No one had ventured inside the ancient Egyptian tomb since 1825, when a British traveler and draftsman named James Burton sketched its first few chambers. It lay somewhere near the entrance to the Valley of the Kings—burial place of New Kingdom pharaohs who ruled Egypt at the peak of its military power, between 1539 and 1078 B.C.
In 1827 John Gardner Wilkinson, one of the founders of Egyptology, designated the tomb KV 5—the fifth tomb beyond the entrance to KV, the King's Valley. Then for more than 150 years KV 5 was all but forgotten.
In 1989 I was directing a mapping project in the Valley of the Kings, and I wanted to relocate KV 5, not because it held treasures—it didn't—but because the roadway at the valley's entrance was being widened. The roadwork seemed likely to damage any tomb in its path, and that path, I believed, lay right above KV 5.
The tomb has turned out to be the largest ever found in the Valley of the Kings. It was a family mausoleum—the burial place of many of the sons of Ramses II. It contains at least 110 chambers, and its artifacts and hieroglyphs promise to change what we know about Ramses II, one of antiquity's most powerful rulers. During his long reign ancient Egypt controlled lands from present-day Sudan northeast into Syria. Of all the pharaohs he was the most prolific builder. To glorify his name, Ramses erected dozens of imposing temples and monuments along the Nile.