Thursday, March 3, 2016


Working in Egypt is always full of surprises.  As is not uncommon, we came to do certain things and ended up accomplishing other things we didn't expect.  For example, we originally hoped to investigate tombs KV 50, 51 and 52 but due to a couple of unanticipated situations, we instead concentrated our efforts on KV 48 and 60, two remarkable tombs very worthy of attention.  We accomplished much but at some point, we needed to call a finish to this year's field season, close up operations, and head on home.  The work doesn't end there, though, as there is data to analyze and prepare for publication.

The amazing British Museum.
As is our typical scenario, we like to spend a couple of days in London on the way home.  It's a great place to relax and there's a lot to do.  (Team member Paul Buck took a trip out to Stonehenge and also ran a half-marathon!  Denis Whitfill visited the Royal Observatory in Greenwich).  London is also a major center for Egyptology outside of Egypt itself.  The British Museum is home to one of the world's great collections of Egyptian artifacts included the famed Rosetta Stone which assisted in the decipherment of the hieroglyphs.  The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology houses another great collection.  The Egypt Exploration Society is also based in London and has supported excavations and research since 1882.

While in London, we enjoy staying at The Celtic Hotel, a very pleasant B & B in easy walking distance of all of the above institutions.  And we often meet friends and colleagues at our "office away from home," The Museum Tavern, where one can find a nice selection of food and drinks.

I hope you've enjoyed reading this "BLOG."  We'll probably be adding to it on occasion when we have additional items of interest regarding our work in the Valley of the Kings.  And for those who would like further information, I recommend the following books:
Beneath the Sands of Egypt is a personal account of archaeological work in Egypt, especially in the Valley of the Kings.

(It's also been published in German.)

A great summary of the Valley and it's many tombs.

Tut and his many treasures.

Everything you need to know about mummies by two outstanding Egyptologists.

Enjoy a lovely Egyptian sunset!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016


The famous gold mask from the mummy of Tutankhamun.
Ask many people today to name a famous Egyptian ruler, and you’ll probably hear the name “King Tut” a.k.a. Tutankhamun. Most, however, are likely unaware that until his tomb was discovered in the Valley of the Kings in 1922, he was known to Egyptologists as not much more than an obscure pharaoh who followed a particularly disruptive period in Egyptian politics, religion and culture.  Ascending the throne as a child, one can be quite sure he wasn’t making the important decisions needed to return Egypt to its former stability.  More likely, Tut was a puppet king manipulated by those of power and influence.   The discovery of his virtually intact tomb (now designated KV62), though, made him a household name which continues still almost 100 years later.

We have been working just around the corner from Tut's tomb and it's amazing to contemplate that it remains perhaps the most amazing archaeological discovery of all time.  Given its popularity, I thought it might be interesting to present a few fascinating but little known facts:

- The terms “intact” and “unplundered” are often applied to the tomb.  There is, however, evidence that the tomb was probably lightly pilfered at least twice in ancient times.  If the robbers were apprehended, the punishment would have been severe.  The tomb’s long-time survival over three millennia was assisted by it being buried deeply under flash-flood debris, and being covered with chippings from a large tomb later constructed above . The tomb contained an immense quantity of well-preserved objects which now take up an enormous amount of display space in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.  Curiously, over 90 years after the tomb’s discovery, most of these artifacts have yet to be formally studied and published to scholarly standards.

The Valley of the Kings. Tut's tomb is situated in the lower right hand corner of this image.
- The tomb has been open to visitors for years.  It’s quite small and its layout is simple: just a set of stairs leading to four rooms.  Visitors can look over a railing and view the burial chamber where Tut’s stone sarcophagus remains with the outermost of his three nesting coffins visible beneath a sheet of glass.  His mummy is on display – not a pretty sight - in a glass case in the first chamber with only his head and bare feet visible.   As one might expect, KV 62 is very popular with tourists and they are required to purchase a special ticket for the experience.  All of the traffic, though, is having an impact and during February this year, a team from the Getty Institute was busy at work conserving the paintings in the burial chamber, the only room in the tomb with  decorated walls.  In another effort to preserve the tomb, a Spanish company, Factum Arte, made detailed high-resolution scans of the tomb’s walls in order to produce an exact replica that could be used to reduce traffic in the original.  The replica opened to the public in 2014 at a site a couple of miles from the Valley of the Kings.  It is hoped that will take some tourist pressure off the original.

