Rock deterioration in the royal tomb of Seti I in the Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Egypt

Wust, Raphael AJ, and McLane, James (2000) Rock deterioration in the royal tomb of Seti I in the Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Egypt. Engineering Geology, 58 (2). pp. 163-190.

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Abstract

A comparison of present tomb conditions of the Royal Tomb of Seti I in the Valley of the Kings with Burton's photographs (1921–1928) reveals that the rock structure and tomb decoration have undergone severe deterioration. In fact, several other Royal Tombs in the Valley of the Kings have shown similar decay features. Most of the Royal Tombs in the Valley of the Kings and the West Valley were excavated into the marls of the middle and lower part of Member I, the lowermost unit of the Thebes Formation. However, several tombs penetrate into the underlying interbedded shales and marls of the Esna Formation. All of them show severe, irreversible rock structure deterioration originating from swelling and shrinkage. Since the burial of Seti I, 3300 years ago, water and debris from flash floods had minor impacts on wall decoration of the uppermost chambers and on wall structure in the lower chambers. Historic flooding since the discovery of the tomb has caused major destruction of walls and pillars by repeated swelling and shrinkage of the shale. Moreover, accelerated humidity changes over the past 70 years have contributed to increasing deterioration of the rock structure. Rock mechanic analyses were done on samples from the tomb of Seti I in order to understand the propelling mechanism of deterioration. Marls and limestones of the Thebes Formation are predominantly composed of calcite, with 10–40% clay minerals and minor amounts of quartz and anhydrite. Sepiolite and palygorskite are the dominant clay minerals in the Thebes Formation, with subordinate amounts of kaolinite and illite/smectite mixed layers. The shales of the Esna Formation contain more than 70% clay minerals, which are composed of illite/smectite mixed layers, with high swelling capacity, kaolinite and subordinate palygorskite and sepiolite. The marls of the lower Thebes Formation showed dry compressive strength values between 48 MPa (7000 psi) and 78 MPa (11 300 psi) before violent failure, with a maximum elastic deformation of 0.4–0.5%. The Esna Shale samples had maximum stress loads of 60 MPa (8500 psi) and 74 MPa (10 800 psi) with a maximum deformation of more than 2%. The deformation character changed with increasing pressure from an elastic to an inelastic mode. Long-term swell tests on Esna Shale samples revealed an enormous water absorption and swelling capacity. Swell heaving is between 50 and 80%, most of which takes place within the first hour. The swell pressure exceeds 5 MPa (700 psi) and 13 MPa (1900 psi) with a deformation of 1.5 and 3.3%, respectively. The swell pressure increases to its maximum over a period of 7–12 days. The rock tests showed that the swell pressure capacity of the Esna shales might exceed the strength of the brittle and highly jointed marls of Member I, into which most of the tombs are hewn. The swell and water intake tests demonstrated that water absorption of the Esna shales is immediate. Mineralogical analyses showed that mixed-layer clay minerals are able to release enormous pressure, which may be ‘compensated’ through ductile deformation by the shales or may result in brittle failure of the marls.

Item ID: 977
Item Type: Article (UNSPECIFIED)
Keywords: Compressive strength, Egypt, Expansive clays, Rock deterioration, Royal Tombs, Valley of the Kings
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© 2000 Elsevier. : This journal is available online - use hypertext links above.

ISSN: 1872-6917
Date Deposited: 02 Nov 2006
FoR Codes: 04 EARTH SCIENCES > 0403 Geology @ 0%
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