Saturday, March 14, 2009

What happened to Pharaoh's workers?

Al Ahram Weekly (Jill Kamil)

We are gradually beginning to understand what happened to the elite body of artisans that worked on the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings after they ceased to be built, says Jill Kamil

It appears that the workers, or should we say workmen and artisans, the people who built the rock-cut tombs of the Pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings from about 1500 BC onwards, may have later been employed on a project aimed at "emptying" and "recycling" their contents -- or that, at least, is what Rob Demaree of Leiden University thinks.

In his recent talk at the Dutch Institute in Cairo, Demaree said that an impressive number of texts on papyri, ostraca and graffiti had provided researchers with extensive information on the workers' community at Deir Al-Medina, especially from the Ramasside Period and the second half of the New Kingdom, but that in spite of all our knowledge we did not know what happened at the end of this period when the Ramasside line of kings was no longer in power and no more royal tombs were built. "Now, thanks to a largely unpublished dossier of texts, we are gradually beginning to understand what happened to them," he said.

Demaree, who studied Egyptology in Leiden, Copenhagen and Oxford, and who obtained his PhD on "Ancestor Worship in Ancient Egypt", was aware that not all members of the audience were au fait with the earlier phases of the workmen's village on the Theban necropolis, let alone the final phase, so he started his presentation by outlining what had taken place earlier. To recap, he said that the settlement was founded some time in the early 18th Dynasty, in the reign of Tuthmosis I (1550--1525 BC), the first Pharaoh definitely to be buried in the Valley of the Kings, and that in its earliest stage there was no resident community -- just a village of some 40 houses to accommodate itinerant workmen hired for short periods of time. Later the settlement was expanded to accommodate a special group of artisans -- "expert artists" might be a better word -- and, from literary evidence recovered from the village, it appears that more than 100 people, including children, lived in the village, off and on, for several centuries.

See the above page for the full story.

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