- In what is becoming a HUGE story, my good friend, Nicholas Reeves, has proposed that there are two additional rooms hidden behind the burial chamber’s painted walls, perhaps even concealing another burial.  His idea is based on his study of the high-resolution scans along withother data including studies of other royal tombs.  With the cooperation of the Egyptian government, radar scans were conducted in November 2015 and the results will likely be announced in the next few months.  No matter the results, Nick should be congratulated for his new creative approach to studying a very old tomb.

- We’re not sure how Tutankhamun died but there are a lot of theories including murder, disease, a chariot wreck, and even a fatal bite from a hippo.  What we do know is there was no curse associated with King Tut’s tomb.  The hoax was apparently a fabrication of a journalist needing a story while the tomb was still being investigated. The best evidence against such a curse is that Howard Carter, the man who discovered the KV 62 and worked there for years, died in 1939, seventeen years after he first entered the tomb.  One might expect him to be the first to go!

- The discovery of the tomb and subsequent international touring exhibitions of a selection of its objects was an international sensation that inspired a variety of cultural phenomena and a general fascination with ancient Egypt.  This phenomenon is called “Tutmania” and some of my favorite manifestations of such are novelty songs such as “Old King Tut Was A Wise Old Nut” and of course, Steve Martin’s “King Tut” in which it is claimed that the boy king “gave his life for tourism.”  Perhaps the most classic tune is “Old King Tut” written by William Jerome and Harry Von Tizler in 1923. What it lacks in historical accuracy it makes up for with a catchy chorus.  An excerpt:

“Three thousand years ago, King Tutty reigned you know.
He must have traveled greatly in his time.
For in his tomb out there, was gold and silverware,
From big hotels of every land and clime.
While going through his royal robes they found up in his sleeve,
The first fig leaf that Adam gave to Eve…”

“A thousand girls would dance each day,
With lots of hip-hip-hip-hooray,
In old King Tut-Tut-Tut-Tut-Tut-Tut, King Tutty's Day”

Here's a classic rendition by Sophie Tucker:

Wednesday, February 24, 2016


Changing venues: moving a large work-table to the other side of the Valley
     About a week ago we finished up our investigation of KV 48, the tomb of the vizier, Amenemopet, and turned our attention to KV 60, one of the more controversial tombs in the Valley of the Kings. It's located near the cliffs on the opposite of the Valley.  The tomb is relatively small consisting of some stairs  .leading down to a corridor with a little side chamber about halfway down.  At the end of the corridor is a square opening leading to a single burial chamber.  The tomb throughout is very crudely carved and obviously unfinished, as if quickly made at the death of someone important enough to be buried in the Valley.   Here’s a short history of its exploration:

1903: KV 60 was first encountered by English archaeologist, Howard Carter.  The tomb had been robbed in ancient times and there were bits and pieces of objects from a destroyed burial.  In the chamber at the end of the corridor chamber were found two female mummies: one lying on the floor and the other in a lidless coffin bearing the name of a royal nurse named Sitre. There were no paintings on the wall to provide additional information.  Carter and a colleague surmised that perhaps these two women were nurses of the 18th dynasty pharaoh, Thutmosis IV (c.1400- 1390 B.C.) whose royal tomb is situated nearby.  He wrote only a few comments about the tomb in a journal article the next year.  A few years later, a statue was found that indicated that Sitre was the royal nurse of the famous female pharaoh, Hatshepsut.  Hatshepsut ruled Egypt successfully (c.1473-1458) during the 18th dynasty and her reign was characterized by spectacular building projects and foreign expeditions.  There is much speculation about her life and she is recognized as one of the great women of ancient history.  A royal and much damaged tomb in the Valley, KV 20, belongs to her.

1906: Edward Ayrton excavated a tomb directly behind KV 60 and likely removed the nurse’s coffin and its occupant to Cairo around that time, leaving the other mummy in the tomb.  The tomb was thereafter covered over and its exact location lost.

