Investigating unacclaimed tombs with wonderful secrets

Located in the mountains on the west bank of the Nile, opposite ancient Thebes (modern Luxor), the Valley of the Kings served as the royal cemetery during Egypt’s New Kingdom.

It may be the royal tombs that spring to mind when we think of the Valley of the Kings, but you did not have to be pharaoh to secure space in the cemetery. More modest tombs exist in greater numbers, although the identity of many of their occupants remains a mystery. Donald P Ryan has been investigating those who faced the afterlife alongside the god-kings.

The ancient royal cemetery known to us today as the Valley of the Kings, served as the burial site for most of Egypt’s rulers during the era historians refer to as the New Kingdom (Dynasties 18, 19, and 20, c.1550-1069 BC). It was hoped that the Valley, which was remotely situated in arid mountains on the Nile’s west bank, opposite the major ancient political and religious capital of Thebes, would forever serve as a quiet and secure cemetery for pharaohs who were considered living gods while alive, and eternal gods after their death.

The New Kingdom was Egypt’s time of empire, with its controlling reach stretching far south and east, resulting in vast wealth and resources for the homeland. It was also a time of some of the most remarkable individuals known from ancient history, including the female ruler Hatshepsut, warrior pharaohs such as Thutmose III and Rameses II, and the religious heretic Akhenaten. And, of course, Tutankhamun, whose virtually intact tomb brought the world’s attention to the Valley of the Kings.

The crudely carved steps of KV 60. We rediscovered this tomb on our very first day working in the Valley, when cleaning with a broom exposed a crack that proved to be the top of this pit.


So who were these individuals that were given the privilege of being buried among beings who were considered god-kings? Obviously, they were of great importance, and we know that some of these undecorated tombs belonged to royal in-laws, lesser royalty including queens, and favoured friends or officials. The modest tombs, with their blank walls, represent archaeological puzzles that can only be solved through careful study of all that remains. Appraising their architecture and pottery can help us date them, while the remains of grave goods can provide clues about their ownership.

我第一次作为学生参观了帝王谷,并对它的许多陵墓产生了兴趣,尤其是较小的未经装饰的陵墓,有些陵墓的确切位置几乎无法辨认,甚至被遗忘。最终,我发起了一个与太平洋路德大学附属的项目,研究了其中几种葬礼。结果令人惊讶,在某些情况下还具有启发性。在本文中,我将描述我们对这些引人入胜的陵墓中的一些陵墓的重新调查,每个陵墓都讲述着一个独特的故事。请注意,帝王谷的所有陵墓均已编号,并以“国王谷”的前缀“ KV”开头,这与其他墓地(如皇后谷)不同。在讨论居住者不明的未装饰墓葬时,编号系统特别有用。

The well-preserved female mummy rediscovered within KV 60. Could this be Hatshepsut?

KV 60

This tomb was first encountered by English archaeologist Howard Carter in 1903. The tomb was crudely carved into the bedrock and, inside, Carter found fragments of smashed burial equipment throughout. In an unfinished chamber at the end of a corridor were two female mummies. One occupied a coffin bearing the name ‘Sitre’, a royal nurse now known to have been associated with Hatshepsut, while another lay on the floor. Carter’s very short accounts of the discovery suggest that he was not particularly impressed. The coffined mummy was later moved to Cairo, and the tomb’s entrance covered over, leaving it essentially lost for more than 80 years.

事实证明,我们在山谷工作的第一天就会遇到KV 60。在研究了卡特的笔记并仔细检查了环境之后,我发现了一个可能的斑点,并开始使用简单的扫帚清除杂物。在半小时内,我们遇到了一个似乎是人造的裂缝。进一步的清理揭示了一个坑的边缘,然后有一组楼梯通向一个被大石头堵住的入口隧道。我们显然是在很短的时间内重新发现了丢失的KV 60!进入坟墓时,我们发现卡特留下了很多东西,其中包括一具破碎的棺材的遗体,X射线检查确定的几个亚麻包裹的包裹是要用来维持死者的食品。卡特注意到的房间地板上的木乃伊仍在那儿:一个保存完好的老年妇女尸体,大部分被古代盗墓贼剥掉了包裹。后来发生的事情完美地说明了这种匿名葬礼会引起人们的极大兴趣。

Donald Ryan, director of the Pacific Lutheran University Valley of the Kings Project, studies a coffin face-piece reconstructed from fragments recovered from KV 60.

