A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
In a mystery worthy of Agatha Christie, scholars seek clues to the identity of a mummy that could clarify the royal succession at the end of Egypt's 18th dynasty.
On January 6, 1907, Theodore M. Davis, a wealthy American financier, and
his hired archaeologist, a young Englishman, Edward R. Ayrton, opened a
most unusual tomb in Egypt's Valley of the Kings. The tomb, designated KV55
or simply Tomb 55, was unimpressive, with a single chamber and side niche,
but its contents were extraordinary.
The largest object was a wooden shrine, sheathed in gold, that had been
made for the funeral of Queen Tiye, the mother of the late 18th Dynasty
pharaoh Akhenaten (r. 1350-1333 B.C.). This pharaoh's name could be read on
two of the four clay bricks found on the tomb's floor. In the niche were
four jars, originally inscribed for Kiya, a secondary wife of Akhenaten,
mismatched with stoppers bearing exquisite portraits, probably of one or
more of Akhenaten's daughters. The strangest of the tomb's contents was an
elaborate coffin, also originally for Kiya as attested by reworked yet
still decipherable inscriptions, but adapted for a male burial by the
addition of a beard and the alteration of the inscriptions. The face on the
coffin had been broken off and the royal names on it, which might have
identified its occupant, removed.
In the century following its discovery, Tomb 55 has been hotly debated,
especially the identity of the remains in the coffin and how that person
fit into the royal family and succession at the end of the 18th Dynasty.
"It is probably true to say," notes Aidan Dodson of Bristol University,
"that there are as many interpretations as Egyptologists who have written
about the notorious Tomb 55. But it matters: the tomb provides part of the
key to what was actually going on at the end of Akhenaten's reign-and
perhaps at the end of Tutankhamun's as well." Results of an examination of
the skeleton by British Museum Egyptologist and physical anthropologist
Joyce M. Filer, published here in detail for the first time (click here), may
help close the book on Tomb 55's mysterious occupant.
Mark Rose is the executive editor of ARCHAEOLOGY.