Egyptian Archaeology – Abydos, Luxor and the Valley of the Kings

The areas that in the south have proved to be the most important are the necropolis of Abydos and two of the most explored areas of Egyptian archeology of all time, the temple of Luxor and the Valley of the Kings, a traditional destination not only for field research but also of international tourism.

As for Abydos, the discoveries were truly sensational and, above all, led to the acquisition of important historical data. The royal tombs between the late predynastic and the end of the second dynasty were investigated again: this led to the discovery of the funeral boats of the rulers of this period, neatly arranged inside brick chambers.

Apparently, the discovery is only the continuation, after many years, of that of the so-called ‘solar boat’, made at the pyramid of Cheops in Giza, only older and larger from the point of view of the number of boats found. In reality this is not the case, because it is part of a never dormant diatribe among scholars about which was the real royal necropolis in the first two dynasties, whether that of Abydos or that of Saqqara, much further north, on the outskirts of Memphis. The presence of funeral boats – for such are the discovered ones, destined to ‘ferry’ the deceased ruler into the afterlife, the god who dies to rise again in the world of the gods to which he still belongs and to whom he returns after death – has definitively resolved the problem in favor of Abydos,

Another and perhaps even more important result was that of recognizing the persistence – not previously suspected and in any case relegated by scholars to a very remote antiquity – of the ritual execution of senior officials at the time of the sovereign’s death. In reality, starting from the III dynasty of the tombs of the ‘courtiers’ in orderly ‘cities’ of the dead around the pyramids of their kings, it was believed that this custom had existed in the past, but it was placed in a period much earlier than that. dynastic. We now know that this bloody ritual – not limited to animals alone – lasted until the end of the 1st dynasty.

Finally, the excavation of the pre-dynastic royal tomb called Uj by its excavator, Günter Dreyer, led to the discovery of a considerable amount of written documents, mostly bone plates. The characters, which can be provisionally defined as proto-hieroglyphics, have made it possible to backdate the oldest examples of writing in Egypt by about 150 years and therefore to reach a stage very close to its ‘invention’ or its introduction. On the basis of these data it is possible to state that we are very close to what can be defined as the birth of the state in Ancient Egypt, in which the differentiation of social structures and the introduction of writing – whatever its origin – mark the transition from elementary forms of social organization (the chiefdom of English-speaking scholars) to much more complex forms, comparable to the modern concept of the state.

It should not be believed, however, that the continuous discoveries of this very important archaeological area, which was not wrongly considered as the ‘cradle’ of Egyptian civilization, can only be grasped when they reach large dimensions from a monumental or numerical point of view. Recently Dreyer unearthed a fragmentary plaque, of the kind that are defined as annuals because they preserve the memory of the event characterizing – as it is considered the most important – of a given year in the chronology of the reigning sovereign, according to an archaic way of dating, later abandoned for simpler forms but of which traces remained for a long time. The plaque dates back to the reign of Narmer, which is in fact mentioned there, and recalls the same event, the defeat of the enemies of the Delta,

In the Luxor area there have been two finds of great interest, in two places, relatively close from each other, where it seemed that by now there was no longer any hope of finding anything, also due to the continuous frequentation of tourists who it did not make archaeological research easy, nor perhaps opportune.

The first discovery was accidental: inside one of the courtyards of the Luxor temple, following works imposed by the precarious static nature of some of the columns of the cult building, the Egyptian archaeologist Mohammed el-Saghir found, buried under the floor, a series of statues of sovereigns and divinities, generally in an excellent state of conservation, datable between the 18th and the 25th dynasty. These are examples of a statuary of the highest quality that make an important contribution to the history of Egyptian art in the period of the ’empire’. Scholars could not fail to recall the discovery of the so-called cachette of Karnak, completed in the early twentieth century, when about 2 km north of the temple of Luxor, at one of the pylons of the temple of Karnak, in a closet, as the French term says, in reality a simple pit dug in the ground, were you will find stacked a thousand statues of stone and bronze depicting kings, individuals and divinities. That of the cachette of Karnak was a unique discovery in the history of Egyptian archeology, even excessive for the generations of scholars who have since followed one another, if a good part of those statues still remain unpublished and if only recently there has been a revival of interest in comparisons with a series of publications, however not yet exhaustive of what has remained unpublished. The discovery of Luxor does not stand up to the comparison from a numerical point of view, but surpasses the previous one for the artistic quality that justified a special location in the magnificent museum of Luxor. In both cases it is useless to ask the reason why the statues were buried, whether to protect them from invasions by foreign armies and in this case of which ones (Assyrians, Persians?), Or for other reasons, much more banal,

According to Picktrue, the other discovery is located in the Valley of the Kings, and can perhaps be better defined as a rediscovery, which in no way diminishes its value: a large collective burial has been brought to light intended to receive the bodies of the sons of Ramesses II, 30 out of a possible total of 32. The tomb was ‘visited’ in 1825 and then lost again, with its entrance submerged by an enormous amount of debris: only the need to widen the paved road traveled every year by hundreds of thousands of tourists led to its finding. The American archaeologist who was responsible for the excavation of the imposing structure, Kent R. Weeks, was able to say with just pride that it is the most important discovery in the Valley of the Kings since Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Tutankhamen. This is an absolutely indisputable fact, not only and not so much because it is a large burial and for the importance of the characters who were buried there, but above all because its discovery has allowed us to know a typology of funerary architecture. up to now not only completely unknown, but frankly not even conceivable: a large underground tomb intended to house all the children of the same sovereign did not seem to fit within the concepts underlying the royal funeral ritual. It is possible to try to sketch an explanation of this which is perhaps a but above all because its discovery has made it possible to know a typology of funerary architecture up to now not only completely unknown, but frankly not even conceivable: a large underground tomb intended to accommodate all the children of the same sovereign did not seem to fit within the concepts which are the basis of the royal funeral ritual. It is possible to try to sketch an explanation of this which is perhaps a unicum of Egyptian architecture. The project of a mausoleum in which to reunite the tombs of his children fits well into the ideology of the kingship of divine right which formed the very foundation of the reign of Ramesses II and which the sovereign manifested in many different ways. This ideology concerned in the first place the god-king who sat on the throne of Egypt, but it also extended to his entire family, involved in and by the divinity of the pharaoh: and then the idea of ​​a tomb-mausoleum in which to collect his sons, all of his potential successors, finds an explanation perfectly in line with that of divine kingship which dates back to the 3rd millennium and which, after a long crisis, had again become central in Egypt starting from the reign of Ekhnaton to reach the his greatest exaltation with Ramses II.

Egyptian Archaeology - Abydos, Luxor and the Valley of the Kings