Bible and Beyond

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Archaeologists have discovered a tomb they believe was the burial place of Ramesses II’s sons, in the Valley of the Kings, the necropolis at Karnak some 300 miles south of Cairo. The huge tomb complex, dubbed Tomb 5, is many times larger than any other tomb so far discovered and the only one known to have been used for many members of a family. Kent R. Weeks, professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo and director of the project to map the ancient Egyptian capital, announced the discovery, immediately hailed as one of the most significant in Egyptology of this century.

Ramesses II, who ruled from 1279 B.C. to 1212 B.C., is the pharaoh traditionally associated with the Hebrew Exodus. Amon-her-Khepeshef, the eldest of his 52 sons (Ramesses II claimed to have fathered more than 100 children) is said by the Bible to have been killed during the tenth plague, the death of the firstborn (Exodus 12-29). The names of Amon-her-Khepeshef and three of his brothers are inscribed on the walls of Tomb 5.

Tomb 5 occupies a prominent place in the necropolis, 100 feet from the tomb of Ramesses II and near the tomb of King Tutankhamun. Archaeologists have uncovered a central hall with 16 pillars, a passageway to a statue of the god Osiris and corridors leading to many separate chambers, 67 so far. They found wall decorations and alabaster fragments, sarcophagus pieces, mummy fragments and statuary—but no gold so far. According to an ancient papyrus, now in a museum in Turin, Italy, looters entered the tomb as early as 1150 B.C., smashed the stone coffins in search of valuable amulets and jewels, and carried off any treasures they could find. Weeks estimates it will take many years to fully investigate the huge mausoleum. Many of the rooms are still clogged with rubble.

Tomb 5 was first discovered in 1820 by an English traveler who explored the three outermost chambers, which were unprepossessing and badly damaged from floodwaters. The excavator Howard Carter reopened Tomb 5 early in this century but found nothing noteworthy. Weeks and his colleagues found the hidden entrance by studying diaries of 19th-century travelers.