Origins, Aims, Objectives
The Amarna Royal Tombs Project


The Valley of the Kings Foundation

The Valley of the Kings Foundation (VOKF), brainchild of Nicholas Reeves and Piers Litherland, was set up in 2000 as a not-for-profit and prospective charitable organization. Its aims were ambitious - to help promote and coordinate, on an international basis, the exploration, documentation, interpretation, publication and preservation of the Valley of the Kings and its royal and private tombs and related archaeology, as well as to record the social history of those who have explored and continue to work there.

Areas in which the VOKF sought to take an active interest fell under the following headings:

- Exploration and recording

A principal aim of the Valley of the Kings Foundation was to promote the responsible excavation and recording of the Valley, initially through the work of the Amarna Royal Tombs Project.

- Conservation

Within its resources, the VOKF was pledged to contribute both financially and professionally to the preservation and conservation of the Valley`s monuments, and to the circulation of information concerning the results of ongoing work in the area.

- Education

The VOKF wished to facilitate the widest possible dissemination of existing knowledge relating to the Valley of the Kings, through all available media but in particular via the internet. Materials of immediate interest included the results of the Foundation`s own projects, but also other archives, documents, photographs, films and recordings of relevance to the topography, geology, archaeology, and general history of the area.

A principal desire of the Foundation was to provide to a range of individuals from Egypt and around the world opportunities to study, understand and assist in the documentation and preservation of the Valley of the Kings. One of the ways in which it was intended this would be achieved was through the provision of scholarships, these intended to enable the pursuit of any Valley-related field of study at one of a range of universities or other approved educational institutions throughout the world.

The Amarna Royal Tombs Project

The Amarna Royal Tombs Project (ARTP) was set up by Nicholas Reeves in 1998 to undertake controlled stratigraphic excavation in the Valley of the Kings. The project was directed in the field by Nicholas Reeves and Geoffrey Martin. Affiliated to Durham University Oriental Museum through Reeves, administrative control of ARTP subsequently passed to the Valley of the Kings Foundation.

The ARTP`s work in the Valley was undertaken with the permission, encouragement and co-operation of Egypt`s Supreme Council of Antiquities under its former Permanent Secretary, Professor Gaballa A. Gaballa.
The project had two principal goals:

- to investigate and record the central area of the Valley of the Kings and, within this area, the relationship between the Amarna period burials in tombs KV55 and KV62 (Tutankhamun) and the potential bearing of that relationship upon other possible burials of the Amarna period in the Valley;

- to elucidate the topography of the site both in antiquity and in more recent times as a vital contribution to future flood-prevention strategy.

The ARTP achieved four seasons of immensely successful work - 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2002.

Prospects of the work

- `The Valley of the Tombs is now exhausted`

Before ARTP began to dig the most recent tomb-discovery in the Valley of the Kings was that of Tutankhamun, uncovered by the fifth Earl of Carnarvon and Howard Carter in 1922. By 1998 most archaeologists assumed the Valley to be completely worked out.

The improbability of this assumption Reeves was able to demonstrate in a public lecture given at University College London in 1997, basing his conclusions on a close study of Tutankhamun`s burial goods. He pointed out that Tutankhamun`s famous burial in fact poses an intriguing conundrum.

It has long been recognized that the boy-king died unexpectedly and thus before he had been able to make any substantial preparations for the Afterlife: the small size of the tomb in which Tutankhamun was found is generally accepted as proof that there had been no time to quarry anything more substantial. If true, it is an explanation which raises an intriguing question of its own: for if the time available to the undertakers had indeed been so limited, how was it possible to prepare, at short notice, such a wealth of spectacular burial furniture?

The answer, Reeves has discovered, is a simple one. A close examination of the inscriptions, style and iconography of Tutankhamun`s treasures reveals that a good proportion of his core burial equipment had in fact been taken over from two previous kings - Akhenaten, and Akhenaten`s coregent and successor, Ankhkheprure Nefernefruaten (Nefertiti).

There are various reasons for believing that funerary equipment originally prepared for Nefertiti as co-regent was never employed and had been drawn unused from temple storage.

Tutankhamun`s access to Akhenaten`s burial equipment seems to have been more circuitous.

Reeves` research has shown that the Amarna royal dead (Akhenaten, Tiye, Kiya and others) were transferred from the great royal tomb at el-Amarna to Thebes late in the boy-king`s reign, following its abandonment. At Thebes it seems that the tomb equipment of these individuals was pooled and drawn upon for the preparation of the young pharaoh`s burial - with what was left over then divided up yet again among its original owners.
The implications of this recycling are significant. For, with the burial equipment of the Amarna royal dead clearly available for reemployment at Thebes, the balance of probability will be that the bodies of this equipment`s owners will have been reinterred in the Valley of the Kings also.

Akhenaten has been found, Reeves and now others maintain - in the mix-and-match tomb KV55 where Tiye also had once been interred. But where are the missing Amarna mummies? Either their burials remain to be identified among those unassigned tombs of the period already known - or else they are still to be dug up. If the latter, then the results of ARTP`s 2000 radar survey very likely point a useful way for the future.

- Conserving the past

The likelihood of further tombs in the Valley of the Kings was a real and exciting spur to the work of the ARTP, and a useful publicity tool, but it represented only part of the story. Equally important was the ARTP`s desire to contribute to the long-term survival of the site.

A particular danger in the Valley is flash-flooding. Since the erection of the Aswan High Dam the Theban area has been increasingly prone to such freaks of nature, which cause great structural damage. In the Valley of the Kings the danger is acute because the efficiency of the ancient watercourses has been sorely compromised by the vast, earth-moving works of the early excavators. Because the ancient ground level of the Valley has been raised - in places by several metres - the water, when it now comes, drains away through the tombs themselves, with not infrequent damage to their unique painted scenes and remaining contents.

How to remedy this deeply unsatisfactory situation?

Although the erection of flood-barriers at key points in the Valley of the Kings has provided some protection, ARTP early recognized that the only long-term solution to the flood threat will be to restore the water-efficient landscape of old by reducing the present height of the Valley`s rubble fill to ancient levels. This is a truly complex challenge, and requires that the ancient topography be properly understood and adequately defined before any of the enormously rich archaeological fill is disturbed.

By 2002, ARTP`s programme of controlled, stratigraphic excavation was well on the way to achieving that crucial understanding - at which point the project`s work was brought to an abrupt and untimely halt.