• Era 20th Dynasty
  • Project Director Dr. Anke Weber
  • Location Valley of the Kings, Luxor
  • Affiliation Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
  • Project Sponsor Antiquities Endowment Fund
  • Project Dates July-November 2021

Written by: Dr. Anke Weber

The two harpers in KV 11 in front of Onuris-Shu and Shu, son of Ra. ©The Ministry of Antiquities / The Ramesses III (KV 11) Publication and Conservation Project, photo: J. Kramer.

The tomb of Ramesses III in the Valley of the Kings has been open since Antiquity. In modern times it has attracted visitors since the 1790 publication of James Bruce’s drawings of two harpers which are depicted in a small chamber in the second corridor. Since then, the site was known as the “Harpers tomb” or “Bruce’s tomb”. Even today, the fascination for the pharaoh’s burial site had not disappeared. Many facts and events from the king’s reign are relatively well know such as his battles against the Sea Peoples and other enemies, the workers’ strikes during his reign, and even his death as a result of a harem’s conspiracy. Far less research was expended on his tomb, however, which still remains unpublished. Our project aims to change this.

The two harpers in KV 11 in front of Onuris-Shu and Shu, son of Ra. ©The Ministry of Antiquities / The Ramesses III (KV 11) Publication and Conservation Project, photo: J. Kramer.

 In 2011, Anke Weber began to develop The Ramesses III (KV 11) Publication and Conservation Project which is dedicated to the systematic research and conservation of the tomb of pharaoh Ramesses III in the Valley of the Kings on the west bank of modern Luxor. The team started with extensive research in archives as well as preliminary measures in KV 11 in order to develop a plan for excavating and restoring the tomb’s rear part. Several flooding events between 1885/90 and 1914 had caused major damage to this area. As a result, the tomb’s rear compartments partially collapsed and most of the wall paintings were destroyed. The area between corridor G and room L is filled with limestone rocks, rubble, sediments, and debris and is currently inaccessible for tourists. Thanks to a first grant from the Antiquities Endowment Fund, the team was able to conduct a geo-archaeological survey in and around KV 11 in 2019 and 2020. The results provided significant information about the tomb’s geology and causes of destruction. By measuring the entire site, it was also possible to provide an updated ground plan of the tomb which revealed that the burial site is shorter than was previously believed. It also became clear that the site was cut into the poor-quality Wall Limestone A, which is well-known for its water-absorbing nature. This was identified as the main cause for the tomb’s devastated state in the wake of the flooding events.

Plan of the tomb KV 11. ©The Ramesses III (KV 11) Publication and Conservation Project, G. Rees and A. Weber.

Firstly, conservation measures and a damage catalogue were prepared in order to develop a restoration concept. Next, initial work for the reconstruction of wall scenes was done by using state-of-the-art methods such as photogrammetry and D-Stretch. By combining archive materials with newly made photographs, it was even possible to visualize whole rooms in their original splendor. For the future, it is planned to provide visitors with unique views into the tomb’s former wall decoration and pharaoh’s burial equipment. 

Overlapping image of a camera lucida drawing by Joseph Bonomi with modern photograph. ©The Ministry of Antiquities / The Ramesses III (KV 11) Publication and Conservation Project, photo: J. Kramer.

During this field campaign, a field school was conducted for students from Luxor University (Department of Archaeology and Conservation), who were trained in geo-archaeological survey methods, photogrammetry, collation, epigraphy, and damage mapping. It was a pleasure to work with these young Egyptian colleagues as they supported the team in the field in an outstanding way.

Field School training in drawing of archaeological findings. ©The Ministry of Antiquities / The Ramesses III (KV 11) Publication and Conservation Project, photo: J. Kramer.

Finally, thanks to the initial measures undertaken in 2019 and 2020, it was possible to develop a plan for the tomb’s excavation, its conservation, and site management. This provided a solid basis for the KV 11-team to proceed with their field work and publications.

In 2021, the project was granted renewed funding by the American Research Center in Egypt. The field work focused on the excavation of the first few rooms in the tomb’s rear part in order to provide space for storage and access to vulnerable places for the conservators. The team began clearing rooms H and I, following a formerly developed digging grid and three specific stages to reach the floor level in a systematic fashion. First, the rubble and debris, including collapsed stones and limestone chips, were removed from the top area. After this, they reached a layer of sediments, which was built up by several flooding events. Remains preserved within this layer consisted mostly of pieces from the former wall decoration, baked on top of each other inside the dry mud crust. Underneath the sediment layer was a sand layer which yielded a number of unexpected finds. New rose granite sarcophagus fragments came to light as well as ushebtis, sherds of fayence vessels, and glass fragments.

Anke Weber and Lutz Popko investigating pieces of a sarcophagus lid. ©The Ministry of Antiquities / The Ramesses III (KV 11) Publication and Conservation Project, photo: W. Hovestreydt.

 Investigation of the finds made it clear that some objects belonged to the original burial equipment of pharaoh Ramesses III. This was a big surprise as nobody expected such finds in a tomb that had been open since Antiquity. In 2014, when the project was initiated, a piece of a granite sarcophagus lid was found. The question arose whether the object was washed inside the tomb at some later point in time or whether it had been there all along. As further fragments came to light in subsequent campaigns, all belonging to the same lid, it now seems most likely that the sarcophagus was smashed inside KV 11 before any of the floods occurred and covered the remains. However, investigation on its origin and owner is still ongoing. The team also recovered several ushebtis, bones and linen fragments, which are pointing in the direction of one or more secondary burials. It will be a future task to establish whether these finds were brought intentionally to the tomb by modern visitors or whether they had remained there since Antiquity. Only then will it be possible to identify their purpose.

Saskia Nehls working on one of the wooden ushebtis from KV 11. ©The Ministry of Antiquities / The Ramesses III (KV 11) Publication and Conservation Project, photo: A. Weber.

The last part of the excavation included the clearance of the front area of the burial chamber in KV 11, a necessary move as the ceiling behind pillars 1 and 3 threatened to collapse. To counter this, the team had to put up a protective iron construction that needed direct contact with the floor level in order to support the limestone ceiling. After completing the excavation, the iron beam was succesfully put in place, ensuring that in future campaigns it will be safe to work in the burial chamber.

Although the tomb of Ramesses III was never properly studied or excavated, the team of the Ramesses III (KV 11) Publication and Conservation Project are now busily engaged in closing this gap, thanks to generous funding and the support of societies like the American Research Center in Egypt. The financial support will enable the researchers and archaeologists to achieve their goal to finally preserve, restore, and publish the tomb in its entirety and to open it to the public.

Credits:

We are very grateful to the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, his Excellency, Prof. Dr. Khaled El-Enany, SCA secretary general, Dr. Mostafa Waziri, the director of Foreign Missions Affairs, Dr. Nashwa Gaber, and the members of the Permanent Committee for receiving permission to work in the tomb of Ramesses III (KV 11) in the Valley of the Kings. For local administrative support, we want to thank Bahaa Gaber, Director of the Antiquities Inspectorate of the west bank at Luxor, Ramadan Ahmed Ali, Director of missions and excavations, Ali Redda, Director of the Valley of the Kings, Hussein Fawzy, Chief Inspector of the Valley of the Kings, our Inspectors as well as our rais Mahmoud Mohamed Hussein for their extraordinary work and constant support during our fieldwork. We are very grateful to J. Brett McClain and Nigel Strudwick for their scientific advice and constant support of our project. A special thanks go to the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) and its advisory board for granting us financial support through the Antiquities Endowment Fund and for believing in our work from the beginning.