Some Observations Concerning
Uninscribed Tombs in the Valley of the Kings.*
by: Donald P. Ryan
ALTHOUGH the Valley of the Kings is internationally celebrated
for its beautifully decorated and inscribed tombs, a closer examination
of the numbered tombs in the Wadi Biban el-Moluk demonstrates
that approximately half of these tombs are uninscribed (see Table
1). Knowing this, one is struck by the amazing lack of interest
in and documentation for most of these tombs. Sheer numbers alone
demand that these uninscribed monuments are worthy of attention
as does their location in this most special of valleys. This
paper will briefly comment upon the nature, problems, and challenges
of uninscribed tombs in the Valley of the Kings and will occasionally
use examples and insights gathered from the first two seasons
of work of the Pacific Lutheran University Valley of the Kings
Project (1989 and 1990).1
It is the goal of the Project to clear, document, and conserve
a series of six uninscribed tombs located north and east behind
the Valley's prominent hill (KV 21, 27, 28, 44, 45, and 60).
The Nature of Uninscribed Tombs
The term 'uninscribed' here refers to tombs which bear no
inscriptions and generally applies to those tombs whose walls
are blank. There are some tombs, however, that are uninscribed
but slightly decorated (e.g. KV 38 2 and 42 3)
in which the term undecorated would be inappropriate. Examples
of graffiti and masons' marks are not considered as intentional
attempts to decorate the tombs. Uninscribed tombs offer a host
of intriguing problems. Most obvious is the fact that one cannot
simply 'read the walls' of a tomb to determine its date, ownership,
and other information of interest. Without the crutch of texts
and decorations, the tombs become archaeological problems compounded
in the Valley of the Kings by their serious lack of documentation.
Typically, most of the uninscribed tombs were savagely robbed
in antiquity. This fact, combined with the tombs' relative simplicity,
seems to have generated a profound lack of interest by their
nineteenth century or early twentieth century discoverers. With
archaeological thought and technique in its infancy and with
the possibilities of richer, more colourful discoveries ahead,
it is not surprising that these early excavators showed little
interest in the examination or recording of uninscribed corridors
and chambers and bits of broken wood and pottery.
TABLE 1: Uninscribed Tombs in the Valley of the Kings +
20 Tuthmosis I, Hatshepsut
21 two women
38 Tuthmosis I
42 Hatshepsut~Meryetre, Sennufer (?)
44 Twenty-second Dynasty usurpation
45 Twenty-second Dynasty usurpation of Userhet
46 Yuia and Tjuia
50-52 animals. (tombs intended for human burials?)
55 'Amarna cache'. Tiye?
60 Sitre + another female
61 apparently unused
+ Though formally numbered in
the Valley of the Kings tomb series, KV 54 is not a tomb but
a shallow rock cut excavation containing a cache of materials
related to the burial of Tutankhamun. It is thus not included
on this list. Neither is KV 41 which has now been shown to consist
of nothing more than a deep shaft. The lettered series of tomb
'commencements' and miscellaneous 'pits' are likewise not included.
Various processes following the original interments have also
made tomb interpretation more difficult. These often inhibiting
forces are indeed typical of the agents of disruption and destruction
found throughout the Valley. In the case of KV 27 4, for example, the original excavator
is not known. and there are consequently no records of its discovery
or possible contents. The tomb has suffered the effects of several
flood events and has also served as a human shelter until relatively
recently. Portions of the ceiling and walls are blackened by
the soot of fires. As late as 1990, local men used the tomb for
escaping the heat, and small broken 'antiquities' of modern manufacture
attest to the tomb's use as an occasional storage depot for souvenir
dealers. (A funerarv cone found in the debris of neighbouring
KV 28 provides another example.) Additionally. KV 27 has been
used by local dogs as a haven for raising their offspring. An
angry protective mother and six puppies were found domiciled
there during our second field season.
In KV 21 5 it seems that
most of the damage took place after its discovery by Giovanni
Belzoni in 1817. James Burton referred to the tomb as 'a clean
new tomb - the water not having got into it'.6
Such was not the case upon our reopening of this monument in
1989. The entranceway of the tomb itself was buried under many
feet of flood debris. The door of the tomb had fortunately been
blocked by stones, but water had nonetheless entered the tomb
leaving a thin layer of fine silt in its lower reaches. Watermarks
on the walls in the tomb's burial chamber indicate several centimetres
of slowly evaporating standing water. The water has taken its
toll on most of the artifacts found on the floor and the two
mummies found inside were likewise affected.