1966:  American Egyptologist, Elizabeth Thomas, suggested that if KV 60 ever were to be rediscovered, perhaps the remaining body therein might be the long-missing mummy of Hatshepsut herself.  Her idea was that after most of the royal tombs were robbed around 1000 B.C, her mummy might have been removed from KV 20 by priests, and then hidden in the nearby KV 60, the tomb of her nurse. (The comment was published in her masterful research volume on the Valley of the Kings and other royal cemeteries, “The Royal Necropoleis of Thebes.”)

The entrance stairs of KV 60 as rediscovered by the PLU expedition in 1989.
1989: The Pacific Lutheran University Valley of the Kings Project rediscovered the tomb on its first day of work in the Valley.  (It’s a great story but it will need to wait for a future post.)  We found lots of broken up and well-preserved bits of coffins and other objects, several examples of mummified food (“victual mummies”) meant to serve as provisions for the deceased, and a female mummy lying on the floor.  It was striking what some argue is a pose for royal females: left arm bent diagonally across the body with a clenched left hand and the right arm straight alongside the body.  We found nothing in the tomb to indicate her identity, although we reconstructed a once gold-gilded face-piece from a coffin that has a notch for a beard – a symbol of royalty.

The mummy as seen on the floor of the burial chamber of KV 60.
A reconstructed fragment from a shattered coffin lid found in KV 60.  They eyes and eyebrows were once inlaid and the face gilded with gold.
2006: The head of Egyptian antiquities, Zahi Hawass, removed the mummy (which he named KV 60-A) to Cairo as part of a study to identify Hatshepsut’s mummy from among several possibilities. He originally speculated that the mummy in the nurse's coffin (KV 60-B) could be the queen, but then changed his mind.

The mummy from KV 60.  Hatshepsut?
The coffin fragment, cleaned of black resin, reveals a painting and a name.
2007: Zahi Hawass announces that KV 60-A is indeed the mummy of Hatshepsut.  The identification method was unique.  A wooden box bearing the name of Hatshepsut, and containing what appeared to be some mummified internal organs, was CT-scanned and a tooth was found within; a specific tooth with a broken root.  It seems to have been a perfect fit in the mouth of KV 60-A and the announcement of the identification was an international sensation.  (There was also a Discovery Channel documentary made on the subject: Secrets of Egypt’s Lost Queen.)

2007:  The PLU Valley of the Kings Project examined a large fragment of coffin found in KV 60.  It was covered with black resin and when a local conservator cleaned it, a beautiful painting of the goddess Nephthys was revealed along with a funerary inscription.  The inscription indicates that the coffin belonged to a female temple singer by the name of Ty.

2014: I (Donald P. Ryan) presented a conference paper entitled, “Who is really buried in KV-60?” which considered the various possibilities for the tomb’s history.  Have the mummies been accurately identified?  Is one of them really Hatshepsut?  Are there three women involved with this tomb (Sitre, Ty and Hatshepsut) or is it some sort of mummy cache?  Would KV 60 simply be considered the tomb of a royal nurse and a temple singer had Elizabeth Thomas not thrown the name Hatshepsut in the mix?  These are all interesting questions and the story of KV-60 isn’t over yet. (A version of my conference paper has recently been published as “KV 60: Ein rätselhaftes Grab in Tal der Könige." In, Michael Höveler-Müller, ed., 2015, Das Hatschepsut-Puzzle.  Nünnerich-Asmus: Mainz.)

Our new protective door reveals the upper steps of KV 60.
2015: The PLU Valley of the Kings Project installed a special door over the entrance to KV 60 and added a descriptive sign. 

2016: We revisited KV 60 in order to find any additional clues.  A thorough examination of all the mummy wrappings stored in the tomb kept us busy but unfortunately added nothing new.  We did, however, make a great improvement by removing a rock wall installed in front of the entrance of the tomb’s underground corridor in 1989.  Now, for the first time in 25 years, the lower steps of KV 60 are once again revealed.

Examining boxes full of mummy wrappings in the burial chamber in 2016.

Clearing away the old wall blocking the lower steps.
Believe me, the above is the short version. KV 60 remains both enigmatic and controversial and someday perhaps...maybe...we’ll figure out its true story.

Friday, February 19, 2016


Apart from our archaeological activities, there is much to experience day to day in the wonderful land of Egypt. The natural environment is lovely and the Egyptian people are truly hospitable.  Here are a  few images of some of the things we experience while not working in an ancient royal cemetery:


Cats are numerous in Egypt and generally tolerated.  This fellow seems to be related to Charlie Chaplin.

