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September 10, 1997
The year is 1825. Deep in the heart of Egypt, in an area becoming known as the Valley of the Kings, English explorer James Burton stumbles upon what appears to be a tomb wedged into a hillside. Noting the name of Ramses II carved in the entrance, Burton has his workmen dig a channel through the first three debris-filled chambers, but finding no objects or wall decorations, he quickly abandons the dig. carvingIn the years that follow floods from the Nile clog the entranceway with rubble. Cut to 1989. An archaeological team led by an American named Kent Weeks is feverishly searching for that same entrance. Time is of the essence: in order to accomodate increasing tourist demand for access to the Valley of the Kings, Egyptian engineers are planning to widen nearby roads, in the process threatening to damage or bury Burton's discovery. After ten days of frantic digging behind tourist kiosks Weeks's team locates the portal -- and much more. Over the ensuing months, the team discovers more than sixty-seven corridors and chambers, a number that in the past several years has reached 108 and is still growing. Considered the most important discovery in Egypt since the unearthing of King Tut's burial site seventy-five years ago, and given the official designation "KV5," this quickly becomes the archaeological find of the late twentieth century.

Archaeology buffs and tourists alike may well make some interesting discoveries of their own at the Theban Mapping Project's KV5 Web site. mummyTake, for example, the interactive QTVR image of a recently discovered buried skeleton: visitors to the site can adjust the image to see the layers that archaeologists had to dig through in order to uncover the remains. Another QTVR image allows visitors to trace the progress of the excavation over the past nine years.

Weeks and his staff promise regular updates to the Web site, along with an area devoted to kids, a question-and-answer page, and a chat room. The technology that would truly enhance this site is video, but given the primitive state of video on the Web, it may be a while before video can be put to effective use. Nonetheless, the Theban Mapping Project is clearly tapping into one of the most promising aspects of the World Wide Web: the ability to trace the evolution of a newsworthy event by integrating photographs, interactive images, maps, and text into a multimedia document, or "Webumentary," that can be updated instantaneously as new developments take place. The KV5 Web site, like the actual KV5 excavation, is a work in progress; check back in often to see what new things are opening up.

Copyright © 1997 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
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