'Valley of the Kings' Takes Viewers into Egypt's Hidden Tombs; TLC Shows How They Were Created

Article excerpt

Byline: Judith Kreiner, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Egypt's Valley of the Kings is one of the most unpromising pieces of real estate on Earth - and possibly the moon. Yet, at one time, it held most of the treasures of Egypt, making it

one of the richest places in the world.

Its story is told entertainingly by TLC in "Journey Through the Valley of the Kings," an hourlong exploration of the wonders that even today fascinate visitors.

The valley became important about 3,500 years ago when the rulers of Egypt realized that building a pyramid as a tomb was the equivalent of drawing a big X on the sand and writing "treasure buried here."

It was decided that hiding burials in a remote spot and posting loyal guards was perhaps a better alternative, according to archaeologist Kent Weeks of the American University in Cairo.

Mr. Weeks has gained much acclaim for re-excavating what had been thought to be a modest and ramshackle tomb - until he discovered a doorway that led into an enormous burial complex that is still being explored. Mr. Weeks is one of several specialists who take viewers into this remarkable manifestation of a culture obsessed with surviving death.

The valley, isolated even today, is on the west bank of the Nile, across from what was then Thebes, the center of government, religion and culture for this powerful empire. Guards stationed on the surrounding cliffs would have been able to see anyone approaching, let alone entering, the valley.

Bob Brier of Long Island University points out that only one relatively intact tomb has ever been found - that of King Tut, a minor ruler who died young. Its treasures, including the almost universally known mummy mask, continue to awe visitors.

Imagine, Mr. Brier suggests, what would have been buried with a major figure such as Seti I, who died in 1279 BC. Seti's final resting place, cut deep in the limestone cliffs of the valley, had been begun 15 years earlier, and Mr. Brier uses its wonders to explain the general topic of tomb-building.

Using illustrations from the tombs as a guide, actors re-create scenes of workmen employing bronze chisels to cut into the relatively soft limestone of the valley's cliffs. With nothing more than a carpenter's square, a plumb bob and a length of string, these workers managed an impressive piece of engineering, and in near-darkness at that.

The documentary drives home these difficulties with its re-creations. Oil lamps flicker as men use brute force to break and move the rock. A viewer instinctively worries about fingers and toes.

The magic comes later.

Mr. Brier explains that the tomb was "almost more important than the palace" because it held everything Seti would need to be comfortable and cared-for in the afterlife. The walls of the tomb are covered with inscriptions to secure the safety of the soul as it travels among the monsters awaiting the unwary. …