After more than 40 years, archaeologists have finally reached the end of the tunnel discovered in the tomb of Seti I. Hopes the tunnel would lead to the pharaoh’s secret burial site have been crushed, after the seemingly unfinished tunnel suddenly stopped after a back-breaking 174m.
Pharaoh Seti I’s tomb, which is located in the Valley of the Kings, was first discovered in 1817 by strongman-turned-archaeologist Giovanni Belzoni (watch a video about Britain’s explorers). But clearing of the tunnel, cut into the bedrock near the end of the beautifully decorated tomb, was not started until the 1960s, under the direction of Sheikh Ali Abdel-Rasoul. Yet, after taking a wrong turn and at a depth of 130 metres the effort was ceased. Conditions were too hard and excavators feared further digging could bring the tomb crashing down.
In November 2007, a second mission, lead by Dr Zahi Hawass, started excavating the ‘mysterious tunnel’, using a mining car system to remove the rubble (skip down to watch the video). In addition to clearing the tunnel, the team braced walls and ceiling with metal supports and covered up the original stone staircase to prevent damaging it.
Apress release issued by Egyptian Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni, confirms earlier statements by Egyptology tsar Hawass that the team finally succeeded in completely excavating the tunnel of Seti I, which comes to an abrupt halt after 174 metres. During the excavations the team uncovered many shabtis and pottery fragments dating to the 18th Dynasty (1569-1315 BC), limestone cartouches of Seti I, and a small boat model made of faience. When the staircase was cleared the team found that three of the steps were decorated with red graffiti.
See Sandro Vannini’s photography from inside the Tomb of Seti I
When Dr Hawass’ team reached the 136-metre section, which had been partially excavated by Abdel-Rasoul’s workmen, workers were shocked to uncover a large descending passage. When the passage 25.60 metres in length and 2.6 metres wide was cleared, a 54-step descending staircase was revealed.
Following the first passage, a second staircase, cut into the rock and measuring 6 meters long, was discovered.
At the beginning of this passage the team found a false door decorated with hieratic text, instructions to the workman carving out the tunnel: Move the door jamb up and make the passage wider.”
Dr. Hawass said that when he went inside the tunnel of King Seti I for the first time he noticed the walls were well-finished and that there were remains of preliminary sketches of decoration that would be placed on the walls. Unfortunately none of this was ever completed.
He added hewas very surprised to find a second staircase inside the tunnel. It appears the last step was never finished, and the tunnel ends abruptly after the second staircase.
Zahi Hawass takes viewers deep into the mysterious tunnel that leads from the burial chamber of ancient egyptian King Seti I. Join Hawass as he discusses his team’s work to excavate and restore the tunnel, and their hope of solving the mystery of what may lie at its end. Read the transcription of this video, or watch the latest Heritage Key video’s.
Dr Hawass earlier speculated that the tunnel could have been symbolic- a path to the hidden cave of the god Sokar – or that it would take archaeologists to the real burial chamber of the king. Yet, taking the sudden ending of the tunnel into account, he now believes that Seti I was trying to construct a secret tomb inside a tomb.
According to Dr. Hawass, the workmen and artists first finished the original tomb of Seti I (KV17) duringthe pharaoh’stwelve-year reign and then began to construct the tunnel. When the Pharaoah died, his son Ramesses II stopped the work on the tunnel and buried his father.
Dr. Hawass says it is likely Ramesses II continued where his father left off and constructed his own hidden tunnel within his tomb in the Valley of the Kings. An Egyptian mission is currently working in the tomb of Ramesses II to preserve the wall paintings, and to look for a similar tunnel to the one in the tomb of Seti I.