The Valley of the Kings lies in a deep ravine surrounded by high cliffs and dominated by a natural pyramid-shaped peak. The Kings were buried with their wealth in the belief that they could take it with them into the afterlife, and they wanted to safeguard their body and possessions from grave robbers by digging tombs underground and burying the sealed entrance. Unfortunately this hope was unrealised – virtually all tombs were plundered during the lifetime of the deceased king’s successors. Thus far 63 tombs have been discovered within the valley and it is thought that there may still be more undiscovered burial chambers.
To create a tomb, workers would first dig down to the bedrock, then dig a passageway at an angle down into the stone before cutting chambers and smoothing the walls, floor and ceiling. The smooth walls would then be given a fine layer of plaster on which draftsmen would sketch outlines of figures and representations in red paint, which would then be corrected in black paint where necessary by the head draftsman before being completed by sculptors and painters. A tomb would never be completed whilst the king was still alive as this was considered bad luck and a sign that the king would have a short life.
The most famous of all the tombs is ironically the smallest, that of Tutankhamun. Tutankhamun’s reign was very short – 1361-1352BC – and he died at just 18 years of age. His tomb was finally discovered by Howard Carter in 1922 with over 1700 precious objects inside. Imagine the colossal wealth that must have been buried in the larger tombs!
Tutankhamun’s mummified body was enclosed in a coffin of solid gold. This in turn was enclosed in another 2 richly ornamented coffins, which were then enclosed in 4 gilt shrines. One coffin and the tiny mummy of Tutankhamun are displayed within his tomb in the Valley of the Kings, whilst the rest of the treasure is at the Antiquities Museum in Cairo. Reliefs on the walls include images of King Ay, Tutankhamun’s successor, performing the ritual opening of the mouth of the tomb before the mummified King.