An Archaeologist visits Ancient Egypt - part 5


Dr. Greene: I'm now going to take you across the Nile to the West Bank, which is from the living side of the Nile to the area of the dead. But I'm not going to show you any photographs taken in tombs because that is not possible. We're looking into the Valley of the Kings here. The way it's managed, normally under normal circumstances, some thousands of people visit. You are told first at this gate, where you then get on to a little electric train to go up to the next gate, no photographs, no photographs, no cameras.

I was entertained to a cup of tea by the site director, and while I was there, first one and then another tourist were brought in, who were told, "Put down your mobile phone or your camera and delete the photographs you've taken." They were looking very shame faced.

And there's good reason for it, because the flash photography damages the pigments in the tombs and also, they're small, they're small spaces. If everybody stopped to take a photograph, well, it would be impossible.

The Valley of the Kings is beneath this pyramid shaped mountain. And of course it marked, in the 18th and 19th dynasties, a very different way of burying the dead from the pyramids we saw before. It was all about being worried about tombs being robbed.

Putting them here, they were much safer or so it was thought, because of course Tutankhamen's is the only one to have the vast majority of the objects within the tomb found intact. Although, of course, it was itself robbed on at least two occasions soon after the burial.

But this is the landscape in which these tombs are cut. I wasn't able to take photographs, but I did go into the tomb of Tutankhamen, and having read Howard Carter's autobiography over the Christmas period, it was really very, very moving to go down the steps, along the passage, and into the first room, alongside which was the annex and then the burial chamber, and alongside that the treasury.

And just think about to these huge stacks of objects in the photographs at the time, which are shown in the exhibition. And then, of course, on the walls, the wonderful paintings and in this very constrained space.

But at the foot of the valley is Howard Carter's house, which has been restored. There is his bed and his office. So this is a museum about Howard Carter. It's very good. It's only recently been opened, and it's good to see that.

As you go around, you look up into the hills and you see these holes into the hillside, and these are all tombs, not of kings in this case, but almost certainly of nobles and officials.

Around the corner on the other side of the hill is this amazing mortuary temple of Hatshepsut. And she and I say she was a ruler from 1473 to 1458 BC. It's her mortuary temple, as I say. It was designed by another architect, Senemut, and it's an extraordinary piece of design with the most amazing carvings on the walls.

Again, I come back to Howard Carter, because this is another of the tasks that Carter undertook to draw for the Egypt Exploration Fund each of these wonderful carvings.

This is part of the temple devoted to Hathor, the god who appears in the form of a cow. You can see the cow there licking the hand of the pharaoh with a crown on its head. Hathor also appears in this form with a woman's face but with cow's ears. So this is a very special cow.

Hieroglyphs of which the two on the right are ones which I recognize. The sort of tent like one means given and the ankh symbol to the right of that is life or to live and these are two symbols you see everywhere, and you'll see them in the exhibition as well.

Now there are absolutely wonderful carvings, paintings in this tomb including this group of soldiers marching along for an expedition that was organized by the queen to the land of Punt, which is present day Somalia. It was a peaceful expedition, and they brought back myrrh trees, and the trees are shown being loaded into the boats.

This is not terribly easy to make out, but if you look very closely, you can see the rigging of a boat here; you can see some oarsmen down at the bottom painted red. So this is a pictorial account of this fantastic expedition to Punt and also meeting with the rulers there and how the people lived in Punt, and so on.

Then there are these wonderful paintings as well, painted carvings. Take note of the things that you'll see many, many representations of kings wearing, such as that collar. And you'll see one of those in the exhibition. The pectoral, this jewel, or sort of a jeweled pendant hanging over the front there. And then the headdress with the ureaus. Again, you'll see that in the exhibition, the cobra often with the vulture alongside it.

Then we have part of the temple is devoted to Anubis, the god of mummification and help in the afterlife. And then these. These are where the politics of ancient Egypt come vividly to life, in that there the image of Hatshepsut has been removed, has been chiseled away by her successor, Thutmose III.

But it appears to be some time after he becomes sole king that these were removed, and there is plenty of argument among Egyptologists about the significance of this. But it is inescapable that she has been erased from most of the areas of this particular temple. Only the protective vulture is above her there. Alongside there's a whole series of gifts, which are going towards Anubis.

On the temple façade itself, this has been reconstructed from the fragments which were found. This is Hatshepsut as Osiris, and these were all smashed. Some of these have been reconstructed.

But this is also a piece of garden archeology. I mentioned the Myrrh trees, well, actually the positions of plants have been found, and what you see, the demarcation here, is exactly that, it's a garden. So this very dry landscape would've been supplied by water, gardens would've flourished. It would've been a most extraordinary site. It, too, had an avenue of sphinxes leading down to the Nile immediately opposite the temple of Karnack.

Alongside, there are nobles' tombs, but I want to finish here. This is the Cairo Museum, which I visited also, of course. It was here that outside, you've seen this on the television time and again, it's on Tahrir Square, the demonstrations took place. You'll know that it was broken into on the first night of the demonstrations, and looters made off with about 70 objects, including some from the Tutankhamen collection, including...

I stood in front of a case with two absolutely beautiful objects; they were both reed boats with a figure of Tutankhamen standing on them with a spear, spearing fish, and one of these were broken, the boat was left, the figure went.

I'm delighted to say that four days ago in a bag on a metro station in Cairo, that upper part of Tutankhamen was found. So far, of the 70 objects that were stolen, about 35 turned up in various ways. The looters who were captured have now been sentenced to 15 years in prison.

It's an ongoing story. The story of Egypt goes on. The story of the archeology goes on. New discoveries all the time, a changing political landscape, and a very interesting time to have visited Egypt and for us to be mounting this exhibition.

Thank you very much.

About this Video

Part 5 of 6 of Dr Greene's lecture 'An Archaeologist visits Ancient Egypt'
Length: 11:50