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Archaeologists Unearth Egypt's Largest Tomb in Valley of Kings

By Boyce Rensberger
The Washington Post

Archaeologists digging in Egypt's Valley of the Kings have discovered what is thought to be the largest and most complex tomb yet found in the region, a warren of at least 67 chambers, some with rubble-blocked doorways that probably lead to dozens more rooms.

Inscriptions on the carved and painted walls indicate that the mausoleum - carved out of bedrock below barren, hilly desert - was the burial place of 50 of Pharaoh Ramses II's 52 sons.

Archaeologists are calling it one of the most significant discoveries in Egyptology this century.

Ramses II was one of ancient Egypt's most powerful and durable kings, ruling for 67 years, from 1279 B.C. to 1212 B.C. Tradition says that he was pharaoh during the Hebrew Exodus, when the Israelites left Egypt and God killed all the firstborn sons of the Egyptians.

Intriguingly, tomb inscriptions say that one of those buried in the tomb was Ramses's first born son, Amon-her-khepeshef. Neither his body nor that of any others have been found, the discoverers say, either because they lie in rooms that have not yet been opened or because ancient looters hacked their dried mummies to pieces. Fragments of mummies have been found on the floors of some rooms.

Although the tomb has not yielded any significant objects or costly gold or jewels, its sheer size and elaborate architectural arrangement is unlike anything found from ancient Egypt. Many of the rooms, however, are still clogged with rocky rubble that has fallen from the ceilings, and full exploration will take years.

"This significant discovery will help historians understand more thoroughly the culture, chronology and history of ancient Egypt during the reign of Ramses II," said Kent R. Weeks, professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo, who announced the discovery yesterday.

Weeks and his graduate students had been mapping the Valley of the Kings for several years when they discovered the mausoleum. "The potential of this tomb is enormous," he said, adding that several of his colleagues had assessed the tomb as "the most important discovery in Egyptology in a century."

Catharine Roehrig, an Egyptologist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York who has seen parts of the tomb, said that characterization depended on one's point of view. To her, she said, "This is one of the most exciting discoveries that could have been made. It's unlike any tomb we've ever seen."