Evidence of vandalism is clear in KV 21. The well-preserved
mummies in the burial chamber, described by Belzoni, were found
broken in pieces here and there in the tomb. A graffito by a
certain 'ME!' was left in the tomb's small side chamber with
a date of 1826. Additionally, some hefty rocks had been thrown
amidst the large, whitened pots that were stored in this room,
perhaps for the dubious pleasure of hearing the shatter of ancient
pottery. Extensive deposits of bat guano in the tomb demonstrate
that the tomb was open for some time.
In contrast, there is KV 60 7
which has suffered neither from floods. recent occupation, nor
modern vandalism. An uninterested Howard Carter encountered this
anciently robbed tomb in 1903 and reburied it, removing only
some examples of mummified geese, and leaving two mummies and
a coffin along with many other objects. His notes include neither
a plan nor a map. An apparent subsequent entry by Edward Ayrton
in 1906 is only indirectly documented.8 He took the coffin and one of the mummies
and reburied the tomb. The tomb then became 'lost' yet again
Tomb Ownership and Dating
There are few examples of uninscribed tombs in the Valley
of the Kings where the owners are known. The partially intact
burials of Maiherpri (KV36 10)
and Yuia and Tjuia (KV 46 11)
are truly exceptional. Again, a lack of archaeological documentation
is a major factor in our ignorance concerning these tombs. The
matter of ownership can also be complicated by such factors as
usurpations. In KV 45, for example, Howard Carter discovered
an intact double burial of Twenty-second Dynasty date placed
amongst the debris of what seems to have been the original Eighteenth
Dynasty burial.12 All that
Carter recovered from this first burial were a few pieces of
inscribed canopic jars. Another example is seen with the foundation
deposits of KV 42 which indicate that the tomb was constructed
for Hatshepsut-Meryetre. The meagre contents, however, included
material from the burial of Sennufer and others.13
The classic example of the problem of tomb ownership is, of course,
the enduring controversy of KV 55 14.
Other intriguing and hitherto nameless occupants of uninscribed
tombs, such as those recently rediscovered in KV 60 and 21 will
provide much fodder for future speculation.
It is tempting to suggest that the majority of the uninscribed
tombs belong to private non-royal individuals. Insufficient data
and counter-examples (e.g.Tuthmosis I, KV 38 15 and Hatshepsut/Tuthmosis I, KV 20 16) do not allow for such an assumption.
Additionally, in terms of tomb ownership one must take into account
some of the mummies gathered into the royal caches of Deir el-Bahri
and KV 35 for whom no tombs are known.17
The dating of the uninscribed tombs would certainly be enhanced
by a knowledge of ownership, but in its absence there are stylistic
trends which might assist. The stylistic evolution of the royal
tomb plan has long been recognized, and further trends concerning
design and dimension will hopefully be discerned if more of the
uninscribed tombs are investigated in the future. Trends in location
might also be established. Uninscribed pit tombs KV 27, 28, 44,
and 45 all appear to be of Eighteenth Dynasty date and were constructed
on the north and eastern sides of the Valley's prominent hill.
Their similarity in design and location suggests a temporal relationship.
An obvious question comes to mind when dealing with these
tombs: why are these tombs devoid of inscription or decoration
while others nearby are abundantly adorned? KV 60. for example.
contains many examples of incomplete carving or hasty work. KV
21, on the other hand, is finely cut, prepared for plastering,
and essentially ready for decoration. Many of the royal tombs
in the Valley are far from complete in their decoration, but
they are indeed at least partially inscribed. Across the cliffs
in the private necropoleis there are numerous examples of even
the simplest of tombs bearing inscriptions.
In dealing with this problem, there are several points of
consideration. Uninscribed tombs have not been unusual across
the history of Egyptian tomb building.18
Secondly, the timing of each tomb's building commission could
play a major role in the tomb's size and decoration. If, for
example, private tombs in the Valley of the Kings were commissioned
by royalty at the time of an esteemed individual's death. one
might expect a small, somewhat simple, perhaps hastily carved
construction. Thirdly, the unfinished nature of many of the royal
incompletely decorated tombs attests that a completed tomb was
not a prerequisite to burial.19
Another question could also be asked: might the lack of inscription,
at times, have served as an intentional status-differential between
royalty and those private individuals privileged to be buried
in the Valley?
