Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tomb it may concern..

If ya don’t want
your afterworldly possessions burglarized it might be a good idea not to store them in a triangle that’s almost five hundred feet tall – it’ll kind of stick out – especially if you build the things somewhere the terrain is really, really flat – like oh say, a desert. It just might attract some looters – I’m just sayin’.

The ancient Egyptians weren’t buying the old “Ya can’t take it with you” adage in any way shape or form. A couple of millennium before the Boy Scouts of America coined their slogan these guys were pegging the dial on a hitherto unmatched standard in preparedness. They went to great lengths to be sure they were well packed once they broke the constraints of the here and now. Early on they had stored all of these afterlife provisions in tombs encased inside those aforementioned pyramids. After a couple royal cycles though, it was realized that no sooner than they had rolled that big boulder over the tomb’s entrance burglars were slinking off like jackals with all the pickings meant for the hereafter. So, they moved their underground spiritual launch pad/Elysian Fields department store-like tombs into the hinterlands, buried into the base of a range of the desolately non-descript Theban Hills and known today as the Valley of the Kings. The original name of the area was The Great and Majestic Necropolis of the Millions of Years of the Pharaoh, Life, Strength, Health in The West of Thebes. I’m going to stick with Valley of the Kings.

We leave the boat extra early at 7am catching a ferry across the river. Magdi wants to get to the west bank and do some tomb viewing before the sun gets too high on the horizon. This is the desert after all; there will be no shade or respite from the sun once we get out of our shuttle van that picks us up on the other side.

The ancient Egyptians spent a lot of their time on earth preparing for their eternities off the planet. A royal burial chamber could take over seven years to construct and outfit so one of a new pharaoh’s first orders would be the start of his tomb. Since the conventional wisdom of the time figured that we would be spending a whole lot more of eternity wherever we were going after this life than we would be spending here these tombs were no holes in the wall.

The vaults are multi chambered affairs walls decorated with colorful depictions of the journey into the spirit world illustrated from several texts including the Book of the Dead. Along with the decorations would be included a dizzying cache of swag made from anything expensive. Gold, Silver, fine linen, boats, chariots, furniture, nesting sarcophagi – add it up and ya literally got a king’s ransom and then some. This booty was kept safely nestled hundreds of feet through stone into the mountains, angling down over ninety feet below the surface. The Egyptians didn’t do anything half asp.

Don’t even get me started on the whole mummification thing. Secret herbs and spices, miles of linen wrappings, some straw, some mud, internal organs removed and placed in jars – except for the heart of course – that has to be left in the chest cavity so it can be weighed by Osiris during the final jeopardy portion of the eternal judgment show. A whole studio audience of Egyptian deities sitting on pins and needles waiting to see if the heart is indeed lighter than a feather; as everyone knows, the only scientifically accurate measure of a decedent’s virtue.

We go into a couple of the tombs. Magdi gives us the lowdown on them before we go in. Guides are no longer allowed to give talks inside the tombs – it slows the turnover of viewers down to a crawl and the keepers of the crypts feel the less time folks spend inside the better for their preservation. On average around five to nine thousand souls visit the Valley of the Kings daily. There are 18 tombs capable of being opened to the public. Three are opened daily on a rotation basis. No pictures whatsoever are allowed in the tombs – violators can face a five hundred Egyptian pound fine – about a hundred bucks. So when I got caught taking pictures inside Ramses IV tomb I thought my nightmare of incarceration in a country where I don’t speak the language was about to come true. Fortunately for me I was able to assuage the security guards temper by offering to “tip” him fifty pounds as a token of my esteem for a job well done. I also erased the pics I took from my camera – except for the ones I must have accidently missed and are posted here.

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