Dozens of smashed and broken mummies were discovered in a rock-hewn tomb during recent excavations in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings. Hailed as exceptional, the finding helps answer a key question: Who had the privilege to be buried in the desert valley on the west bank of the Nile River?
Princesses, children, infants and also foreign ladies were among those entombed in the exclusive gateway to the afterlife that once held most of the treasures of Egypt.
The valley became important about 3,500 years ago, when New Kingdom rulers chose it as their final resting place. So far, 65 tombs, built over a period of nearly 500 years from the 16th to 11th century B.C., have been unearthed. Often numbered in the order of their discovery, they are labeled from KV1 (built for Ramses VII) to KV65, an unexcavated, possible tomb whose discovery was announced in 2008.
But not all burials were meant for mummy pharaohs.
“Over two-thirds of the tombs in the valley were not prepared for kings, but very little is known about the the identity of those for whom they were made,” Susanne Bickel, professor of Egyptology at the University of Basel, told Discovery News.
Bickel led a Swiss-Egyptian team at KV 40, a tomb that was first discovered and opened in 1899 by French archaeologist Victor Loret, who did not publish any report about the finding.
“Up to now, nothing was known about the layout of the tomb, nor for whom it was built and who was buried there,” Bickel said.
As the archaeologists cleared the 20-foot-deep shaft that provided access to the tomb, they stumbled into five subterranean chambers, filled with fragments of funerary equipment and the mummified remains, mostly decimated by grave robbers, of at least 50 people.
Based on inscriptions on storage jars, Bickel and colleagues were able to identify and name over 30 people related to the families of 18th Dynasty Pharaohs Thutmose IV and Amenhotep III, who are also buried in the Valley of Kings.
The hieratic inscriptions name at least eight hitherto-unknown royal daughters, four princes and several foreign ladies. Most interestingly, carefully mummified children were also found.
“The find does confirm that the Valley of the Kings was used for the burials of members of the immediate entourage of the pharaoh, their large families, to which probably the foreign ladies also belonged,” Bickel said.