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If you like Kent Weeks's story, you might also like:
Robert Ballard,
Lee Berger,
Mohamed ElBaradei,
Donald Johanson,
Richard Leakey,
Meave Leakey,
George Lucas,
Richard Schultes
and Tim White

Related Links:
Theban Mapping Project
Kent Weeks at TMP
American University in Cairo
Valley of the Kings

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Kent Weeks
Kent Weeks
Profile of Kent Weeks Biography of Kent Weeks Interview with Kent Weeks Kent Weeks Photo Gallery

Kent Weeks Biography

Living Legend of Egyptology

Kent Weeks Date of birth: December 16, 1941

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  Kent Weeks

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Kent R. Weeks was born in Everett, Washington. He first became fascinated with archeology and ancient Egypt at an early age. His elementary school teachers encouraged his interest and he sought to prepare himself for a career as an Egyptologist. He graduated from high school in Longview, Washington in 1959 and entered the University of Washington in Seattle, earning bachelor's and master's degrees in anthropology. As a student he gained his first practical archeological experience on the banks of Puget Sound excavating middens -- heaps of seashells and rubbish -- for Native American artifacts and other evidence of the region's history.

Still intent on exploring ancient Egypt, he contacted Yale University Egyptologist William Kelly Simpson and was invited to join him on an expedition to Egypt. The construction of the Aswan Dam meant that a vast area of the Nile Valley would soon be lost to archeology, submerged by the waters of Lake Nasser. In November 1963, Weeks joined Dr. Simpson and six Yale students in the Nubian Salvage Campaign, an effort to extricate the most valuable artifacts from the valley before they were lost forever under the waters of the manmade lake.

Kent Weeks Biography Photo
The young archeologist's first Egyptian adventure nearly ended before it began, when he contracted acute appendicitis in Cairo before even reaching the expedition site. Recovering from an appendectomy, he got no further than the embarkation point at Aswan before he accidentally ripped his stitches, necessitating another hospital stay. Within a week of Weeks's reaching the actual expedition site in Nubia, Dr. Simpson was called away and placed the novice Weeks in charge of the excavation. His brief experience in the Puget Sound middens made him the only member of the student team with actual field experience, and he took charge of the excavation and its team of native laborers, although he spoke no Arabic. Weeks gained invaluable experience from this adventure. He encouraged a friend from the University of Washington, Susan Howe, to join the project as a staff artist. Kent and Susan married and shared their adventures in Egyptian archeology for over 40 years.

Kent Weeks Biography Photo
After his experience in Egypt, Weeks won admission to Yale University's doctoral program in Egyptology. His family lacked the funds to pay for graduate school at Yale, and financial aid for graduate study in Egyptology was virtually non-existent. Undaunted, Weeks applied to the National Institute of Mental Health for a grant to study the medical practices of ancient Egypt and received a full four-year scholarship. As part of his graduate studies, he carried out an unprecedented x-ray study of the teeth of the mummies in the Egyptian Museum at Cairo. After completing a dissertation on ancient Egypt's understanding of human anatomy, as revealed in its art and ancient medical texts, Weeks received his Ph.D. from Yale, and was hired by the Egyptian Department of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Kent Weeks Biography Photo
At the same time, Kent Weeks began his teaching career, lecturing at the Queens College campus of the City University of New York. In 1972 he joined the Department of Anthropology of American University in Cairo. During this period, he carried out two seasons of field work in Giza, clearing and documenting a group of tombs to the west of the Great Pyramid.

After two years in Cairo, Weeks was hired by the University of Chicago, not only to teach, but to serve as Field Director of the University's Epigraphic and Architectural Survey in Luxor, Egypt. Working in Luxor, Weeks saw the need for a comprehensive and reliable atlas of all the ancient monuments, tombs and temples of the Theban Necropolis, the vast "city of the dead" on the west bank of the Nile, across from the ancient city of Thebes. In 1977, Dr. Weeks moved to Berkeley, California as Assistant Professor and then Associate Professor of Egyptian Archeology at the University of California. In the States, Weeks founded the Theban Mapping Project, to map and photograph every one of the region's ancient monuments. To facilitate the project, Weeks procured hot air balloons to survey the area. The introduction of the balloons gave rise to a thriving tourist attraction that has helped stimulate popular interest in Egyptian archeology.

