Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Are There Any More Undiscovered Royal Tombs in The Valley of the Kings?

Aten wants gold, more gold and more gold.  And then he has to work out how to make the fuel he desperately needs so he can get back to conquering the Universe with his Uncle Lucie.  While he tries to work out how to get into the massive treasure vaults beneath Karnak Temple, he sets up a little tomb robbing ring.  Aten’s goal is to find intact royals tombs brimming with gold treasure.  Finding an intact royal tomb in the Valley of the Kings is also the dream of many Egyptologists today.  But was the tomb of the boy king Tutankhamen the last big discovery that the Valley of the Kings will yield or are there more amazing finds just waiting to be unearthed?

The discovery of the tomb of a minor pharaoh from the end of the 18th dynasty in 1922 by Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon rocked the world.  Never before had an almost intact pharaoh’s tomb been found in the Valley of the Kings, and this discovery gave us not only fabulous treasures but a great deal of valuable information on the end of the Amarna period. But is the boy king’s tomb the last great discovery to be made in the Royal Necropolis or are there more undisturbed tombs hidden in the cliffs and valley floor waiting to be found?

Valley of the Kings Excavations
Excavation in the Valley of the Kings - November 2008

That there are many tombs yet to be unearthed in Egypt has been amply demonstrated over the last few weeks.  In Abydos, the sacred heart of Ancient Egypt, a huge quartzite sarcophagus discovered a year ago has been identified as belonging to an obscure pharaoh of the 13th dynasty called Sobekhotep I,  leading to the discovery close by of the tomb of a previously unknown king.  Hieroglyphs painted on the tomb walls gave his name as Senebkay.  And just around the corner from the Valley of the Kings at el-Khokha, a beautifully painted tomb of a courtier from the Ramesside Period is being excavated.  The tomb belonged to the Chief Brewer of the Temple of Mut called Khonsu-em-heb and the exquisitely painted frescos show him and his wife Mutemheb feasting and making offerings to the gods. So could there possibly be more royal tombs waiting to be found in the Valley of the Kings?

The first burial in the arid, remote valley was a departure from tradition.  In earlier dynasties, pharaoh’s tombs had been built in plain sight as a sign of their power and prestige.  From the earliest mastaba tombs to the pyramids, these tombs were as large and lavish as the pharaoh’s treasury and length of his reign allowed.  Even as late as the 17th dynasty, pharaohs were buried in small pyramids at Dra’ Abu el-Naga, a necropolis in the Theban hills. So why did a high court official called Ineni dig a rock cut tomb for his royal master, boasting ‘alone, no one seeing and no one hearing’?  Possibly because it was becoming obvious that most of these ostentatious, very visible tombs were being entered by tomb robbers, who stole the precious funerary treasure and ripped the pharaoh’s mummies apart looking for amulets and jewellery.

Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Egypt
Valley of the Kings

But although it might have been possible to conceal the location of one royal tomb, as successive pharaoh’s carried on digging their tombs in the same valley, the site of the royal necropolis became well known and a workmen’s village was built at Deir-el Medina to house the men who dug and decorated these fabulous sepulchres.  To date sixty four tombs have been found in the Royal Valley, belonging to queens, royal children and favoured courtiers as well as the mighty pharaohs themselves.  So who is missing?  Which pharaoh’s tombs have not yet been found?  The two main contenders are Thutmosis II from the early 18th dynasty and Ramesses VIII from the 20th dynasty.  The mummy of Ramesses XI has also not been found and though a tomb was dug for him in the Valley of the Kings, there is no evidence he was actually buried in it. Most of the tombs of the queens from the 18th dynasty have also not yet been located and there may also be smaller tombs of princes, princesses and royal officials still awaiting their turn to be discovered.

In 2007 Dr Zahi Hawass appointed an Egyptian team of archaeologists headed by Afifi Rohiem to start excavating in parts of the Royal Valley where he believed there might be a new tomb.  At the same time the Glen Dash Foundation for Archaeological Research undertook thorough ground-penetrating radar investigations of the cliffs and valley floor.  The Egyptologists worked between 2007 and 2010, starting with the area around the tomb of Merenptah.  Their excavations rediscovered some ancient graffiti first recorded by Jaroslav Czerny and the remains of some workmen’s huts, which have been carefully recorded.  Tantalisingly, one of the ancient graffito was written by an official called Userhat who said that he had created a burial for his father close by.

The Egyptian found two cuttings in the rock that could be tomb entrances, one where the rubble has been disturbed, suggesting that whatever is there has already been disturbed, and one where it had not. Could this be the entrance to an intact tomb?  These two new tomb entrances became known as KV64 and KV65.  The KV64 entrance was found close to Merenptah’s tomb and is Ramesside in appearance.  It was thought this could possibly be the entrance to the tomb of Pharaoh Ramesses VIII. The other tomb entrance was cut and in the style of the 18th dynasty and Dr Hawass stated in a lecture that he thought this could be the tomb of an individual from the Amarna period and that some debris has been excavated that had the name of a previously unknown queen on it.

However, for some reason no further investigations of these tomb entrances were undertaken, possibly they were halted by the civil unrest that started during 2011. In January 2012 a team from the University of Basel in Switzerland stumbled across a new tomb in the valley completely by chance.  When they opened it they found it contained the undisturbed coffin and beautifully wrapped mummy of a temple singer called Nehmes Bastet dating from the 22nd dynasty. The tomb, now officially designated as KV64, was not originally built for her but had been usurped from an earlier period. The inscriptions show that Nehmes Bastet was the daughter of the High Priest of Amun, so are there more burials from this family and period still awaiting discovery in the Valley?

So there is a strong chance there are still some major finds to be made in the Valley of the Kings. KV63 is now thought to have been more of a storage chamber for burials of the Amarna period, rather than a royal tomb.  Most of the burials of the royal ladies of this period have not yet been located and finding the tomb of one of the major figures, such as the iconic beauty Queen Nefertiti, would be very exciting and help to clarify what really happened during this shadowy part of Ancient Egyptian history.  The mystery tomb KV55 could be the tomb of the heretic Pharaoh Akhenaten or his ephemeral successor Smenkhare, so is either of these king’s tombs still concealed in the cliffs somewhere?

Valley of the Kings Luxor - west branch
Western Branch of the Valley of the Kings

We also still do not know the complete family tree of the pharaoh’s or of their court officials, so there could be tombs to be discovered that belonged to queens, royal children, ladies of the harem or nobles we have never before encountered in Egyptian history.  Also all the tombs visited by tourists are in the eastern branch of the Valley of the Kings.  There is a western branch that contains the tombs of Amenophis III and Ay that is rarely visited and has not yet been thoroughly surveyed or excavated. But although a tomb stuffed full of golden treasure would captivate the media and the public the world over, any find, however small, adds to our knowledge of our ancient past and fills in another piece of the puzzle.

Sources: Wikipaedia, BBC News