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Egyptian Statue Met Undignified End

January 28, 2006

BALTIMORE — In life, King Tut’s grandmother was a powerful woman in ancient Egypt, but after death a monument to her met an undignified end.

A Johns Hopkins University archaeological team found a life-sized statue believed to represent Queen Tiye buried face down under the floor of the sprawling Karnak Temple site in Luxor, the ancient Egyptian royal city.

The statue, which dates to between 1391 and 1352 B.C., was found under the platform of a temple of the goddess Mut, which dates to about 700 B.C. It appears to have been tossed in with rubble used to fill in the floor during that temple’s later expansion, said Betsy Bryan, a professor of Egyptian art and archaeology at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.

“The reason for using the statue as construction material, however, remains unknown,” Bryan said in an e-mail from Egypt.

During her lifetime, the queen was treated with much more respect. Tiye, also known as Ti, was the first queen of Egypt to have her name appear on official acts alongside that of her husband, the pharaoh Amenhotep III, Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities noted when it announced the discovery this past week.

“Some indications, such as her own portraits in art, suggest that Tiye may have ruled briefly after her husband’s death, but this is uncertain,” Bryan said.

Then her son, dubbed the heretic king, rocked the royal boat so severely that his statues were not just buried but defaced.

Amenhotep IV rejected the god Amen in favor of the sun disk Aten and changed his name to Akhenaten, and he is often considered the first pharaoh to advocate monotheism.

Images of Akhenaten and Tutankhamun, who was originally known as Tutankhaten, were later defaced, that has not been found with Tiye, said Peter Brand, a University of Memphis professor of Egyptology who has worked at the Karnak site.

The disposal of her statue may have been just a matter of making room for newer works, Brand said. “When they were refurbishing buildings, they had no compunction about taking statues of a predecessor and burying them,” he said.

Bryan said it is not certain that the statue represents Tiye, but it is certainly a major queen of Amenhotep III, which would limit the subject of the statue to Tiye, Amenhotep’s mother or his daughter, Bryan said. It is the same size as a large seated statue of Amenhotep III in the open-air court just in front of the platform, and may have been placed next to it, she said.

On the Net:

Johns Hopkins in Egypt: http://www.jhu.edu/neareast/egypttoday.html