Another New Tomb in the Valley of the Kings? - Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Another New Tomb in the Valley of the Kings? August 3, 2006

A radar survey in 2000 had pinpointed KV63, the tomb excavated earlier this year. It has now been announced that this same radar survey may have revealed another tomb.


Radar image shows the presumed shaft of what may be a tomb ("KV64") near the tomb of Tutankhamun and the recently excavated KV63. (Copyright © Amarna Royal Tombs Project 2006) [LARGER IMAGE]

From 1998 to 2002, the Amarna Royal Tombs Project (ARTP), led by Nicholas Reeves, undertook controlled stratigraphic excavation and geophysical surveying in the central area of the supposedly worked-out Valley of the Kings. Its impetus was both theoretical and practical, according to the project's website ( It was influenced by a study of the immediate post-Amarna burials Tomb KV55 and Tomb KV62 (Tutankhamun) and what these two tombs seemed to reveal about other possible burials of the period in the immediate vicinity. And it was driven by a physical threat that the rubble fill of the Valley, and along with it most of the archaeology, might be removed wholesale to combat the seriously damaging effects of flash-flooding on the open tombs. "My particular quarry was the burial place of Nefertiti, Akhenaten's wife and coregent (who, I concluded, had been buried in the Valley as and when she died)," says Reeves. Also of interest were the "whereabouts of Akhenaten's secondary consort Kiya, his second daughter Meketaten and other lesser members of the royal family who had originally been interred at El-Amarna." As the work progressed, however, Reeves discovered that extensive key areas in the Valley were archaeologically intact, and priorities necessarily changed.

But the project was brought to a halt in 2002. Reeves was falsely accused of involvement in antiquities smuggling and his permit was revoked. In August 2005, he was officially cleared of any wrongdoing by Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), though not allowed to return to his work in the Valley. In the interim, the area under investigation by ARTP had begun to be excavated by Otto Schaden and a team from the University of Memphis, which had been at work on KV10, the nearby tomb of Amenmesse. In 2005, Schaden found the top of the shaft leading to KV63, not knowing that it had been detected during geophysical prospecting by ARTP in 2000. While admitting an understandable "obvious disappointment," Reeves states that it was "Otto Schaden who physically uncovered it and confirmed its character. Under those circumstances there can be no question that the credit for actual discovery should go to him and to the University of Memphis." Reeves immediately shared his geophysical evidence for the existence of KV63 with Dr. Zahi Hawass and the SCA and with Schaden and his colleagues. (For KV63, see the the excavation web site and our coverage, with links at

What Reeves did not reveal at this stage--because ARTP's survey data was still under review--was that the radar had revealed what appears to be yet another tomb some 15 meters due north of KV63. Reeves spoke to ARCHAEOLOGY about what this feature might represent and what the implications might be for future research in the Valley of the Kings.

This certainly looks similar to the radar images of what proved to be the shaft of KV63. You've labeled it "KV64" on your website, but do we know it's a tomb?

You never know anything for certain until a feature is excavated--and the tentative nature of the find is reflected in the use of quotation marks: "KV64." Radar is a less than straightforward technology to interpret, as you know. But I have every faith in the skills of our radar specialist, Hirokatsu Watanabe, one of the best in the world, with wide experience both in Japan itself and in Peru. He's confident that what we have here is the same as we had with KV63--a significant void, a tomb.

When did you detect "KV64"?

The anomaly first showed up in the autumn of 2000 during Watanabe's radar survey of our concession, and was necessarily shelved pending a negotiation of our return to the site--a return which of course never happened. The discovery of KV63 by Otto Schaden prompted us to look again at our radar data--now helpfully "calibrated," so to speak, by the physical uncovering of that find.

How do you and your radar specialist Hirokatsu Watanabe interpret the new radar images?

Radar is a tricky technology, but well-suited, it seems, to the Valley of the Kings terrain. The radar signal is emitted as a pulse, with the time and the force of the reflection echo measured and appearing on screen as real-time data. It's important to note that these data are mere patterns and do not represent the actual form or dimension of the object detected. These patterns have to be analyzed as aggregates of arcs, with the display colors varying according to the force and velocity of the various reflection echoes. Different types of underground features nevertheless produce distinctive screen patterns: a pipe, for example, will generate a couple of nested arcs; a ditch a cross-pattern above a couple of nested arcs; and a void or underground chamber--which is the intriguing prospect we seem to have here--a distinctive pattern of radiating arcs: "KV64." Located at some considerable depth, in a part of the Valley which has been out of bounds to most historical excavators, it's a feature which I guess hasn't seen the light of day for several millennia.


