Tombs in both the West and East Valley follow a common numbering system that was first established in 1827 by John Gardner Wilkinson. Wilkinson numbered the twenty-one tombs accessible in his day from the entrance of the valley southward and from west to east. Since then, tombs have been added to the list in the order of their discovery. KV 62, the tomb of Tutankhamen, is the most recent.No two royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings are precisely alike. As priests developed differing explanations about the nature of the sun’s journey through the night sky and the king’s journey to the netherworld, tomb plans changed to reflect their itineraries. The earliest Dynasty 18 tombs were cut at the base of sheer cliffs, deliberately sited at points where rainfall might send water and debris cascading down to cover their entrances. They are relatively small and their plan incorporates an axis that makes one or two right-angle turns to the left.
Later Dynasty 18 and early Dynasty 19 tombs are not associated with any particular topographical features. Their plan incorporates a single 90–degree turn to the left and a “well shaft” in chamber E. A third type of royal tomb is significantly larger than either of the previoustypes. A series of long, wide corridors extend along a single axis (or an axis that makes a short jog to the left about halfway along its length) to the burial chamber. Such tombs lie at the base of the valley’s more gently sloping hills.
However much they differed from one another during the New Kingdom, tombs in the Valley of the Kings also showed many similarities. This can be seen, for example, in the functions served by the chambers and corridors that each tomb possessed.The entrance, which Egyptologists call entryway A, was called by the ancient Egyptians “the Passage of the Way of Shu,” and it was open to the sky until the middle of Dynasty 18 and partially covered thereafter.
Corridor B, the “Passage of Ra,” usually marked the farthest sunlight could penetrate into the tomb. C was at first a chamber with a stairway and/or ramp, later a corridor called the “Hall wherein [the gods of the Litany of Ra] reside.” D, was simply the second passage. A small, square chamber, chamber E, often with a deep well cut into its floor, was called the “Hall of Hindering,” and may have served as a symbolic burial place of Osiris. Next comes a pillared chamber, F, called the “Chariot Hall.” Actual chariots have been found in the tombs of Thutmes IV, Amenhetep III, and Tutankhamen, although not in this chamber.
G, H, and I served unknown functions; the second was a stairwell early in the New Kingdom, later a corridor, while I was a chamber that later became a corridor. The burial chamber, J, was called the “Hall in which One Rests,” “The House of Gold,” or “The Hidden Chamber.” Its shape changed during the New Kingdom, and sometimes is oval and sometimes rectangular, sometimes with pillars and sometimes without.
Usually, a series of small side chambers were used for the interment of funerary offerings and furniture. In seven royal tombs, rooms or corridors lie beyond J. These are designated by Egyptologists as K and L.Royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings were decorated with religious texts including the Book of Gates, the Imydwat, the Litany of Ra, and others, accompanied by numerous vignettes and scenes. Like the plan of the tombs, the decorative programs also changed through time. Tombs in the Valley of the Kings are perhaps the first in ancient Egypt to havescenes depicting gods and goddesses on their walls.
The selection of a site for a royal tomb was a major decision, probably taken by priests and senior workmen from Dayr alMadina. Once chosen, ceremonies were performed to sanctify the site and small pits were dug and filled with miniature tools and religious symbols. These “foundation deposits” have been found associated with nine tombs in the valley, but it is likely that future excavations will reveal that most if not all royal tombs had them.
The workmen who dug the royal tombs were divided into two work teams, a “left gang” and a “right gang” of about ten men each, supervised by a foreman. Using simple metal chisels, wooden mallets, and chert hand axes, they cut through the soft limestone bedrock at a fairly rapid rate. The men worked eight hour days for ten days, then enjoyed a two-day “weekend.” As the quarrymen dug further into the hillside, other specialists followed behind, checking that the walls were vertical, their corners cut at 90 degrees, and smoothing their surfaces. Either plasterers came next or scribes, outlining the scenes and texts to be carved and painted. (For further details see the tomb of Horemheb). Carving and decorating a royal tomb, even a large one, was a major undertaking but not a particularly timeconsuming one. Even with a small labor force working on a tomb, it may have taken only a few years to complete.