Mortuary Practices in the Old Kingdom

This week we learned about the mortuary practices of the New Kingdom and the Valley of Kings. The Valley has always been interesting to me because there is an incredible amount to learn from such a small area. With 61 tombs and multiple people buried in most tombs the number of people originally buried in the Valley is huge. Unfortunately, due to the threat of grave robbers, priests were forced to open several of the tombs and remove the mummies for safe keeping. While it is great that we still have these mummies to study today, you have to wonder what kind of evidence was destroyed by these helpful priests. What knowledge could we have gained if we had found these mummies in situ?

Grave robbing is perhaps the biggest detriment to archaeological work today when trying to understand ancient Egypt. Grave robbers took whatever they could, and the Valley of the Kings is no exception. While it might be thought that it was poor Egyptians that did most of the grave robbing but it was often pharaohs as well. Today, we generally don’t go around looting the graves of our founding fathers and former political leaders. In ancient Egypt, there must have been a strong sense of political and social unrest amongst the poor that would make them destroy a “holy” site. Meanwhile, the richest of the rich were also grave robbing to get better things to put in their own tombs. This can lead to some confusion amongst archaeologists of basic timelines and what everything actually means together.

Something that I was surprised to learn was that pharaohs occasionally would take over a previously built tomb and share it with the previous body. I’ve always thought that pharaohs were a bit egotistical and wanted to create a great space for themselves for when they died (be it a pyramid or a regular tomb). Apparently, some of them were content to not create anything at all and just live off of what the people before them had done. This brings up the question of why? Perhaps some of these pharaohs died a sudden death and had no time to build. Or perhaps they were not well liked and so a tomb was never built for them.

Week 6-Adam Longo

For this week’s post, I chose a topic that greatly interested me upon first glance, Royal Tombs in the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens.  In my opinion, this topic was essentially interesting to me because from my prior experience and knowledge of the ancient Egyptian society, I have learned that the Egyptian ruling elite such as Pharaohs, Kings, Queens, etc. were treated with intense respect and waited on all day every day on hand and foot by servants and the lower classes.  This leads me to believe that the burial tombs and arrangement for this elite ruling class must have been an extremely time-consuming and tediously intense process involving a large amount of forced labor among the masses of the poor in order to serve the purpose of constructing tombs for the Kings and Queens.

Because this ruling Egyptian class was such an essentially big deal, the royal tombs of the “New Kingdom” were hidden in locations to the west of the royal mortuary temples.  In reality, the kings were buried in one of two valleys, most in the East Valley and a few in the West Valley, known collectively as “The Valley of the Kings”.  A lot of new knowledge, artifacts, and assumed behavior deduced from these recovered artifacts has been discovered since the 1970’s when the Theban Mapping Project of the American University in Cairo started systematically mapping and investigating tombs there.

Unfortunately, the mummies of the New Kingdom Kings (with the exception of Tutankhamen’s mummy) have been robbed of their valuable jewelry and relocated to two new caches.  The end of the 20th dynasty marked the period that the royal burials began to get systematically robbed, most likely by the Theban rulers in order to provide state funds.  These mummies were later re-located and re-buried to their original caches.

The Theban hills is also home to the “Valley of the Queens” which also included the burial of many princes and princesses.  The two main groups of tombs dated to the reigns of Ramses II on the northern slope and Ramses III on the southern slope.

Week 6: Changes in Foreign Policy

Throughout ancient Egypt there have been shifts in foreign policy. From predynastic to the third intermediate period we have seen significant changes and similarities in political, cultural and religious aspects. In this weeks lecture we discussed in detail about the change of foreign policy during the New Kingdom. This has led me to try to assemble how foreign policy differs from the second intermediate period to that of the third.

