Unearthing ancient tombs

He began training Egyptians in the methods of modern archeology -- cultivating a sense of national pride in the discovery and preservation of Egypt's treasures.

But make no mistake, archeology is backbreaking work. Unearthing and restoring a tomb begins with the careful removal of sand and rocks accumulated over more than 4,000 years.

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Hawass: "You know, I'm so happy that I'm excavating now in the Valley of the Kings. First of all, we are working three locations now. The first is behind the tomb of King Tut. And we found an area of how the ancient Egyptian redirected the flood. When the flood comes up to the valley, they redirected then it will not disturb the tomb. And we found in this area, graffiti written year nine of one of the names of the kings, Cartouches of kings, we found scene of Queen giving offering. And now we are working in front of the tomb of King Tut, and actually we are demolishing Mustafa Azir's office. Mustafa is the director of the West Bank and he used all his life to sit in this office. We are demolishing it today because I really do believe that the tomb of Nefertiti is there. Why? This is the tomb of King Tut cave 62, and there in this side cave 55 of Egnahton. And here, the most recent tomb we found of Keya, the mother of Tut Ankh Amun. And the other third site is working in the West Valley, or they call it the Valley of the Monkeys. We are excavating there because there is a tomb of I, and Amenhaten III, and I really do believe that the tomb of the wife of Tut Ankh Amun, Ahnkisinbhatun, or Ankhisinamun, who married I after the death of King Tut should be there, and this why I'm an archaeologist and I did major discoveries in my life."

Sixty-three tombs of ancient Egyptian nobles have been opened in the Valley of the Kings. King Tut's was the 62nd discovered and the only tomb to date not pillaged by grave robbers.

One of Hawass' newest excavations involves the tomb of Seti the first. Discovered in the early 1800s, this tomb, like everything covered by the sands of ancient Egypt, is still shrouded in mystery.

Hawass: "You know this is the most beautiful tomb in the valley (and it is the largest tomb in the valley also. Belonged to Seti the first. Seti the first is a very famous king, who was the father of Ramses the second, the greatest of Egypt. And this is a period right after King Tut, dynasty 19. And Seti the first's tomb is amazing. And I have good memories of his tomb. When I was a young man, over 38 years ago, I was in the Valley of the Kings and I met a man, his name is Sheik Ali, he's from the family of Abdulbasul, one of the member of the family locate the tomb of King Tut for Howard Carter, then this man one day took me from my hand, 38 years ago, brought me to the tomb of Seti the first, and he took me to the burial chamber that I will show it to you now. He said, 'Young man this tunnel goes under the ground for. We believe that in this tunnel, the secret chamber of Seti the first educate.' I said, 'Sheik Ali, why you are telling me this?' He said, 'One day if you become important archaeologist, please restore and excavate this tunnel.' Now we restored almost 300 feet. And we found that this tunnel goes inside for 436 feet, and we did not reach the end of it. It's a mystery. Some people say this could be a symbolic tunnel like if you come with me I will show you what means a symbolic tunnel."

Hawass: "They call this tunnel the Roots of the Caves of Osiris. Is my tunnel is the Roots of the Caves of Osiris, that's going to be ended with snakes? Or, at the end of it will discover the secret burial of Seti the first? This what we are going to discover. I'm going to take you with me now on an adventure that you will never forget in your life."

Hawass: "Look what we did here. We restored the ceiling with this iron beams for 300 feet until now, and we leave these wooden stairs, and look at this, we made this railway then how can you bring dirt and dust and stone rubble 300 feet? You have to bring them through cars. And the car will come, bring everything, and the workermen will take the dirt and go out."

It took Hawass and his men 1.5 years to get 300 feet into the tunnel he considers to be the most mysterious of them all.

Hawass: "You know, I told you the story of how I became interested in this tunnel, and when I came in six years ago for the first time to enter that tunnel, you cannot during 252 feet to stand up, no way, you have to crawl like a snake to go through all this stone rubble and things like this. Is this a symbolic tunnel? I really don't think that the ancient Egyptians would cut, until now it is 463 feet under the ground, just to be symbolic. No, I don't think so. You know the Egyptian always care about hiding their tomb. They put sometimes curses, 'If you touch my tomb, the crocodile and the hippo, and the lion will eat you,' and therefore I don't think that this is symbolic. No king imitated the other one. Everyone has his own vision of how he can build the tomb, how he can imagine the other world, how he can hide his burial chamber. I think we still need maximum one year, and that will be finishing this impressive work, and we'll announce to the world the result of the mystery of this tunnel."

Resources and exhibit information:

>> The Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharoahs Exhibit
The de Young Museum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park
Opens June 27, 2009 and runs through March, 2010
Tickets & info: http://www.famsf.org/deyoung

>> King Tutankhamun and the work of Dr. Zahi Hawass: http://www.drhawass.com

>> The King Tut exhibit and its return to San Francisco: http://tutsanfrancisco.org

>> Timeline of events in Ancient Egypt

>> Suggested reading: The Discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen by Howard Carter and A.C. Mace
>> Buy the book on Amazon

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