KV 63: A Look at the New Tomb - Archaeology Magazine Archive

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KV 63: A Look at the New Tomb March 6, 2006
Updated May 30, 2006

The first tomb to be found in the Valley of the Kings since the discovery of King Tutankhamun in 1922 by Howard Carter

[image] View of the interior of KV-63 soon after discovery (Heather Alexander) [LARGER IMAGE]

Gold Infant-sized Coffin Found May 30, 2006

A press release from Discovery Channel, promoting its Sunday June 4 show "Egypt's New Tomb," says that a "two-foot-long gold infant-sized coffin" has been found in KV 63 beneath pillows in a youth-sized coffin. Two photographs of the coffin accompanied the release. See our review of the Discovery Channel's documentary on the tomb here.

Discovery Channel. Photographer: Grant Lawson

Update May 1, 2006

On April 29, at the annual meeting of the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE), Earl L. Ertman of the University of Akron and an associate director of Otto Schaden's University of Memphis team investigating KV-63 gave a brief update of the findings there. Ertman emphasized that the clearance of the KV-63 "burial chamber" was ongoing, with Schaden at work there now.

Concerning the KV-63 shaft, Ertman noted that it had an overhang similar to two 18th Dynasty tombs, KV-46 and KV-55. KV-46 was the tomb of Yuya and Tjuyu (parents of Queen Tiye, wife of Amenhotep III, and likely mother and grandmother, respectively, of Akhenaten and Tutankhamen). Many scholars believe KV-55 is the burial place of Smenkhkare, perhaps a younger brother or son of Akhenaten. Others, including Ertman, maintain it is Akhenaten's.

The fill of the shaft, on the south side consists of large stones, noticeably larger than the fill elsewhere. This, said Ertman, indicates KV-63 was probably entered at least once after being originally sealed. Confirmation of this comes from the dry wall blocking of the chamber itself. Some of the stones from the original blocking of the chamber had been pushed inward to effect an entry, with some stones set to replace them afterward. The chamber itself was never finished, said Ertman, one corner being left rough.

All of the coffins had been coated with a black resin, perhaps to preserve them or obscure inscriptions on them, according to Ertman. It is still possible that a coffin at the back of the chamber (E) and the coffin (D) for a small child or infant contain mummies. One coffin (A), he said, with blue glass eye (but not brow) inlays dates to the time of Amenhotep III based upon the style of the face. (For the layout of the tomb and letter designations of all of the coffins, see the KV-63 website.)

Finds in KV-63 include embalming materials, as already reported widely. Ertman showed a photograph of a small pair of linen bags filled with natron (the natural salt used by embalmers) and noted an inscription on one of two alabaster jars that indicated they contained an oil used in mummification. According to Ertman, the shape of the 28 ceramic jars from KV-63 have parallels in finds from KV-46 and KV-54, which was a cache of embalming materials from Tutankhamen's burial.

Sealings from KV-63 have parallels from other tombs according to Ertman. A grouping of a crocodile, lion, and prisoner is also known from Tutankhamen's tomb (KV-62) and KV-55. A seated Osiris is also known from KV-62. Other seals from KV-63 bear the jackal and nine captives, the sign of the necropolis priests.

KV-63's shaft overhang, coffins, ceramics, and sealings all point to an 18th Dynasty date. Connections with material found in KV-46, 54, 55, and 62 suggest the later part of the dynasty. Ertman said the inscription on the shoulder of a ceramic vessel gives the regnal date "Year 5" but unfortunately lacks the pharaoh's name. (Another inscription, on the alabaster jar from the lower part of coffin A, reads "Amun-Re King of the Gods.") According to Ertman, the top of the shaft, just below the level of a cluster of foundations of 19th Dynasty workers' huts indicates KV-63 was sealed no later than the very beginning of that period.

Ertman's talk at the ARCE meeting helps in a preliminary sorting out of the various interpretations of KV-63 that have been floated in the press. The tomb and its contents seem to belong to the later 18th Dynasty or--at the very latest--the very beginning of the 19th. That spans the reigns of Amenhotep III (1388-1348) and Ramesses I (1298-1296). That no later material appears to be present, as well as the absence of mummies so far, precludes the suggestion that KV-63 is a cache of mummies like those found in KV-35 (the tomb of Amenhotep II) and at Deir el Bahri tomb DB320. For now, we can say that two of the coffins might yet prove to have mummies and that leaves open the possibility that KV-63 is a royal or noble burial combined with a cache of embalmer's material.

Mark Rose is executive and online editor of ARCHAEOLOGY.

