Hidden behind the Theban Hills, on the West Bank of the Nile, lies the Valley of the Kings (Wadi el-Muluk in Arabic), a limestone valley where tombs were built for the Pharaohs and powerful nobles of the New Kingdom during the 18-21st Dynasties. It was chosen as the burial place for most of Egypt’s New Kingdom rulers for several reasons. As the crow flies, the Valley is very close to the cultivated banks of the river. It is small, surrounded by steep cliffs, and easily guarded. The local limestone, cut millions of years ago by torrential rains to form the Valley, is of good quality. And towering above the Valley is a mountain, al-Qurn (the horn in Arabic), whose shape may have reminded the ancient Egyptians of a pyramid, and is dedicated to the goddess Meretseger. The valley is separated into the East and West Valleys, with most of the important tombs in the East Valley, but as yet to date, not all the tombs in the Valley have been fully excavated.

There were 62 numbered royal and private tombs, ranging from a simple pit (KV 54) to a tomb with over 121 chambers and corridors (KV 5). Most were found already plundered. A few, like the tomb of Tutankhamen (KV 62) or that of Yuya and Thuyu (KV 46), and Maiherperi (KV36), contained thousands of precious artifacts. Some tombs have been accessible since antiquity, as Greek and Latin graffiti attest, some were used as dwellings or a church during the Graeco-Roman and Byzantine Periods, and others have been discovered only in the past two hundred years. Some, like KV 5, had been “lost,” and their location rediscovered only recently.

The official name for the site was “The Great and Majestic Necropolis of the Millions of Years of the Pharaoh, Life, Strength, Health in The West of Thebes”, or more usually, Ta-sekhet-ma’at (the Great Field). The Valley was used for primary burials from approximately 1539 BC to 1075 BC, starting with Thutmose I and ending with Ramesses X or XI. The Valley also had tombs for the favourite nobles and the wives and children of both the nobles and pharaohs. Around the time of Ramesses I (c.1300 BC) work began on the Valley of the Queens, although some wives were still buried with their husbands.

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