The Ramesseum Papyri

R. B. Parkinson

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The archaeological context (continued)

The later history of the tomb

The cemetery surrounding the tomb was used continually into the 17th Dynasty and by people of high rank including a royal nurse (Nelson 2006). However, it was soon engulfed by a sequence of royal monuments, although it was still occasionally used during the 18th Dynasty, as shown by some hasty infant burials around the reign of Tuthmose III (1475–1425 BC; Janot 2001). The papyrus tomb may already have been plundered by this period, or perhaps this happened even later when the building of the Ramesseum was begun in 1279 BC (e.g. Barbotin and Leblanc 1999). Ranks of brick magazines were built around the stone temple, and the fifth magazine from the north-west corner covered the tomb (Quibell 1898: 3, pl. 2; Nelson 2003). Anything that remained of the earlier cemetery’s superstructures would have been levelled for this new building, and the process would have revealed the tomb-shafts. Even if these had been partly emptied by previous robbers, they would have needed to be filled in as the surface was prepared for the new buildings. Whenever robbers plundered the burial, the various objects and the box of papyri were probably not valuable enough to keep, and so were discarded;[11]  they were either left at the bottom of the shaft when the robbers stripped the burial chamber, or else they took the box to the surface to sort through the burial goods and then threw it back down into the shaft when they realised it contained only papyri (Quibell 1898: 3). For the box to have survived after this plunder, the shaft must have been quickly filled in afterwards.

The magazines of the Ramesseum and the surrounding area were colonised by a priestly necropolis, and mud-bricks from the various royal complexes were re-used in order to build small funerary chapels (CNRS et al. 1982: 12–42; Lecuyot 1999: 75–7; Nelson 2003). The chambers of the tomb with the papyri were now re-used for new burials, to judge by the remains of 22nd-Dynasty burials that were found in the shaft in the 19th century (Quibell 1898: 3). When these people partly cleared the filled-in shaft to re-use its chambers, they tunnelled into it at either end but apparently did not clear it to the bottom in the middle, leaving an undisturbed area which included the papyri and the artefacts. These later burials were also robbed in their turn, probably quite rapidly like some of the nearby burials (CNRS et al. 1982: 17). The shaft was again re-used for an even later, perhaps Roman, burial when a third chamber was added half way down the shaft (Quibell 1898: 4). In the 19th century the tomb-shaft underneath them may still have been accessed, since Quibell and Petrie also found signs of Arab investigators in nearby shafts (Quibell 1898: 4). Today its precise location is unknown (Leblanc 2005: 33–4; Nelson 2006: 115–16). The papyri are, however, recognised as a unique library and as ‘the most precious single find of papyri from the late Middle Kingdom’ (Forman and Quirke 1996: 107). They have even gained the dubious honour of appearing in the pages of occult fiction (Morgan 2006).

  • ^ [11] - Better-documented royal cases in the New Kingdom suggest that robbers sought out re-usable material like oils, linen, and precious metals (Reeves 1990: 275). Parallel objects were found in the pyramid complex of Senwosret I, apparently also discarded by tomb-robbers (Arnold 1992: 78).