for National Geographic News
Egyptian archaeologists have discovered that the tomb of the powerful pharaoh Seti I—the largest tomb in the Valley of the Kings—is bigger than originally believed.
During a recent excavation, the team found that the crypt is actually 446 feet (136 meters) in length. Giovanni Battista Belzoni, who discovered the tomb in 1817, had noted the tomb at 328 feet (100 meters).
"[This is] the largest tomb and this is longest tunnel that's ever found in any place in the Valley of the Kings," said Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA).
"And we still did not find its end until now," said Hawass, who is also a National Geographic Explorer-In-Residence. (The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)
Uncovering new parts of previously discovered tombs is rare, although not unprecedented.
In 1995, for example, U.S. archaeologist Kent Weeks opened the KV5 tomb that housed the sons of Ramses II—the son of Seti I—and found that it too was larger than expected, with multiple passageways and more than a hundred small chambers.
The tomb of Seti I, who ruled Egypt from 1313 to 1292 B.C. at the apex of its artistic accomplishments, is impressive not only for its size but also for the breadth of art on its walls, experts say. But its size could be expanded even farther by future expeditions.
"The ancient Egyptians never built something without a plan, without an aim or a target to do this, so I think this tunnel [in the tomb of Seti I] will lead to something important," said Mansour Boraik, director of Luxor Antiquities.
Archaeologists also found clay vessels, fragments of the tomb's painted wall reliefs, and a quartzite ushabti figure—a funerary statue—during their search for artifacts and efforts to clear debris.
These objects could have washed into the tunnel during floods starting from the 21st dynasty, between 1090 and 945 B.C., according to archaeologist W. Raymond Johnson, director of the Epigraphic Survey of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.
Pharaohs from the 21st dynasty onward quarried the tombs of their predecessors for their own royal burials, he pointed out.
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