Thousands of graffiti from tourists from other times in the tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses VI

The ugly habit of leaving graffiti and inscriptions inscribed on historical monuments is not only not new but, in turn, it is also historical and, paradoxically, can provide interesting information. The bad thing is when tourists leave them sulliing ancient works. Now, and are the travelers also from another era?

There are well-known cases of inscriptions that are already an indivisible part of the very site where they were made, such as those found in Pompeii, with insults and obscenities preserved thanks to the ashes accumulated by the eruption of Vesuvius; or those made by a Viking inside the Maes Howe burial mound (Orkney Islands, Scotland) when he was sheltering from a storm; or those made by prisoners in the Torre del Homenaje of the Alhambra between the 18th and 19th centuries. But in 2017 some amazing graffiti that are around four thousand years old and that, indeed, are attributed to tourists from yesteryear.

These are those found in Egypt, in the famous Valley of the Kings, that desert area where hypogea of ​​ancient royalty accumulate and which constitutes one of the most important sources of attraction for visitors because there is the famous tomb of Tutankhamen, among many. The case that concerns us is the tomb of a later pharaoh, Ramses VI, although it seems that it is not the only one with improvised inscriptions and at least a dozen more of the total of sixty in the valley have been registered.

Nebmaatra-Meriamón Ramses-Amonhirjopshef-Necherheqaiunu, which was the full name of that character, was the fifth of the XX dynasty, reigning between 1143 and 1136 BC after usurping the throne from his nephew Ramses V. By then the once powerful The Egyptian Empire was in open decline and only the figure of Ramses III stands out a bit due to his military victory rejecting the invasion of the so-called Peoples of the Sea.

The tomb of Ramses VI, identified with the code KV9 and who actually also took it from his predecessor, is right next to that of Tutankhamen; but unlike this one, it was looted by thieves, so no other wealth than architectural and decorative has been found inside. What nobody expected was to find a surprise like that of the graffitimerit of the team from the Institute of Mediterranean Archeology of the University of Warsaw that works there.

Although in the strict sense they constitute a sample of historical vandalism, the truth is that they do not lack a certain value to better understand the past and to know what the travelers of that time thought about the places they visited and the characters buried in them. The KV9 hypogeum was chosen for further study due to the number and variety of inscriptions found on its walls: close to a thousand, no less, which is not bad for a tomb that is around a hundred meters long.

With such a number, it is easy to imagine that there is everything from inconsequential messages such as “so and so was here” to more elaborate testimonials. “I visited and I did not like the sarcophagus at all” says one; «I admired» laconically declares another; “I can’t read the hieroglyphs” laments a third. There are even poems. And it is that, as Adam Lukaszewicz, director of the excavations, explains, “The Valley of the Kings was already a tourist destination in Antiquity”.

The Earth Book on one of the walls of the tomb/Photo: R Prazeres on Wikimedia Commons

The highest proportion of graffiti travelers corresponds, as one might imagine, to the Hellenistic period, since in that chronological segment Egypt was occupied first by Alexander the Great, whose general Ptolemy would found a pharaonic dynasty, and later by Rome, which turned the country of the Nile into its granary, until the 4th century. For this reason, most of the messages found are in Greek and, less frequently, in Latin. The authors had a certain status, as some recorded their name, origin and profession.

Thus, we know that among the signatories there were military prefects, governors, philosophers (cynics and Platonic) and doctors. There is even a name known, like that of the Sasanian prince Chosroes in the 4th century AD or Amr ibn al-As, the Arab who conquered Egypt in the 6th century AD after the Roman collapse; Furthermore, the latter was not content with a small inscription and left very large letters, measuring twenty-five centimeters. Later, already in the Middle Ages, testimonies of crusaders appear.

According to the researchers, the chronicles tell us that the practice of visiting monuments and leaving a review became common in the following centuries and the guides themselves offered travelers their knives as a writing tool, although in other cases the writings were not incised. but with red paint. Often even special corners where to write were sought, such as the interior of the solar discs, where the words stood out more, and it is surprising to see some several meters high or on the ceiling. Archaeologists explain it because the sand filled the grave, making it easier for people to reach that high.

The Colossi of Memnon / photo Alberto-g-rovi on Wikimedia Commons

The funniest thing, just like what happens today in the classic doors of public services, is to see how some graffiti were answered by later travelers, such as one in which its author left said “I can’t read this writing” and someone put under “Why do you care that you can’t read the hieroglyphs? I don’t understand your concern

Why does the tomb of Ramses VI accumulate so many graffiti? As Lukaszewicz explains, everything derives from a very common mistake: the confusion of this pharaoh with the legendary hero Memnon. This was the king of Ethiopia and nephew of Priam, ruler of Troy, for which he collaborated in the defense of the city against the Greeks until he died at the hands of Achilles. According to the myth, his corpse was picked up by the four winds, which are the ones that whistle through the cracks of the two giant statues that stand near Memphis and are known as the Colossi of Memnon.


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