In a pharaoh tomb, archaeologist examines the inscriptions ... of ancient tourists21.06.2017
The entrance to the tomb of Ramesses VI (left) is located next to Tutankhamun's tomb (lower right). Photo by A. Łukaszewicz
"I visited and I did not like anything except the sarcophagus!"; "I admired!" "I can not read the hieroglyphs!" - these are some of the inscriptions read by the Polish scientists working inside Egypt's pharaoh Ramesses VI in the Valley of the Kings.
All inscriptions were left by tourists who visited this place about two thousand years ago!
The Valley of the Kings in Upper Egypt is one of the main tourist attractions of the country, next to the Giza pyramid complex. The majority of the pharaohs of the 18th - 20th dynasties, who ruled from 1550 to 1069 BC, rested in the tombs cut in rock. The most famous pharaoh buried here is Tutankhamen, whose tomb was discovered in 1922.
"The Valley of the Kings was a tourist destination already in antiquity. Like today, tourists often signed their names in the places they visited. Among the more than sixty tombs in this area, in at least ten there are inscriptions made by ancient travellers" - told PAP archaeologist and papirologist from the Institute of Archaeology of the University of Warsaw, ZProf. Adam Łukaszewicz.
The target of the mission led by the scientist is the tomb of Ramesses VI - a place that, compared to the rest of the Valley of the Kings, is extremely rich in the traces of the presence of ancient visitors. In the long, over a hundred-meter tomb cut deep in the rocks, the Polish scientist counted over a thousand inscriptions.
"The greatest number of inscriptions come from the Greek-Roman period, that is, from the time of the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great to the division of the Roman Empire in the 4th century" - said Prof. Łukaszewicz.
Most often, they are ancient equivalents of "John Smith was here", the names of people who visited the tomb written in Greek, less often in Latin. They can be seen in different places in the tomb, sometimes even several meters high on the wall. For a long time, the corridors of the tomb were partly covered with sand, on which visitors walked. The first of them probably had to crawl in order to enter the tomb, so their inscriptions were just below the ceiling" - added the professor.
Preserved to this day, in the tomb are original decorations of sacred imagery from, among others, the Book of Gates or the Book of Caverns. These are among the most important funeral texts found on the walls of ancient Egyptian tombs.
"Visitors of the tomb tried to place their signatures without destroying their earlier decorations. Sometimes they did it in a very thoughtful way - for example, they inscribed their names in the centre of the solar disc, which symbolized one of the gods" - said the archaeologist.
In addition to their names, ancient tourists often also added their place of origin or occupation. Sporadically, there were longer texts, including poetry. Thanks to the inscriptions, we know that over 2 thousand years ago the tomb was visited by both Egyptians and travellers from neighbouring countries. Some of them were doctors and philosophers of different schools - cynics and Platonists.
"There were also people very high in the social hierarchy - including the prefects of Egypt, those who ruled the country on behalf of the Roman emperor, and governors of various parts of the country" - said Prof. Łukaszewicz.
Among the more famous foreigners who marked their visit to the tomb was Armenian prince Chosroes (4th century).
Researchers were also interested in the signature of Amros. "In this way, in Greek, the Arab conqueror of Egypt, Amr ibn al-As recorded his presence in the tomb in the seventh century. This is one of the greatest inscriptions made by visitors to the tomb of Ramesses VI. The letters are about 25 cm tall" - added Prof. Łukaszewicz. The tomb was also visited by less well-known people from Athens or Syria.
The walls were almost literally covered with discussions. Researchers have even noticed a "dialogue" between visitors. In one place they read that a visitor admired the tomb and read the hieroglyphics. Another visitor wrote below: "I can not read this writing!" Below this inscription, a third person wrote: "Why do you care that you can not read the hieroglyphs, I do not understand your concern!".
Most of the exposed inscriptions were carved, a significantly smaller number made with red paint. The first European travellers wrote in memoirs that Arab guides offered visitors sharp objects that the tourists could use to sign. "It could have been the same two thousand years ago" - the scientist believes.
The tomb of Ramesses VI was not merely a place of historical interest for the ancient guests. Visits to this place were treated more as spiritual experiences. The ancients thought that the tomb belonged to the legendary hero - Memnon, who fought in the Trojan War - noted Prof. Łukaszewicz.
How did they come up with that? Near the tomb, in the Teban plain, there are two colossal statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III, still known as the Colossi of Memnon,. The misleading name was given to them by the Greeks who heard mysterious sounds made by one of them in the morning. (Today it is assumed that the sounds were a result of the cracked monolith forming the statue warming up). The Greeks associated this with King Memnon, who was killed during the Trojan War. They believed the mysterious sound to be Memnon's greeting to his mother, the goddess Eos
One of the names of the official title of King Amenhotep III recorded on the statue was the same as one of the many names of Ramesses VI. That is why it was believed that the tomb in the Valley of the Kings belonged to the same person. Scientists identified the real "owner" of the tomb in the nineteenth century, when they managed to decipher the hieroglyphics - reminded the scientist.
Ramesses VI rested in the tomb with his nephew, Ramesses V in 1136 BC. Two rulers were laid to rest next to each other in one tomb. However, they did not have peace in posthumous life: a few years after the funeral, the tomb was plundered and the mummies disturbed. The priests moved the remains of the rulers to a hiding place nearby, where they survived to our times.
Warsaw scientists working in the Valley of the Kings under the aegis of the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology of the University of Warsaw (until recently with the support of the Foundation for Polish Science) have just finished work on the complete three-dimensional digital documentation of all the walls of the tomb. In November and December of this year they will return to the Valley of the Kings to thoroughly analyse all the inscriptions of ancient tourists.
PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland, Szymon Zdziebłowski
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