CAIRO — Archaeologists working in Egypt's Valley of the Kings have uncovered a vast royal tomb that may be the biggest Pharaonic burial chamber ever found, Egyptian authorities said May 15.
US archaeologists explored the tomb, containing at least 67 chambers, in February and believe that sons of the powerful Pharaoh Ramses II were buried there 3,000 years ago.
''This may be the biggest burial chamber found in Egypt so far,'' Egypt's Supreme Council for Antiquities quoted American Egyptologist Kent Weeks as saying.
The archaeologists found fragments of mummified bodies, statues, jewelry, furniture, and food offerings inside the chambers, and some of the walls still bear ancient decorations.
Although the tomb has been badly looted by grave robbers and is in poor condition, ''It is no doubt one of the biggest in the Valley of the Kings,'' says Abdelhalim Nourredin, head of the antiquities council. ''It's a very important find.''
The entrance to the tomb, where as many as 50 of Ramses's sons may have been buried, was discovered in the last century in the rugged limestone walls of the valley, just 30 yards from the tomb of Ramses II himself, but floodwater debris had blocked all but three of the outermost chambers.
In February, Weeks's team found a passageway leading past 20 chambers to a statue of Osiris, god of the underworld. The corridor then divided into two more passages, each with 20 rooms, which end in stairs leading perhaps to yet more rooms. ''[Weeks] hasn't been able to investigate all the tomb,'' Mr. Noureddin added.
Most royal tombs in the valley, where the mummy of the young Pharaoh Tutankhamen was discovered in 1922 amid fabulous treasures, are simple structures with a single corridor leading to a main burial chamber.
Ramses II was one of ancient Egypt's last great rulers, famous for his campaigns against the Hittites to the north and for building monuments all over Egypt during his 60-year rule during the 13th century BC. Like dozens of pharaohs, Ramses II had his tomb dug into the Valley of the Kings, across the Nile from the ancient capital of Thebes, about 310 miles south of modern Cairo.
The tomb is not expected to be opened for inspection because of its damaged ceiling and remaining debris.