This short film made for children examines some of the tombs in and around the ancient workers’ village of Deir el-Medina (‘Pa-demi’), a settlement established by the state around 1500 BC. It provided homes for the workers who built the royal tombs in the nearby ‘Valley of the Kings’. Each worker was given a house in the village and a small tomb close by.

Deir el-Medina village in the foreground and its tombs on the higher ground below the cliff © J. Fletcher

One such worker was the foreman Kha who worked on three royal tombs about 1400-1360 BC and cut his own tomb deep into the bedrock. Its steep entrance (left, © J. Fletcher) leads to a long corridor ending in the undecorated burial chamber which contained the burials of Kha and Meryt. Their large coffins contained their mummified bodies surrounded by all their possessions for use in the afterlife. The burials were discovered by Italian archaeologists in 1906, the tomb was purposefully located at the base of a cliff where centuries of periodic rock falls had completely covered it over, so whereas most tombs were robbed in antiquity, this one remained intact.

Kha had used his architect’s skills to create his well-designed tomb in a well-hidden place, separating it completely from his brightly painted tomb chapel built above ground some 25 metres away and very different from his subterranean burial chamber. Even his work tools have survived, everything from his writing palettes and clipboard-like writing tablet to his chisel, drill, adze and finely-crafted cubit measure, made of wood and hinged for folded storage in its own leather carrying case for use in his everyday working life. By contrast, a second cubit measure, covered in gold foil, had been a gift from the pharaoh Amenhotep II (c.1427-1400 BC) under whom Kha had begun his career. He had then worked for successive kings Tuthmosis IV (c.1400-1390 BC) and Amenhotep III (c.1390-1352 BC), as foreman leading the workers who had built the two pharaohs’ tombs in the Valley of the Kings.

In the film above, geologist Steve Cross demonstrates how Kha and his men created these impressive structures using little more than copper chisels and stone pounders to cut through the limestone rock, their only source of light created with small pottery lamps burning wicks of twisted linen in vegetable oil. This was even the case for the draughtsmen and artists who carved and painted the tombs’ colourful wall scenes, best exemplified in the splendid tomb of Amenhotep III, grandfather of the famous Tutankhamen. As the last royal tomb Kha worked on, and for which he was once again rewarded, the tomb is the perfect tribute to an excellent architect and the king he served so well.