A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
A close study of the mystery skeleton's bones indicates he was male and in his early twenties.
Cairo, January 2000. I am waiting in a private research room at the Egyptian Museum to examine the skeletal remains found in Tomb 55 of the Valley of the Kings. The identity of this mummy has been debated ever since the tomb was discovered in January 1907. The excavator, Theodore M. Davis, invited two doctors visiting the newly opened tomb to examine the mummy, reduced to a skeleton through poor preservation and mishandling upon discovery. One of the physicians was a Dr. Pollock and the other, whose name appears unknown, is described as "a prominent American obstetrician." Davis was obviously pleased to be informed by them that the mummy was "without doubt" that of an elderly female, for he was convinced he had found the tomb of Queen Tiye, the wife of Amenhotep III (r. 1388-1348) and mother of Akhenaten (r. 1350-1333). The machinery for controversy was set in motion when the remains were sent to the anatomist Grafton Elliot Smith for further examination. Smith identified the individual as a male who was at least in his mid-twenties when he died. Despite these conflicting anatomical views, Davis published the tomb and remains as Queen Tiye's in 1910, while Smith published the remains as male in 1912.
An anatomical examination cannot identify the individual, but it can provide information useful in evaluating the theories various scholars have proposed. The human remains from Tomb 55, as presented to me, are those of a young man who had no apparent abnormalities and was no older than his early twenties at death and probably a few years younger. If those wanting to identify the remains with Akhenaten demand an age at death of more than mid-twenties, then this is not the man for them. As an obviously younger individual, some people might like to identify the remains as belonging to the mysterious Smenkhkare. Might they, in fact, belong to neither of them? Whoever he was, the similarity between the Tomb 55 skull and that of Tutankhamun, Akhenaten's son, certainly suggests he was a member of the royal family.
Joyce M. Filer is a curator in the department of Egyptian antiquities at the British Museum, London.