This pharaoh's painted tomb was missing its mummy

Seti I had been buried in one of Egypt's most colorful royal tombs, but his body was gone by the time its richly decorated halls were uncovered in 1817.

Seti I is depicted in a colored relief in his tomb.
ARALDO DE LUCA

Nestled among the entrance ways to the tombs of the Valley of the Kings is a structure known to scholars as KV17. Despite its unpoetic designation, this tomb makes the hearts of Egyptologists beat faster: Built for Seti I, who died in 1279 B.C., it was discovered in 1817, surprising excavators with its richly decorated walls depicting religious beliefs through images of the dead pharaoh and the deities of ancient Egypt.

The Valley of the Kings was the burial site of many rulers of Egypt’s New Kingdom (circa 1539-1075 B.C.), when Egypt rose to new heights of power and influence. Building this great desert necropolis began during the reign of Thutmose I, third king of the 18th dynasty, whose rule marked the resurgence of Egypt following a long period of instability. A grand tomb was prepared for Thutmose, cut into the rock of the rugged desert valleys on the Nile’s west bank. The remote spot was chosen to hide lavish royal burials from tomb raiders. Other New Kingdom rulers placed their tombs there, and the necropolis grew. (Judicial power flowed from pharaohs—even after death.)

Despite attempts to hide their contents by the use of concealed passages, most tombs—with the famous exception of the tomb of Tutankhamun—were extensively looted, including Seti I’s. However, without golden grave goods or even the pharoah's mummy, Seti’s tomb still had myriad treasures. The priceless art that adorns the walls remained intact to give modern scholars a vivid look into the intricate art that revealed Egyptian spirituality and funerary rituals surrounding the death of a king.

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