[KV.7 VALLEY of the KINGS].

Christian LEBLANC
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 Franco-Egyptian mission.

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.

La salle du sarcophage

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".