The collection of archive material concerning the tomb of Ramesses III in the Valley of the Kings

The tomb of Ramesses III (KV 11) is one of the most renowned places in the Valley of the Kings, but also one of the most threatened by progressive decay. After several floods, between 1885 and 1914, a major part of the wall decoration was lost forever. Although it has been one of the most frequently visited tombs since antiquity, it still remains unpublished. Nevertheless, it is possible to reconstruct a substantial part of the decoration from the notes, drawings and squeezes produced by early travellers and researchers. "KV 11 revisited" is part of The Ramesses III (KV 11) Publication and Conservation Project. Thanks to the EES Centenary Award, the team members will be able to conduct research in the archives of the British Library, the Bodleian Library and the University of Milan to explore this invaluable documentation on the now lost sections of the tomb's decoration.

In 1883, Eugène Lefébure worked for several months in the Valley, not long before the tomb's final flooding. His published notes and sketches form an essential supplement to Champollion's Notices descriptives, and both publications are well known. His personal notes and correspondence remain unpublished, however, as are those of Victor Loret who accompanied him for much of the time he worked in the Valley. A similar fate is shared by the notes of Sir Gardner Wilkinson (1797-1875) and Robert Hay (1799-1863). It should be pointed out that the drawings produced by Hay and the artists in his service, among them Joseph Bonomi, were regularly made with the aid of the camera lucida and therefore remarkably precise. For this reason, they are eminently suitable for purposes of reconstruction. Other travellers who left notes and drawings of KV 11 include James Burton (1786-1862) and Edward William Lane (1801-1876), both of whom also used the camera lucida. Such distortion-free records may serve as a basis for the reconstruction of wall parts which were washed away by the intruding rain water. Though not attributed, images taken from the decoration of KV 11 are sprinkled throughout the volumes of Wilkinson's Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians, suggesting there may well be much more to find among his notes.

Left: Two of the ships depicted in Room Bb of the tomb.  Frontispiece of the 1978 edition of Wilkinson's (right) The Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians, Vol. II.

Only a close examination of these documents, papers and drawings can provide us with a more complete picture of the former decoration of KV 11. It is also hoped that more information can be found to help establish a chronology of the floods, which might in turn lead to a better understanding of the tomb's geology. This will not only be useful for the conservation of KV 11, but it may also help to prevent future flooding by developing a site management plan for the tomb.

The EES Centenary Award is a substantial contribution to the development of archive-based research and reconstruction work in the tomb of pharaoh Ramesses III and our team is grateful for this opportunity.

Further reading

Weber, Anke, 'First Report on the Publication and Conservation of the Tomb of Ramesses III in the Valley of the Kings (KV 11)', Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 104.1 (2019), 1-11.

Hovestreydt, Willem, Sideshow or not? On the side-rooms of the first two corridors in the tomb of Ramesses III', in: B.J.J. Haring et. (eds), The Workman's Progress: Studies in the Village of Deir el-Medina and Other Documents from Western Thebes in Honour of Rob Demarée (Leiden, 1914), 103-132.

Mauric-Barberio, Florence, 'Reconstitution du décor de la tombe de Ramsès III (partie inférieure) d'après les manuscrits de Robert Hay', Bulletin de l'Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale 104 (2), 389-456.