Interview March 6, 2006

[image] Dr. Otto Schaden stands outside the doorway to KV-63. (Heather Alexander) [LARGER IMAGE]

A month has passed since the announcement was made by Zahi Hawass, head of Egypt's Supreme Council for Antiquities, that an American team--a University of Memphis Mission directed by Otto Schaden--had found a sealed burial chamber less than 50 feet from the tomb of Tutankhamun. The first accounts had conflicting information, but we know now that the tomb holds seven coffins, believed to be of late 18th Dynasty date, and 28 clay jars. ARCHAEOLOGY spoke with Roxanne Wilson, an artist and recorder with the excavations, about how the discovery was made and the latest news about the tomb.

ARCHAEOLOGY: This discovery was made during work on another tomb, KV10, which was carved for the pharaoh Amenmesse.

The Amenmesse Project, KV-10 and KV-63 (KV stands for "King's Valley") is directed by Dr. Otto Schaden and is a University of Memphis (Tennessee) Mission. Dr. Schaden first began excavating KV-10, the tomb of Amenmesse in December 31, 1992. See the KV-10.com website for more information concerning this tomb and many photos of the excavation and staff.

Amenmesse reigned during the latter part of the 19th Dynasty for four years. Whether of royal or non-royal origin he is considered a "usurper" to the throne and a successor to Pharaoh Merenptah. His main legacy appears to be his tomb, however, he was never buried there. The tomb was instead redecorated for two queens: Takhat, the mother of Amenmesse, and Baketwerel, Amenmesse's queen.

During the 2001 excavation season, two workmen's huts were found west of KV-10 while we were searching for foundation deposits in front of the tomb. The small stone workmen's huts can be seen on both the KV-10 and KV-63 websites and were temporary dwellings for the workers of the royal necropolis. These workers were the tomb carvers, craftsmen, artists, and painters who normally resided over the valley, about three miles from the Valley of the Kings, in a village called Deir el Medina.

Foundation deposits are like cornerstones or time capsules that were buried at the site of temples and sometimes tombs. Foundation deposits usually contained inscribed jars, tools, amulets, statues and gifts commemorating the construction and also acknowledging the gods. The search for foundation deposits in front of KV-10 would potentially have given us additional evidence concerning pharaonic dates and names of the king or tomb owner. Such deposits are known from a few tombs in the Valley of the King's, namely the tombs of Hatshepsut, Thutmose IV, Ramses IV, and Amenophis III.

[image] [image]
With the shaft nearly cleared, Akhmed, Alistair Dickey, Reis (Foreman) Nubie and Dr. Schaden peer into KV-63 for the first time. (Heather Alexander) [LARGER IMAGE] Right, Drs. Zahi Hawass and Otto Schaden confer during the official announcement of the tomb's discovery. (Jane Akshar)

ARCHAEOLOGY: When was the shaft leading into the tomb first recognized as such?

A corner of the shaft was discovered last year on March 10, a few days before the end of our 2005 season. Ironically, we had just completed a through search and mapping of the workmen's huts and were about to start refilling the pit when Dr. Schaden and archaeologist Alistair Dickey (from Ireland) noticed the depression in the corner of the shaft. Given the timeframe and limited resources we were forced to fill in the area and a proposal to further excavate the site was made by Dr. Schaden for the 2006 season.

ARCHAEOLOGY: It must have been nerve wracking to think you might have found a new tomb, the first more than 80 years, and then have to postpone excavating it until the next season.

Indeed it was, for the team was sworn to secrecy for the whole year. The suspense on whether we did find a new tomb or just a "foxhole" was definitely stressful.

ARCHAEOLOGY: How deep is the tomb shaft? Was it difficult to excavate?

In January of this year, Dr. Schaden began the 2006 season by re-excavating the shaft area and sandbagging a retaining wall around the perimeter. The shaft is not located directly over the workmen's hut but is located adjacent to some of the huts. The vertical shaft, much like an elevator shaft is about 14.5 feet deep and is approximately 4 x 5 feet in size. The shaft itself was filled in antiquity with loose limestone sherds and rocks making the excavation relatively trouble-free. Clearance of the shaft was completed in early March and, the newly discovered tomb was proclaimed KV-63 by Dr. Zahi Hawass on March 10, 2006. A single L- shaped chamber measuring approximately 6 x 5 meters adjoins the shaft. At this time, no other chambers, tunnels, or doors have been discovered, however, we will not know for sure until all the coffins and storage jars are removed from the tomb.

ARCHAEOLOGY: The doorway at the bottom of the shaft was completely blocked? Was it plastered or just rock? Any seals from the necropolis officials or graffiti that might suggest when it was sealed?

The doorway is approximately five feet in height and consist of blocks of stones and rubble. At this time there is no apparent seals or graffiti to aid in the determination of the burial(s) or tomb date.

ARCHAEOLOGY: Describe the scene when the doorway was opened and Drs. Hawass and Schaden looked into the tomb.

The doorway to KV-63 was breached by Dr. Schaden and team on March 5, 2006. Dr. Schaden described a rush of warm air and a smell of myrrh emitting from the tomb, as he peered into the darkness. Dr. Zahi Hawass was notified and viewed the tomb on March 10, 2006.