The Middle Kingdom arose through military and political expansion initiated by a line of provincial rulers until that is when the Hyksos, of which we learned last week, were on the verge of controlling Egypt during the second intermediate period. When the Hyksos were eradicated a new dynasty emerged, which led to the rise of the New Kingdom. During the 18th Dynasty foreign policy was aggressive, offensive, and imperialistic. Response to the occupation of the Hyksos and reaction to the change in the greater political sphere on the Near East was taking place. In order to make sure Egypt would not undergo the same empowerment of outsiders, buffer zones were established. In the eyes of Egyptians now, enemies lay close. It is during the New Kingdom that the Amarna letters would shed light on Egyptian relations with others. They represented a new sense of diplomacy that had replaced the military campaigns of the early New Kingdom. Foreign policy of the New Kingdom shifted from being overtly militaristic and imperialistic in reaction from the Hyksos occupation to a wider politic-sphere. Not only does it shift from the Near East to a more diplomatic policy which was represented by Amarna letters but  as well as economic, which was represented by voyages and economic expeditions to Punt. At the end of the 18th Dynasty, the end of the Amarna period, significant social and religious, political and bureaucratic change had taken place. The administrative capital had moved back to Thebes and the economic power of the old cults of Amun restored. This all leads up to the third intermediate period which is not like any other intermediate periods. There are long periods of stability and chronic instability. It is here we see the development of the hereditary priesthood of Amun.


Watrall, Ethan. (2012). Lecture videos, Week 5 and 6.

The Valley of the Kings

One of the topics that was talked about in this week’s lectures that is actually quite popular is the Valley of the Kings.  However, I realized that before this week’s lectures and blog post, I really only knew of the Valley of the Kings rather than really knowing anything about it.  So for my week six post, I decided to do a little outside research and to learn a little more about this archaeological goldmine.

After the shift into the New Kingdom, there was less interest from the nobles in the ornate and lavish burials that were characteristic of the Old Kingdom [and the burials marked by the pyramids].  One of the reasons behind this shift in interest was possibly the economical situation of the New Egyptian Kingdom.  With the New Kingdom came a time of wealth, and thus, more grave-robbings.  The noble people lost interest in these lavish burials likely knowing they would be robbed.  So they began building tombs for their nobles and kings in two desert valleys  [the East and the West valleys] on the west bank of Thebes.

It is theorized by many archaeologists that the Valley of the Kings was chosen as a burial site because it is a small, easily guarded, close to the river, and perhaps most of all, because of a pyramid like natural mountain known as al-Qurn.  It was believed that instead of building more extravagant pyramids which beckoned robbers, the royalty and noble people saw al-Qurn as a symbolic pyramid which marked the significance of the Valley of the Kings, without being an obvious site for robbers [as it was a natural landmark and would not be so obvious].

There are 62 tombs in the Valley of the Kings, holding both royal and private noble mummies.  Perhaps the most famous of these is the tomb of Tutankhamen, which was discovered in 1922.  The tombs were elaborate underground mausoleums filled with everything from clothing and jewelry to pets and furniture, and even feasts of wine and food.

Most of the tombs have been excavated and were found around the same time as King Tut’s tomb was found, however there was a discovery of a new tomb as recent as 2005.  This tomb, although archaeologists are unsure of who was buried here has been named “KV 63” and contains sarcophagi, flowers, and even an embalming chamber.

After researching the Valley of the Kings, I not only have a new understanding of the level of importance that this discovery has for all of archaeology and Egyptology, but it truly does give you a better understanding of the shift of logic and economic understanding of the New Kingdom of Egypt.  I see their shift from the lavish monumental burial tombs to the hidden and underground mausoleums as a more logical and possibly secular thinking man.  Instead of building these huge monuments to themselves, they began building secret tombs that were not even meant to be seen.  By changing their mortuary culture in attempts to guard their belongings, they have used a problem solving technique that has altered their entire process surrounding noble death and funerary processes, which is of great significance as a growing civilization.


  • Handwerk, B. (2012). The Valley of the Kings: Gateway to Afterlife Provides Window on the Past. Retrieved from:
  • The Theban Mapping Project (1997-2006). The Valley of the Kings. Retrieved from:


Blog #6: Queen Nefertari

The Armana period brought many important changes. Evidence of Queen Nefertari is proof of the increasing religious role of the queen. She was the first wife of Ramses the Great, and although he had eight principle wives in total and over a hundred children, he always described Nefertari as the most beautiful and perhaps was his most beloved. The queen’s birth parents are a mystery to this day but it has been concluded that her family was a noble one. In 1312 B.C., her and Ramses married, and soon after she gave birth to their first son. In total, she had 11 children, a mix of boys and girls.

