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Theban Mapping Project

Theban Mapping Project
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Reviewed by:
Sumaiya Hamdani
George Mason University
September 2003

This site is an outstanding source of information on ancient Egypt. The website is primarily designed to showcase the sites of excavations and discoveries in the Valley of the Kings, a burial ground for pharaohs of the New Kingdom in ancient Egypt. The Valley of the Kings is part of ancient Thebes (hence the name), a royal and priestly enclave that contained palaces, temples, and tombs, including that of Tutankhamun. Today the area is in the south of Egypt, across the Nile River from the city of Luxor and the temples of Karnak.

Project Director Kent Weeks is a well-known archaeologist of ancient Egypt who teaches at the American University in Cairo and oversees some area excavations. The main purpose of this site is to provide a database of maps and other visual resources on the important sites and excavations in what was Thebes, but it does much more than that. The sophisticated, interactive visual resources are accompanied by explanatory texts that greatly enhance the understanding and use of these resources and serve as a springboard to understanding ancient Egyptian history in general.

The main page of the website features a map of Egypt and links to two interactive atlases of the Valley of the Kings and the Theban Necropolis (the actual city of the dead in the Valley). Also provided are links to a database of 26 articles on sites and related matter; an interactive map of tombs in the Valley of the Kings; a search engine, and resources. Additional information is available on tours led by Weeks and his annual reports on discoveries in the Valley.

The two interactive atlases are wonderful research tools. A link at the top of the home page allows users to launch software needed for the atlases. The Theban Necropolis Atlas consists of a composite of 14 aerial images of the left bank, segmented for closer inspection. As the cursor moves over outlined segments, they are identified and the overview segment of the necropolis (or city of the dead) links to the atlas for the Valley of the Kings.

This atlas opens with an overview page that features topographical maps of the eastern and western portions of the Valley and a five-minute movie narrated by Weeks (a transcript is available). Tabs offer a description page, supplemental maps and plans, and another aerial photograph of the Valley with rollover information and links to articles.

The description page is the most involved. It opens on a numbered map of the 62 tombs in the Valley and offers additional images (58 of the 62 tombs) and related links with plans of individual tombs and 10 articles on the valley and its tombs. The information page provides a general overview of the Valley, its topographical characteristics, previous activity and excavations, and plans for conservation. Information is provided on size and location of tomb, inhabitants, what objects were found in the tomb, and information on the date of discovery. An interactive plan of the site allows users to zoom in on various parts of the tomb. Some of these interactive site plans include short movies and even 3-D access to the tomb site, allowing users to “enter,” view, and learn about the tomb and its patron.

The articles link provides one- to two-page explanations of sites, ancient Egyptian history, and the area today. One article discusses films set in the Valley of the Kings or on the left bank. Additional resources include an extensive bibliography, a glossary of terms relating to Egyptian deities, rulers, and Western explorers, a timeline, and a link to 13 related websites.

Despite the overwhelming amount of information and tools available on this site, it is easily navigable and highly useful for students. The authors have fully exploited the visual nature and significance of ancient Egyptian monuments, tombs, and temples by deploying maps, images, interactive atlases, short movies, and 3-D technology that enables users to “enter” and view sites. All these resources have been clearly organized and are supplemented by a wealth of textual or narrated material that explains visual resources.

There are many ways this website can be put to use in the classroom. Research on particular tombs or sites of exceptional pharaohs, on beliefs concerning the dead in ancient Egypt, or the religion of ancient Egypt, for example, can be conducted. Students can also investigate the conditions and technologies that enabled explorers and discoverers to pursue their finds in the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as today. And the maps and atlases on the site can serve as evidence for discussion of the importance of geography in human settlement.

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