Egypt: Kent Weeks and the Theban Mapping Project

Kent Weeks and the Theban Mapping Project

by Jimmy Dunn

Some parts of this Article were taken from the Theban Mapping Project's Web site.

Today, we can probably count Egyptology's superstars on a single hand. Don't get me wrong. Within the profession, there are many notable and outstanding Egyptologists. But the ones who head large, important projects and are well known to even casual antiquity enthusiasts are few. They include people such as Mark Lehner and Dr. Hawass who have operated mostly in Lower (northern) Egypt at Giza, as well as only perhaps a few others. Another definite member of their ranks is Kent R. Weeks at Luxor.

Kent Weeks and the Theban  Mapping Project

Dr. Kent R. Weeks grew up in Washington State where he developed a strong childhood interest in ancient Egypt which he has followed ever since. After pursuing a program in anthropology at the University of Washington at Seattle and receiving a Masters degree in 1965, he worked on archaeological projects in Egypt and Nubia, particularly the Nubian salvage campaign. During this time he met and married Susan Howe, another student at Washington also working in Nubia. In 1966 he began work with Dr. James Harris on a study of dentition that resulted in a project to x-ray mummies in the Egyptian museum. He received his doctorate in Egyptology from Yale in 1970, following which he worked for two years at the Metropolitan Museum of Arts Egyptian Department, and taught at the Department of History, Queens College, CUNY. In 1972 he returned to Egypt to teach in the Department of Anthropology of American University in Cairo. While there, he conducted two seasons of field work at the Giza necropolis, reclearing and documenting a group of mastabas to the west of the Great Pyramid. Beginning in 1974, he was employed for four years as Field Director of the University of Chicago Oriental Institutes Epigraphic and Architectural Survey at Chicago House, Luxor. From 1977 to 1988 Dr. Weeks was Assistant Professor and then Associate Professor of Egyptian Archaeology at University of California, Berkeley. From 1988 to the present he has been professor of Egyptology at American University in Cairo.

Kent Weeks and the Theban  Mapping Project

During his stay at Chicago House, Dr. Weeks became aware of the need for a dependable and comprehensive atlas to locate the numerous monuments in the Theban region. After returning to the U.S., Weeks began to set up a project to survey and map the Theban West Bank and thus the Theban Mapping Project was started in 1978. With financial aid from donors and the aid of professional surveyors, architects, photographers, and archaeologists, the Project has worked steadily plotting the locations of tombs, temples and other archaeological structures located in the Theban necropolis region. After unsatisfactory attempts to obtain usable aerial photographs to aid in the mapping of the area, Weeks adopted the use of hot air balloons as mobile platforms for aerial photography with excellent results, incidentally triggering a new feature in tourist activity on the Theban West Bank.

Kent Weeks and the Theban  Mapping Project

In 1987, while following up clues from ancient texts, the reports of earlier explorers, and the results of remote sensing surveys, the Project began examining an area to the northeast of the entrance to the tomb of Rameses IX where he felt a long-neglected tomb might be located. The successful re-discovery of the entrance to KV 5 received limited press coverage, but the discovery in 1995 of how much larger it actually was, attracted media attention to an unprecedented degree. The responsibilities of dealing with this increasingly complex tomb has changed, to some degree, the focus of the Project, but the original goal of accurately documenting the archaeological heritage of Thebes has been retained.

The Theban Mapping Project

For the past fifteen years, the Theban Mapping Project (the TMP, now based at the American University in Cairo), has been preparing a comprehensive archaeological database of Thebes. With its thousands of tombs and temples, Thebes is one of the worlds most important archaeological zones. Sadly, however, it has not fared well over the years. Treasure-hunters and curio-seekers plundered it in the past; pollution, rising ground water, and mass-tourism threaten it in the present. Even early archaeologists destroyed valuable information in their search for museum-quality pieces. Thebes was considered an inexhaustible archaeological cornucopia.

Today, however, we have realized that the monuments of Thebes are a finite resource. If we dont protect and monitor them, they will vanish, and we and our descendants will all be the poorer. The TMP believes that the first and most essential step in preserving the heritage of Thebes is a detailed map and database of every archaeological, geological, and ethnographic feature in the area. Only when these are available can sensible plans be made for tourism, conservation, and further study.

During the last decade, the TMP has concentrated on the Valley of the Kings. Often for the first time, modern surveying techniques were used to measure the tombs there. Some tombs were large and complex enough to require over three thousand separate measurements. From this data, the TMP is preparing three-dimensional computer models of the tombs. And of course, the TMP is continuing in the excavation and clearance of KV 5.

A Tour Egypt Project

KV 5 has been a very expensive tomb to excavate. Considerable architectural supports have been required because of damage to the tomb, not to mention the tons of flood debris that is not only difficult to remove, but must be carefully screened for any artifacts. Of course Kent Weeks work is not only involved with KV 5, the Tomb of the Son's of Ramesses II, he also heads other important work carried out by the Theban Mapping Project. In order to help, Tour Egypt is taking on a pet project to help in any way we can. Notably, we will be telling you about his books and a tour that Mr. Weeks conducts, and later we will be telling you how to make direct contributions to his efforts. We encourage our readers to get involved and help this cause as well.

Kent Weeks Tour

Kent Weeks' Tour is arranged through our Travel Department. This year (2002) it will begin on September 16th. This tour begins with an Egyptology conference in Cairo! And it visits important but often overlooked sites such as Abydos and Valley of the Golden Mummies at the Bahariya Oasis. This is a twelve day tour that catches all of the highlights of ancient Egypt, including Abu Simbel.

