King Tut's Final Secret?
In 1922 the Pharoah's tombs were excavated, but one area remained untouched--until now.
By David Rohl. ©
Express Newspapers. © 2000
This December, a team of British Egyptologists hope to make the most spectacular discovery in the land of the Pharoah's since Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon broke down the sealed door to Tutankhamun's tomb. Dr Nicholas Reeves and Professor Geoffrey Martin are the first archaeologists since that famous day in 1922 to be given concession to dig for new, undiscovered tombs in the Valley of the Kings.
Egyptologists have long believed that no more royal burials in the Valley of the Kings would ever be found; the valley had been thoroughly searched and the only tasks left for archaeologists were those of restoration, conservation and the clearance of existing sepulchres from ancient flood debris. But despite discovering Tutankhamun's tomb, Carter's mission was not completed. He had set himself the task of excavating all the unexplored areas in the central part of the Valley of the Kings. But the discovery of the first step leading down to Tut's treasures prematurely ended that programme, leaving a small area adjacent to the tomb uninvestigated.
Nicholas Reeves, realising the possibility that further excavations could be made, has put together a team, under the field directorship of Geoffrey Martin, whose objective is to clear the area north of KV 62 down to bedrock. What are they expecting to find? For the answer to that question we need to travel back to the start of the century.
In 1907, Theodore M Davis, a wealthy retired American banker, sponsored excavations in the Valley of the Kings. He hired a youthful English Egyptologist, Edward Ayrton, as his archaeologist. Just across the valley from the spot where Carter was later to make his great discovery, Davis and Ayrton uncovered a small tomb (later numbered KV 55), which contained a desecrated royal burial place. The anonymous pharaoh's body had been violated and all means of identification erased.
The excavations were a disaster and no complete archaeological report was ever published. The late 18th-Dynasty tomb was Wrongly identified as that of Queen Tiye, the great royal wife of Pharaoh Amenhotep III and mother of Akhenaten. This was because a golden funerary shrine, bearing her name, was found dismantled in the left half of the burial chamber. The royal body found on the right side of the same chamber was identified as that of a female by a British surgeon on holiday at the time in Luxor though subsequent examinations have shown it to be male.
The archaeologists' examination of the body, carried out in the tomb itself, resulted in the complete destruction of the mummy, leaving only bones. The inlaid royal coffin was sent to Cairo Museum along with the human remains. However the bottom half, covered in gold leaf etched with hieroglyphs, was subsequently stolen by an assistant curator, who disappeared along with his loot. Confusion over the identity of the mummy has reigned within scholarly circles ever since.
At present there is one prime candidate for this mysterious mummy in Tomb 55: the ephemeral King Smenkhkara, brother and immediate predecessor of Tutankhamun. But it may be that the true identity of the mummy is that of the heretic pharaoh Akhenaten himself.
Akhenaten remains one the most fascinating and popular characters in Egyptian history His astonishing reign, with its new art forms and monotheistic religion, came to a mysterious end. The king's tomb, near his new capital, was plundered soon after his burial and the short-lived royal city at Amarna was abandoned to the drifting sands and Akhenaten's name was expunged from the monuments, never to be spoken again.
On to part two.