30 November 2010

Queen Hatshepsut's First Tomb (Updated)

This is Wadi Sikkat Taka ez-Zeida* at the deadest dead end of the Valley of the Kings -- as remote today as it was ca. 1500 BCE when Queen Hatshepsut, Great Royal Wife of Thutmose II, chose this desolate spot to build her tomb. 

It's never been an easy place to find.  That's why it seemed the perfect spot to hide a queen's burial along with her treasures.  No other tombs are nearby so robbers would not be combing these cliffs looking for hidden tombs.  Even today, the area is rarely visited.  But now, Jane Akshar and photographer Richard Sellicks have made the long climb and published new photographs of the tomb's exterior on the Luxor News blog.

One cannot help but think that Hatshepsut was already a trifle ambitious.  While still a mere queen (if queens can ever be 'mere'), she planned her tomb's entrance at a robber-defying 70 metres (200') up an almost sheer side of the cliff.

A wide crack in the stone (left) provided a way for the royal workmen to dig into the mountainside. Although the tomb was never finished, its layout (plan, below left) was similar to that of tombs being built in the Valley of the Kings. 

A Queen's Tomb

After passing through the entrance, a short staircase led down to a doorway and into a gently sloping corridor 10 metres (33') long.  This led into an antechamber, a second corridor and then the burial chamber where a burial shaft had been cut but left unfinished. 

A crystalline sarcophagus was found in the burial chamber (right). It stands an impressive 2 metres (6.6') high.  The hieroglyphic inscription reads:
The Great Princess, great in favour and grace, Mistress of All lands, Royal Daughter and Royal Sister, Great Royal Wife, Lady of the Two Lands, Hatshepsut
This, then, was Hatshepsut's first tomb. 

She had once planned to be buried in that sarcophagus.  On the covering lid, under which the body of the queen would lie, she prayed to the goddess Nut:
Hatshepsut says 'O my mother Nut, stretch yourself over me, that you may place me among the imperishable stars which are in you, and that I may not die".
But the sarcophagus was empty.  Not because the tomb was found by robbers and looted, but because it had never been used.  For Hatshepsut had become king.  As Pharaoh, she needed a larger, more elaborate tomb, and it had to be located in the Valley of the Kings, like those of other kings.  So the inviolable tomb was left as it was and Hatshepsut built the tomb known as KV20 down in the valley.  When found in 1903, it had been thoroughly wrecked.  The fate of her mummy is still not 100% certain.  But that is another story (see Hatshepsut is Back for the current state of play).

After All, Robbers First

Hatshepsut' s first tomb was finally discovered (if truth be told) by local robbers in 1916.  Howard Carter -- he of future Tutankhamun fame, but then Inspector General of Monuments for Upper Egypt -- was alerted to what was going on and, one night, followed the thieves.  Carter and his workmen made their way to the Wadi, the moonlight guiding their path.  On reaching the tomb they discovered a rope leading down the cliffside.  The tomb robbers were busy burrowing through the heaps of rubbish that blocked the corridor.  

In Carter's own words:
Listening, we could hear the robbers actually at work, so I first severed their rope, thereby cutting off their means of escape, and then, making secure a good stout rope of my own, I lowered myself down the cliff. Shinning down a rope at midnight, into a nestful of industrious tomb-robbers, is a pastime which at least does not lack excitement. There were eight at work, and when I reached the bottom there was an awkward moment or two.  I gave them the alternative of clearing out by means of my rope, or else of staying where they were without a rope at all, and eventually they saw reason and departed.  The rest of the night I spent on the spot, and, as soon as it was light enough, climbed down into the tomb again to make a thorough examination.
But the bird had flown the coop.  The tomb was abandoned and, except for the sarcophagus, entirely empty.  Work in the tomb had been halted before any wall decoration had begun.  It must have been a disappointment for the young archaeologist to have discovered an unlooted queen's burial -- with nothing in it.  

Carter, nonetheless, had the last word:
She would have been better advised to hold to her original plan. In this secret spot her mummy would have a reasonable chance of avoiding disturbance: in the Valley it had none. A king she would be, and a king's fate she shared.

Update: 2 December 2010

For those of you lucky enough to be in the Philadephia area this Saturday, this sounds like a great lecture (organized by the ARCE/Pennsylvania Chapter):

The Coregency Elite: Who Won & Who Lost in Hatshepsut's Rise and the Transition to Thutmose III
by Dr. J.J. Shirley, Egyptian Art & Archaeology Researcher; Managing Editor, Journal of Egyptian History

Followed by the ARCE-PA Winter Party.
date: December 4, 2010; 3:30pm
place: Classroom 2, University of Pennsylvania Museum,
3260 South St., Philadelphia, PA
costs: $5 for the general public, $3 for museum members, ARCE-PA members free.
info: pr@arce-pa.org

* A 'Wadi' is a dry riverbed cut into the rocks.

I am grateful to Tripod.com for much of the information regarding this tomb and the inscriptions on the sarcophagus: The Cliff Tomb of Queen Hatshepsut; and, of course, to Jane Akshar for publishing the superb new photographs of the tomb's exterior.


Top, upper left, lower left: © Jane Akshar's Luxor News, Hatshepsut's Cliff Top Tomb - photos Richard Sellicks

Middle left: Tomb plan from The Cliff Tomb of Queen Hatshepsut, at Tripod.com

Middle right: Hatshepsut's first sarcophagus, Egyptian Museum.  Photo by Egyptopia.com


1 comment:

  1. I'd like to place here some new information from the Egyptologist, Stuart Tyson Smith, which he wrote to me via Facebook:

    Stuart Tyson Smith I've been there years ago - a long hot hike in Spring, especially schlepping surveying equipment, but a pretty amazing spot. Carter's story about the robbers has always been one of my favorites. Hatshepsut is not alone, however, there are other queens tombs there that are also impressive and need climbing gear to get into. Seems to have been the popular 18th Dynasty spot for royal women to enter the Duat.
    Judith Weingarten Thanks for that information, Stuart. Were there any tombs there before Hatshepsut, or was she the first?
    Stuart Tyson Smith
    Hers seems to be the earliest, but unfortunately the date of most of the owners aren't known so one can't say for sure. There are at least three other major cliff tombs presumably for queens that we mapped in 1982 (for Kent Weeks's Theban M...apping Project). One is located in the same wadi and on the same side as Hatshepsut, but closer to the wadi entrance. It was a pretty exciting free rappel of a couple hundred feet or so down to it, but at least in 1982 it was largely unexcavated. Two less impressive pit tombs were located on the slopes opposite (and full of bats!), but are also unattributed so far as I know. In nearby offshoots of the main wadi there are more pit tombs, and another cliff tomb purportedly build for Hatshepsut's daughter Neferure (but this is debatable...). This one was mostly clear and very impressive, with a faux granite effect on the walls of the back chamber. A cartouch of Neferure is carved on a rock nearby but it's uncertain whether it's ancient or modern. The famous Tomb of the Three Princesses is in the same area and also an impressive cliff tomb. It was sadly robbed in Carter's day - it really would have been much better if he had caught those looters in the act! This tomb dates to the later reign of Thutmose III, so well after Hatshepsut declared herself king and probably after her death. Carter bought many of the objects off of the antiquities market for the Met, where they now reside, including some spectacular jewelry with Syrian (Mitanni) connections. The tomb was excavated more recently by Christine Lilyquist, who just published a comprehensive account of the tomb.


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