On a hot Tuesday morning in July 1989 our workmen began digging just east of the roadway. With crude homemade hoes they scraped away debris and carted it off in baskets made of old automobile tires—standard archaeological equipment in Egypt. A week of digging revealed traces of a tomb entrance. We could see that a narrow trench had been cut through the debris clogging the tomb's doorway. James Burton, I recalled, had dug just such a trench.
Assistant excavation director Catharine Roehrig, senior workman Muhammad Mahmoud, and I squeezed into the trench, painfully pulling and pushing ourselves over thousands of sharp limestone fragments. To our left and right the tomb was packed nearly to the ceiling with silt and limestone chips washed in by flash floods.
According to Burton's sketch, the third chamber was a cavernous pillared hall. Almost on cue, as we crawled along the trench, we could see the broken tops of massive pillars jutting up through the debris. The trench made a sharp turn to the right to avoid a pillar, then began weaving between two- and three-ton slabs of limestone that had fallen from the ceiling. No part of the ceiling appeared to have collapsed since Burton's visit in 1825, but the fallen blocks were unnerving nevertheless. A headline flashed through my mind: "Egyptologists Flattened as Tomb Collapses. Pharaoh's Curse Returns."
After 20 minutes in the stifling heat we were ready to leave. Soaking wet, sweat streaking my glasses, covered in mud, and with my flashlight fading, I turned to Muhammad. "Do you remember where the entrance is?"
Catharine wasn't sure either. The hall was so filled with debris that we couldn't see more than a few inches in any direction.
"I think we came in from over there," Muhammad said. He crawled forward, looking for a recognizable pillar or scrape in the debris that would show where we'd been. Shining his flashlight around the chamber, he looked up at the ceiling for a moment, then called us over.
"Look" he said. Directly above him we could see crude black letters written with the smoke of a candle: BURTON 1825.