The Secrets and Treasures of KV5, the Largest Tomb Ever Found in Egypt
The treasures of Tutankhamun have been remembered as the greatest discovery in Egypt. However, in 1995, the Valley of the Kings revealed another magnificent secret – the tomb of at least 52 sons of Ramesses II.
The tomb named KV5 is located only 70 meters (230 ft) from the tomb of Tutankhamun. Its existence had been known about for over a century but its location remained elusive. The first person who tried to find it was James Burton, who excavated the area in the early 1830s. Howard Carter also made an attempt. The location of the tomb was finally identified during an expedition in 1985 -1986 led by Kent Weeks of the American University in Cairo and the Theban Mapping Project, which used sonar and ground-penetrating radar. The first excavations began in 1987 and, after years of working, on May 18, 1995, Kent Weeks made a stunning announcement:
''Last February, excavating through the flood-borne debris that fills the tomb, my staff and I found a passageway leading past twenty chambers to a statue of the god Osiris. Two transverse corridors, each with another twenty chambers, extend beyond that. At the end of the corridors there are stairs and sloping corridors apparently leading to even more rooms on a lower level. The tomb could be the largest ever found in Egypt...''
Weeks was right, his team opened the largest tomb ever found in Egypt. The inscription on one of the well-preserved wall decorations contained the throne name of Ramesses II. Very soon the researchers discovered that what they were standing in was a sad monument of broken dreams. The tomb was visited by the pharaoh many times, each time for the same reason – the burial of his child.
The ashes of the magnificent burial
The tomb was damaged over the centuries by the flash floods and the thunderstorms in the Valley. It had also been looted in ancient times, most probably during the reign of Ramesses III. The remains of numerous mummies, which were discovered during the archeological works, were just a drop in the ocean of treasures buried in the chambers thousands of years ago.
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The architecture of the tomb is unique. It is similar to the style of the tombs of the late 18th dynasty, and it seems that the construction of KV5 started in this period. It is unknown who ordered such a magnificent tomb. One suggestion has been Amenhotep III, but there is no firm evidence for this theory.
Isometric, plan and elevation images of KV5 taken from a 3d model. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
In the spring of 1995, the team of Egyptologists entered the T-shaped extension of the tomb, which goes to the east. The researchers were overwhelmed with the magnificence of the tomb. Although it was badly damaged, it stayed a beautiful example of the New Kingdom Period art. The rock cut image of the god Osiris located in the tomb still protected the burial of the people, who were a witness of a great period in the history of Egypt.
The children of the great pharaoh
Ramesses II died at age of around 90-years-old. The number of his children is believed to be at least up to 100, but some researchers believe that he had more than 200. The tomb KV5 was a place of burial of at least 52 sons of the pharaoh. Their names are known, but it is possible that more will be discovered in the future. Researchers also discovered some bones of young women, daughters of the pharaoh. However, until now their names remain unknown.
The first child to be buried in the tomb was most probably Amenherkhepshef, the first-born son of the pharaoh and his wife Nefertari. He died in 1254 BC. He was a crown prince for at least 25 years during the reign of his father, and his death changed the history of the dynasty.
Mummy of Ramesses II. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
The state of preservation of the human remains was very poor. The researchers discovered fragments of human and animal bones, and parts of mummified human remains. The pieces of mummies were well wrapped and belonged to young adults, male and female. However, the head of Amenherkhepshef was well preserved, and it was possible to reconstruct his face.
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In the tomb, many precious objects were discovered, including the fragments of alabaster canopic jars, pieces of inscribed red granite sarcophagi, thousands of potsherds, an unfinished head of a limestone statue, inscribed faience ushabtis, numerous clay, faience and stone beads, amulets, pieces of wooden coffins, hieratic ostraca recording inventories of the grave goods, and more. The chambers were decorated with detailed reliefs, which had been pained in blue, red and white.
A relief depicting prince Amenherkhepshef (left) and Ramesses II (right) from the Temple of Abydos. ( CC BY 2.0 )
The never ending story of KV5
Ramesses II was one of the greatest pharaoh of the 19th dynasty. The tombs, temples and other monuments built during his reign, are still among the most impressive symbols of the magnificence of the ancient civilization.
It is impossible to guess how many years will be necessary to complete the works in tomb KV5. By 2006, 130 chambers had been found, but only 7% of them had been cleared. The sheer size of the tomb suggests that there are many more secrets to be discovered.
K. Weeks, The Lost Tomb. The greatest Discovery at the Valley of the Kings since Tutankhamun, 2001.
A. Dodson, D. Hilton, The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt, 2004.
L. Oakes, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the pyramids, temples & tombs of Ancient Egypt, 2006
N. Reeves, R.H. Wilkinson, The Complete Valley of the Kings, 2008.
KV 5, available from:
A pharaoh's firstborn son is resurrected, by Alan Boyle, available from: