Digging up Egypt's Treasures

The ten most significant discoveries in the past 20 years

(Eric Jaffe)

While the Rosetta stone and some of the most famous discoveries in Egyptology were made long ago, some more recent discoveries have been equally spectacular in both appearance and historical heft. To identify ten significant finds from the last 20 years, Smithsonian.com consulted with two eminent scholars: Josef Wegner at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia and Betsy M. Bryan at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

1. KV 5
Discovered: 1987
Dates to: 1290-1224 B.C.
Place: Valley of the Kings

This massive complex of more than 100 chambers was called the largest royal tomb in Egypt when it was found in the Valley of the Kings 20 years ago. Initially, U.S. archaeologist Kent R. Weeks believed he'd located the mausoleum of Ramses II's principal sons (the powerful ruler had 52 of them).

Weeks didn't actually discover the tomb; an English Egyptologist, James Burton, explored KV 5 in 1825 and mapped a few of the rooms. Afterward, however, the entrance was lost until Weeks and his crew relocated it.

To date, they've identified 121 corridors and rooms inside the ruins. Weeks speculates that when the painstaking excavation and conservation work is completed, KV 5 could have more than 150 rooms.

2. Worker Cemetery
Discovered: 1990
Dates to: 2575-2134 B.C.
Place: Giza

While many imaginative souls believe aliens built the pyramids at Giza, the people responsible were actually earthly beings, skilled and unskilled. And thousands of them were buried in mud-brick structures located south of the Great Sphinx.

Egypt's renowned dean of antiquities, Zahi Hawass, had theorized that this was the case. But only after a tourist's horse stumbled over a sandy ruin did he have proof. The laborers and their overseers were buried in modest replicas of the grand edifices they erected for kings and queens. Inscriptions and bones tell stories of the workers and how physically demanding it was to construct a pyramid.

3. Alexandria Ruins and Artifacts
Discovered: 1994
Dates to: 332-330 B.C.
Place: Alexandria's harbor

Two teams of French underwater archaeologists plunged beneath the waves off the coastline to explore this busy port's Ptolemaic past. The first group, led by Jean-Yves Empereur, found several 36-foot-long granite blocks that he believed came from the lighthouse at Pharos, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The second group, led by Frank Goddio, found remains of a palace. These discoveries and others give a sense of how grand the area around the fabled lighthouse must have been. And since the new city has been built right atop the old, going underwater is one of the easier ways to dig up the past.


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