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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
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Kent Weeks Interview

Living Legend of Egyptology

June 29, 1996
Sun Valley, Idaho

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  Kent Weeks

Dr. Weeks, we'd like you to take us back to February 2, 1995. Can you tell us what you were feeling or thinking when you first entered KV5, the tomb of the sons of Ramesses the Great, and this whole new discovery opened up for you?


Kent Weeks: My first words as we went into this huge corridor, with room after room after room going off on either side -- it was over 100 degrees back there. The humidity was about 95 percent, because the room had been sealed for thousands of years. Rain water -- believe it or not, it does rain occasionally in Egypt, about once every 300 years -- but it's a torrential rain that washes wet debris into the tombs and the moisture has nowhere to go. So the humidity was just horrendous. The chamber -- the corridor -- was filled to a depth of about six feet with debris, and there was only a crawlspace about a foot, a foot-and-a- half high between the debris that filled the room and the ceiling. So I'm slithering on my belly down this passageway with a very poor, weak flashlight, an Egyptian assistant and a graduate student. And all I could do was say, "My God, I don't believe it. My God, this is incredible!" We stayed in there about 20 minutes. I mean, it was so uncomfortable, we were just drenched, covered in mud by the time we got out. And I went back, my wife was upstairs -- she's the artist on our project, and has worked with me for as long as we've been married, which is now 29 years -- and I said, "I think our life has changed forever. This tomb is going to keep us busy for the rest of our lives. I think we have made a truly spectacular discovery." Which indeed, we did do.


Kent Weeks Interview Photo
Kent Weeks Interview Photo



I went back in a couple of hours later, again said, "Oh my God, what have we got ourselves into?" I began looking around at the problems of engineering, of conservation, of cleaning, of excavation. It was obvious that this was going to be a lifetime's work. It was going to take decades to clear out this tomb. I'll give you an example. The average tomb in the Valley of the Kings, the ancient Greeks called them syringes, looked rather like that, just long tubes cut into the bedrock. Sometimes they'd go in ten feet, sometimes they'd go in 150. Ordinarily, they have anywhere from one to about ten or 11 chambers. When we first found this tomb, and we began working on it in 1987, we thought there were five or six chambers in the tomb. In February of 1995, when we found the doorway in the back wall and went through it, we suddenly found ourselves in a tomb with 67 chambers. And in November of 1995 we found two more corridors leading off. We're now up to 95 rooms. Not one, not ten, but 95 rooms. It's the largest tomb ever found in the Valley of the Kings, one of the very largest ever found in Egypt. Completely unique in terms of its size, unique in terms of its plan. It isn't a long syringe, cut straight into the hillside, it's like an octopus with tentacles going off in every direction. We think, in fact, we may even have two layers, a double-decker tomb here. What we're in the process of doing now is seeing how we get from the upper level, where we are now, down to the lower. We're trying to find the path down there.


Did you have any idea such a major complex lay inside this mountain?

Kent Weeks: I had no idea. We had been working in the Valley of the Kings since 1979, simply trying to make a detailed topographic map of the valley and detailed plans of each tomb that it contains. The reason was simple; there existed no complete inventory. We wanted to make basically what amounted to an archeological database, because we knew that if we didn't have good maps, and if we didn't have a good record of what the known tombs contained, there would be no way to protect and preserve them for the future.


We heard in 1987 that the antiquities department was making plans, because of increased tourism, to widen the parking lot right at the entrance to the valley, in order to accommodate more tour buses. We had seen on a map drawn of the Valley of the Kings in 1800 by Napoleon Bonaparte's soldiers when they visited Egypt, they had drawn a map of the valley, and right at the entrance they had put a little black dot and a legend -- "tomb entrance?" -- question mark. Now, the map was very inaccurate, it was a sketch plan, nothing more than that, it wasn't to scale. But judging by the map, and looking at the topography, we thought that that little black dot lay exactly where the bus park was going to be widened. We reasoned that if they were going to widen the road, they were going to have to cut back the mountain and they might very well damage or destroy a tomb, if in fact there was a tomb there. So we got permission from the antiquities department to do some clearing before they began their excavations and paving. There was no problem with that. In a matter of about ten days we had found the tomb entrance, in 1987. Opened the door, went inside, found the tomb completely filled with debris, and spent six years excavating the first two small rooms, only about 12 by 15 feet square, each of them, six years removing that debris. Extremely slow work, because the debris had the consistency of cement. Because we discovered that the walls of the tomb were decorated, and we didn't want to do any damage to that. And because we found that there were thousands and thousands of fragmentary objects on the floor of the chambers. All of that debris had to be removed with a pick, then sieved, carefully analyzed, all of the pottery, thousands and thousands of pieces had to be analyzed.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance


Kent Weeks Interview Photo
Kent Weeks Interview Photo


That's maddeningly difficult work. How do you account for that kind of dogged determination, that kind of dedication?

Kent Weeks: Well, once we got into the tomb and discovered that it was decorated, it became a very interesting tomb to me. First of all, the inscriptions indicated it belonged to the reign of Ramesses II. We knew it couldn't be his tomb; the Pharaoh Ramesses II has his own tomb about 150 feet away, but it was of his reign. As we cleared the walls, we began finding inscriptions indicating that it was the burial place of not just one son of that pharaoh, but several. We found names and titles of them on the wall. Now here was a golden opportunity to look at the burial place of several sons of one of Egypt's most powerful rulers, and to get some better idea -- not just of the history of that period and of the burial practices -- but maybe to get some idea of what the role of crown princes and the royal family was in ancient times. To get some better idea of how the Egyptian court functioned. From a historical standpoint, the tomb immediately took on very important dimensions.

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