You all remember, I’m sure, the opening scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, when Indiana Jones is deciding how to steal the golden artifact he finds inside a secret tomb. When his strategy to replace the treasure with a bag of sand doesn’t quite work out as expected, he’s forced to make a run for it, dodging poisonous darts, jumping across bottomless pits and fleeing a whopping big stone ball. It’s one of my favorite movie action scenes, primarily because I get to put myself in the shoes of an adventurer, penetrating a hidden treasure trove for the first time in ages.
I receive that same exhilaration as I enter King Tut’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Excavated by Egyptologist Howard Carter in 1922, the tomb of Tutankhamun had laid hidden and undisturbed for 3,300 years. Unlike other tombs in the Valley, King Tut’s burial site – hidden by debris for most of its existence – had avoided the plundering of graverobbers, so common in the area. What must it have been like for Carter and his team to crawl into the tomb for the first time in millennia and discover 5,000+ intact objects of amazing opulence? Although all the artifacts have been removed, (to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo), the site is still incredibly atmospheric. The paintings and the hieroglyphic carvings on the walls look as if they were done yesterday. For me, it’s a sheer Indiana Jones moment, moving down the narrow passage and entering the larger chamber where all the treasures had been held.
The Valley of the Kings, of course, is much more than just King Tut’s tomb. Located on the outskirts of Luxor, this dry, barren wadi holds over 65 tombs and chambers, ranging in size from the simple pit that is KV54 to the complex tomb that is KV5, which alone has over 120 chambers for the sons of Ramesses II. Alas, there are no secret puzzles for me to solve or obstacles to overcome in the Valley of the Kings – that would be asking too much! Nevertheless, as I wander around the area, I experience that feeling of temporal awe you get in the face of the sheer immensity of time passed, as if I’m part of something much bigger than, to quote the Hamlet, my own “mortal coil.”
(When was the last time you felt “awe”? It could be temporal, like exploring ancient sites like King Tut’s tomb; it could be physical, like when observing the Grand Canyon. It could be semantic, like when contemplating an immense concept such as evolution. Whatever the case, awe can be found everywhere. All you need to do is tune in to the vastness of life’s mysteries. The clues are all around us!)