the Valley of the Kings.
But Ramesses II had a tomb built in the royal valley that was to prove to be bigger than any other tomb so far discovered there, unique in the way it was set out and was not set aside for his own use. This amazing tomb is KV5, the tomb he built for his sons, the royal princes.
KV5 in the Valley of the Kings
KV5 is located in the main branch of the Valley of the Kings, close to that of Tutankhamun and other Armana period tombs. It is thought that KV5 was originally an 18th dynasty tomb that Ramesses II had taken over and extended to accommodate the mummies and funerary equipment of some of his sons.
The tomb was robbed in antiquity, and is possibly the tomb mentioned in a papyrus housed in the Turin Museum of Egyptology, where a man called Kenena is accused of taking stones from the tomb of the royal children. KV5 appears not to have been reused during ancient times and was lost to history until modern times. In 1825 it was discovered by James Burton during his investigations in the Valley of the Kings.
He found the name and titles of Ramesses II carved on the entrance, so he had his workmen cut a channel through the first three chambers of the tomb, but it was difficult work as the tomb was filled to the ceiling with dried mud and rocks. As Burton did not find anything that he considered to be interesting, such as funerary objects or inscriptions, he abandoned the project. However, he did leave his own mark on KV5, as the graffiti of his name can still be seen on the tomb’s ceiling.
KV5 Rediscovered in Modern Times
The entrance to KV5 was once again lost, but was uncovered in 1902 by Howard Carter, who would go on to discover the almost intact tomb of Tutankhamun, when he was working in the Valley of the Kings for Theodore Davis. Carter believed it to be the entrance to a small, undecorated tomb that had little significance, so he did not pursue the excavation and recovered it. In 1987 the Theban Mapping Project, under the direction of the American professor Dr Kent Weeks, started it work on creating a map and database of all the tombs, mortuary temples, and archaeological sites in the area known as the Theban Necropolis.
A decision taken to widen the road in the Valley of the Kings was causing the Theban Mapping Project concern, as the work was scheduled to take place in the area where James Burton’s notes showed that they could expect to find KV5, and any engineering work taking place could potentially damage the tomb. They set to work, and in a short period of time rediscovered the entrance to KV5, little knowing the scale of the find that they had made and how many years work that they would have ahead of them.
Flood Damage in KV5
Far from being a small, historically insignificant tomb, KV5 was going to prove to be the largest tomb in the Valley of the Kings and also one of the most unusual in style and layout. Although excavations are far from over, 121 corridors and chambers have so far been found, and as KV5 seems to have some bilaterally symmetrical sections, there could be as many as 150 rooms in the tomb. The pillared chamber in KV5 is also, so far, the largest room discovered in any of the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings.
One of the biggest challenges facing the Egyptologists when they are excavating in KV5, is that the tomb has been subjected to flash flooding caused by heavy rain storms numerous times since antiquity, which has filled the tomb with dried mud, rocks and debris. Much of this fill has set solid and is incredibly difficult to dig through, especially as great care has to be taken not to damage any artefacts buried in it. The flood waters have also been very destructive to the extensive carvings and paintings which once decorated the walls of the tomb, and now only traces remain.
There had also been damage inadvertently caused to the tomb by modern tourism, as between 1960 and 1990 tour buses were parked directly above KV5 and also a sewer leaked when the rest house for the tourists was built over the tomb’s entrance. The Theban Mapping Project constructed a new wall around the entrance to KV5 in 1990 to protect it from further flood damage, and tour buses and vehicles are no longer allowed in the tomb’s vicinity.
Excavating in KV5
The major works of the excavators has been to clear KV5 from the debris swept in by the floods, and also undertake essential engineering work to strengthen the walls and ceiling. There have also been thousands of fragments of objects found that need to be recovered and conserved to protect them from further damage. Work is also undertaken to see if any of these fragments can be fitted into place in objects that are being restored, or there are inscriptions that need translating.
The working conditions for the excavators in the tomb are also very demanding, as they are working in cramped spaces which are very hot, humid and dusty. Another problem that the Egyptologists have is that they have to work out whether an artefact was originally placed in the tomb or whether they had been swept in from somewhere else by the flood waters.
A lot of these fragments come from pottery, but there also pieces of alabaster canopic jars that were used to store the internal organs of the mummy, shabtis, which were small statues that were made to do the deceased’s work for them in the afterlife, and remnants of wall decorations. The Egyptologists have been able to painstakingly reconstruct some of these scenes, and they show Pharaoh Rameses II presenting one or other of his sons to the various deities of Ancient Egypt or receiving funerary offerings.
Burials of Ramesses II's Sons in KV5
So far no elaborately wrapped mummies or golden treasure have been found, but there have been some skulls and skeletal remains discovered. Identification of these remains are difficult without them having specific inscriptions associated with them, but DNA may be able to show where they fit in the family tree, as they could be compared with DNA from the identified mummies of Ramesses II himself, his father Seti I and son Merenptah.
It is known that six of Ramesses II’s sons were buried in KV5, but there may have been many more as there are inscriptions of the tomb’s walls that mention twenty of the royal princes. One of the skeletons found is believed to be that of Prince Amun-her-khepeshef, who was the firstborn son of Ramses the Great and his beloved Queen Nefertari. Prince Amun-her-khepeshef was the Crown Prince in the early years of his father's reign, but died in year 25 of his long reign. It is also thought that a prince called Meryatum was buried in KV5, as two canopic jars were found that have his names and titles inscribed on them.
Other princes thought to have also been interred in KV5 were Ramses and Seti. However, the discoveries in KV5 are far from over, and it is hoped that much more will be found out about Ramesses II’s large family, the role of the princes in the public life of Ancient Egypt and why this amazing family mausoleum was constructed.
KV5 may not have given us the gold treasures, gilded coffins and vibrant wall paintings that have been discovered in some other tombs in the Valley of the Kings, but it is tomb that is unique in the long history of Ancient Egypt. It was built on a scale that had never before been seen in the Valley of the Kings, and never before had a pharaoh ordered a tomb be cut to contain the burials of several of his children.
So the treasure that we extract from KV5 is knowledge; fascinating pieces of information about the life and funerary beliefs of the royal family during the reign of Ancient Egypt’s most powerful pharaoh, Ramses II. And the information that the tomb known as KV5 is gradually yielding up, is worth as much as any piece of ancient gold.
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