Giovanni Battista Belzoni was perhaps the most colorful and capable of the early explorers in Egypt. Trained as a hydraulic engineer, the 6'7" Italian had worked briefly in his youth as a circus strongman, dubbed the "Patagonian Sampson." He traveled to Egypt in 1815, where he was hired by the British Consul-General, Henry Salt, to oversee the transport of colossal monuments to London. While exploring Thebes, Belzoni demonstrated a remarkable ability to read the landscape and determine the location of concealed tombs. He initiated an examination of the Valley of the Kings, based on the accounts of Classical authors and specifically seeking royal tombs. He succeeded rapidly, locating the tomb of the 18th Dynasty king Ay (WV 23) in late 1816, followed by two other tombs belonging to royal family members. But his greatest discoveries would come in October of the next year.

On October 10th, Belzoni found the unfinished sepulcher of Ramesses I (KV 16), and only days later, the tomb of his son, Seti I (KV 17). The latter monument, one of the most exquisite and richly decorated in the Valley, came to be known as "Belzoni's Tomb." In all, Belzoni located eight previously unknown burial chambers, which he investigated with far greater skill and care than many of his contemporaries. When he left Egypt to pursue other adventures, Belzoni claimed "it is my firm opinion, that in the [Valley], there are no more [tombs] than are now known." How ironic that within a century, the Valley of the Kings again would be caught in the excitement of discovery. An explorer to the end, Belzoni died in 1823, en route to Timbuktu, in search of the source of the Niger River.

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