Nefertari’s importance goes far beyond being adored by Ramses. The abundance of images of the queen throughout Egypt as well as her noted titles are evidence of her role in religious and state affairs. It cannot be said for sure whether her personality had a major influence or strictly her title and affiliations but her importance is obvious despite the reasons. The most inspiring feature we have discovered is a temple located in the Valley of the Queens, west of the Nile and south of Thebes. Carved into the cliffs are two tombs, a smaller one for her and the larger for her husband. Ramses dedicated the temple to, “the Chief Queen Nefertari…for whom the sun shines,” and paid to cover its costs, according to an inscription.The inside is decorated with elaborate paintings of various colors, as well as relief carvings, a more difficult art in which the carvings pop out from the wall when the rest is cleared away.

The temple wasn’t all romance though. Another proposed function of the temple was propaganda. Ramses needed to stress his power and make it known. He did this by having four large statues of himself built at the front, surrounded by smaller statues of Queen Nefertari. The intimidating but magnificent structures provide an instant visual of the King’s political power, which is probably exactly what he was going for.

Sources:, (2005). Nefertari queen of Egypt. Retrieved from:

McDonald, John K., (1996). House of eternity: The tomb of Nefertari. Los Angelos: The J. Paul Getty Trust.

PBS, (Mar 15, 2006). Egypt’s golden empire: Nefertari. Retrieved from:



Matt Salgot Week 6 Post

For this week’s blog I wanted to discuss the different styles of architecture that existed during the New Kingdom. These styles of construction are the Royal construction projects and the urban construction of towns and cities. Both of these areas can help to elaborate on the overall well being of Egyptian society.

During the New Kingdom these is a shift away from constructing massive individual burials towards more communal burial sites, such as the Valley of the Kings. What was the purpose of this shift? One possible reason is simply Egypt could no longer afford or no longer wanted to put as much resources into the construction of pyramids. One solution for reducing expenditures on royal burials is to condense the royal family tomb at one location. By doing this the Egyptians could either reuse burial sites or expand on the existing chambers whenever a new member needed to be buried. By condensing the royal family to one site, the Valley of the Kings, this could also save resources involved with rituals. There would be one temple site for the burial complex instead of one temple per pyramid or burial site.

Thanks to the site of Deir el-Medina archaeologist are able to learn about the planning and construction of urban centers. Unlike our cities that are composed of separate buildings, these Egyptian centers were very condensed and many of the building were sharing walls. The closeness of these buildings shows that the Egyptians were able to maximize the living space in these dwellings. This site also shows that great care was taken when planing the layout of a city. Due to the harshness of this region of the world a poorly designed city could be devastating to the inhabitants. If cities were not planned right they could have problems with supply their population with food and water, along with other necessitates for a city to function. However, Deir el-Medina shows that the Egyptians took these and other conditions into consideration when designing their cities.

Blog #6- Amarna Letters

This week I found the topic of Amarna letters to be very fascinating. These tablets which were written in Akkadian, the language of Mesopotamia, gave archaeologists an idea of the political and economic growth that occurred in ancient Egypt during the New Kingdom especially under the reign of Amunhotep II and its views on foreign policy at the time. Found on these tablets were correspondence between Egypt and the powers of Southwest Asia, both major and minor civilizations. The presence of a large amount of these tablets have been found, over 380, in a small temple called the House of Ammuru in the records office inside the administrative buildings is significant and after finding these I’m sure the archeologists believed it to be the jackpot. The letters give great insight into the relationships Egypt had with other surrounding civilizations and even included letters from other states looking for military aid from Egypt, which I’m sure Egypt ignored unless there were economic ties between the two such as a trade network.

Since the Amarna letters give us a look into the history of Egypt during this time, we are also given the chance to learn about the Hittites expanding their territory and their success as an independent state. It has been said that the widowed wife of one of the pharaohs, thought to be Tutankhamens, had written a letter to the Hittite king at the time stating Egypt had no ruler. When I first heard this I wondered why she would put her state in danger like that. You may correct me if I’m wrong but I would think that the king would realize that Egypt was very vulnerable with no ruler and would try to conquer it and she would probably be in a worse situation that she was in before. After saying they had no ruler, the widowed wife asked the king to send a Hittite prince to assume the throne. The officials of Egypt and individuals who wanted to be pharaoh themselves dislike this idea so much that it is believed that they assassinated the prince on his way to Egypt. Due to the discovery of these tablets, we are able to really see the shift Egypt underwent from a state concentrated on military campaigns to a state of diplomacy.

