Site photo by Fulvio Roiter/Corbis; inset photo of statue from Silent Images.

Notched cliffs loom over the western flank of Egypt’s Valley of the Queens, where archaeologists have uncovered 18 tombs of royal women of the 19th Dynasty (1292–1190 B.C.) and 20th Dynasty (1190–1075 B.C.). One of these tombs belonged to a daughter-wife of the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II (1279–1213 B.C.), Merytamun, whose sensual beauty is captured in a 30-inch-high limestone statue (inset). Unlike their queenly predecessors, who were buried in simple, undecorated burial chambers often located within the tombs of pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings, royal ladies of the 19th and 20th Dynasties were entombed in architecturally complex tombs of their own, reflecting their increased status during the Ramesside period.