Working with uninscribed tombs in the Valley of the Kings
in the aftermath of Howard Carter (1874-1939) and Giovanni Belzoni
(1778-1823) has afforded me the opportunity to reflect on the
work of both of these extraordinary individuals. A few comments
about each follow:
Carter's work in KV 44 (1901)20,
(KV 45 (1902)21 and KV 60
(1903)22 was not particularly
inconsistent with the archaeological standards of his day. The
Petrie revolution advocating systematic archaeology was just
emerging when young Carter was discovering these little tombs.23 With a background primarily as a
copyist, it may not be surprising that he was apparently uninterested
in these heavily looted and uninscribed monuments. Furthermore,
these relatively 'poor' burials might have seemed somewhat insignificant
in comparison with some of the more dramatic discoveries or royal
tombs being made at the turn of the century.
Howard Carter did copy most of the intact inscribed objects
and usually offered brief descriptions of his findings, although
most scholars today would probably prefer a little more documentation
on his part. Perhaps he had the insight to leave well enough
alone and intentionally left the task of more thorough documentation
for future, more interested parties. His closing of Tomb 60 might
suggest such an attitude. Happily, Carter's archaeological technique
and interests improved and expanded significantly in the years
prior to 1922, and he should be credited for having the wisdom
to assemble a truly outstanding cast of experts who assisted
him in the clearance of the tomb of Tutankhamun.
Giovanni Belzoni, the oft-maligned Italian carnival performer-turned-antiquarian,
was the first Westerner known to have excavated in the Valley
of the Kings.24 Many historians
have saddled Belzoni with such unflattering titles as 'tomb robber'
and 'the greatest plunderer of them all'. 25
Such writers tend to emphasize the more flamboyant aspects of
Belzoni's personal history, ignore the context of his time, and
usually neglect the activities which clearly set him apart and
ahead of most of his contemporaries. It is my belief that Belzoni's
work in the Valley of the Kings does, in fact, provide an excellent
example of genuine archaeological activity. Case in point: Belzoni
considered one of his greatest achievements to have been the
discovery in 1817 of the tomb of Sethos I (KV 17).26 Contrary to his modern reputation
as a tomb robber, Belzoni carefully described and measured this
tomb, all of which can be found published in his 1820 Narrative
for any who care to take a careful look.27
He also took great efforts to record the tomb in beautiful watercolours.28 It should be noted, too, that Belzoni
was not merely searching for especially lovely pieces of ancient
art but possessed a very wide interest in Egyptian antiquities
of all sorts. including those considered relatively mundane.
His exhibition at Piccadilly, London. in 1821 included not only
mummies, wooden and stone statues, and other exotic crowd-pleasing
items, but also displayed examples of baskets, sandals. ropes,
and other objects of daily life, which are hardly the booty of
a tomb robber!29
A few years ago I was privileged to study an ancient rope
in the British Museum which Belzoni had found hanging in the
well-shaft of Sethos' tomb. His foresight in collecting such
an object produced very interesting results over 165 years later.30 Furthermore, in the plates which
accompany Belzoni's Narrative, a topographic map of the Valley
of the Kings can be found locating the subterranean features
of his discoveries.31 In
Tomb 21, we have found many of the objects and features mentioned
by Belzoni. A plan of Tomb 21, complete with scale, was included
in his published illustrations.32
Given the above facts, I offer no hesitation in my consideration
of Giovanni Belzoni as a father of Egyptian archaeology.
Though their lack of inscriptions often severely complicates
their interpretation, the uninscribed tombs provide an archaeological
challenge with the possibility of a substantial contribution
to our knowledge of the Valley of the Kings. Apart from their
inherent historical value, the uninscribed tombs also possess
the potential to serve as models for conservation. Given the
possibility of future flooding and increased pollution in the
Valley, there is a need to protect the tombs, especially those
which are decorated. with special doors or other protective devices.
Experimental doors, for example, could be installed on an undecorated
tomb along with the appropriate instruments for measuring the
temperature, humidity, etc. of the interior environment. Thus
these tombs, worthy of protection in and of themselves, might
greatly assist in conservation experimentation without risk to
the beautiful decoration found in many of the other tombs in
the Valley of the Kings. Despite their neglect by earlier investigators,
the re-examination of these tombs is proving a worthwhile venture.
Rather than being dismayed by the lack of an easy solution, one
can instead view these monuments as exciting opportunities for
Thomas. E. Thomas, The Royal Necropoleis of Thebes. (Princeton,
Reeves. C. N. Reeves. Valley Of the Kings. (Kegan Paul-London,
1 The Project has been
conducted with the kind permission of the Egyptian Antiquities
Organization and is affiliated with the American Research Center
in Egypt. Thanks are extended to Mr. and Mrs. M. D. Schwartz,
Mr. Albert Haas, and Mr. Gerald Vincent for their generous support.
2 Thomas, 71-3; Reeves.
17-18. Data on each of the tombs mentioned in this article are
excellently provided in the volumes authored by Thomas and by
Reeves where full references may be consulted.
78-80; Reeves, 24-5.
4 Thomas, 138; Reeves, 154.
5 Thomas, 139; Reeves, 153-4..
6 James Burton, c. 1826.
British Library, Add. MS 25642, 23. Tomb 'T'.
7 H. Carter. 'Report of
work done in Upper Egypt'. ASAE 4 (1903). 176-7; Thomas,
137-8; Reeves, 139 and addenda.
8 The coffin and mummy of
Sitre are noted in the Temporary Register of the Cairo Museum.
(24/21/16/1) with a comment referring to Ayrton.
9 D. Ryan, 'The Pacific
Lutheran University Valley of the Kings Project: a Synopsis of
the First (1989) Season'. NARCE 146 (1989). 8-10.
10 Thomas, 157-8; Reeves.
11 Thomas, 143-4; Reeves.
12 Thomas, 162; Reeves,
13 Thomas, 78-80; Reeves.
14 Thomas, 144~; Reeves.
15 Thomas, 71-3; Reeves,
16 Thomas, 75-7; Reeves,
17 Thomas, 228-48; Reeves.
18 The pyramid of Khufu
at Giza offers the biggest such example.
19 J. Cerny, 'The Valley
of the Kings'. IFAO Bibliothèque d'étude
61 (1973), 11.
20 H. Carter, 'Report on
tomb-pit opened on the 26th January 1901 in the Valley of the
Tombs of the Kings', ASAE 2 (1901). 144-5; A. Rowe. 'Corrections
and additions to Report on Tomb Pit.', ASAE 41(1942).
21 H. Carter, 'Report on
General Work done in the Southern Inspectorate'. ASAE 4
22 H. Carter, 'Report of
work done in Upper Egypt', ASAE 4 (1903). 176-7.
23 W. M. F. Petrie summarized
his methodology in Methods and Aims in Archaeology (Blom-New
24 S. Mayes, The Great
Belzoni (Walker-New York, 1961): D. Ryan. 'Giovanni Battista
Belzoni', Biblical Archaeologist 49 (1986). 133-8.
25 G. Daniel, 150 Years
of Archaeology (Duckworth-London. 1975) 69.155; B. Fagan,
The Rape of the Nile (Scribner's-New York, 1975), 95.
26 Thomas 104-7; Reeves
27 Narrative of the Operations
and Recent Discoveries in Egypt and Nubia (Murray--London,
28 The watercolours are
housed at the City Museum, Bristol. England.
29 Anonymous, Description
of the Egyptian Tomb discovered by G. Belzoni (Murray-London,
1821), 15; Anonymous, Catalogue of the Various Articles of
Antiquity, to be disposed of, at the Egyptian Tomb, by Auction
or by Private Contract (Clowes-London, 1822), 8-9. (A copy
of each of these can be found in the Percival Collection, British
30 D. Ryan, 'Belzoni's Rope
from the Tomb of Sethos I.' SAK Beiheft 2 (1989), l39-42;
D. Ryan and D. Hansen, 'A study of ancient Egyptian Cordage in
Museum', British Museum Occasional Papers 62 (1987), 15-17.
31 G, Belzoni, Forty-four
Plates illustrative of the Researches and Operations of Belzoni
in Egypt and Nubia (Murray-London. 1820). p1. 39, Tomb 5.
32 Ibid., pl. 32, Tomb 3.
* This article has been published
in: C.N. Reeves (ed.), After Tutankhamun: Research and Excavation
in the Royal Necropolis at Thebes (Kegan-Paul-London, 1992),
21-27, and was originally presented at the International Conference
on the Valley of the Kings held at Highclere Castle, June 1990.
Donald P. Ryan
Division of Humanities
Pacific Lutheran University
Tacoma, Washington USA