Week #6: Divided Power

One thing that truly sticks out in the readings this time around is the rapidly changing power cycle.  Last week in the readings it had seemed as though we would move on to a time of a weakened and possibly soon to be destroyed or forgotten royal era and now this week the readings began to discuss more cycles of royal rulers.  One differing aspect, though, is the two other high positions in the ancient Egyptian government or ruling class.

Obviously throughout history, as I have mentioned in previous blog posts, religion has played a key role in the position of power and this has held true for every culture and country/province/etc. The high priest position is not a new idea, but it was made more interesting to read about the position being as valuable and powerful as the ruling king.

The position of a priest or any learned scholar or source of authority in a religion is to guide the people of that religion through the practices and to teach them the beliefs.  The idea that a high priest would have the authority or the desire to use government power to gain land or valuables to further advance their own power or influence came as a surprise until I remembered the pope.

A closer inspection of history shows that this is actually a common occurrence for a religious leader to hold power and wield it for his own benefit.  I say his because most of these powerful religious leaders were men and I am sorry if the idea of power wielding religious tyrants offends anyone who reads this.  The main reason I found it interesting for this to also occur in ancient Egypt is because of the idea of an absolute ruler.  If the pharaoh or king is supposed to be related to or chosen by the gods, then how could a mere mortal who worships said gods be good enough to wield power in the gods’ names?

Week 6 Blog – Emma Greene

I have always been interested in the shift between polytheism and monotheism during the eighteenth dynasty, so that is what this week’s post will focus on. First of all, I was not aware that Amenhotep IV (otherwise known as Akhenaten) was not even supposed to take the throne as pharaoh, but that he was destined to be a priest. Every other reference piece I have read about the subject fails to mention that. The fact that Amenhotep III, Akhenaten’s father, ruled for thirty-eight years is quite remarkable, considering the average life expectancy for an Egyptian back then was only thirty years. Amenhotep III put such a large emphasis on one particular deity, the sun disk of Re Horakty, I am sure that he brought up his children to worship the same deity. Under his father’s influence, Akhenaten sought out on a quest to make the Aten the supreme deity, with every other Egyptian god and goddess placed significantly below it. I found it surprising to learn that this period was not just one of religious reform, but economic as well: Akhenaten placed a tax on a number of temples and cities throughout the country to help support his new cult.

The one thing that sticks out to me is the fact that Amenhotep IV deliberately changed his name to Akhenaten to turn his back on monotheism. The name Akhenaten can be translated to “the one who is beneficial to Aten”, which is a far cry from his previous name, which translated to “Amun is satisfied”. One fact I found interesting was that Akhenaten’s son, Tutankhaten, changed his name to Tutankhamun, so it went from “the living image of Aten” to “the living image of Amun”, in an attempt to lead the Egyptian people back to polytheism. It was successful, and almost every carving or relief of Akhenaten was destroyed after his reign.

Week 6 Blog Post

Central to this week’s material is the discussion of the king Akhenaten and the worker’s town of Dier el-Medina. As we have learned, Akhenaten changed his name from Akhenamen and changed the central deity to the obscure sun god, Aten. Personally, I found the tiny human hands extending from the sun symbol to be rather creepy. However, given the decline in the central rulers since the time of the pharaohs, you have to admire the amount of influence the king still controlled at this time. This power is demonstrated with the various accomplishments Akhenaten had achieved in demanding the worship of Aten over Amun. For one, the worker’s town of Dier el-Medina in the Valley of the Kings was a stable settlement except for when Akhentaten was in control (in terms of population – not necessarily success, as demonstrated by the first workers strike that occurred here). Regardless, the abandonment of an entire working town would require significant influence and political control. Similarly, to relocate and construct a completely new capital city is impressive. Though nothing on the scale of an expertly crafted pyramid, Akhenaten was able to command a labor force and his administration large enough to relocate and construct a completely new city. Considering he had essentially cut off the financial support of the major priesthoods and cults on Amun, it is hard to imagine where this support was really coming from. Despite these various displays of success and influence, he clearly could not convince his people that Aten was someone to continue the worship of. This is demonstrated by the fact that many of his temples and shrines were defaced after his death, and his infamous successor changed his name from Tuthankaten to Tutankamun, and the cults of Amun were quickly revitalized after his death. Though Akhenaten may not have been successful in creating a flawless image of himself as the living Aten, he was definitely successful in creating a rule that stands out among the kings and demonstrating the power and influence that kings still held in the New Kingdom.