Egypt Offers First Peek at New Tombs
LUXOR, Egypt — The painted 3,000-year-old face of a woman – her eyes lined in black kohl – stared from a funerary mask as authorities on Friday revealed to the world the first tomb discovered in eight decades in the Valley of the Kings.
The five mummies inside – possibly members of a pharaoh’s court – were discovered by a team of American archaeologists working on the neighboring tomb of Amenmeses, a late 19th Dynasty pharaoh.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Edwin Brock, co-director of the project, affiliated with the University of Memphis.
He and his colleagues have not yet entered the single-chamber tomb, believed to be about 3,000 years old and dating to the 18th Dynasty. But they have made a hole about a foot high in the door and peered through to see five wooden sarcophagi and about 20 alabaster jars.
“It was just so amazing to find an intact tomb here after all the work that’s been done before. This was totally unexpected,” Brock said.
On Friday, Egypt’s antiquities authority allowed journalists a first look into the tomb located across a pathway from Tutankhamun’s – the last burial site discovered in the valley on Nov. 4, 1922, by the British archaeologist Howard Carter.
Inside the 12-foot-by-15-foot chamber, one sarcophagus had fallen on its side, facing the doorway. The funeral mask showed the painted features of a woman, with long black hair, thin eyebrows and kohl-ringed eyes. Gold patterns of a thick necklace or breastplate were visible, but the lower half of the coffin was splintered and rotting – the result of termites, Brock said.
In one corner of the chamber, a coffin seemed to have been partially pried open. The brown cloth below the lid probably belongs to a mummy, the archaeologists said.
At the back of the chamber was the silhouette of another sarcophagus, the stately face painted on its funeral mask staring upward, hands folded on its chest.
Large pottery jars, some cracked, lined the chamber. Egypt’s chief of antiquities, Zahi Hawass, told reporters the jars held food and drink to sustain the deceased in their journey to the afterlife.
Hawass said archaeologists hope to find hieroglyphs on the coffins that will identify the mummies.
“Whoever they are, they should be very important people. Nobody can be buried in the Valley of the Kings unless they are important,” he said.
Brock and Otto Schaden, who heads the U.S. team, pointed out that the mummies were not necessarily royalty, however, as other tombs in the valley belong to favored royal servants or top officials.
“It could be the gardener,” Schaden joked. “But it’s somebody who had the favor of the king, because not everybody could come and make their tomb in the Valley of the Kings.”
The discovery broke the long-held belief that there is nothing left to dig up in the Valley of the Kings, the desert region near the city of Luxor, 300 miles south of Cairo, that was used as a burial ground for pharaohs, queens and nobles in the 1500 B.C. to 1000 B.C. New Kingdom.
The archaeologists said the style of the coffins and pottery dates to the late 18th Dynasty, which ruled around 1500 B.C. to 1300 B.C. and included King Tut.
The Americans had been working at the tomb of Amenmeses since late 1992, clearing rubble and restoring its interior and exterior. Last year, they found the remains of ancient workmen’s huts near the site, and then discovered a depression in the bedrock that they suspected was a shaft.
When they returned to work during this excavation season, they discovered, after weeks of digging, a door of stone blocks at the bottom of the 15-foot shaft.
“After all these years we’ve worked on tombs which have been known for a long time, and had been partly cleared, and we just followed excavators and restorers. Here we finally have something new for ourselves, so it’s really very satisfying,” said Schaden.
The archaeologists hope to enter the tomb within a few days, after removing the remaining rubble from the bottom of the shaft and carefully taking away the rest of the door.
The team hopes to remove the coffins before the end of the digging season, usually around May when the weather gets too hot to work in the deserts outside Luxor, Schaden said.