ARCHAEOLOGY: On the excavation website, www.kv-63.com, it says there are four coffins covered in black resin, and three with yellow faces (one of a youth, and two of adults). What is the significance of the different types of coffins?

We have seven coffins in all. It appears that four of the coffins are covered in black resin and the remaining three are "yellow-faced," which we believe to be female, although this might not actually be the case. The significance of the "yellow-faced" coffins is still questionable in regards to this burial but in Egyptian art females are frequently depicted with yellow skin (as no sun exposure) and males with reddish skin (with sun exposure).

[image] Close up of the "yellow face" on the first coffin in KV-63, which indicates it was decorated for the burial of a woman. (Heather Alexander) [LARGER IMAGE]

ARCHAEOLOGY: Is there any indication of the date of the coffins, or who they were made for? Some accounts immediately suggested these were royal burials, but it wasn't just royalty who were buried in the Valley of the Kings, was it?

From the appearance of the tomb, coffins, and the jars we theorize that the tomb dates to the late 18th Dynasty, but final determination will have to wait further analysis and study. The superior craftsmanship of the tomb and quality of decoration on the coffins leads us to believe this is a possible royal burial. But it is feasible that the burial(s) could be royal family members or royal officials of high standing and well connected with a pharaoh's administration. At this time, we have discovered no names, titles, or inscriptions on the coffins. Yes, although the Valley of the Kings is called just that, not all the tombs are attributed to pharaohs, for some tombs are non-royal officials, queens, or state officials.

ARCHAEOLOGY: We know that termites burrowed down the shaft and into the tomb. Did they attack all of the coffins and what condition did they leave them in?

The termite damage to some coffins is extensive, however, some coffins appear untouched. Our goal is to salvage as much as possible and a team of conservators are diligently working to do so at this time.

ARCHAEOLOGY: Everybody is on pins and needles waiting to hear if there are mummies preserved within the coffins. Can you tell us anything about that?

I wished I could, unfortunately, we honestly do not know the answer to this. The way the jars are clustered around the coffins impedes our ability to access the contents of the coffins. Hopefully, in the next couple weeks we will be able to better address this question.

[image] The smaller, youth coffin in KV-63 (Heather Alexander) [LARGER IMAGE]

ARCHAEOLOGY: The jars are quite large, 70 cm high (more than two feet) and one weighing 90-95 pounds. Can we say much about them? Are they all the same date? And their function?

We have 28 large storage jars (one newly discovered beneath the footboard of one coffin) approximately ca. 3,500-3,000 years old. Three to four of the jars are broken at the rim or neck, but the remaining jars appear intact with sealed or partially sealed plaster lids. All the jars appear to be filled. Their contents are still awaiting examination but may contain food, grains, etc. to aid the deceased in the afterlife or funerary goods like natron.

ARCHAEOLOGY: Were any other funerary furnishings present, ushabtis (servant figures), canopic jars, or the like?

Thus far, we have not found any other funerary items or goods. However, we do not know what lies between the coffins or what remains hidden from view or underneath the coffins or jars.

ARCHAEOLOGY: Does it appear that this is a primary burial, as opposed to a secondary one with the coffins and jars relocated from another tomb or tombs to KV 63? Have any names or titles at all been found on anything, including in the shaft?

We theorize at this point that this is a "reburial" and are still assessing the contents to determine if the coffins are original, secondary, or a possible cache. We have just completed the clearance of the front of the tomb and the removal of many of the large storage jars to gain closer inspection of the coffins. Since the jars were closely clustered around the coffins it made it virtually impossible to clearly assess the coffins. At this point, no names, titles, or dates have been ascertained at this time.

ARCHAEOLOGY: What are the next steps? Conservation of the coffins must be a priority, correct?

Our plan is to complete the removal of the storage jars and then carefully remove the coffins to the interior of KV-10 for continued conservation and study. Samples of jar contents and coffin fragments, etc. will be sent to Cairo for testing and analyze. Extensive mapping, photographing, and documentation is ongoing and many specialists have or will join the mission to meticulously record every aspect of the newly discovered tomb, KV-63.


Photograph of the staff members present during the March 2005 discovery of KV-63 at the tomb entrance. On the left are Akhmed, Reis Nubie, Heather Alexander, Alistair Dickey, Dr. Otto Schaden. On the right are Roxanne Wilson, Betty Schneider, and George Johnson. (Heather Alexander) [LARGER IMAGE]

Note: Contributions to this project are welcome and expedition funds are administered by the University of Memphis Foundation (UMF). Checks for tax-deductible donations should be made out to the University of Memphis Foundation Account 695, with a notation of either "Amenmesse Project" or "KV-10/KV-63." Checks should be mailed to Professor Lorelei Corcoran, Director of the Institute of Art and Archaeology, at University of Memphis, Jones Hall 201, Memphis, Tennessee 38152.

© 2006 by the Archaeological Institute of America