The valley of the Kings near the tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62). Red dots mark the approximate positions of KV63 and "KV64" as established by ARTP radar survey in 2000 (copyright © Amarna Royal Tombs Project 2006) [LARGER IMAGE]

Excitement was high with the opening of KV63, and people were tallying which pharaohs and queens were unaccounted for. Are there any clues as to what--or who--KV64 might hold?

It's been evident since 1997 that towards the end of Tutankhamun's reign the royal tomb at el-Amarna was evacuated and its occupants and the lighter tomb equipment transferred to Thebes for safety (the heavy stuff seems to have been left in situ at el-Amarna and smashed to prevent inappropriate reuse).

A close study of the tombs KV55 (see "Who's in Tomb 55") and KV62 (Tutankhamun) reveals how the process actually worked. Brought to the Valley of the Kings en masse, the Amarna burial furniture seems to have been dipped into first by the necropolis administration to help prepare a funerary equipment for Tutankhamun himself. What was left over was then redivided out among its original owners who were assigned fresh tombs in the Valley of the Kings. That's the reason Tutankhamun's core burial equipment is essentially made up of reused, secondhand stuff. And that's the explanation for KV55--why the tomb is such a hotch-potch of altered and adapted Amarna material.

Who else from this group is left to find? Well, several women--Akhenaten's secondary wife Kiya, for one; pharaoh's second daughter, Meketaten, for another. But there's Nefertiti also to consider--the great royal wife who in later years functioned as Akhenaten's co-regent. Her regal burial equipment--wholly Osirian in character and most likely prepared for a Theban interment--was also drawn upon to prepare a burial for Tutankhamun. The likelihood is that the lady herself was buried in the Valley of the Kings, too. Within "KV64"? I don't know. We shall just have to wait and see.

Why did you release this data now?

Because of the discovery and nature of KV63. It was clearly only a matter of time before the hunt was on in earnest for the further tomb which that deposit evidently signaled. It was becoming apparent to several observers that KV63 is to the Valley's next undiscovered tomb what the KV54 embalming cache was to the tomb of Tutankhamun. My principal fear was the impact that realization would have on the surrounding, less glamorous and certainly more vulnerable archaeology of the site: I don't want to see it damaged in a random, aimless hunt for more tombs. Of course I'm not against finding new tombs--how could I be?--but the work has to be done in a controlled fashion. I want to remove the element of chance, to focus any search. Public disclosure will hopefully do just that--point the way and reduce the danger and amount of collateral damage. I hope, too, it will provide a breathing space for archaeology, time for some sort of considered excavation procedure to be formulated for dealing with such a tomb by the wider international archaeological community--this is after all a World Heritage Site--and set in place by the Supreme Council of Antiquities.

Can you expand on what you mean by "less glamorous and certainly more vulnerable archaeology of the site"?

My aim in posting our data was not to claim a prize for discovering the next Tutankhamun. It was to alert people to the immense potential the Valley of the Kings still holds, despite two centuries of serious archaeological abuse. As we've demonstrated, there are indeed new tombs to be found; as important, though, is our discovery of extensive areas of intact stratigraphy which have by a miracle survived beneath the tourist paths. This stratigraphy is immensely significant for the history of the Valley and, properly treated, capable of providing a context for much of what has been dug up so badly in the past. The emphasis here is on the words properly treated. The legacy is a fragile one. If not excavated systematically and with care, by specialist archaeologists, if allowed simply to be dug through in a manic search for more tombs, then this contextualizing data will be lost for good--a unique chance missed for ever. What I want from the announcement of "KV64" is for the treasure potential of the site to focus attention on the less spectacular though just as important aspects of work in the Valley of the Kings. We need to rein in our natural desire for more tombs, for the quick fix, to systematize our efforts and put a lot more emphasis, while we can, on every aspect of the Valley's miraculously preserved record.

What steps do you think should be taken--or not taken--next?

Archaeology in the Valley of the Kings is in many ways at a crossroads. The perceived lack of potential which since Tutankhamun had kept it safe is now gone for good. Do we forge ahead as in the old days, ripping through the ground, blinded to context like Loret, Davis, Carnarvon by the prospect of more tombs and the glint of gold? Or do we stop and reassess--formulate a systematic program of work; establish and publish a formal protocol for excavators on how to deal with what might turn up? I think the answer is obvious.

© 2006 by the Archaeological Institute of America