In her 1966 book The Royal Necropoleis of Thebes, American Egyptologist Elizabeth Thomas speculated that, should KV 60 ever be rediscovered, perhaps the long-missing mummy of Hatshepsut might be found within. Hatshepsut distinguished herself by ruling Egypt quite successfully, but after her death many of her monuments were defaced or destroyed, perhaps in an effort to erase traces of the non-traditional precedent of a woman ruling Egypt.

哈特谢普苏特的尸体从未在知名的皇家木乃伊中被发现,她的官方皇家陵墓也很破败,大约60列弗。 2007年,埃及考古学家Zahi Hawass将我们重新发现的KV 60木乃伊与与该山谷相关的其他匿名女性木乃伊包括在内,该项目试图识别哈特谢普苏特的尸体。在一个装有哈特谢普苏特(Hatshepsut)名字的木盒子里发现一颗断齿,似乎非常适合我们木乃伊的嘴巴,哈瓦斯(Hawass)随后宣布,她确实是法老王。毫不奇怪,有些怀疑者质疑身份的各个方面。确实,同年晚些时候,我自己的探险队保存了KV 60的棺材碎片,上面有另一个女人的名字,一个叫Tiy的寺庙歌手,这使情况更加复杂。如果伊丽莎白·托马斯(Elizabeth Thomas)在1966年没有提到哈特谢普苏(Hatshepsut),那么现在可以将KV 60仅仅视为两个特殊女人的坟墓吗:王室护士和寺庙歌手?对某些人来说,陪审团仍未成立,但对另一些人来说,哈特谢普苏特的尸体已从自己的皇家陵墓中移出,被发现在一个简陋的墓穴中。

Shafts and chambers

A skull embedded in hard sediment is revealed on the floor of KV 27. The original mummies were reduced to a skeletal state by flooding within the tomb.

Some of the simpler tombs our project investigated consist of no more than a shaft and a small rectangular room, but these too proved remarkable. KV 44 and 45 meet this physical description, and, apart from their original 18th Dynasty burials, both were later reused during the 22nd Dynasty (c.945-715 BC). This is well after the Valley ceased to serve as a royal cemetery, and thus provides us with interesting clues about the Valley’s post-New Kingdom history, which remains barely known. KV 44 is especially interesting. It had apparently been flooded at one time, thus reducing its wrapped mummies to a mostly skeletal state. Our study of the human remains within indicates an unexpected 13 individuals were interred in this tiny tomb during the 18th Dynasty, including eight infants. There is certainly an interesting story to be told, but it is one we are still trying to unravel.

Nearby, KV 27 was a real challenge to excavate, having been choked with 2m of consolidated flood debris. The tomb consists of a shaft leading to four small undecorated chambers. While painstakingly excavating each room, we found little more than hundreds of smashed pottery sherds – until we reached the last section of the final chamber. There, on the floor, were some of the tomb’s original occupants, reduced to a skeletal state and embedded in hard, dried sediment. Close by was a kind of ‘ghost coffin’ among the debris. It lay tilted at an angle, as if finally coming to rest after swirling about in flood waters. All that survived was its barely discernible paint, the wooden coffin having rotted ages ago. Although we have data from the study of their remains, those buried in KV 27 remain at this time anonymous, but were, of course, individuals of great importance.

This is an extract of an article featured in issue 100 of Current World ArchaeologyClick here for more information about subscribing to the magazine.

All photos: Pacific Lutheran University Valley of the Kings Project; Denis Whitfill, principal photographer