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article imageOn The Trail Of Missing Ancient Egyptian Tombs In Luxor

By Hans Dahne     May 12, 2001 in Technology
LUXOR, Egypt (dpa) - Archaeological digs in the Valley of the Kings at Luxor are demanding at the best of times. But with 20 kilos of equipment to carry along with them, Helmut Becker and Joerg Fassbinder need mountaineering skills as well.
Somewhere on a high plateau in an area 80 by 60 metres next to the 3,400-year-old terrace temple of Queen Hatsheput the two experts from Bavaria's State Office for Monument Protection hope to find the grave of Pharaoh Amenhotep I (1504-1483 BC).
The pair are members of a team from Vienna Museum of Art History chasing up a theory put forward by the young German Egyptologist Ann- Christina Thiem.
The last resting place of this second Pharaoh of the 18th dynasty (1539-1292 BC) is as much a mystery as that of his two successors Thutmosis I (1483-1470 BC) and Thutmosis II (1470-1467 BC).
There is no mummy or indication of the grave either of Pharaoh Ramses VIII, who ruled for one year in 1128 BC, although measurements have highlighted three magnetic field abnormalities which indicate the presence of some archeological structures.
Whether Thiem has finally located the grave of Amenhotep I remains to be seen. Archaeologists have pinpointed five different sites already and only a dig can provide the decisive evidence.
The quest for the site of the grave of the kings is a real archeological detective story. The Abbot Papyrus role, named after its purchaser, describes the area exactly by pinpointing two local markers but 3,100 years later archaeologists are still arguing about what was meant by the two markers.
Concerned at the growing number of grave robberies, Pharaoh Ramses IX (1127-1109 BC) ordered the inspection of ten royal tombs. On the papyrus role the committee noted at the time that the grave of Amenhotep I and eight other tombs were sealed, with only one of them having been robbed.
During the turbulent 21st dynasty (1069-945 BC) priests hid the mummy of Amenhotep and those of other kings. Today they are in the Egyptian Museum of Cairo although various components of the grave have cropped up all over the world.
Egyptologist Thiem realises she will not find an completely undamaged grave and does not expect to come across a second Tutenkhamun treasure either. She takes a realistic view of the dig. "Archaeology is all about the joy of finding the shard that is still missing."
Various experts agree that Thiem has written an excellent essay on the puzzle of the gravesite. But doubts remain. The director general of the Antiquities Office in ancient Luxor, Mohammed el Bialy, believes the grave of Amenhotep I is at a different site at Dra Abu el Naga.
There at the entrance to the famous Valley of the Kings the German Archaeological Institute was engaged in a lengthy dig. Headed by scientific director Daniel Polz the Germans toiled from 1993 until last year to uncover a huge upland gravesite.
But was Pharaoh Amenhotel I buried here 34 centuries ago? Polz refuses to commit himself until a full analysis has been made. One thing is certain though, "whoever claims to have found the grave will have to provide some evidence".
"We don't expect to find a grave inscribed with the words: Here rests in peace Amenhotep I," Polz says. The tomb was only sparsely decorated, if at all. Polz points out that the grave of Hatshepsut put down a few decades later was "very rudimentary" and that of her step-brother, the renowned Pharaoh Thutmosis III, even more basic. "So what can I expect from their predecessors?" asks Polz.
"I don't dream of finding the tomb," says Bialy. He finds it more important to trace the graves of the missing queens from the 18th to the 21st dynasties. Not an easy task considering the antique city of Thebes, now Luxor, had the character of a capital city for 2,000 years.
The cemetery with its hundreds of thousands of graves of the royal families, priests and members of the nobility buried here is 3.5 kilometres long and one kilometre wide. In the course of thousands of years the rubble has been piling up and in some cases has reached a depth of seven metres.
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