Erik shares lunch with one of the locals who are regular visitors at outdoor restaurants.

Donkeys assist in many chores.  Surprisingly, we have yet to see any camels
which were once a common sight in western Luxor.

There is a donkey pulling this cart at great speed....too fast, in fact,  to capture his gallop.
The cart, though, is quite interesting as it carries a huge metal container of cooked fava beans, a
favorite Egyptian breakfast item.  They can be served on the street straight from the pot!

Sturdy and intimidating water buffaloes ("gamoosa") can be found in many villages.
The are NOT to be messed with.

A small friend...a gecko...found crawling on a wall in our apartment.


A rare glimpse of Denis, our usual photographer, here enjoying dinner at the
home of our boatman, Gilan.

Erik receiving a lesson in head-gear tying from Hussein the scarf vendor.
Paul Buck is teaching two on-line classes while in Egypt.  It's time-consuming but a
real treat for the students. Here he is broadcasting live from the Valley of the Kings.
(In this case, he is pointing his camera down a tomb shaft.)

Don Ryan loves to explore remote parts of the desert where the terrain is both rugged and beautiful.

We often take a small motor boat across the Nile to visit places on both sides of the river.
This is our boat, appropriately named "Hatshepsut," and with the Norwegian flag at its bow.

We work six days a week, Saturday through Thursday.  After hours, or on our free day on
Friday, we often visit many sites, ancient and modern, to be found in the Luxor area.  Here is
the intriguing memorial temple of the 19th dynasty ruler, Seti I.
Two of us trekked out to a small Coptic (Egyptian orthodox Christian) monastery in the desert.
Egypt is an Islamic country with an approximately 10% Christian minority.

Coptic monasteries and churches are typically beautifully decorated with art and icons representing
Biblical events and recognized saints.

This morning, Erik and Paul went on a journey in a hot-air balloon which floated over several prominent sites of antiquity on Luxor's west bank.  The aerial views are spectacular and here can be seen the memorial temple of the great pharaoh, Rameses II, and the stark contrast between modern agriculture and the remains of the past.  (Photo by Erik Johannesson.)

As seen nightly from the balcony of our apartment, the Theban Mountains are artificially lit
to provide a dramatic setting.  The Valley of the Kings is situated just behind the far cliffs.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


     Due to complicated reasons difficult to explain in the context of a Blog, we are, for the moment, switching our attention to a fascinating tomb, KV 48, the burial place of Amenemopet, the vizier (right-hand man) of the warrior pharaoh, Amenhotep II, who ruled Egypt for about 26 years (c.1427-1400 B.C.) during the 18th dynasty of the New Kingdom. KV48 was first encountered in 1906 during excavations conducted by an American millionaire, Theodore Davis, who excavated in Egypt as a hobby to escape the cold of winter. With exclusive permission to explore the Valley of the Kings, he made many important discoveries over the ten years or so he worked there
     Davis typically hired professional archaeologists to supervise the actual work including Howard Carter (who would later discover the tomb of Tutankhamun) and Edward Ayrton, the latter being the one to investigate  KV 48. The tomb consists of a shaft about 20 feet deep leading to a single undecorated chamber about 16 X 10 feet and about 6 feet high.  A description of the tomb was published in 1908 and describes its contents as including broken bits of coffin and other burial materials, some white pottery, and objects which bore the name of Amenemopet, thus identifying the tomb's occupant. His mummy, which was found "unwrapped and thrown on one side," was described as "tall and well-built."
Excavating the shaft of KV 48 in 2008.

     Sometime after its discovery, the tomb was covered over with rocks and sediment (we're not sure if it was a natural or human process) and its exact location lost.  During an experiment by American Egyptologist, Kent Weeks, in 1986, the top of the shaft was located using ground-penetrating radar and then marked, but not further investigated. The Pacific Lutheran University Valley of the Kings Project  received permission to investigate KV 48 and we began to clear the shaft in 2008 and explored the tomb in 2009.  Ayrton left a good deal of material in the tomb having apparently only taken the a few choice objects.  There were many large broken white pots containing the leftovers from Amenemopet's mummification, their contents scattered all over the floor.  The mummy itself was nowhere to be found.
The interior of KV 48 with its rubble-strewn floor as encountered in 2008.
Broken white pots and their spilled contents in KV 48.
    We installed a security door over the shaft and excavated the tomb's floor, finding many interesting objects.  The mummification materials were set aside and in February 2016, we are now examining them.  There have been a few surprises but that story will be told later.

