The Grave Enigma of Egypt’s Tomb KV5

Tomb KV5 in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings is already the most exciting tomb found since Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamen – and may even be set for new excitement as the excavation is due to learn (at last!) if chamber 5 is a burial chamber as archaeologists suspect.

Tomb KV5 in Egypt's Valley of the Kings
Tomb KV5 in Egypt's Valley of the Kings

But, amid all of the wild media attention there is an enigma about KV5 that has not hit the headlines – who it was first dug for!

KV5 is by far the largest tomb in the Valley of the Kings and was lost, found, re-lost and eventually re-found by Kent Weeks just 20 years ago. It belonged to the sons of the great Ramesses II and so far 121 corridors and chambers have been found – though based on symmetry up to 150 may be expected.

But was it actually dug out for the 19th Dynasty Ramesses II? Or did one the greatest Egyptian builders simply borrow and extend an hundred year old tomb from the 18th Dynasty? Well the jury is out but there are three features of KV 5, its location, design, and size that imply he did!

James Burton's candlelight signature
James Burton, the first person to map KV5 in modern times, left his signature on the ceiling from using the smoke from his candle! The tomb was lost when covered with workmen’s rubble early in the 20th century.

The first and weakest clue is location, KV 5 lies in a cluster of four 18th Dynasty tombs, including Tutankhamen’s.

Second, and somewhat stronger evidence, is that 19th Dynasty tombs all have a series of long, narrow corridors, cut one after the other to form a tunnel leading toward a burial chamber. The only variations in Dynasty 19 tombs is the right-angle turn in Ramesses II’s tomb and the jog in the axis in Seti I’s. But KV 5 is not like this, it has a central sixteen-pillared hall with doorways leading off it in all directions. No other known tomb in Thebes, Giza, Saqqara, or Amarna is remotely like this. Instead KV 5’s entrance leads straight into a rectangular chamber – a feature that is seen in six 18th Dynasty tombs, again including Tutankhamen’s.

KV5’s entrance in 1884
KV5’s entrance in 1884 - its the depression on the right

But the most compelling evidence lies in size of the tomb’s doorway. 18th Dynasty Tomb doorways are never more than 200cm wide, and royal tombs average just 150cm. Entrance doorways of Nineteenth Dynasty tombs are never less than 200cm and royal tombs average 211cm. The size change between the two dynasties is half a metre.

KV 5’s entrance doorway is just 110cm wide! – and even that is after it was increased by over 15 centimeters during Ramesses II’s reign. Originally, it was only about ninety-five centimetres wide.

When you consider each of these elements — the location of the tomb, how it was laid out, and the width of the doorways — they may not be individually convincing, but taken together all features are compelling. They mean that a part of KV 5 was almost certainly originally dug in the late Eighteenth Dynasty, and then usurped by Ramesses II some thirty to a hundred years later.

By Gerry Palmer

One thought on “The Grave Enigma of Egypt’s Tomb KV5”

  1. Hi Lara,
    We are a class of sixth graders who today read in our text books: “From the Pages of TIME,” the article entitled “Secrets of the Lost Tomb.” Would you be able to give us an update regarding this article? Have many of Ramesses II’s sons’ mummies been been found at Tomb 5? Have any other statutes been discovered? Is there a lower level? Have many artifacts been unearthed? If so what are they? Any information you share with us will be appreciated.

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