Books (and other publications) Edited or Written by Kent Weeks

At Tour Egypt, we not only own all of the books we are about to examine, we use them extensively in our research. Further, I have to admit that at least one of these books is perhaps my favorite of any book on Egypt that I own.

Kent Weeks and the Theban Mapping Project

Valley of the Kings Edited by Kent Weeks

The book I refer to as being one of my favorite is the Valley of the Kings. This is a large coffee table style book with some of the most beautiful pictures of the West Bank at Thebes that I have ever seen. However, unlike many "presentation" books, this one is full of useful information about the tombs and other monuments. It actually covers more than just the Valley of the Kings, having information on the Valley of the Queens, the private tombs, and some of the mortuary temples as well. I've used this book so much in my research that I've practically worn it out, so I actually plan on buying a second copy for my coffee table!

Not since Kamal el-Mallakh's The Gold of Tutankhamen (1978) has such a lavish book on Ancient Egypt been offered that will appeal to both general readers and scholars. Weeks (Egyptology, American Univ., Cairo), who discovered the tomb of the sons of Rameses II, as described in his The Lost Tomb (LJ 10/1/98), has assembled an international team of experts to interpret for the nonspecialist the wonders of the Theban necropolis on the west bank of the Nile opposite modern Luxor.

From Library Journal

Kent Weeks and the Theban Mapping Project

KV 5: A Preliminary Report on the Excavations of the Tomb of the Sons of Ramesses II in the Valley of the Kings by Kent Weeks

This book is indispensable for those who want to find out more about KV 5. It has all the technical data, but is a much nicer presentation than one might expect in such a report. It describes each of the excavated chambers with dimensions, discoveries and other information, as well as providing some technical discussions. The books format is clear, and the information it contains would be of interest to both professional Egyptologists, and enthusiasts alike. This book is the first comprehensive technical publication on the work of the Theban Mapping Project in KV5. It includes detailed archaeological and architectural studies, epigraphic surveys, discussions of conversation work and extensive reports on the sites of geology, hydrology, mineralogy, and geotechnical engineering. 11 x 8 1/2, 90 line drawings, 90 halftone illustrations.

Amazon Books

Kent Weeks and the Theban Mapping Project

The Lost Tomb by Kent Weeks (Hardback Edition)

The Lost Tomb is also about KV 5, and in fact does contain some excellent information on the tomb itself. However, this book largely narrates the discoveries made, giving considerable background. It must be considered as complimenting the Preliminary Report. Anyone interested in Egyptology or Egyptologists, and particularly those who may be interested in such a career will love this book.

[Weeks] is one of those rare scholars with the gift of a fluent pen and the ability to turn months of laborious survey work into an engrossing account of Egyptology, late 20th century style.... The Lost Tomb is a vividly written, engaging, yet scientifically impeccable description of a major archeological discovery. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

The Los Angeles Times Sunday Book Review, Brian Fagan

Weeks also points out what his discovery may tell us about the powerful, redhaired pharoah who ruled ancient Egypt for 67 years (1279-1212 BC), including the possibility that he was the pharaoh of Exodus. He elaborates upon his profession's risks, from excavations in narrow, debris-filled and claustraphobic surroundings to working under the gunfire of terrorist attacks. And he reminds us that his discovery by no means brings Egyptology to a conclusion: "Every generation of Egyptologists asks different questions of its data and data are a finite resource. We will leave parts of KV5 undug so that archeologists of the future, armed with new questions and new excavation techniques, can seek new answers to old questions and to others we haven't even dreamed of." --Eugene Holley Jr.

From Amazon Books

Kent Weeks and the Theban Mapping Project

Atlas of the Valley of the Kings by the Theban mapping Project

At last, The Atlas of the Valley of the Kings is available! This major work by the Theban Mapping Project is the most complete and accurate set of maps and plans ever published of the Valley of the Kings and its tombs.

It includes detailed archaeological and architectural studies, epigraphic surveys, discussions of conversation work and extensive reports on the sites of geology, hydrology, mineralogy, and geotechnical engineering. 11 x 8 1/2, 90 line drawings, 90 halftone illustrations.

Combining rigorous accuracy with beautiful design, the Atlas offers plans, longitudinal and transverse sections, and axonometric drawings of every accessible KV tomb, plus 1:800 topographic maps of the East and West valleys and detailed 1:250 maps of major sections of the principal Valley of the Kings.

The result of 20 years of work, the Atlas will be the standard against which all future archaeological maps and architectural studies will be judged.

The Atlas specifications are impressive: forty-four 70 x 100 cm sheets, sixteen 50 x 70 sheets, and twelve 35 x 50 cm sheets, all in a 36.5 x 21.5 x 5 cm cloth-covered box. The seventy-two maps and plans are accompanied by a quarto-sized handbook giving full details on the TMP's surveying techniques, indices to the map sheets, and comprehensive bibliographies for each KV tomb.

The Atlas is a reference work that every Egyptologist, professional or amateur, and anyone interested in archaeology will want to own. Supplies are limited: Order today!

Several works of Mr. Weeks that we are less familiar with include:

Mastabas of Cemetery G 6000

Record of the architecture, relief decoration, and objects from the Old Kingdom Cemetery at Giza cleared by the Joint Egyptian Expedition of Harvard University and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston under George A. Reisner in the 1920s, along with new data froma joint expedition of the Museum of Fine Arts and the American University, Cairo in the 1970s.

An Historical Bibliography of Egyptian Prehistory (American Research Center in Egypt, Catalogs, Vol 6)

Not a lot of information on this one. Sorry.


Last Updated: June 12th, 2011