Erik Johannesson and Paul Buck sorting through mummification materials from KV 48.

Sunday, February 14, 2016


By project member, Paul Buck, Nevada State College.

I have been coming to Egypt for a long time. It’s hard to believe the first time was in 1981, almost 35 years ago.  Some things never change: the unfailing hospitality of the Egyptian people, the traffic in Cairo, and the immutable ever-present Nile river which has been the life-blood of Egypt for thousands of years. But since the last time I was here in 2006, some things HAVE changed, some obvious, and others more subtle.  As an occasional visitor and non-speaker of Arabic, and with only a superficial understanding of the culture, it’s not possible for me to divine the deep undercurrents of Egyptian society, or to have a clear understanding of all of the differences between rural villagers and modern urban Cairo other than from my own personal experience.  
The empty Nile promenade on the Luxor east bank.
One thing that is very noticeable and catastrophic for all of Egypt, and not just Luxor, is the profound lack of tourists. Since the revolution five years ago, Egypt’s tourist industry has all but collapsed.  It used to be one of the country’s top three sources of income, with millions visiting the Valley of the Kings and the pyramids every year.  Now it is the high season when the weather is perfect but there are almost no tourists.  A few buses pull up, but the Valley of Kings parking lot used to be jam-packed with excited foreign visitors. On the east bank, a beautiful new promenade has been built along the Nile — it’s deserted.
Another very noticeable change to me, is the amazing number of hot air balloons on the Luxor west bank, especially in the early morning at sunrise.  At least five companies launch as many as fifteen balloons each morning for those visitors looking for a unique experience.  They drift from near the ancient royal funerary temples and float generally south, sometimes directly over our house. There was a tragic accident a few years ago that killed several tourists, but the gondolas are operating again, and I hope to take a ride before I leave. 
Balloons from our balcony.
   Cell phones! This is a huge change.  Seemingly every farmer, worker, and taxi driver, has a cell phone, sometimes several!  And there is even excellent 3G cell reception everywhere in the Valley of the Kings (except in the tombs).  Wireless internet service in our flat (don’t know about other places) can be spotty—but cell coverage is great.  Taxi drivers often talk on their cell phone while driving - never a good idea anywhere - but especially dangerous in Egypt because there are few traffic lights, many road hazards (e.g. donkey carts), and lots of other distractions. 

A local butcher shop.
     Food, either in restaurants or bought in the local shops, seems pretty much the same.  Fruits and veggies are the same: in-season varieties, cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, etc.  Food is abundant for most local people.  Sadly, the shops here still don’t seem to have peanut butter! There are “supermarkets” much like a small or medium-size grocery store and they typically sell all kinds of food, including meat and cheese, and vegetables, and even housewares.  But there are still many open-air stalls or small shops, some specializing in produce, or bread or pastry, or butcher shops like the one shown here.  You tell the butcher which piece you want and he takes a cleaver and cuts it off for you.

A local restaurant we go to frequently is essentially the same although it now calls itself the “Ala-din Belzoni” (Giovanni Belzoni was an early Italian explorer of Egypt’s antiquities and the proprietors added  him to their original name, Ala-din,  to provide some attractive flare.)  We haven’t been to any big fancy restaurants yet so I can’t speak to that.  The picture below shows a typical Egyptian hot dish of potatoes, onions, meat and spices often in a tomato base

Yes, some things have changed, and some things will probably forever stay the same.  Either way, it’s great to be back in Egypt, a country that has played such an important part in my life. 

Friday, February 12, 2016


After some delays, we finally started in the Valley of the Kings on Wednesday.  A lot of organization is required involving vehicles, equipment, and workmen from the local villages.  It's all very busy and exciting as the images below demonstrate:

Unpacking the equipment vehicle near our work area in the Valley of the Kings.

Registering the workmen.

Reis Abd el-Hadi brought a delicious cake!
Three archaeologists scrutinize the landscape.

The director, the inspector, and the crew.