Kent Weeks Biography Photo
In 1987 this work led Dr. Weeks to explore a mountainside northeast of the tomb of the Pharaoh Ramesses IX, in the heart of the Theban Necropolis, the renowned Valley of the Kings. Nearly 200 years before, surveyors of Napoleon's army had identified this location as the possible entrance to a hidden tomb. Egypt's Department of Antiquities planned to expand a parking lot for tour buses visiting the Valley of the Kings, necessitating a widening of the highway and possible demolition of this mountain slope.

Fearing loss of an irreplaceable archeological resource, Weeks made the location a priority. Within days, he found the entrance to a tomb, apparently consisting of one or two chambers, perhaps the resting place of a minor noble. The planned construction was rerouted, but further obstacles confronted Weeks and his crew. Over the centuries, flood waters had filled the newly discovered chambers with debris. It would be the work of years to remove enough of the accumulated soil to determine the significance of the structure.

Kent Weeks Biography Photo
The following year, Weeks resumed his association with American University in Cairo as Professor of Egyptology and continued his exploration of the mysterious site, known as KV5. For six years, Weeks and his team labored to clear the entrance of the tomb, struggling to remove tons of impacted soil and sediment without damaging the richly painted walls of the tomb and their hieroglyphic inscriptions. Years of painstaking work came to a thrilling climax on February 2, 1995. That morning, Weeks, accompanied by one graduate student and one Egyptian workman, all sharing a single flashlight, burrowed 100 feet into the mountain, through the opening they had made in the rocks and debris. Weeks crawled across the rubble on his stomach, inches below the roof of the chamber, creeping towards what appeared to be a doorway in the back wall. Whatever lay on the other side had gone unseen by human eyes for over 3,000 years. When Weeks pulled himself through the opening, what he saw astonished him. He had imagined the doorway would open onto a single room. Instead he found a 100-foot corridor with ten more doorways on each side, each leading in turn to more rooms. At the end of the hall stood a statue of Osiris, the god of resurrection. Whereas the most elaborate tombs previously unearthed in the valley contained ten or 15 rooms, it was clear that this tomb would contain far more.

Weeks had discovered the resting place of the sons of Pharaoh Ramesses II. Known to Egyptians as Ramesses the Great, this king ruled over the Egyptian Empire at the height of its power and geographic extent. He is identified by some biblical scholars as the pharaoh described as the antagonist of Moses in the book of Exodus. Ramesses II ruled for over 60 years, dying at age 92 when the average life expectancy was closer to 40. Ramesses fathered over 100 children by his many wives, including more than 50 sons, most of them entombed in the vast complex Weeks had discovered. In time, Weeks learned that another floor lay beneath the corridor he had entered in 1995. Excavation of this massive site will take many decades, but as many as 120 rooms have been discovered, making it by far the largest tomb in the Valley of the Kings.

Kent Weeks Biography Photo
In the years since this discovery made news around the world, Dr. Weeks has continued his work at KV5. Although it appears the site was looted in the first century after its construction, it still contains a treasure trove of artifacts, mummified remains and historical information about a highly dramatic period in Egyptian history. Ongoing discoveries in the Valley of the Kings have shed yet more light on a fascinating epoch.

Kent Weeks and his wife Susan, who was the resident artist of the Theban Mapping Project, raised two children, Christopher and Emily. The family's life was shadowed by the death of Susan Weeks in December 2009. Dr. Weeks has continued work on the Theban Mapping Project, making his findings available to the general public through a comprehensive web site. His discoveries at KV5 and elsewhere have also been documented in a series of beautifully illustrated books, including Secrets of the Lost Tomb. He continues to teach at American University in Cairo, where he inspires new generations of scholars with his love for the earliest chapters of recorded human history, the magical civilization of ancient Egypt.

This page last revised on Jun 11, 2011 10:39 EDT
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