The Royal Tombs of Ancient Egypt: The History of the Ancient Egyptians’ Most Famous Sacred Burial Sites
Africa may have given rise to the first human beings, and Egypt probably gave rise to the first great civilizations, which continue to fascinate modern societies across the globe nearly 5,000 years later. From the Library and Lighthouse of Alexandria to the Great Pyramid at Giza, the Ancient Egyptians produced several wonders of the world, revolutionized architecture and construction, created some of the world’s first systems of mathematics and medicine, and established language and art that spread across the known world. With world-famous leaders like King Tut and Cleopatra, it’s no wonder that today’s world has so many Egyptologists.
Given the abundance of funerary artifacts that have been found within the sands of Egypt, it sometimes seems as though the Ancient Egyptians were more concerned with the matters of the afterlife than they were with matters of the life they experienced from day to day. This is underscored most prominently by the pyramids, which have captured the world’s imagination for centuries. The pyramids of Egypt are such recognizable symbols of antiquity that for millennia, people have made assumptions about what they are and why they exist, without full consideration of the various meanings these ancient symbolic structures have had over the centuries. Generations have viewed them as symbols of a lost past, which in turn is often portrayed as a world full of romance and mystery. This verbal meaning has become associated with the structures through the tourism industry, where intrigue obviously boosts ticket sales. In fact, the Egyptian pyramids are so old that they were also drawing tourists even in ancient times. In antiquity, the Great Pyramid of Giza was listed as one of Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, and it is the only one still surviving today.
While the image that usually comes to mind is of the magnificent pyramids of Giza, there are many other pyramid fields in Egypt, and the one at Saqqara is the oldest and largest. It was the site for pyramids built by at least 11 pharaohs, along with subsidiary pyramids for their queens. In addition to having the most pyramids of any pyramid field in Egypt, Saqqara contains hundreds if not thousands of smaller tombs. Saqqara is located less than 10 miles south of Cairo on the west bank of the River Nile and runs about 3.75 miles on its north-south axis. The site is generally broken down into the region of North Saqqara and South Saqqara, since there are clusters of monuments on each end, but there are some interesting features in the middle portion as well. While the Step Pyramid of Djoser is by far the most famous monument at the site, Saqqara is a rich network of pyramids, temples, and tombs dating from the first dynasty of Egypt all the way to Greco-Roman times, an impressive span of more than 2,500 years. Indeed, Egyptologists have only uncovered a small fraction of the remains.
When the pharaohs weren’t busy with the pyramids at Saqqara and elsewhere, one of their most used sites is the Valley of the Kings, a royal necropolis located on the west bank of the Nile at Thebes. Here, pharaohs of the New Kingdom Period were buried in elaborate, treasure-filled tombs that were cut deep into the cliffs that walled the Nile Valley.
In many of the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings, intricate reliefs were painted on the walls that depicted the sun god and the dead king on their nightly journey through the underworld, which was known in Egyptian as the Duat (Wilkinson 2003, 82). These scenes, which vary slightly from tomb to tomb, are known collectively by modern scholars as The Book of Gates because they depict the sun god’s journey through 12 gates or pylons, one for each hour of the night.
This book analyzes the amazing history of Ancient Egyptian burials over the course of nearly 3,000 years.